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St. John's Prep 2022 Commencement Strikes Resolute Tone

Spearheaded by the graduates themselves, the powerfully hopeful program also acknowledged a turbulent present and challenging future

Graduation News and Notes

St. John’s Preparatory School held its 112th Commencement exercises on Saturday morning as Headmaster Edward P. Hardiman, Ph.D. conferred diplomas upon 268 seniors during an outdoor ceremony held on the School’s campus. The program captured the determination and hope of a newly rising generation while also recognizing the turbulence of our times and the uncertainty and challenges that the future holds. More than 3,100 friends, relatives, parents, faculty, staff, fellow students, and alumni populated the expansive canopy tent decorating Ryken Field as attendees cheered, applauded, nodded in approval and shed tears throughout the one-hour and 45-minute ceremony. More photos on SmugMug.

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At precisely 10:30 a.m., the bell tower of the campus’s iconic spire rang out, a signal for seniors to begin processing. A serpentine flow of blue graduation robes draped over a sea of young men’s faces crept forward, the collective countenance divulging a preoccupation with the magnitude of the day. Some in the line appeared to be 10 years older than their age, others looked too young to leave the nest, but all 268 Eagles had persevered through and overcome unthinkable circumstances to reach the moment at hand. 

As the procession reached a stretch of brick walkway 200 yards long, framed on either side with an applauding faculty and staff standing shoulder to shoulder, tension was replaced by wide grins accompanied by handshakes, backslapping and hugs, with the ceremony set to begin. For many graduates, it marked the end of an unmatched period of enrollment at the School: This class is the first in School history to feature graduates who began their studies at the Prep in Grade 6. For the Prep, the 2022 commencement was the first in three years that was not postponed or scaled down and socially distanced.

St. John’s Valedictorian was Charles C. Kirby of Marblehead, and the Salutatorian was Gar R. Rudnyai of Topsfield. The senior class speaker, chosen by his peers, was Marc Gaudin of Boxford, who will attend Boston College. Conor Beswick of Andover received the Xaverian Award, the highest honor the school can bestow upon a graduating senior, presented to the class member who best epitomizes the values and tradition of Xaverian education. Beswick will matriculate at St. Anselm College this fall.

In his remarks to graduates, delivered under partly cloudy skies with the temperature touching 62 degrees, Dr. Hardiman P’19 ’21 ’26 challenged the graduates to embody a source of hope in the world.

“We can all easily focus on all that is wrong with the world, all that we disagree with and all that needs to change,” he said. “However, we need prophetic and inspirational moments in which we come to see and embrace the sources of hope in our world. Today, you are not just high school graduates, but extraordinary seeds of the profound love and faith that truly animates authentic hope. Embrace the call to servant leadership and be a source of hope by ensuring that all whom you encounter leave your presence feeling known, valued, and loved.”

Introduced by Rudnyai, who will attend Duke University, the 2022 Commencement student-selected keynote speaker was math teacher Evan Korol. An Everett resident, he delivered a stirring address that sparked a long ovation. 

“Most of the lessons I learned in life, and especially in the military, were negative ones, but it inspired me to be better,” he said. “Will you take the opportunities provided to you and live a good, comfortable life? There is no shame in that. You can continue to be ordinary, for you, and ignore the extraordinary opportunity and ability you’ve been presented with. What can't be crushed, however, is your potential. You can choose to reclaim what it means to be extraordinary.

“Right now, none of you is smart enough to solve the world’s problems,” he continued. “But you could be. You can choose to do something with the knowledge, experiences, and observations you have made and been given. You can choose to make a difference in the world. There is so much [adversity] in life that some of you have the privilege to never, ever [have to] experience. And for that, you should be intensely grateful. And you can show that gratitude by listening to the people with those experiences. Not listen because you’re “supposed to”, but to truly hear them. To hear is to begin to understand and start on the road to be truly extraordinary.”

In all, this year’s seniors represented 52 cities and towns across the Commonwealth, including as far south as Medford, as far west as Westford, and as far north as Amesbury. Five class members were international students. A class-high 21 seniors hail from Marblehead, while another 21 commuted from out of state (20 from Seacoast and southern New Hampshire, and one from Maine).

In his valedictory address, Kirby urged his classmates to remember to regularly step back, gain perspective, and assess whether their current course is aligned with their goals.” Bound for Duke University, he reflected on his own experience that led to a growth mindset. “I used to spend a lot of time playing video games,” he confessed. “The thing about our modern digital world is that it is full of distractions. And that is what video games were for me at the start of high school, a distraction. At the end of the day. they would leave me with nothing more than glassy eyes and an empty feeling inside. I still remember the night, over a year ago, that I decided to quit playing video games permanently. That night, I had a moment where I stepped back, saw the bigger picture, and gained perspective. Interacting with others in a space where you can hit the power button and walk away seemed way too comfortable. And that kind of comfort was impeding my personal growth.”

