Beethoven’s Hymn to Joy accompanied Sacred Heart High School’s graduating seniors out the front door of Sacred Heart Chapel.
“We’ve spiritually graduated,” one of the 24 members of the Class of 2021 proclaimed.
They had given thanks to God during their Baccalaureate Mass on May 21, two days before graduation.
Father David Veit, pastor in solidum of St. Vincent de Paul Parish of Pettis County, presided at the Mass and preached the homily.
“We mark this time of prayer,” said Fr. Veit. “We rejoice! We cry out with full voices in a full choir, to proclaim the Goodness of God.”
Sacred Heart is the only Catholic school in the diocese that offers pre-kindergarten through high school.
“Even though it seems like a long time, especially those of you who started here in kindergarten, this really just the end of the beginning,” Fr. Veit stated.
He urged the seniors to continue giving thanks for and relying on God’s unconditional love.
“You’re not trying to earn His love,” the priest noted. “You don’t have to earn His love! Just accept it and put it into practice by serving one another, by continuing to have a grateful heart that’s being formed in you here and now.”
He reminded everyone that God is fully aware of each of their strengths and weaknesses.
“Now He’s telling you to act on that love: ‘Follow Me. Tend My lambs. Feed My sheep.”
At the end of Mass, Dr. Mark Register, president of Sacred Heart School, presented a diploma to Koyuke Miura, an exchange student from Japan and graduating senior, who was traveling back home the next day.
She cried as she accepted the diploma and her classmates’ applause.
Ready ... set ...
Outside, several pandemic-weary seniors set their gaze on the future.
“I’m just ready to graduate and move on to the next step,” said Jude Jenkins.
“I mean ... I’m going to miss everything, all the experiences,” he quickly added. “A lot of memories were made here. But I’m ready to move on.”
He plans to attend State Fair Community College in Sedalia on an A+ scholarship, then complete a degree in business or marketing at a four-year college.
“A lot of my friends are going to State Fair,” he noted, “so we’ll still be together for the next two years.”
He plans to stay true to his faith.
“My parents have always raised me Catholic, so I don’t think it’s going to be very hard,” said Mr. Jenkins. “Just stay consistent and keep going to church.”
Jeffrey Hollabaugh of Marshall attended Sacred Heart School for a few years, then went to St. Peter School in his hometown, then returned for high school.
“I’m glad I came back. I love it,” he said.
He plans to attend the University of Arkansas this fall.
“I’ll be taking with me a lot of life lessons I learned on the golf course from my golf coach,” he said. “Working with others and learning how to fight through frustrations — because golf is very frustrating, so you have to have a lot of patience with it.”
He’s confident that God will accompany him from this phase of his life through the next.
“I will stay Catholic,” he asserted. “There are a lot of Catholic churches where I’m going, so I should be able to go every week.”
He’s grateful to all the people — parents, teachers, coaches — who have “done their part and sacrificed to help us get to this day.”
He’s looking forward to getting to have conversations with fellow Catholics in college, getting to know them and growing together in their relationship with God.
Veronica Vanegas started at Sacred Heart School in kindergarten.
She said that while her class has always been tight-knit, they reached a new level of unity during their eighth-grade mission trip.
That set the course for the rest of their time together.
She plans to continue her education at State Fair Community College, then transfer to a four-year college.
She plans on remaining Catholic — “believing in God and what He did for all of us to save us.”
She’s grateful to the teachers for putting up with “a pretty goofy class” and helping each student become a better person.
Addie Hunsaker said spending 13 years with mostly the same classmates leads to “a very family kind of bond.”
“It’s like they’re your brothers and sisters,” she said.
It will be strange not to be together every day.
“A lot of us are going far, far away,” said Miss Hunsaker.
She plans to study at State Fair for her two years of college.
She plans on taking ownership of the practice of her faith.
“It’s easy to take going to church for granted when it’s what everybody is doing,” she said. “But it’s definitely my choice now, and I think coming at it from a more relaxed point of view is going to help me pay better attention.”
She lauded the teachers, administrators and clergy who “worked together and played their part to make our time at Sacred Heart very special.”
She looked ahead to her class’s 10-year reunion.
“I think we’ll all be these mature adults doing our jobs,” she said. “But as soon as we get back together, we’ll completely regress. It’s high school again!”
All four asked for prayers.
“Stepping out of high school is going to be hard for us,” said Miss Vanegas. “I know we can do it, but prayer will certainly help.”
Mr. Jenkins suggested praying for him and his fellow graduates to find success and to find true satisfaction in life.
Mr. Hollabaugh asked for prayers for him and his fellow graduates to remain safe and “do good for the community.”
Miss Hunsaker requested prayers for hope, courage and motivation.
“It can be sad, it can be hard to move away from friends and family,” she said. “So the Lord giving us hope is what we need.
“And if there’s a prayer for motivation, slip that in there, too,” she said.
“Back at the beginning”
Memories and gratitude marked the school’s commencement on May 23.
Dr. Mark Register, the school’s president, pointed out that 21 of this year’s 26 graduates have cumulative high school grade-point averages of 3.5 or higher on a 4.0 scale.
All 26 have successfully completed one or more college courses. They leave Sacred Heart High School with a combined 390 credit hours of college credit.
So far, they have been offered a combined $2.43 million in college scholarships and plan on accepting just over a $1 million.
“Clearly, an environment of accomplishment and positive peer pressure was present, and these young people have taken great pride in their work in the classrooms,” said Dr. Register.
Class President Kaytlin Kempf said she and her classmates had been looking forward to this day since they were little.
“But we will miss what we could not wait to finish,” she said.
Some, including her, might be “daydreaming, reminiscing about the past or trying to hold back the tears,” she said. “But this time is not to dwell in the past, it’s the time to start our future.”
Valedictorian Kelsey Hudson likened graduation to the end of one good book and the start of another.
“The adventures we’ve gone on are stories in themselves,” she stated. “There are so many things we have been through and so much more we will do in the future.
“Next year, we will be back at the beginning of a new story, in a completely new environment,” she noted. “We are now going to be the new characters in other people’s stories.”
She reflected on 13 years of learning and growing in faith.
“Without Sacred Heart, my story would be completely different, and I would not have the relationship with God that I have right now,” she said.
She said she has faith that she and all of her classmates will find the paths that are best for them.
She thanked her teachers for helping her and her classmates learn things “that will help us during all of our future adventures.”
Salutatorian Megan Wingerter reminded her classmates that their learning is far from over.
She urged them not to forget the time they spent together.
“Walking across this stage is a great accomplishment for each and every one of us, and we should be proud to represent Sacred Heart as the Class of 2021,” she stated. “I’m so glad I got to be a part of the Sacred Heart Class of 2021 and share in all these great memories.”
“Our best hope”
Keynote speaker Marsha Turner, an English and social studies teacher at Sacred Heart, described the young men and women seated before her as “extraordinary and exceptional.”
She complimented them for dignity and grace with which they responded to the pandemic protocols and privations of the past 15 months.
“We all celebrate you today,” she said. “Your success in every area — academic, athletic, artistic — are truly outstanding.”
She called them “our very best hope for the future.”
“Your standards, your faith, your integrity — from your parents, your priests, your teachers — all of you are our very best hope for the future,” she said.
She urged them to stay true to their faith and integrity, and cautioned them to be careful with how they use words, “the swords of the 21st century.”
She marveled at how quickly the graduating seniors had grown up.
“Here they are, looking so distinguished in caps and gowns — ready to take on the world and tackle the next challenge in their lives,” she said.