Following Mass on June 17, 2020, the St. Joseph Catholic School graduating eighth graders pose for photos in front of the Church and school in Bradenton. (PHOTO by JOHN CARKEET)

Bradenton school reunites to congratulate the Class of 2020

Bradenton  |  Friends and loved ones gathered at St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton June 17, 2020 to honor the Class of 2020. The graduation Mass and ceremony marked the first official occasion where students, faculty and families could meet face-to-face since March 13. 

“This is the first time we have shared the same space since classes were suspended from the (COVID-19) pandemic,” said Deborah Suddarth, principal at St. Joseph Catholic School. “I’m grateful we could make this happen in a safe and special manner.”

With face masks mandatory and social distancing strictly enforced, 20 eighth grade graduates and their families were given the opportunity to celebrate the next chapter in their life’s journey under one roof. 

Before the pandemic, all St. Joseph students would have been invited to attend the graduation, Suddarth explained. “One of this year’s graduates told me she would watch her older peers walk down the aisle and receive their diplomas year after year, and she couldn’t wait for the day it would be her turn… That’s when I knew we had to do our best to make this day special for the Class of 2020.” 

The celebration opened with a Mass celebrated by Parish Administrator Father Rafal Ligenza. “One of the customary things to say during graduation is ‘believe in yourselves,’” Father Ligenza added. “If you only put faith in yourself, you will wind up disappointed. Believe in God instead. He will take care of you… You will succeed if you trust in the Lord.” 

Mass was followed by a ceremony that recognized the achievements and accolades of the graduates. Joshua P. Ogline received several awards including highest honors in sports, science, religion and language arts. 

“But I’m most proud of the St. Joseph Spirit Award,” said Joshua, who also served as the School’s Student Council President. “It recognizes the time and effort our school dedicated to service projects. It recognizes how we incorporated our faith by working together and having fun in everything we did.”

A luncheon followed the ceremony, giving graduates and their families something that most people once took for granted: authentic, in person communication. 

“This is a mature class blessed with a supportive network of families,” Suddarth said. “They put the needs of others before their own, and they took every opportunity to lead by example… Although this may be the last time we meet as a group, it will not be the last we’ve heard of the Class of 2020.”