Ceremonial rite of passage takes on deeper meaning for St. John’s Class of ’23
View Commencement Photos on SmugMug Graduation Notes
St. John’s Preparatory School held its 113th Commencement exercises on Saturday morning as Head of School Edward P. Hardiman, Ph.D. conferred diplomas upon 272 seniors during an outdoor ceremony held on the School’s campus. The one hour, 50-minute program kicked off beneath threatening but rain-free skies with temperatures touching 62 degrees.
St. John’s graduating class endured a global pandemic that began halfway through their freshmen year, and had its final months on campus marred by unthinkable personal tragedy for an entire Prep family this past February. Not surprisingly, featured speakers—students and dignitaries alike—quickly put aside pomp and circumstance. Instead, both collectively and distinctively, they emphatically declared that each of us, all of us, must be accountable to one another to ensure that a just and peaceful world is part of our future.
In his valedictory address, Jonathan R. Rodriguez of Lawrence, the son of a father who immigrated from Puerto Rico and a mother who immigrated from the Dominican Republic, urged graduates to shape their future in a manner that pays tribute to and creates avenues for both those who got them to this point, and those who will follow.
“None of us is here graduating today solely because we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps,” he said. “To one degree or another, we have all received instruction from a teacher or mentor. A handshake that communicated something greater than a mere greeting. We have received financial as well as moral support, indescribable love, and a much longer list that I will let each of you fill in for yourselves.
“But what will you live for, tomorrow?” he continued. “We must choose to live for things that will outlive us! My family has taught me not only with their words, but also with their sacrifices that, whether I succeed or I fail spectacularly, this moment is not the end. Following their footsteps, I must learn to live not only for my own future, but for the future of my family as well. We have gathered here today to celebrate our past and to face each of our futures. How will you choose to shape yours?”
In all, this year’s seniors represented 50 cities and towns across the Commonwealth, including as far east as Rockport, as far south as Revere, as far west as Lowell, and as far north as Amesbury. Four were international students. A class-high 17 seniors hail from Marblehead as well as Danvers, while another 10 commuted from out of state (Seacoast and southern New Hampshire).
The class salutatorian was Jackson Belanger of Boxford. The senior class speaker came in the form of a creative duet delivered by Thomas Healey of Peabody and National Merit Scholarship recipient Leyad Zavriyev of Swampscott; the pair was chosen by their classmates. Rodriguez, the valedictorian, will attend Stanford this fall, while Belanger is bound for Georgia Tech, Healey heads to UMass–Amherst and Zavriyev to Brown University.
In his remarks to graduates, Dr. Hardiman P’19 ’21 ’26 implored them to be forthright and true to their convictions, but to remain vigilant about a universal truth: Words matter, and more often than not, actions speak louder than words.
“As you prepare to leave this campus, it is essential that you constantly remind yourself what you say, to whom you say it, and how you say it matters and impacts others,” he said. “It is also essential that you seek to ground your words and actions in love. Sometimes, our words and actions are challenging, even though they are focused on the common good. (Harness) the power of one who uses words and actions to be a beacon of respect, a beacon of community, a beacon of love, and one whose actions and words show the world your commitment to knowing, valuing, and loving all whom you encounter.”
Introduced by Belanger, the 2023 Commencement student-selected keynote speaker was retiring social studies teacher Bill Britton, who served as a Marine Corps tank commander during the Vietnam War followed by a successful career in business before coming to St. John’s 25 years ago. An Atkinson, N.H. resident, he delivered a stirring address framed by the concept of honor and leadership, adapted from his military service.
“You go forward from this sacred ground into a world where you will be tested, but you go with distinct advantages,” said Britton. “You are armed, not with the weapons of war, but with principles that can guide you in moments of moral jeopardy. You will make mistakes. Own up to them. You will choose wrong paths. Change directions. Pay the price to put yourself on a path to happiness, because your joy will be compelling, and you will have the opportunity to make the world a better place for all with whom you come in contact.”
More than half (53 percent) of the graduating seniors are members of the National Honor Society, while 11 were National Merit Scholar-commended students and four—Matthew A.P. Dunn of Danvers, Brian T. Nguyen of Melrose, the valedictorian Rodriguez, and senior class speaker Zavriyev—were NMS Finalists. Victor Rivera Jr. of Methuen received the Xaverian Award, the highest honor the School can bestow upon a graduating senior. It is presented to the class member who best epitomizes the values and tradition of Xaverian education, which are to promote human dignity, act with compassion and integrity, pursue justice and peace, and live lives of service to society. Rivera will matriculate at Marist College (N.Y.) this fall.
There were 30 legacy graduates this year, meaning the diploma recipient’s father, grandfather or great grandfather also graduated from the Prep. A remarkable 38 Eagles student-athletes signed national letters of intent to continue their athletic careers in college.