Just over half of the graduating seniors are members of the National Honor Society, while 14 were National Merit Scholar (NMS) Commended students and two—North Andover’s Ansh Motiani and Andover’s Colby Crews—were NMS Finalists. There were 32 legacy graduates, meaning their father, grandfather or great grandfather also graduated from the Prep. A remarkable 45 Eagles student-athletes signed national letters of intent to continue their sports careers in college.

At 12:16 pm, the new Prep alumni turned the tassels on their mortarboards from right to left, symbolizing the official conclusion of their high school experience. State health guidelines allowed for the traditional mortarboard toss at the ceremony’s conclusion for the first time since 2019, ending a stretch of 1,099 days since its last occurrence on the Prep campus. The practice was suspended in 2020 and 2021. 

College acceptances for the class included three Ivy League schools and all four schools in the UMass system as well as the University of Chicago, Georgetown, Duke, the University of Virginia, Marquette, Notre Dame, Purdue University, UCal-Berkeley, Tufts, the College of the Holy Cross, Williams College, Amherst College, Northeastern University, and the University of Toronto, among 369 total higher education destinations to date. Graduating Eagles will fly away to locales as far west as Northern California, as far north as Canada, as far south as Texas, and as far east as NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus, along with many states in between, including Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin, among others. 

Graduation News and Notes
  • English Teacher Jay Pawlyk of Peabody, a 1991 graduate of the school, and retiring Spanish teacher Leslie Tremblay of Danvers, who taught at the Prep for 36 years, led the processional with the ceremonial academic scepter, or mace, one of the earliest totems of medieval university officials. 
  • Campus Minister Paul Francisco of Haverhill, introduced by senior class president Charles Wilmot of Topsfield, offered the invocation, leading those assembled in a prayer entreating God to “help (these graduates) to be uncomfortable with easy answers and always pursue the truth with the trust that you will not lead them astray. Give them the zeal to change the world so that they may build the kingdom of God. May the gift that their lives have been for St. John’s continue to be a gift for the world.”
  • The top five percent of the senior class in academic performance (excluding valedictorian and salutatorian) were: Colby Crews, Theodore Cullinane, Trevor Fecko, Owen Gandt, Joseph Giardella, Declan Golden, Tim Haarmann, Nam Ho, Declan Kelly, Rocco Masciarelli, Liam Melvin, Ansh Motiani, Zachary Nassar, Robert Shea, and Chengru Zou.
  • The anniversary classes of 1970, ’71, ’72, having all reached “Gold Eagle” status, were asked to stand before being honored by the audience.
  • One senior will attend college within the framework of the ROTC Scholarship program: Aria Rahimi of Beverly (Air Force, Virginia Tech).
  • 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: Braeden Cheverie, Marc A. Gaudin, Declán T. Golden, Ansh Motiani, Brendan S. O'Holleran, Ethan A. Peralta, Joseph R. Waterman, Charles M. Wilmot, and Jing Yuan Zhang.
  • The Sonia Schreiber Weitz Human Rights Award went to Joshua Comito and Bryan Wolf, while Enrique Ruiz was recognized with the Multicultural Affairs and Community Development Advocacy Award. In recognition of distinction in athletics, Timothy Haarmann received the Student-Athlete Award, Thomas Sarni earned the Best Athlete Award, and four seniors were honored with the Paul “Buster” DiVincenzo ‘50 Athletic Director's Award: Tyee Ambrosh, Owen Gandt, Michael Shyjan and Kyle Webster. In addition, Marc Gaudin and Connor Perault were given the Sean Lynch ’85 Scholarship Award. The Stephen J. Kiely ’68 Scholarship Award went to Motiani. Wilmot was the recipient of the Student Council Scholarship Award, while Carmen Ilardi earned the Margaret Klein Memorial Scholarship Award. 
  • In the countdown to graduation, seniors took to Ryken Field under the commencement tent for the True Blue Reception on May 12. The evening included the signing of diplomas with Dr. Hardiman and Dr. Crowley, a brief speaking program, the dedication of the Class of 2022 yearbook to math teacher Kara Brown, and the debut of the Class of 2022 video. A video paying tribute to 2022 Distinguished Alumnus Maj. Gen. Thomas H. Needham ’60 (retired) was also shown. View more photos from the reception on SmugMug.
  • On the eve of commencement, the Very Reverend Joseph M. O’Keefe, S.J., presided over the Baccalaureate Liturgy honoring the Class of 2022. The liturgy included live music, representation from the 50th Reunion classes of 1970 and 1971 (which were not honored due to pandemic restrictions in 2020 and 2021), as well as the Class of 1972. The Mass also featured  the presentation of the Campus Ministry Award, given to Wenham’s Charles Maier. “I think our times call for a love that involves faithfulness, commitment and an act of the will,” said O’Keefe. “It is distinguished from the other types of love by its often moral danger and strong character. In other words, love everyone. Even and especially love those people you don’t like.”
  • St. John’s Prep will hold an eighth grade promotion ceremony on campus for the Class of 2026 on the evening of June 2. The event will serve to recognize the class’s 112 students’ resilience, leadership, and focus throughout this school year as well as honor individual and collective achievements.