Catholic school graduating classes honored amid social distancing

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The five Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Anchorage each found unique ways to celebrate their graduating classes this year. Despite the challenges posed by social distancing, each school has made a concerted effort to minister to their students and families in this difficult time. The schools, faculty, and staff have worked hard to prepare our young people academically and spiritually for their next steps, and to instill in their community a culture of hope and gratitude for their many blessings.

St. Mary School

St. Mary’s Catholic School in Kodiak will have “three wonderful young ladies” graduating this year according to Danielle Huerta, middle school teacher, at St. Mary’s. “They have attended our school since kindergarten or before, so we hope to make graduation special for them,” said Huerta. “They deserve something memorable. Amara, Estella, and Nora have been excellent role models for the rest of the school.”

Students, especially students in graduating classes, have been surrounded by many unknowns since leaving school before spring break. One graduate commented that the idea of an extended break sounded “nice at first, but then [she] missed school.”

In small communities like Kodiak, relationships continue to grow, despite social distancing. “Although it has been hard being away from school, our community has been blessed because we live on an island where one can be socially distant while still enjoying wonderful hikes and beaches,” said Huerta. “Overall, the Kodiak community continues to support and help one another to make the best of this difficult situation. Families have hung up rainbows of hope and solidarity in their windows, and people have made masks to donate to anyone in need.”

Our Catholic schools also provide opportunities for mixed-age relationships to grow. “Since St. Mary’s Catholic School ranges in grades from preschool to 8th grade, one student mentioned that she was sad that she didn’t get to say goodbye to her little buddies before she left,” said Huerta. “Being around younger students is one of the things she will miss most when she transitions to high school.”

Teri Schneider, principal at St. Mary’s School, commented on how the whole school is rallying to support their graduates. “St. Mary’s School’s graduation ceremony will take place on May 27th. We hope to gather each graduate and their family for a special blessing,” said Schneider. “Each class will also be compiling special messages for each of our graduates! Amara, Estella, and Nora are each such special individuals and have contributed beyond belief through their kind and gentle ways with our ‘littles’ to their thoughtfulness toward our faculty, and their leadership among their schoolmates.”

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton has the largest graduating class of the five Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Anchorage. “As we complete the 2019-2020 school year, we want to take this time to celebrate our twenty-five sixth-graders who will be moving on from Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton School,” said principal Kathy Gustafson. “We have had a busy year and it has been full of amazing memories.”

The school would like to congratulate the following sixth-grade graduates: Joseph Adolfae, Dominic Alfano, Nicholas Boring, Porter Brady, Vincent Everard, Loyal Foreman, Addysen Gasser, Makenzie Gregory, Sarn Haughey, Rufus Hinks, Kristina Kagerer, Asher Koitzsch, Alessandra Kussro, Malcolm Locke, Genevieve Lorenz, Aiden Michaelson, Lillian Muller, Lydia Ori, Emily Pfeffer, Ethan Pfeffer, Bryce Sanders, XinMei Thomson, Noah Tzvetcoff, Mari Ward and Collin Woods.

Graduation is bittersweet for students at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. “We do realize that there also have been some disappointments due to traditional events having to be canceled due to COVID-19 and finishing the school via distance learning,” said Gustafson. “This group of students missed out on their traditional actiities such as their sixth grade play, spring musical, an overnight camping trip to Birchwood Camp, Jog-a-thon, Field Day, and also the sixth grade versus staff kickball game.”

Despite the distances, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton families will experience graduation in a unique way this year. “We are still going to do a revised version of our traditional Sixth Grade Celebration Mass with Father Scott on Tuesday, May 19th at 7 p.m. via the Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish Facebook page,” said Gustafson. “Following the Sixth Grade Celebration Mass, the teachers will spread out in our parking lot and the families will have the opportunity to drive through waving at a safe distance from their cars. At the end of the procession, the students will have an opportunity to take their picture by our school logo banner individually or with their families.”

As St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s sixth-grade students enter middle school, Gustafson is confident that they are ready. “Saint Elizabeth School has prepared you with an excellent education and now you are ready for higher learning,” said Gustafson. “We hope you treasure all the memories and friendships you have made at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton School.”

Our Lady of the Valley School

“Our Lady of the Valley Catholic School presents with admiration and happiness six graduates that have successfully completed all requirements deemed necessary for promotion from the eighth grade,” said Joyce Lund, principal at Our Lady of the Valley School in Wasilla. The graduates this year are: Sara Campbell, Rosie Hennemann, Daniel Hsu, Rogue Rilatos, Branson Starheim, and Jonah Trouy.

