Donahue Catholic Academy of Ave Maria Principal Dan Guernsey plays the bagpipes for this graduating senior in early May 2020. (COURTESY)

Graduations loom as school-year winds down

Naples  |  The Diocese of Venice Catholic school 2020 graduating class, whether seniors in high school or eighth graders finishing up elementary school, are soon departing their respective schools in a way like no other. Not with a huge celebration and graduation but with fond wishes and prayer through a computer screen.

To make this end of year special for the 2020 graduates, each Diocesan school made a special effort to reach out to their graduates, delivering lawn signs, cap and gowns and gift baskets, all as a sign to show these students that their time in school made an impact, in particular on the faculty and staff. 

St. Mary Academy in Sarasota not only delivered a cap and gown but offered sweet treats from the Purple Belle Ice Cream Truck which was there to sweeten the moment. At the Donahue Catholic Academy of Ave Maria, signs of the graduating seniors lined the street in front of the school. During the delivery to his students, Donahue Catholic Academy Principal Dr. Dan Guernsey played the bagpipes for each. 

The gift baskets to the eighth graders from St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples included a note from their homeroom teacher, which read in part: “Congratulations on graduating from SES! We are so glad you came to SES. You have helped make this one of the Best 8th grade classes. It has been a pleasure to teach you and I am really going to miss you.” 

While the graduates are missing out on some time-honored traditions such as dances, field days, trips, sports and academic awards, as well as graduations, the special, in-person deliveries from teachers and principals helped lessen the disappointment of the students as they transition on to the next phase of their life.

For the graduates of the high schools, contingency plans to offer a proper in-person graduation are in place, but some are two months away and will only take place if the health and safety of all can be guaranteed.

That is some consolation to make up for the lost months of in-class instruction and building of lasting friendships before moving on with their lives. This experience is being viewed by many as a bonding experience, something that unites the 2020 group for having overcome an actual pandemic to graduate.

In addition to the lawn signs, each school made an effort to post information about their graduates online and through social media. For Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples and the Donahue Catholic Academy of Ave Maria, the postings have included personal, academic and sports achievements as well as their plans for the future – university, military, first responders, and a few becoming professional athletes.

The eighth graders have also been receiving social media attention. In addition, the schools shared some background, favorite memories and reflections of the students.

The photos shared with the high school postings were taken before the outbreak of the pandemic and subsequent suspension of in-classroom instruction. The images show happy young men and women with their entire future before them. Their future is still there and as bright as ever as they leave with a quality Christ-filled education from a Diocese of Venice Catholic high school and each student is prepared and ready to face the next challenge.

So, when the last exam was taken, through distance learning online, instead of a party atmosphere with hugs, slaps on the back and fond farewells; this year it was a quick good-bye and a click of a button as the computer is disconnected, ending years of a quality faith-forming education.

There is little doubt that in the future the 2020 Catholic school graduates will be able to look back fondly upon a most unusual and memorable final year of school.