Although only 37 girls made up the 2011 graduating class from Holy Family Academy, this is 37 more than anyone expected two years ago when the historic Bayonne school was scheduled to close.
So when the girls made the long march down the wide aisle of St. Henry’s Church for their graduation ceremony on June 8, each student carried with her the knowledge that she had received an additional blessing, one given by the hard work and long hours of alumni, parents, and others who were able to keep the doors of the school open.
“Each one of us has worked so hard over the last four years, we can’t help but be proud of ourselves.” -- Margaret Noel Ryan
Bishop Thomas Donato, bishop of Hudson County, said the graduates are about to embark on a new chapter of their lives.
“I pray that they will be women of faith, as well as women of vision,” he said.
Salutatorian Alexandra Wepner
“If there is one thing that Holy Family Academy does well, it is to make people feel welcome,” Wepner said, noting that although she felt nervous coming to HFA as a freshman, she always felt welcomed. “I had high expectations for high school. I knew Holy Family would prepare me academically. But I was looking for more. I was looking for a school that made me feel something when I walked through the front door.”
She got what she wanted, she said, but added that words cannot adequately express it all. During the four years, she and her fellow classmates have seen many changes, but these brought the class together as a student body.
“For all the changes, the students of Holy Family emerged even more strongly knit,” she said. “I’m a strong believer that life’s experiences make a person what they are. Even the events that seem the most insignificant have an effect on a person’s character.”
She said Holy Family has helped shape the person she has become, and for this she is immensely grateful. She said she feels prepared for what faces her in the future and is sure that time and distance will not lessen the relationships that she and her fellow graduates have attained at Holy Family.
Looking out over the church filled with her fellow graduates, parents, and others, she said she knows that when they step out of the church a short time later, their high school careers will be officially over and that this will be a moment filled with emotion.
“This is not only a celebration of the end of a chapter in our lives, but also the beginning of a new blank page that is our future,” she said.
Tremitiedi celebrated the accomplishments of this year’s students, noting that the graduates had qualified and been offered scholarships of more than $9 million from some of the most prestigious colleges in the state and nation.
“Each one of us has worked so hard over the last four years, we can’t help but be proud of ourselves,” valedictorian Margaret Noel Ryan said in describing her fellow classmates. “When you attend Holy Family, you hear that you are a woman of vision from the very beginning. You hear that when you graduate as a woman of vision, you will be able to pass that vision on to others. I remember as a young freshman, I didn’t think a school could do that much for a person. I assumed that a school was a place where I would learn and prepare myself for college.”
Over the four years, she said, she learned how much more there was.
“Holy Family taught us what it means to have a goal, to have a vision for ourselves,” she said. “It taught us that looking to the future can help us be the best we can be.”
In looking back, she recalled how some of the class’s significant moments compared to those of the world beyond the walls of the school, how students were seeking out books on mythology while others were seeking the latest “Harry Potter” novel. While Michael Phelps was winning in the international Olympics, her class was working toward winning a basketball championship, and while the world suffered through natural disasters, she and her classmates worked hard to get people to pray and raise money to help the victims. She also recounted more personal moments, special moments that helped bind this class together with shared memories, some funny, some tender, some full of deep meaning for them all. But all of these memories would carry through the rest of their lives.
“These events have changed us in so many ways,” she said. “They have changed us and shaped us.”
She said one event stunned them early.
“At the end of our freshman year, we found out that our school might soon close,” she said. “We all questioned where we would graduate high school.”
But she said they stuck together and eventually became the Class of 2011.
“While we have our friends, we stick together and if we need something to happen, we make it happen,” she said. “We stood strong and knew that we would make it if we stuck together.”
She said Holy Family allowed people to become friends, and that they need to retain these friends.
“Because where we come from is just as important as where we’re going,” she said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.