At 12:21 pm, with rain now falling atop the massive white commencement tent, the new Prep alumni turned the tassels on their mortarboards from right to left, symbolizing the official conclusion of their high school experience. Following a benediction by Raisa Carrasco-Vélez, director of St. John’s Office for Multicultural Affairs and Community Development, graduates celebrated a traditional mortarboard toss at the ceremony’s conclusion.
College acceptances for the Prep’s Class of 2023 included six Ivy League schools and four schools in the UMass system as well as The University of Chicago, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Georgia Tech, the University of Virginia, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Purdue University, UCLA, Tufts, College of the Holy Cross, Middlebury College, UNC, the University of Michigan, Northeastern University, Vanderbilt, and Trinity College Dublin, among 245 total institutions to date. Graduating Eagles will fly away to locales as far west as Washington State, as far north as Maine, as far south as Florida, and as far east as Ireland, along with many states in between, including Alabama, South Carolina, Colorado, Montana, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Oregon among others.
Graduation News & Notes
German language teacher Chris Lynch of Peabody, who first came to the Prep in 1996, led the processional with the ceremonial academic scepter, or mace, one of the earliest totems of medieval university officials.
Campus Minister Jeffrey Hatgas of Brighton, introduced by senior class president Jack Fillion of Middleton, offered the invocation, leading those assembled in a prayer entreating God to grant the Class of 2023 with the courage to “embrace their innate giftedness, and boldly share it for the betterment of the world and the build-up of peace.”
The top five percent of the senior class according to cumulative four-year GPA (excluding valedictorian and salutatorian) were: Matthew Bernstein, Peter DePasquale, Matthew Dunn, William Parker Feld, Nicholas Goodman, Zenglong He, Matthew Long, Yucheng Lynn, Brian Nguyen, Brady Pallotta, Joseph Quaratiello, Jackson Selby, and Leyad Zavriyev. Note: The Prep does not formally rank members of any class year.
The anniversary class of 1973, having reached “Gold Eagle” status, was asked to stand before being honored by the audience.
Three seniors will attend a service academy or ROTC Scholarship program: JT Betz of Newburyport (ROTC University of St. Louis), Charles M. Smith of Andover (U.S. Coast Guard Academy) and Fillion (West Point)
On May 11, the School’s Senior Awards Convocation honored recipients across a variety of disciplines. Nine members of the graduating class were presented with Loyalty and Service Awards for modeling the call to be servant leaders and personifying Xaverian values: Justin Armata, Benjamin Bailey, Thomas Dankert, Andrew DeRosa, Jack Fillion, Thomas Healey, Benjamin Hennessy, Daniel Pawlyk, Andrew Phaneuf, and Jonathan Rodriguez.
The Sonia Schreiber Weitz Human Rights Award went to Leyad Zavriyev, while Gabriel Mieses was recognized with the Multicultural Affairs and Community Development Advocacy Award. In recognition of distinction in athletics, James Ayers, received the Student-Athlete Award, Carson Browne, who will play football at Bentley, earned the Best Athlete Award, and four seniors were honored with the Paul “Buster” DiVincenzo ’50 Athletic Director's Award: Jeffory Groth, Nathan Lopez, Benjamin McGilvray, Lucas Verrier. In addition, Thomas Dankert and Rohan Raisignani were given the Sean Lynch ’85 Scholarship Award. The Stephen J. Kiely ’68 Scholarship Award went to Joseph Quaratiello. Raisignani was the recipient of the Student Council Scholarship Award, while Peter DePasquale earned the Margaret Klein Memorial Scholarship Award.
In the countdown to graduation, seniors took to the Ryken field under the commencement tent for the True Blue Reception on May 18. The evening included the signing of diplomas with Dr. Hardiman and Dr. Crowley, a brief speaking program, dedication of the Class of 2023 yearbook, and the debut of the Class of 2023 commemorative video. Attendees also viewed recorded remarks by neuroscience researcher, author and humanitarian aid worker Mike Niconchuk ’07, the school’s 2023 Distinguished Alumnus. Niconchuk was unable to attend in person because he was on assignment performing his work with forced migrants and people affected by conflict in the Middle East, Central America, and Central Asia. View more photos from the reception on SmugMug.
On the eve of commencement, Reverend James J. Ronan ’62, presided over the Baccalaureate Liturgy honoring the Class of 2023. The liturgy included music provided by the liturgical music group and representation from the 50th Reunion class of Class of 1973. The Mass also featured the presentation of the Campus Ministry Award, given to Matthew Ciampa and Patrick Dever.
St. John’s Prep will hold an eighth grade promotion ceremony on campus for the Class of 2027 on the evening of June 1. The event will serve to recognize the class’s 115 students’ resilience, leadership, and focus throughout this school year as well as honor individual and collective achievements.