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Commencement Captures Graduates' Unique Durability

Commencement Captures Graduates' Unique Durability

Its first two years suppressed by a pandemic, the School’s Class of 2024 embraces its rear view as a path forward.

View Commencement Photos on SmugMug  Graduation Notes

St. John’s Preparatory School held its 114th Commencement exercises on Saturday morning as Head of School Edward P. Hardiman, Ph.D. P’19 ’21 ’26 conferred diplomas upon 268 seniors during an outdoor ceremony held on the School’s campus. The gathering struck a stirring chord of resilience given that this year’s seniors began high school at the height of the COVID-19 calamity, a pall that shrouded their first 16 months of high school with wide-ranging effects.

Over the course of the one hour, 54-minute program, a theme emerged regarding the Class of 2024’s unique lived-experience and how passing through that crucible has endowed graduates with great responsibility. Indeed, the story of the Class of 2024—which began as masked and distanced freshmen in 2020, unable to participate in the first-day campus procession which should have served as a bookend for the one that proudly closed their Prep experience today—is most meaningful in how it has ended rather than its unthinkable beginning.

The Senior Class Speaker was Graham Kramer of Marblehead, who preceded a valedictory address by David Kane, also of Marblehead. School counselor Declan Foley (Class of 2011) of Salem delivered the commencement address. The Salutatorian Medal went to Aidan Miller of Boxford. Alejandro A. Baez Tejeda of Methuen received the Xaverian Award, the highest honor the School can bestow upon a graduating senior and presented to the class member who best epitomizes the values and tradition of Xaverian education. Tejada will matriculate at College of the Holy Cross this fall.  More photos on SmugMug.

In his remarks to graduates, delivered under cloudy skies with the temperature touching 57 degrees, Dr. Hardiman implored graduates to harness the inner strength of their lived experience and, in the spirit of Pope Francis’s 2020 encyclical Fratelli Tutti, to accept God’s call to “love others, build others up and embrace all people” without exception. 

“Your journey through SJP has not been easy,” Hardiman acknowledged. “You are going to leave this campus and encounter many questions to which there are no clear answers. You are going to encounter situations in which you feel you are not prepared and you’re going to doubt yourself. In these moments, remember who you are and who you’ve become. Class of 2024: It has been an honor to come to know you. Never forget, even in those most challenging times, that you can do hard things, that we believe in you, that we pray for you, and that we love you.”

Introduced by Miller, who will attend Dartmouth College, the student-selected keynote speaker was Declan Foley ’11, a member of the School Counseling department. He delivered a poised, soulful address that sparked a 43-second standing ovation. Foley impressed upon the graduates his sincere belief that much depended upon their authentic commitment to helping humanity, and he conveyed his assurance that they were up to the task.

“As a school counselor, I’m not as interested in what you do as I am in who you are, and how you treat those in your life,” said Foley. “I encourage each of you to love openly and deeply, to listen charitably despite difficult circumstances or perspectives, and to live in a way that serves both yourself and others. So, as you encounter a new series of firsts [as graduates], I encourage you to consider: What will come to mind when people say your name?

“I think you all hear well because of the sheer volume of information you have to consume [as members of this generation], but the world needs more listeners,” he continued. “If hearing is the biological process of perceiving sound, listening is the act of paying attention to a message in order to deeply understand it. You are in a remarkable position to be graduating from this place (and) there is a very real need for the people you are growing up to be. I am confident you will carve out 268 different ways in which to stand on this community’s shoulders and make us all proud.”

Fully 55 percent of Prep graduating seniors were members of the National Honor Society, while 13 were National Merit Scholar-commended students and two—Marblehead’s Elliot Adams and Hamilton’s Innes Boesch—were NMS Finalists. There were 32 legacy graduates, meaning their father, grandfather, and/or great grandfather also graduated from the Prep. A remarkable 37 Eagles student-athletes signed national letters of intent to continue their sports careers in college.

Kramer, the senior class speaker who will attend Boston College, echoed Dr. Hardiman’s wish for the class to lean in to its adaptability in the face of challenges. “We started out our high school careers [attending school in a hybrid format], but even though I couldn’t see any faces, I saw kindness, I saw nervousness, and I saw commitment—all in the eyes of my classmates. We persevered and we adjusted. Somehow, we became closer as a class while simultaneously being forced to stay apart. We all played our part to both lift each other and our community up. That commitment and shared experience helped me feel like I was not alone—that I was part of something here.”

In all, this year’s seniors represented 44 cities and towns across the Commonwealth, including as far south as Medford, as far west as Tyngsborough, and as far north as Amesbury. Five were international students. A class-high 27 seniors hail from Marblehead followed closely by Danvers with 24, while another 13 commuted from 10 cities and towns in New Hampshire.

In his valedictory address, Kane urged his classmates to avoid living life by any preconceived outline or to-do list. Bound for Tufts University, he reflected, “I’ve come to realize that life can’t be planned, and the more I try to plan, the more disappointed I find myself in surprises. No outline is entirely ‘right,’ so I urge all of us to live openly. I can’t speak (to) what the next four years of my life will look like, let alone the rest of it. But isn’t that exciting? As [Fine Arts Department Chair Alicia] Greenwood says, ‘the constant flux of life and the spontaneous motion from one moment to another is what makes each individual moment distinctly beautiful.”

At 12:23 pm, the Prep’s newest alumni turned the tassels on their mortarboards from right to left, symbolizing the official conclusion of their high school experience. 

