SRA Class of 2021 celebrates its past, shares hope for future

SRA Class of 2021 celebrates its past, shares hope for future

Friends and relatives applaud the newly graduated students of St. Raphael Academy on Sunday at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Providence. (Breeze photos by Charles Lawrence)

PROVIDENCE – The students of the St. Raphael Academy Class of 2021 overcame the chaos of the past two years to make it to their finish line, said Alumni Coordinator Aimee Tortolano during Sunday’s 94th commencement ceremonies for the school.

These students are now members of a group that comes with so many wonderful perks, said Tortolano, a member of the SRA Class of 1994, but the greatest one is family.

“Wherever life leads you, we are always here to welcome you home,” she told the 130 graduates inside the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Providence. “Wherever your next adventure begins, you always have a place to come back to.”

Valedictorian Cooper Arnold, both the president and vice president of the Class of 2021, said it is a miracle that students were even in this place to graduate, with the odds of even being born in the first place at one in 400 trillion. He compared that miracle to the miracle of a mustard seed in the Bible growing from such a small size to a magnificent tree.

“We all look back just upon freshman year and see a completely different person, but God put us on this planet to grow,” he said. “He put us on this planet to bring good to the world and help the world grow.”

God placed students here to do the best for one another and for the future of mankind, he said.

“The world is filled with bad, but we must want to be good,” he said. “God requires us to experience the bad so that we can produce the good.”

Being human entails progression, he said. The mustard seed did not turn into a magnificent tree overnight. Everyone in the commencement room has advanced from one stage of life to another, just like the mustard seed, with failures along the way. Like humans throughout history, these graduates will experience failure and allow it to help them push for the stars, he said.

Life is hard, but that is what makes it good, said Arnold. Life was normal for the first two full years of high school, but then February 2020 rocked the school’s world, with the first known case of COVID-19 in Rhode Island shutting down the school.

“But us Saints, we overcame this, we were strong. We learned to adapt and to thrive under the pressure of a changing world,” he said.

Salutatorian Isabella Calise described how popular graduation sayings from Hallmark often focus on the future.

“For starters, the word graduation itself is synonymous with commencement and serves as a symbol of conclusion,” she said. “We’re here because we accomplished something – because all of the work these past four years has brought us to this present moment. If I were to write a Hallmark card, it would probably sound something like: ‘There is no tomorrow without yesterday.’”

Calise said she is a bit tired of thinking about the future.

“Whether we realize it or not, we have spent four years always looking ahead,” she said, noting another Hallmark card describing the past as worthy of remembering.

“It may sound self-explanatory, but it’s nonetheless important to remember: there is no future without the past, and the past is always worth remembering,” she said. Every memory, the good, the bad, the ugly, motivates and reminds students of what they can accomplish.

“We must remember the good, the bad, and the ugly, because they are what make up our past and sculpt our future,” she said.

There are no Hallmark cards about reliving the past, Calise said, but graduates should not forget it either.

“These cords, caps, and gowns may hang in your closet as a reminder of today, but you will take with you wherever you go the courage, determination, faith, and generosity that characterizes a Saint,” she said.

Principal Daniel Richard said he’s quite sure that Sunday’s commencement was the first time the Class of 2021 was together since February of last year.

“I cannot think of a better reason to bring the class together than their graduation ceremony here at this beautiful cathedral,” he said.

Richard recognized the accomplishments of the Class of 2021, a class he said surprised him by not just having the mentality of getting to the finish line as they dealt with the daily impacts of COVID-19. He described:

• A group that won four state championships this year, a football team that played in the Super Bowl, and a spring athletic season full of state contenders;

• A group that put on a fall musical in a pandemic, as well as a one-act in-person play and a virtual spring gala;

• A group that freely gave of its time, talent and treasure to those who were in most need during the last 15 months;

• A group that was accepted to many of the finest colleges and universities in the country.

There are many lessons to be learned from the pandemic, he said, but the one takeaway for him is to never lose hope.

Hope should always propel students to a better future, even when it’s not easy, said Richard, reminding them of the verse Romans 15:13 speaking of the God of hope filling each person with joy and peace as they trust him, so they may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“To the Class of 2021 – Best of luck in all your future endeavors. I will always hope and pray for you to become the person we all know you can be.”

Alexander Bautista receives his diploma from Diocese of Providence Auxiliary Bishop Robert Evans, who was assisted by Daniel Ferris, superintendent of the Catholic School Diocese of Providence, and Daniel Richard, principal of St. Raphael Academy.