Friday was the kind of day commencement planners, graduates and their families pray for: ideal weather. And surely, there had to be some prayers. But there were prayers, too, during Hendricken High School graduation ceremonies where 209 came to the altar of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Providence to receive their diplomas.
The cathedral inspires reverence and reflection, and, with the exception of one whoopla, the audience withheld its cheers and applause until the name of Jarod Aidan Zizza was read.
The messages of class valedictorian Dylan C. Temel and class salutatorian Yongyuan Huang, Temel’s on the power of faith and Huang’s on leadership, resonated with the setting and the occasion.
That’s not to suggest the graduation was somber. It wasn’t. It was joyful with friends and family crowding around the graduates in the cathedral square following the ceremony to give them hugs, kisses and cigars – yes, cigars, as tradition demands. Then, as part of the tradition the graduates collectively threw their caps into the evening sky.
In his address Temel, who will be attending Columbia University to study political science and French this fall, spoke about how quickly his experience at Hendricken has passed and how the words of theology teacher Jack Berry, “The thing about faith is that is has to change your life,” are particularly enduring. Referencing atrocities of war, terrorism and school shootings, Temel said, “It is precisely with faith that such violence, hatred and terror become tests rather than meaningless chaos, thus radically transforming the way we see the world and understand everything going on around us – that is to say, it changes our lives.”
“Faith does not make any of this pain and suffering any easier or more bearable – either to experience or to witness – in fact, it probably makes it harder to sustain. But instead, faith gives these tests a profound purpose by putting them in the context of something much greater and offers us a desired end or goal to keep in mind,” he said.
In closing, Temel noted how the words “thank you” fail to reflect the true appreciation he feels for those who have helped him. Rather, he said, “You have profoundly influenced my life” to recognize those who have impacted him.
Temel’s teammate, Huang, on the school’s Academic Decathlon team that won the state competition and went on to place second in its division in the national event – eighth overall between state and international teams – thanked his parents in his native Chinese. He is the first of Hendricken’s international students to achieve the distinction of being second in his class. And while he spoke about his initial apprehensions of coming to this country to study, his talk focused on the Hendricken experience, the support of faculty and students and the feeling of collective success and what that means.
“As part of the Hendricken identity, we are never complacent with mediocrity, and nothing speaks more to this identity than the number of accomplishments that we have achieved over the past four years,” he said.
“In the meantime, state champions, national champions and sold-out performances are not the only things that define who we are, and in fact many of us have never and will never be the hero under the spotlight. Nevertheless, we continue to make a positive impact on the people around us and strive for excellence in every possible way. This is who we are. In the day and age that we now live in, true leadership is marked not only by your title, but also the effect you make in any given context,” said Huang.
He will attend Boston University in the fall, where he will study economics and mathematics.
In his congratulations to the graduates, school President John Jackson called the Temel/Huang team “the strongest one-two punch I’ve seen in years.” Jackson offered a short prayer that had been distributed to the audience on cards to close the ceremony. In unison, the congregation prayed for love, faith and hope.
“We can effect change in our minds and in our hearts…a closer relationship with God is the mission of this school,” he said. Jackson also urged graduates to return.
“You will always have a home at Bishop Hendricken,” he said.