Sunlight streamed through the windows and into the gymnasium, highlighting the room filled with parents and friends who’d come to witness the graduation of Marist’s Class of 2012.
Although less warm that other years, the crowd still used their programs as fans, struggling to get through the June 2 ceremony so that they could gather outside to take pictures with the 131 graduates.
Blue, gold, red, and even tiger-striped balloons floated above the seats, one bundle already lost, tangled in the half-raised basketball backboard.
The gymnasium serves many uses over the school year – as a site for an arts festival, an arena for sports – but few purposes seem as important as this. Loved ones dress up as if for a ball to witness the final, most significant moment in each student’s life thus far. The gym is the last place at Marist that many of them will see as they depart the school for good.
Catherine Weening, in her valedictorian’s address, told the graduates that life at Marist had been more than just planning for the future, but an experience in itself, a moment in time that they had to seize.
Although she said “carpe diem” (“seize the day”) she said that too many people are so busy planning for what they want to be, they forget the present.
“Every action is too calculated on how to build a résumé, how spin ourselves into the person colleges want,” she said, discouraging her fellow classmates from seeking jobs just for the money. “You want one that makes you get up and feel fully alive to take on the world.”
The awe of graduation was obvious on the faces of the graduates as they marched into the gym to the traditional “Pomp and Circumstance,” their blue gowns swirling as they made their way up the center aisle to the blue seats reserved for them near the stage. Their smiles mingled with nostalgia, their waves to loved one mixed with surprising regrets, all of them after four years only then realized completely what was transpiring and what they would be giving up when they left.
“You have to learn how to build family out there.” – Alice Miesnik
Principal Alice Miesnik called Marist their home, where they “flourished in mind, body and spirit.”
“This is why I feel dread,” she said during her comments to the graduates. “The world beyond these walls is not so kind.”
She told them that she hoped that they would carry the lessons they learned in Marist out into the world, learning to build kindness while expecting the unexpected. She said at Marist, they were part of a family.
“You have to learn how to build family out there,” she said.
The faces of the graduates looked thoughtful and grave at that moment, even though only seconds earlier they had each been issued diplomas, and a group of them rose up in a rhyming pre-planned clapping that rocked the auditorium.
Although family members took frequent pictures, no snap shot or video could completely capture the feeling of that moment, or the electric surge of changes the crackled through the room.
School President Robert Slaski in his prayer for the class hoped that they would maintain the values they learned in Marist.
Paige Morris, in her salutatory address, touched upon many of the common experiences they had shared as a class, talking about her size and the obstacles she had to overcome.
“I wasn’t worry about writing my speech, but reaching the microphone,” she said, talking about how her four feet, eleven inches in height had posed problems during her time, people mistaking her for a freshman or even younger, not taking her seriously before of her size.
But she said she was like Marist itself, always considered an underdog, yet Marist somehow overcame its challenges, such as when the practice pool cracked and the swim team had to travel five extra miles in order to practice, or how one of the key sports stars got injured.
When she spoke about the baseball team winning the county championship, the room erupted with cheers and pride, as many rose to their feet.
“What I learned during my four years is that we can always beat the odds,” she said.
Alexandra E. Cavell, assistant principal for academics, described Morris as talented and kind, someone who was adept behind a video camera while simultaneously offering encouragement to others.
Morris will be attending Brown University in the fall where she will major in English.
This class of 2012, Cavell said, had qualified for more than $8 million in scholarships and grants, the highest total of any previous graduating class.
Some of the top achievers in the class individually qualified for $500,000 to $800,000 each, Cavell said.
This year’s graduating students had 315 total college acceptances for 110 colleges in 20 states.
Weening, for instance has been accepted to Bard College, while other top students such as Luh-Anne Malagad has been accepted to Seton Hall; Thea John, Cornell; Kimberly Luna, Bloomfield College; Rom Julian Lipa, Rutgers University; Alex Nyamweya, NJIT; and Kimberly Fonseca, Fordham.
As well as being valedictorian, Weening was also awarded medal for excellence from Marist in religion and English, and second in merit in history.