The students have risen to the challenge of online learning this semester. “It’s been very difficult, but the kids have been doing remarkably well. They’re keeping up on their homework and the teachers have been working one-on-one with students who start to fall behind,” said Lund. “I just got off the phone with one of my little second graders. I think we talked for 45 minutes. She just wanted to talk!”

The graduation ceremony will take place at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Wasilla on May 21st. “Each student and family will have an assigned time to come and receive their award and graduation gifts,” said Lund. The ceremony will include a blessing and message to the graduates and will be recorded, edited together, and given to the families as a memento of this special day.

As soon as the social distancing norms are lifted, the seventh and eighth-grade classes will have a cookout. “There, the seventh graders will receive their awards. Students will also ‘award’ each student with their traditional paper plate awards,” said Lund. Each paper plate award is created by a classmate and honors the fun aspect each student brought to their Catholic class community.

Many communities come together to support Our Lady of the Valley Catholic School. “The 2020 graduating class is appreciative of their families, teachers, Valley parishes and Catholic organizations that have supported them monetarily and spiritually, enabling them to receive a Catholic education,” said Lund. “May the lessons and prayers they received while attending Our Lady of the Valley continue to serve and guide them as they begin their secondary education, always being guided by the hand of God enabling them to serve others, model a virtuous life and honor His Word. ‘Ora et labora’– pray and work, dear graduates, as you embark on a new educational journey.”

Holy Rosary Academy

Online learning has been a challenging transition, but teachers have seen a few unexpected blessings. “We’ve had to be very thoughtful about transitioning to online classes with a classical curriculum,” said Lisa Williams, principal at Holy Rosary Academy. “Those have actually been a surprising blessing. Some of the students you might not hear from as much in class are more willing to come forward and have really blossomed during this time.” She added, “The quiet students have really profound insights, so one of the interesting takes is to note that the student who always had beautiful thoughts is given a new form to express themselves in a new and fresh way.”

Holy Rosary Academy seniors each present a thesis as part of their final studies. “We do our thesis every year with a thesis panel, and we’ve had some former beloved members of our community come back and join us because it was through video conferencing,” said Williams. “It really opened us up to a broader community to include those who are out of state who might not normally be able to come.”

“For graduation, we’re simultaneously planning 5 options,” said Robyn Woyte, office manager and parent of a graduating senior. “The ceremony will most likely take place on HRA’s campus and the commencement speakers, Fr. Mark Francis Manzano, O.P. and the Honorable Loren Leman, will present live via an online platform or by projecting their pre-recorded comments. We expect to broadcast the Mass and ceremony to our broader audience with an online platform.”

“We’re also having a Baccalaureate Mass the night before, which is our tradition,” said Williams. “Congratulations to all our graduates!”

Lumen Christi High School

Lumen Christi High School’s senior class is a tight-knit group of students. “The most difficult thing for our seniors is not being able to be together for all this, because they’re very close,” said Liz Loeffler, Campus Minister. “I think they’re really craving that time to be the seniors the last couple weeks and to be together physically.”

In conjunction with graduation, families and faculty brought senior appreciation to the students’ homes. “Almost all the teachers and several of our families met at Lumen, and we drove around to all the houses of the seniors in Anchorage,” said Loeffler. “They were all out in their front yards in their cap and gown. We honked and waved. It was super fun and you could tell the kids loved it.”

Lumen Christi’s graduation ceremony was simple but meaningful. “Students came by in their cap and gown, in half-hour intervals, walked across the stage, got their diploma, and threw their cap,” said Loeffler. “We videotaped the two students giving their speeches, and we’ll put them all together to make one graduation ceremony to be aired at the end.” The unique ceremony was featured on local TV channels.

In addition to the school’s graduation ceremony, the parish also honors its seniors from other school communities, Loeffler said. “We also have a Baccalaureate Mass at St. Benedict Parish. Each of the seniors has their designated pew and we honor all our senior students, not just the ones who attend Lumen Christi. Each student has a bow that shows the color of his or her school, along with a flower for the moms and nametags of each one.”

Loeffler sees the current COVID-19 challenge as an opportunity to grow in ministry. “We’re stretching our brains to find new ways to be interesting and effective online, and even when we go back to school, we’ll be able to use that,” said Loeffler. “We’ve also got some kids who stepped up who never saw themselves as being leaders. It’s been great to see the amount of prayer that’s come out of it too. Our ministry team is holding small groups, just to get together once a week and chat, see how things are going, doing some prayer and hanging out because they’re feeling isolated. We all have a new appreciation for each other.”


'Catholic school graduating classes honored amid social distancing'
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