Jesus dispatched His followers to the ends of the earth after spending only three years with them.
“We’ve had most of you for 13!” Precious Blood Father Mark Miller reminded the soon-to-be-graduating Class of 2018 of Sacred Heart High School (SHS) in Sedalia.
Fr. Miller presided at the school’s Baccalaureate Mass on May 11 in Sacred Heart Church.
Family members, friends, instructors and administrators of the school joined the seniors in worshiping God together one last time as a class.
Most had been together since kindergarten.
Fr. Miller said it’s appropriate that graduation often takes place near the Solemnity of the Ascension, when Jesus returned to heaven to take His place at the Right Hand of the Father.
“As you come to this moment in your life, we remember what Jesus told His Apostles at His Ascension — to go out and proclaim His message to the ends of the world,” said Fr. Miller, pastor of Sacred Heart and St. Patrick parishes in Sedalia and St. John the Evangelist parish in Bahner.
He reminded them that they and everyone they encounter are made in God’s image and likeness.
He said the Holy Spirit will give them strength and confidence as they go out into a world that desperately needs their Christian witness.
Fr. Miller said people who know they are followers of Christ will have a right to expect from them a distinctly different way of thinking, speaking and acting.
“Hopefully, you have integrated into your life, as Jesus’ Apostles did, a sense of formation, a sense of knowing how to live and how to conduct your lives as His disciples,” he said.
“Make your journey matter”
Father Brendan Griffey, senior associate pastor, concelebrated the Mass and proclaimed the Gospel reading.
The high school choir, directed by Sacred Heart Campus Minister Debbie Bolin, led the singing.
Right after Mass, the church resonated with music and bittersweet laughter as the soon-to-be graduates and their families watched a collage of photos of each graduate from childhood through high school.
Mrs. Bolin reminded the graduates that their life is important not only to God but to everyone they encounter.
“Make your journey matter!” she implored. “Not just to you — but to others! Travel the path God wants you to take in such a way that others’ lives will be changed as a result of their encounter with you.”
A new chapter
The following Sunday, the 33 seniors processed into in the Sacred Heart Gymnasium to become the school’s 64th graduating class.
Each graduate — women in white, men in red — walked down the center aisle with his or her parents, then presented them a rose.
Sister Elizabeth Youngs SCL, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, pointed out that it was Mother’s Day and the Solemnity of the Ascension.
She said the graduates’ experience is much like that of the Apostles who watched Jesus ascend into the clouds: He had taught and led them, but He could not physically go everywhere with them.
Having prepared them and given them everything they would need, He commissioned them to do tremendous things in His name.
Sr. Elizabeth also reminded the graduates that their mothers were their first teachers.
“Today you are leaving your teachers and your homes, but you will spend the rest of your life remembering the times spent here at Sacred Heart,” she said. “Please remember to respect the dignity of all you do and of all you meet as you go through life.”
The Sedalia Democrat newspaper reported that the graduates had racked up a record $2.3 million in scholarship offers and plan to put $902,000 of that to use.
The Class of 2018 chose SHS history instructor Jane McMullin — who taught almost all of them freshman history and some of them for four years — to be the commencement speaker.
She told them their high school experience has now ended, and a new chapter in their lives was about to begin.
“Start it well,” she advised.
She said life is a challenge that commands full participation.
“The things we fear never go away,” she stated. “Instead, they must be conquered by constantly putting ourselves on the line and by making ourselves do what is right — not what is easy.”
She asserted that success actually means “reaching one’s own potential.”
“In the end, it is our relationships with others, especially our family and friends, that will truly bring us the most happiness,” she said.
She assured them that even when things don’t turn out the way they planned, they can always reach out to God, and He will be there to help them.
Seeking to bypass tired commencement clichés, valedictorian Sadie Rollings turned to gratitude.
She thanked the parents for their patience, encouragement and unconditional acceptance.
“Thank you for sending us here where we would be taught by teachers who care about each of us on a personal level,” she said. “Thank you for, just, everything.”
She thanked her teachers for their forbearance, forgiveness, support, “and all those hundreds of hours you spent giving us the knowledge we need to continue our education and careers.”
“In fact, we would be very little without your guidance,” she told them. “Our success has been your success.”
She lauded and thanked her classmates.
“You each have so, so much potential and I hope you see that in yourselves,” she said. “It’s been a privilege to grow-up with each of you.”
Miss Rollings described her class as “super-involved,” having taken part in “a lot of really full, rich high school experiences.”
She said she loves learning and is looking forward to continuing her studies — perhaps to become a doctor.
One of the most important lessons she got from Sacred Heart was to say “yes” to every opportunity to try or learn about something new and good.
She also learned to say “yes” to being friends with people and always being there for them.
She wants to continue to follow Jesus. Not only will practicing her faith help her to continue becoming a better person, it will remind her of home.
“It’s comforting,” she said. “It gives me some stability and something to fall back on, which is good.”
Graduating senior Abby Smeltzer said she’ll miss the family atmosphere she’s gotten used to since arriving at Sacred Heart in fourth grade.
“Our classes are so small compared to the surrounding area schools,” she said. “We’ve all gotten so close together.”
Graduating senior Tanner Ellis agreed.
“I even went to preschool with some of them!” he said.
Mr. Ellis hopes to never let go of the memories and what he learned from his experiences at Sacred Heart, along with “the standard they have here for what you should do and how you have to carry yourself.”
Miss Smeltzer said she’s grateful for the faith that Sacred Heart helped build-up in her.
“I wouldn’t be the ‘Cath’ that I am today without Sacred Heart,” she said. “And I hope to carry that on for my entire life.”
“Strong and confident”
Graduating senior Emma Wilhelm said she’ll miss the energy and liveliness of Sacred Heart and the personalities that have developed among her classmates in their years together.
Miss Wilhelm moved to Sedalia with her family and entered Sacred Heart when she was in sixth grade.
“Everyone was welcoming and nice to me when I came,” she recalled. “I found friends quickly.”
One of the hardest times came when 17-year-old Zach Parsons, a beloved student who would have been in last year’s graduating class, died in a car accident in February 2016.
“That was really difficult,” said Miss Wilhelm. “When we came back to school the next day, we hung out and talked about it and had a prayer circle in homeroom. We all relied on each other, and that was really helpful.”
God has been with her all through high school, and she’s eager to stick with Him.
She plans on double-majoring in theology and catechetics in college.
“I want to do mission work,” she said. “So I’m way excited about that.”
She visited Haiti in November 2016 and plans to return in August.
“But I really think I might be called to India, and that’s where I hope to go my freshman year of college for spring break,” she said.
Looking ahead, Mr. Ellis asked for prayers for “a good future.”
Miss Rollings requested prayers for God to help her and her classmates “discern our vocations and stay true to what we learned here at Sacred Heart.”
Miss Smeltzer asked for prayers “that we all keep our heads on straight, that we always have God with us and people praying for us, that we push on, no matter how hard it gets sometimes.”
Miss Wilhelm requested prayers to be able to fulfill God’s purpose for her and influence as many people in impoverished countries as she can.
“I really need the prayers to be strong,” she said. “Strong and confident is what I need.”
Some of the information in this article came from a May 14 article by Hope Lecchi, education reporter for the Sedalia Democrat newspaper in Sedalia.