Prevailing wisdom has cast the COVID-weary Class of 2020 as “resilient.”
But the 76th graduating class of Sacred Heart High School (SHHS) in Sedalia is so much more than that.
“They are a group of amazing, unique, fun-loving, sometimes bizarre but always bright individuals,” stated SHHS social studies teacher Jane McMullen, commencement speaker for this year’s matriculating seniors.
“I have seen exceptional characteristics in these young people — countless acts of kindness and camaraderie, integrity, loyalty and care beyond their years,” she said.
Ms. McMullen spoke to the 21 graduating seniors and their families, seated at a proper distance from one another in the Sacred Heart Gymnasium on July 26.
The commencement ceremony capped off a week of delayed activities for the seniors, including junior and senior prom, an awards banquet, a ceremonial last walk through the school, and the July 25 Baccalaureate Mass in St. Vincent de Paul parish’s Sacred Heart Chapel.
Ms. McMullen told her former students that the old, traditional rules are now broken and that they have the chance to write their own.
“You can create the world you want to live in,” she stated.
She reminded them that life’s failures will be what shapes them the most.
“It is our reaction to those failures that helps us find our own character,” she said.
Their reaction to the pandemic and its discomforts and disappointments gives her “incredible hope for the future.”
“When you get right down to it, all we really have in this world is our faith and our own character,” she stated.
Longtime principal Dr. Mark Register, in his first official function as president of Sacred Heart School, pointed out that 16 of the 21 graduating seniors — 76 percent — posted a cumulative grade point average of 3.25 or higher on a 4.0 scale over their four years in high school.
Thirteen — 62 percent — posted a GPA of 3.7 or higher.
Twenty successfully completed one or more college courses, with many completing several.
Together, they will take a combined 290 hours of college credit into college with them.
“Live these lessons”
Valedictorian Joseph Henke said to his classmates that the lesson of these past few months is that the world can change in an instant, “so you better be ready to change with it.”
He reminded them of the value of hard work and the joy that comes with earned success.
“If achieving success were easy, then everyone would have it,” he said. “But hard work is the price you pay for what you want to achieve.”
He extolled the virtue of gratitude, especially to everyone who helped his classmates and him become their best selves.
“Sometimes,” he stated, “that little extra push from someone who is convinced of your future potential is all you need to make that extra effort.”
He said the focus on excellence combined with Sacred Heart’s emphasis on faith in God is why parents send their children to school there.
“It is now our time to live these lessons in our lives,” he said.
Be a blessing
“Go out and be someone’s blessing!” Salutatorian Maia Smith exhorted her classmates.
She reminded them to be thankful to God for ordinary, everything things.
“Each day on this earth is a gift, and we are not to waste it,” she said. “Be the best person you can be, bring joy to other’s lives, especially during these troubling times.”
She urged everyone to incorporate gratitude into their daily lives, especially for the work of others and the gifts they present, especially in hidden and ordinary ways.
She emphasized that while the COVID-19 pandemic had taken many things away, it has brought with it many things to be thankful for.
“It provided us extra time to spend with our families,” she said, “time to spend outside and enjoy God’s creation, time to learn or perfect new skills, try new things, and definitely made our pets very happy to see us all day, every day!”
“Rock of certainty”
Joining Dr. Register on the rostrum were: Father Joseph Corel and Father David Veit, pastors in solidum of St. Vincent de Paul parish; Dr. Erin Vader, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools; Ms. McMullen, a member of the SHHS Class of 1986; Principal Abby Martin; and Dean of Students Sam Jones.
Fr. Corel presented to Martha Angel the Living the Spirit Award for exemplifying the ideals of Sacred Heart School.
Madison Hayden announced that the Class of 2020 had awarded to a member of the Class of 2021 a $500 scholarship in Ms. McMullen’s honor.
In the benediction at the end of commencement, Fr. Veit commended the Class of 2020 to God’s care and mercy.