College acceptances for the class included four Ivy League schools and two schools in the UMass system as well as Amherst College, Berklee College of Music, Georgetown, Duke, the University of Notre Dame, Purdue University, Ohio State University, Tufts University, College of the Holy Cross, Northeastern University, NYU, Villanova, three schools in Colorado, five technical or aeronautical institutes, and 37 other schools throughout New England among 110 total institutions to date. 

Graduating Eagles will fly away to locales as far west as Southern California, as far north as Canada, as far south as Texas, and as far east as Orono, Maine, along with many states in between, including Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Michigan, Montana, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, among others. A number of colleges and universities nationwide have extended their deposit deadlines to June 1, so many seniors across the country, including a number at the Prep, have not selected the college of their choice. 

Graduation News & Notes

German Teacher Chris Lynch of Peabody led the processional with the ceremonial academic scepter, or mace, one of the earliest totems of medieval university officials. 

Campus Minister Mary Driscoll GP’24, introduced by Student Body President Will Guggenberger, offered the invocation, leading those assembled in a prayer by entreating God to help the graduates “continue to embrace the challenges that lie ahead knowing that each obstacle is an opportunity to grow and learn. Like bridge-builders, (may they) connect their past experiences with future possibilities, creating pathways of resilience and determination.” Reverend James Ronan, Ph.D. ’62 gave the benediction. 

The top five percent of the senior class in academic performance (alphabetical order, excluding valedictorian and salutatorian) were: Elliott Adams. Luke Aengenheyster, Daniel Baumfeld, Alex Bernstein, Harry Block, Innes Boesch, Joseph Ellard, Chase Fruehauf, Mark Ghiu, Christian Kaminski, Alexander Melville, and Christopher Shea.

The anniversary class of 1974, having all reached “Golden Eagle” status, was asked to stand before being honored by the audience.

One senior will attend college under the ROTC Scholarship program: Andrew Ruocco of Marblehead (Navy, Virginia Military Institute)

On May 8, the School’s Senior Awards Convocation honored recipients across a variety of disciplines. Antonio d. Cavalcanti Filho was recognized with the Multicultural Affairs and Community Development Advocacy Award. In recognition of distinction in athletics, Cameron J. LaGrassa received the Student-Athlete Award, Jake M. Vana earned the Best Athlete Award, and four seniors were honored with the Paul “Buster” DiVincenzo ‘50 Athletic Director's Award: Dylan M. Aliberti, Aithan P. Bezanson, Jack R. Doherty, and John M. Tighe.

Nearly 30 percent of the class (79 members) received the designation of Eagles Wings leader, an application-only affiliation of student-leaders who introduce new students to the high school community and serve as ongoing peer mentors for the freshman class throughout the year. There were 64 seniors in this year’s Spire Society, a Prep leadership group for students in grades 9-12 where candidates can apply to help both the admission and advancement teams as ambassadors for the School. 

Class officers for this graduating year are Student Body President Guggenberger and Student Council Vice President Flynn McDonnell along with class representatives Jimmy Driscoll, Matthew Callahan, and Tighe.

In the countdown to graduation, seniors took to the Ryken field under the commencement tent for the True Blue Reception on May 16. The evening included the signing of diplomas by Dr. Ed Hardiman and Dr. Keith Crowley, a brief speaking program, the dedication of the Class of 2024 yearbook to Math and Physics teacher Tom Feir, and the debut of the Class of 2024 video. A video message from 2023-24 Distinguished Alumnus Mike Massaro ’96 P ’23 ’25 ’28 was also shown. View more photos from the reception on SmugMug.

On the eve of commencement, Rev. Ronan ’62 celebrated the Baccalaureate Liturgy honoring the Class of 2024. The liturgy included live music by the Baccalaureate Choir and representation from the 50th Reunion Class of 1974. The Mass also featured an awards presentation for select seniors. Loyalty and Service Awards are given to those seniors who have modeled the call to be servant leaders and personified Xaverian values. This year’s honorees were Aithan P. Bezanson, Harry P. Block, Cameron M. Busa, Antonio d. Cavalcanti Filho, Sebastiano C. DiModica, John P. Erickson, Raoul M. Foster, Guggenberger, Graham P. Kramer, James N. Maestranzi, Flynn T. McDonnell, and Jr., Noah J. Sennott. 

The Sonia Schreiber Weitz Human Rights Award went to Jason M. Orfaly. Filho also won the Sean Lynch ’85 Scholarship Award, established by Lynch’s family and friends after his death on 9/11 in the World Trade Center. The recipient must be a graduating senior who will attend Boston College, must be active in his school and surrounding community, and maintain an above-average academic record. 

The Stephen J. Kiely ’68 Scholarship Award, a memorial grant presented annually to a member of the senior class who is continuing their education at Dartmouth College, went to Mark D. Ghiu. Guggenberger was the recipient of the Student Council Scholarship Award, while Anthony B. Hykel earned the Margaret Klein Memorial Scholarship Award, awarded annually to a senior planning a career in healthcare. 

During his homily, Reverend James J. Ronan ’62 urged the Class of 2024 to embrace their God-given talents to live out core Xaverian values, especially by influencing every situation they encounter for the benefit of others. “You are all unique,” he said. “You’re all complete individuals. There's no two of you'll alike. And because of that, each one of your calls (to serve) is unique to you. Be worthy of the call you receive. To paraphrase St. Catherine of Sienna, ‘Be the man you are called to be, and you’ll set the world on fire.’ As the gospels tell us, ‘In a troubled and challenging world, you are called to be a light in the darkness.”

St. John’s Prep will hold an eighth grade promotion ceremony on campus for the Class of 2028 on the evening of May 30. The event will serve to recognize the students of the 115-member class for their resilience, leadership, and focus throughout this school year as well as honor individual and collective achievements.