The years gone by have been blessed, filled with happy and sad memories and with gratitude and anticipation.
All of that was evident as Sacred Heart High School’s Class of 2022 came together to recognize and give thanks for all the blessings of the time they spent together.
The blessings are abundant.
The 13 members of the high school’s 78th graduating class posted a combined 3.67 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, with nine graduating seniors posting a 3.5 cumulative GPA or higher, and seven maintaining 3.85 or higher over their four years of high school.
The new graduates have been offered a combined $1,915,472 in college scholarships and will take more than 200 hours of college credit with them.
The evening of May 20, two days before graduation, the seniors and their families gathered in the Sacred Heart Chapel for their Baccalaureate Mass.
Father David Veit, one of the pastors in solidum of St. Vincent de Paul Parish of Pettis County, presided at the Mass and preached the homily, using the prayers for the Votive Mass of Thanksgiving.
“We gather with great joy for this unique opportunity to make a prayer of thanksgiving for the good things that God has already given these seniors, and also for the things that they will do in the future,” said Fr. Veit.
He spoke of Sacred Heart School’s primary mission, which is to help prepare young people to follow Christ for the rest of their lives.
“What we do in a Catholic school is to raise up disciples and give our students opportunities to live out their faith, that they might gratefully recognize what God has given them, receive those gifts and then, in gratitude, share those gifts,” he said.
He told the seniors that their diploma will be much more than a wall decoration.
“For me, it’s a reminder of everything that happened in high school that formed me and changed me — and I’m continuing to be formed and changed because it never ends — into a better disciple of Jesus Christ,” he said.
He reminded the seniors that God has chosen them to receive His gifts in gratitude, recognize them and share them with others.
Fr. Veit said graduation is about giving thanks.
“Not because you’re done with anything, but because now you are beginning, in full measure, out into the world, to share these gifts that you have been developing and have recognized and joyfully received,” he stated.
He said what will distinguish the soon-to-be graduates of Sacred Heart School is that they were “not just educated but that you were formed for the values that Christ handed on to us.”
“And we rejoice in that!” he said. “We rejoice in the immense potential that is going to be when you cooperate with God’s grace, fulfilled in you, that you are appointed, chosen by God to bear great and lasting fruit!
“You have been doing that for your whole time at Sacred Heart,” he said. “This is truly not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning of your discipleship.”
History teacher Jane McMullen, herself a Sacred Heart graduate, gave the keynote address at commencement.
She urged the graduating seniors not to be afraid of difficult things. “It is from adversity that you learn the most and continue to grow emotionally, intellectually and in wisdom,” she said.
She told them to keep trying new things without fear of failure, to surround themselves with supportive people, to keep long-term goals in mind, to have fun and stay close to God and their faith.
“Have the courage to seek the truth, and speak the truth, to stand up for the underdog, and to stand up against intolerance — even if yours is the lone voice,” she advised.
“Have the courage to trust your gut and your own moral compass — your innate understanding of right and wrong,” she said. “Have the courage to love fearlessly and unconditionally, and don’t compromise that love because of arrogance or insecurity.”
“Always coming back”
Many of the graduates had been in school together for 13 years, including Claire Smeltzer and Kiley Beykirch.
“You know absolutely everyone and their stories, and it’s a lot of friendships,” Claire stated.
They’ve all seen the best and worst of each other, and they choose to remain friends, she said.
“A lot of these relationships not just with your classmates but with the teachers in the school have been such a big part of our lives since kindergarten,” Kiley noted. “So going from these people being a huge part of my life, to only seeing them when we come back and visit, it’s going to be pretty hard.
“But they’ve shaped us, so they’ve been worth it,” she said.
Kiley plans to attend Texas Christian University in Fort Worth this fall. Claire plans to attend Truman State University in Kirksville.
Both said it will feel different not having numerous reminders throughout the day to put their faith into practice.
“Here, you’re always being reminded of God, so you’re always coming back to Him,” said Kiley. “Especially in times when you’re going through childhood or when you’re a teenager and you’re feeling a little like rebellious in the mind, it’s really good to be hearing that reminder, because otherwise you might have strayed away.”
For Claire, just being at school is full of important reminders.
“I’ve grown up being Catholic,” she said. “It’s just a part of my life. I think I’d truly be missing something if I let go of it or forgot about it.”
Kiley said: “If I didn’t have my faith, I’d definitely feel a void that needed to be filled by something, and I don’t think anything else could really fill that void.”
She added that she loves the formality of the sacred rituals, which she and her classmates got to learn the meaning and significance of as students of Sacred Heart.
“So it’s all the more special because you have the education to back it up,” she said.
Claire said that when it comes to leading other people to Christ, it’s important for people to practice their faith with joy and an attitude of openness.
Both encouraged adults to see that young people are growing up amidst constant change.
“Listening to the younger generations and adapting — we definitely do have different problems and issues, as we saw with the COVID pandemic,” said Claire. “We’re in a constant pattern of change.”
Kiley said it’s important for people to show that the Church keeps up with the times and they’re willing to adapt to new problems that the younger generations face.
Claire asked for prayers for a smooth transition to college life in a place with many more people and perspectives.
Kiley suggested also pray “for us to remember who we are and where we came from, and no matter what, that we not get too big for our britches or too concerned with earthly desires, and that while college is a new and exciting place, that there are a lot of new and fun things, and that’s awesome, that we remember who God is and where we came from and our morals.”
Alexander Karigan landed at Sacred Heart as a kindergartener. Ian Viscarra Mendez, a foreign exchange student from Bolivia, arrived as a freshman.
Both plan to study at State Fair Community College in Sedalia this fall before moving on to the next phase of their education.
Both said they have benefitted from the small, tight environment.
“That’s what I’ll miss the most,” said Ian. “But I will say that I’m ready for some new things, and for changes.”
He noted that the COVID pandemic and the abrupt changes it brought were difficult, including returning to school with a litany of health protocols.
Alex recalled that several of his friends moved to other schools after eighth grade, but that two students who arrived during his freshman year are now among his closest friends.
Both said they’ve been surrounded at school by reminders of their Catholic faith.
“It’s going to be weird not having that in college,” said Alex, “but I’m thankful that I got to grow up with that in my life.”
Ian said he recognizes God’s presence all the time when he’s at school and at home, “and it’s thanks to the school.”
“It truly is a Catholic school because they teach us and help us be with God and closer to God,” he said. “So you know that He’s with you and in the back of your mind that He’s gonna be there if you need Him.”
Ian added the foundation has been built, and it’s up to each graduate to continue growing in faith, getting closer to God and putting their faith into practice.
Alex, who is Lutheran, said that same foundation will help him grow in his Christian faith and make good decisions down the road.
He requested prayers for help taking the important things seriously in college.
“I believe everyone in the class will go on to do great things but I believe if you keep praying for us, it will be a little extra something to get us there,” he said.
Ian asked for prayers for him and his classmates to stay in contact with each other.
“I would like to have these people as friends for the rest of my life,” he said.