Graduations are steeped in tradition, and one of the end-of-year events for graduates is the last day of school clap-out, where teachers, students, staff and parents gather in the hallways and parking lots, waving and cheering for the students as they leave the building. This year as more than 900 eighth graders of the Diocese of Trenton exited the school building, closing the familiar doors behind them one last time, leaving with a strong foundation that has prepared them to open the next door – to high school – in a few months. Many of them had been in their same schools since kindergarten.
Moving forward in faith: Eighth-grade graduates ready for high school
This year, The Monitor Magazine highlights two eighth-grade graduations: St. Paul School, Princeton, and St. Jerome School, West Long Branch.
A close-knit community
Like many of his classmates, Thomas Okupski, one of the 32 students who graduated from St. Paul School June 9, spent many years in the elementary school where he felt at home.
PHOTO GALLERY: St. Jerome School Baccalaureate Mass/Graduation
PHOTO GALLERY: St. Paul School Graduation
“Throughout my 10 years at St. Paul’s, I have always found someone to talk to who had similar interests as me,” he said. “The students and teachers are very friendly and inviting, so I always felt included.”
Creating that safe, familial and faith-filled environment is something the school community focused on for 135 years.
Shannon Rooney, vice principal, spoke to the school community’s closeness.
“Our eighth-grade students have developed a truly special bond with their kindergarten buddies. This bond was so strong that several of our kindergartners actually attended graduation, and many of our eighth graders returned the favor by honoring the kindergartners with their presence at their moving-up day,” she said.
Kim Clauss, principal, spoke of the value of a Catholic education at the Princeton school.
“Our goal is to live our Catholic values each and every day so that, during difficult times, they [students] can turn to their faith for solutions.”
Celestine Sutter, who served as the student council president, spoke of how her Catholic faith shaped and prepared her for what lies ahead.
“Through attending a Catholic school, my faith is intertwined in everything I do. St. Paul School has given me a strong foundation in faith, which allows me to make the best decisions I can with a Catholic perspective, and I have learned to rely on God and my family. My Catholic school education has taught me how to act with love and lead by faith,” said Sutter.
Ready for the future
Across the Diocese, in West Long Branch, 20 students at St. Jerome School gathered June 13 for a Baccalaureate Mass celebrated by Father Marcin Kania, administrator of Our Lady of Hope Parish. After Mass, students received their diplomas.
“We are gathered at the altar of God to pray for you and to give thanks to God for the many gifts God has bestowed on you,” he told the eighth graders, reminding them of the firm foundation that their grammar school provided.
Though the graduates are going to encounter challenges, Father Kania said that, with faith, they would have the courage to step into uncomfortable situations.
“With faith, you have nothing to fear,” he said. “Stay close to Christ and you’ll be able to conquer the world.”
Bernardo DeDeus, who attends both Our Lady of Hope Parish and nearby Christ the King Parish, Long Branch, said he will remember St. Jerome School as the place that “always taught me lessons on how to become a better person.”
“I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t come to this school,” DeDeus said. He spoke of the monthly class Masses and having the “best teachers who helped to prepare me for my next journey” as a freshman in Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft.
Graduate Sophia Gallego spoke of how her Catholic education helped her to deepen her relationship with God and foster her interest in becoming more involved with the Mass as a reader and member of the choir. She said she believes St. Jerome School prepared her academically and gave her the needed confidence and life skills for her next endeavor – relocating to New Hampshire, where she will attend a boarding school.
Filippini Sister Elizabeth Seton Dalessio, school principal, discussed what made the graduates unique.
“The Class of 2023 strove to be brave, strong, and true to their Christian values. They were always ready and willing to volunteer their time and talents to the entire school community. As peer role models, they worked very hard to demonstrate that character is simply choosing to put goodness and kindness into action.”