If scholarship aid is the measure, then the Bishop Hendricken Class of 2012 is like no other before it. The 211 seniors who graduated Friday at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul were awarded almost $18 million in scholarships. By another standard, the class was the first to graduate a student who completed all four years of the all-male school’s Options Program, which was designed to integrate developmentally impaired boys in the school.
But Principal Joseph “Jay” Brennan chose not to look at the class in either of those terms. Rather, Brennan turned to the opening lines Charles Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities” to draw parallels to the graduating class:
“We had everything before us. We had nothing before us,” he read.
He quickly highlighted the “everything,” citing four state championships and the possibility of two more, and the school’s victory in the Rhode Island Academic Decathlon.
He referred to the death of a teacher’s daughter and to the serious automobile accident that came close to claiming seniors Christopher and James MacKenzie and said “a season of darkness” came upon the school that tested their faith and from which they found the courage and hope to continue.
“Because what you have experienced, you will know how to help others,” he said.
He added, because students have handled adversity, they have passed the real test and learned that with Jesus’ help, “all things are possible.”
Class salutatorian Ryan Sutyla asked classmates how they would remember the school in 30 years. He ventured it would not be the awards or contests won on the field.
“What will never go away,” he said, “is the sense of fraternity.”
There was a lot of that Friday night. The entire class, followed by the audience, rose to applaud and cheer as the MacKenzie brothers got their diplomas. They were out of school most of the year, in therapy and being tutored. Fraternity was also evident when the class streamed into the cathedral courtyard at the conclusion. There was a lot of hugging, slapping on the back, wide smiles and celebratory cigar smoke. It seemed that every graduate lit a stogie, sending forth a cloud that had some family members turning up their noses and complaining as they sought to take pictures. A few others got right into this “rite of passage” and joined the smokers.
It was also special for Brother Thomas Leto, the former Hendricken president, who is now heading up Iona Prep in New York. Brother Leto started the Options Program, which has been renamed for him, more than four years ago. When Cori Battista-Amaral came forward to receive his diploma, Brother Leto stepped forward to give him a hug.
“I’m just so proud of him,” Brother Leto said at the conclusion of the ceremony. “He’s added so much to the school.”
Battista-Amaral was beaming. He wants to be a cook and, this fall, he will attend the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center culinary program. He confessed to feeling slightly uneasy about his career path.
“I’m afraid if I cook, I’m going to eat all the food,” he said with a laugh.
Hendricken’s vice president for mission integration, Vincent Mancuso, described class valedictorian John P. Kane’s “strong spirit of inquiry.” He cited Kane’s score of 2,350 out of a possible 2,400 in the three subject areas of the SATs, his achievements on the playing fields and that he is a National Merit Scholar. Kane was the recipient of the general excellence and theology awards, as well.
In his own remarks, Kane talked of the recent transit of Venus in front of the sun, which was but a tiny spot, and how that won’t happen for another 105 years. He flashed back 105 years, citing statistics of that time and then looked ahead for the Class of 2117.
“Will we have a legacy?” he asked.
He didn’t provide an answer, but came to the conclusion, “We have learned we can make a difference.”
Traditions continued at Hendricken as they have for years. Everyone held their applause, except for a couple of overly exuberant friends, until all the graduates received their diplomas. The class applauded Rilwan Ilumoka, Man of the Year, when he received his diploma. And, once in the courtyard, the graduates threw their gold tasseled green caps into the air with a cheer. Family members, who crowded around, ducked instinctively as the caps showered down. But not the graduates. They were celebrating.