Stormy skies gave way to Trailblazer blue as Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School’s 66 newest graduates embarked on the next stretch of their path to heaven.
“If there’s one thing I learned at my time here at Tolton Catholic, it’s ‘Once a Trailblazer, always a Trailblazer!’” Claire Thurnau told fellow members of the Class of 2022 during their graduation ceremonies May 15.
Graduating senior Justin Boyer led the invocation, thanking God for the school, the faculty and staff, the seniors’ families, their friends, the hardships they have endured together, the jokes and happy memories they’ve shared, and for God’s love, “which has been made evident through the relationships we will carry with us beyond these walls.”
Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki, vicar general of the Jefferson City diocese, congratulated the graduating seniors, their teachers and their families.
He spoke of “Three Gs” that he hoped for them: gratitude, goals and the Gospel.
“May your hearts always continue to be grateful to God and to all those who work amidst you here in the heart of Missouri,” he said.
He urged them to put what they’ve learned and experienced to best use in forging and carrying-out new goals as their future unfolds, including “the way we serve the community, Church and our nation.”
He reminded them that having witnessed the power of Christ among them in difficult and easy times, they must now follow “the command of our Lord to go out and teach the whole world the Good News.”
Joining Msgr. Kurwicki on the platform were Dr. Daniel Everett, PhD, president and principal of Tolton Catholic; Dr. Erin Vader, PhD, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools; Father Christopher Cordes, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Columbia and chairman of the school’s board of trustees; and Father Michael Coleman, who has been a chaplain at the school since its founding in 2011.
Tears and fire
Fr. Coleman presided at the school’s Baccalaureate Mass the evening before graduation.
“As we say goodbye to you all, it’s with tears in our eyes and fire in our hearts,” he told the soon-to-be graduates. “Because you’re going to do great things for God.”
He reminded the seniors that Jesus is inviting them to be His disciples. He urged them to talk to God frequently, listen to Him, and love Him above all else.
“You were loved, even before you were formed in the womb,” the priest insisted. “God has loved us for all eternity, and there is nothing and no one who could ever take that away!”
Joining Fr. Coleman at the altar were Fr. Cordes and Father Daniel Merz, pastor of St. Thomas More Newman Center Parish in Columbia.
“Just the beginning”
Two members of the Class of 2022 addressed their classmates and their families at graduation.
Claire called to mind some of her class’s achievements, such as contributing to six district titles and 12 state appearances in sports, resulting in eight state championships; an average cumulative grade point average of 3.8223; and an average ACT score of 23.9.
“Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us that ‘God has a great plan for you,’” Claire stated. “Thank you to the faculty and staff who spent the past four years helping us know how to seek His path.”
She thanked the seniors’ friends and families “who helped us pursue our dreams and encouraged us every step of the way.”
“But most of all, thank you to the fellow seniors of the Class of 2022 for all the memories, late-night adventures, group chats to help with classes, the laughs, game days, the FaceTime calls and of course, the senior year story,” she said.
Carley Sapp carried the theme of trailblazing through her recollections of the past four years.
Despite setbacks and challenges, “we achieved greatness, and we definitely won our senior year,” she said.
She thanked the parents for choosing Tolton Catholic; Fr. Coleman and Father Paul Clark, chaplains, for their constant reminders that “God is good”; and the teachers who taught subjects as well as how to be better people and responsible adults.
“Although this feels like an ending, it isn’t,” Carley insisted. “It’s just the beginning of a new section of the trail we have already been blazing.”
Among the awards presented to the graduating seniors were:
Dr. Everett and Msgr. Kurwicki presented the diplomas.
Fr. Coleman called down a blessing upon the Class of 2022.
“Never forget that you are loved,” Dr. Everett told them.
Time of transformation
Four of the newly minted graduates took part in an informal discussion about what Tolton Catholic has meant to them and how they’ve changed in the past four years.
Andrew Jenner knew only one of his classmates when he landed at Tolton Catholic as a freshman.
“But I ended up getting a lot of friends, and I opened up more and became more myself through these four years,” he said.
Christian wasn’t particularly outgoing when he first arrived at “Trailblazer Central.”
“But I’ve definitely branched out, which I think has helped me grow as a person,” he said.
Claire recognized her biggest change in her capacity to lead.
“I used to be a follower,” she said. “But here at Tolton, they helped shape me into being a person who believes, ‘You are your own person. You can do whatever you set out to do, and no one is going to judge you for it.’”
Likewise, Catherine grew in self-confidence.
“I’m much more willing to just be me,” she said. “I’ve grown in my ability to lead, and learned to manage my time better.”
Onward and upward
Gratitude permeated the students’ perspectives.
Claire is thankful for the teachers and staff, as well as her grandparents, who encouraged her to go to school at Tolton Catholic.
Christian, who spent four years on the varsity golf team, is thankful for his coaches and teammates.
“They all helped me grow as a person,” he said.
Andrew is grateful for having learned about and grown in his faith. As a four-year member of the varsity track team, he’s also thankful for his coaches and teammates and for everything they accomplished together.
Catherine is most grateful to her parents, who worked very hard in order for her to be able to receive a good Catholic education.
She defined that as “a good, safe, Catholic education with teachers that treat us like we’re family, and we really get that personal experience just being here.”
All four agreed that God made His presence known to them consistently through their time at Tolton Catholic.
“I can tell that God is here just because of the community of people,” said Christian, “not only the teachers, because they do a good job of trying to educate and also be there for you when you need them, but also the student body.”
He and many of his classmates have been together since kindergarten at Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School.
“As a class, we are extremely close,” he said. “I think the community is where God is most evident for me.”
“You can tell that God is in the school and is with us,” said Catherine, “because as soon as you walk in the doors, you feel loved by every person that’s in here.”
For Claire, God’s presence was most evident in the familial bonds she and her classmates share.
“You’re not just a student at Tolton Catholic, you are a family member of Tolton Catholic,” she said.
Andrew said it’s hard to describe how close he and his classmates have become.
“It’s very personal because everyone here kind of knows who you are and respects you,” he said.
“Always with me”
Andrew, Catherine and Christian have been Catholic their whole lives and intend to stay Catholic.
Claire is Lutheran and wants to remain so.
All four agree that the adults in their churches need to lead by example and give them opportunities to do likewise.
Adults “need to show love and support to everybody,” said Catherine. “And they need to continue to support the Catholic mission, the Christian mission overall, and help inspire younger people to stay in their faith, even after graduating from high school.”
Claire believes she can take the experience of the tight, accepting community she found at Tolton Catholic and help recreate it wherever she goes.
“My next steps in my career can be realizing all that the people did for me here and how I can do the same for other people,” she said.
Catherine said she plans on taking her Catholic faith with her “and the knowledge that God is always with me, no matter where I go.”
All four are counting on people’s prayers for them and their fellow graduates.
Andrew asked for prayers “for us to be sure to keep the faith and grow in the faith,” as well as for people who have not yet experienced God’s goodness or had the faith revealed to them.
Christian asked for prayers for safety as the graduates embark on separate paths toward the next stage in their life.
“Pray for people to grow each day and become a better person, a better Catholic, a better athlete, better academically, better at whatever they’re going to do now,” he requested.
Claire suggested praying for the graduating seniors to always appreciate the time they spent together and with their teachers at Tolton Catholic.
Catherine asked for prayers for God to guide them in making good decisions — “to stay within our faith, so that we don’t get off track — to keep us on track for heaven.”