“What a year this has been!” Bishop W. Shawn McKnight stated as 55 seniors prepared to graduate from Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School in Columbia.
“You’ve finally arrived at this moment,” he told them, “by God’s grace and also by the blood and sweat and tears not only of yourselves but the many who have invested in this institution, this Catholic high school that’s part of the mission of our Church.”
The Class of 2021 gathered with their families in the Tolton Catholic gymnasium on May 28 to give thanks to God and celebrate.
The seniors prayed for their parents, families, teachers and benefactors and for all who have died.
“Our life is God’s gift to us,” graduating senior Drew Freeman noted. “What we do with our life is our gift to God.”
Bishop McKnight, in his homily during their Baccalaureate Mass, urged the graduating seniors to be instruments of Christ’s peace in a world that desperately needs the light of Christ.
The bishop reminded them that they have been baptized and confirmed. Through that outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they each are summoned to give prophetic witness to Jesus’s death and resurrection.
“As disciples of Jesus Christ, we live not for ourselves but for Him,” the bishop noted. “We live for His Church. We live for others.”
He pointed out that God has a plan of hope for each of the new graduates, in terms of a vocation, a profession or a career.
“As we celebrate your work of these past four years,” the bishop told them, “we also eagerly await with excitement and wonderment what your futures have in store for you.”
Where to begin
Commencement took place about a half-hour after the Mass concluded.
The seniors reemerged in their blue gowns and mortarboards with gold tassels.
Dr. Daniel Everett, concluding his first year as president and principal of Tolton Catholic, lauded everyone’s patience and flexibility in the planning of the event around quickly changing circumstances relative to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He welcomed all the grandparents, relatives and friends who were present and those who were watching over livestream.
“Your love and support throughout the years have made this day possible for our graduates,” he said.
Dylan Seidt, one of two graduating seniors who addressed their classmates, spoke with urgency about what lies ahead.
“We are each entering a new chapter in our lives, seeking higher education, beginning military service, or pursuing new opportunities,” he said. “More important, we are about to enter a world that desperately needs us.”
Specifically, the world needs each of the graduates’ unique gifts, talents and resources in order for the human condition to improve.
“Changing the world starts by helping out just one person in need, bringing happiness to a group or workplace or simply being a good friend,” Mr. Seidt noted.
He reminded his classmates that obstacles foster opportunity.
“Use whatever setbacks you face as fuel to spring forward into the unknown,” he advised, adding:
“Success comes by waking up every morning and deciding to be the best version of yourself.”
Called to connection
Mr. Freeman said one of the Class of 2021’s most enduring accomplishments is the relationships each member built.
“The first and most important relationship we’ve built at Tolton is our relationship with God,” he stated.
He thanked Father Michael Coleman and Father Paul Clark, the school’s chaplains, for their guidance.
“You taught us the importance of having a relationship with God and how that can lead us to better relationships in our lives,” Mr. Freeman stated.
He also thanked the teachers and all of his and his classmates’ families and relatives.
He thanked Dr. Everett for helping lead the school through the pandemic.
Mr. Freeman said he has no doubt that with the Lord’s help, “each and every one of us will continue to be a gift not only to God but to the world.”
Among the awards presented to the seniors were:
Dr. Everett also acknowledged Noah Manie, who has been sworn into the U.S. Marine Corps.
Bishop McKnight presented each of the diplomas.
After the students ceremonially moved their tassels from the left to the right side of their mortarboards, Fr. Coleman stepped forward to give them a blessing.
“I grieve missing most of the year with them,” Fr. Coleman, who has been recovering from cancer treatment, later said, “but I am so blessed to have this opportunity to send you off with Jesus’s blessing.”
Then, after a countdown, the new graduates tossed their mortarboards into the air.
Known and loved
Interviews with several graduating seniors indicated relief and gratitude for their time at Tolton Catholic.
Madeline Fallis said God made His presence known to her through the way everyone at Tolton Catholic made her feel welcome.
“All the teachers here know your name, which is pretty awesome,” she stated.
Miss Fallis plans to attend the University of Missouri this fall on the pre-med track in the Honor’s College.
She said she won’t be leaving God behind.
“It’s important for me to wake up every morning and pray and know how much God loves me and understand that He loves others, so I should spread love to other people, too.”
She asked for prayers for everyone in her class to be successful, to know how much God loves them and to be able to share that with the people around them.
“God has a plan”
Anthony Alcabasa said his main reason for coming to Tolton Catholic was to continue his friendships from Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School in Columbia.
Mr. Alcabasa plans to study civil engineering this fall at the University of Missouri.
“I think we have a really good community here,” he said. “And it’s strong. It’s good to know everybody. I can name everybody here by their face.”
Joel Eborieme said it was a good decision to attend Tolton Catholic.
“I met some great people here,” he stated.
He believes the COVID pandemic helped motivate this year’s seniors to insist on making it a great year.
“We connected with each other and we’ve got each other’s backs,” he said. “We really support each other.”
Mr. Eborieme plans to study business administration and computer science at DePaul University in Chicago this fall.
He said he’ll be drawing on the work ethic Tolton Catholic helped instill in him.
He plans to continue practicing his Catholic faith and growing in his relationship with God.
“I think getting into a good, small group, meeting people and becoming tight with them will probably help me faith-wise,” he said.
So I will be going to Mass regularly and stay connected to the faith, he stated.
Mr. Eborieme and Mr. Alcabasa both asked for prayers for everyone in their class to be successful.
“I feel like success is different for every person,” Mr. Eborieme stated. “So I just want God to answer what everyone has in their own hearts.”
Mr. Alcabasa added: “God has a plan for us, so we need Him to help us find out what that plan is and follow through with it.”
Something to build on
Abigail Mayhan is thankful to have spent the past four years at a school with great friends and teachers who care very much.
“They know what they’re doing,” she stated. “They know how to teach and they know how to connect with us.”
Miss Mayhan plans to become active at the Catholic Newman Center at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where she’ll be studying this fall.
She noted that she and her fellow graduates will likely face many new challenges in college.
“So please pray that we stay true to ourselves and to God and keep our heads on our shoulders,” she said.
In order to help God answer those prayers, she asked adults to be open and supportive when young people come to them with questions.
“And if someone is questioning their faith or their life choices, use your own experiences to help them,” she said.