The number of Saint Raphael Academy alumni just got a little bigger on Saturday by 106 new members.
The ninety-sixth commencement of the Academy’s Class of 2023 was jubilant and uplifting occasion. The ceremony highlighted the kindness and love shown by members of the class throughout their four years at Saint Raphael Academy.
Early in the morning, the Class of 2023 gathered downstairs in the lower level of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Providence, all smiles as they happily took selfies with friends and favorite teachers. They all gathered for one last group photo, and then took their places for the processional.
Upstairs, families and friends were in attendance for the first truly “no restrictions” commencement in three years. Eagerly awaiting their favorite Saints, families clutched bouquets of flowers and jockeyed for the best vantage point to video their special graduate as they entered the cathedral.
A Resilient Class
Academy Chaplain Rev. Ryan Simas gave the opening prayer as Bishop Richard Henning presided over his first Saints graduation ceremony.
Acknowledging the last few trying years of the pandemic, themes of resilience and perseverance reverberated throughout several commencement speeches.
Vice Principal of Academics Judy Baxter welcomed those present, giving this advice to the class:
“True success lies in the impact you have on the lives of others, the love and kindness you show to those around you, and the resilience you display in the face of adversity” she said. “Stay rooted in your faith, for it will be your guiding light in times of darkness and your support in times of doubt.”
Where Saints Find a Helping Hand
Salutatorian Ethan Wright, who is from Riverside, next took the podium. He commended his class for their perseverance during hardship. They could not have gotten to graduation were it not for “God, each other, and ourselves,” he said, noting that “God’s presence has been everywhere at Saints.”
“Everyone here is so accepting of others,” he said. “In every class, there have always been people to reach out to and connect with. In academics, sports and clubs, there was an unrivaled bond shared between all students. Everyone had a place and people they could depend on, and everyone was willing to help whenever others struggled.”
Ethan will attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute and plans to double major in computer science and interactive media and game design.
Students then received their diplomas from Bishop Henning, James Power, superintendent of Catholic schools, Dan Richard, principal and Marc Thibault, vice principal for student life. Excited family and friends squealed and applauded as some names were called.
Finally, Senior Class President Natalya Cabral initiated the turning of the tassel to enthusiastic applause, signifying the Class of 2023’s new status as alumni.
Senior performing arts students sang a stirring rendition of “Forever Young,” written by Bob Dylan, complemented by instrumental accompaniment by senior bank members.
Create a Great Story
Cheers followed Cooper Skenyon’s introduction; the valedictorian, from Seekonk, Mass., will attend Harvard University this fall. He spoke about the essence of greatness. Cooper used the story of Camelot to illustrate his point. To be truly great, he said, live a life worthy of being remembered and one that is pleasing to God. He urged them to create their own individual stories and not become consumed with “temporal things” that will not bring greatness, he said.
“And, although the legend of King Arthur is a great example of storytelling’s magic, there is a better example. This book of stories has changed the course of not only Western civilization, but the course of all history; it has stories that powerful. I am, of course, talking about the Bible.” He advised them to follow the example of Jesus – serve others, humble yourself and inspire others, for His stories are the greatest of all.
“So, my fellow graduates, I will not be wishing all of you fortune, pleasure, or success. In fact, I will be wishing each of you poverty, suffering, and failure if it makes a better story because that is all that matters in the end,” he said as his fellow graduates chuckled.
Distinguished Awards to Seniors
Several seniors received distinguished awards at the Senior Banquet on Wednesday night, and they were recognized along with the Excellence in Academics awards and Next-In-Merit awards. The Academy’s highest honor, the Edith Peck Memorial Award, went to Natalya Cabral. This award recognizes dedication to academics, service to others and leadership within the school and the community, and reflects the Catholic-Lasallian identity of faith, service and community. Natalya will stay in Rhode Island and attend Brown University.
Finally, Principal Dan Richard gave his remarks to the class. “In your interactions with others, always be kind. Somewhere along the way, we have lost the spirit of being kind to one another. Kindness is such a simple act—easy to do and often accomplished with an everlasting impact,” he said.
Bishop Henning gave the final blessing to the new graduates, and then they filed out into the courtyard to meet their families, armed with knowledge and compassion and ready to begin their stories.