“As these young men and women prepare to make the transition from our school community and our faith community out into a world with so many unknowns, may You be a rock of certainty for them,” he prayed.
“Help them to be visionary leaders who will imagine and work toward a bright future with the Church and for the world in years to come,” he prayed.
Dying to self
The Baccalaureate Mass was celebrated on the Feast of St. James the Apostle.
Fr. Corel presided, with Fr. Veit, Father Mark Smith, pastor of St. Peter parish in Marshall and the Mission of Holy Family in Sweet Springs, concelebrating and Deacon Turf Martin assisting.
Fr. Corel said every Catholic school is built on Jesus’s model of gathering people around Himself and forming them as disciples and sending them out on mission to the world.
“Jesus says if you have power, if you have leadership, all that means is that you get to serve even more people,” he said. “And when you serve, you die to yourself, you give more of yourself over to others.”
Fr. Corel told the graduating seniors that they will find happiness and peace if they use power and authority to build-up other people and help them live their Christian dignity to the highest level possible.
“We need to be constantly looking out to others and saying, ‘How can I make you better?’ ‘How can I uphold your dignity even more?’ ‘How can I make you more the man or the woman that God has created you to be?’” he said.
He advised them to continue growing in faith, saying “yes” to God and His plan, going wherever He sends them and being whatever He calls them to be, regardless of the earthly consequences.
He thanked the school’s administration, faculty, staff and parents for all the work and energy they put into helping get the seniors to graduation day.
“I’m very proud to be a part of the school and the Class of 2020,” stated Class President Noah Marshall, who arrived at Sacred Heart in time for his sophomore year.
“They made me feel like family and have for years,” he said.
Hannah McDonald, who attended Sacred Heart School since kindergarten, said knowing people for such a long time does tend to make everyone feel like family.
She plans on taking a well-formed faith with her to Missouri State University in Springfield, where she will pursue a degree in financial planning.
“God and I have always been really close,” she stated. “He’s definitely Someone I can go to with all my problems. And Sacred Heart has really helped me develop a relationship with Him.”
She was quick to thank her parents for their guidance and support.
She requested prayers for the safety of everyone who’s going to college in the fall.
Miss Smith started at Sacred Heart in pre-school.
“We have only 21 kids in our class, and eight of us have been here since kindergarten,” she noted. “We know everything about each other, and that’s really special.”
She feels like whenever she has a problem, she can talk to anyone in her class.
“I want to see all of these people go far in life and see what they accomplish,” she said. “Because everyone is amazing here.”
She plans to study interior architecture and product design at Kansas State University in Manhattan.
She intends to continue practicing her Catholic faith.
“It means you can really trust God for anything and you can come to Him for help or thanksgiving,” she said. “He’s always there and you can always trust in Him.”
Miss Smith asked for prayers for health and safety “and for us to be brave.”
“It’s been small, and now we’re going off to big schools and it’s going to be a lot different,” she said.
Mr. Henke arrived at Sacred Heart School in eighth grade.
He said that with the small class sizes, everyone felt comfortable asking for help.
He’s determined to take his faith with him to the Missouri University of Science & Technology in Rolla, where he plans to study mechanical engineering.
“It’s going to be a little bit harder because you don’t have anyone in the morning pushing you to go on,” he said. “That’s when you’re going to have to find your internal motivation and push yourself forward.”
He’s grateful to his parents and teachers. “Because really, I couldn’t have done any of this without them,” he said.
He asked for prayers for things to get back to normal.
“I think all of us are pretty tired of the current situation,” he said.
Jude Rollings started at Sacred Heart in pre-school.
“That makes everyone friends,” he said.
That closeness made the weeks of separation for COVID-19 especially difficult, but he and his classmates found creative ways to stay in touch.
“The classes didn’t get any less challenging,” he said of his experience with the school’s distance learning.
He plans to incorporate his faith into everyday life while studying architecture at Kansas State.
“I need to depend on something, a higher form than what is on this earth,” he said. “God is always there.”