It is a daily experiment in human chemistry. More than 900 young men, hailing from nearly 150 cities and towns throughout the region, swirl together through the doors at Grand & Warren daily. They are the reagents, Prep’s faculty and staff the catalysts, and nearly a century and a half of Prep tradition (and more than five centuries of Jesuit educational tradition) establish the experimental conditions. What will happen?
Prep offered the 141st iteration of its results Thursday evening, as the Class of 2019 entered the Yanitelli Center at Saint Peter’s University as seniors, and exited as newly-minted alumni. Rather than electrons, they have shared many experiences, but the result is the same: they have formed a strong bond, and emerged as something quite different from what was there at the start.
Mr. Tom Comey, the chair of Prep’s science department and a lifelong student of a more literal kind of chemistry, was the faculty speaker for this year’s ceremony. He related his wonder at atoms’ natural tendency to seek stability and balance by working together – sometimes with others like themselves, and sometimes with atoms that are quite different. As they form bonds and create new molecules, something altogether new takes shape. Sodium and chlorine, both quite dangerous, become ordinary table salt. Highly flammable oxygen and hydrogen become the water that sustains all life. “These combinations and reactions are magnificent displays of what happens when substances come together,” he said. “It is only together can they achieve a purpose greater than themselves. These interactions are absolutely necessary for growth and change of these atoms. They continually seek changes and opportunities to form stable compounds. With each change, they move towards their goal – achieving stability.”
For those of us who are not single atoms but rather large collections of atoms – around 7 x 1027 atoms each, Mr. Comey noted – the need to find those who will balance us and help us to become our best selves is no less essential.
Friends will challenge one another to be honest, even when it is difficult. They help one another to believe in themselves even when we can’t. Friends care for one another and make you care for yourself when you’ve taken on too much. They help us to own our strengths while simultaneously balancing our weaknesses. Sometimes these friendships have caused the changes we see in ourselves gradually over time – only noticeable when we take a moment to reflect. Other times, friendships have caused grief and maybe ended. But always, they have taught us something. Something unlike what we were before having met.
In recent decades, as the geographic diversity of Prep’s student body has exploded, the experience of getting to and from Grand & Warren each day has become as much a part of each student’s experience as classes, club meetings, team practices, and homework. For many – perhaps even most – this will at some point involve travel by train – be it the Light Rail from Bayonne, the PATH from Newark or Manhattan, or New Jersey Tranit’s commuter rail network from farther afield. Student speaker Thaddeus Goratowski, ’19 found in his collection of 39 monthly passes from Glen Rock to Hoboken more than just a memento of his daily commute.
Just as the train crew must persevere to overcome obstacles and delays, he explained, the 226 members of the Class of 2019 have pushed forward through their four-year journey through personal hardships, academic challenges, and more. They have each chosen what baggage to bring and with whom they will travel. And they have each learned to pace themselves to travel safely and efficiently though life’s journey. And together, they have arrived at a critical transfer point.
“We’ve made it to one of the largest exchanges in all of life: the transition away from high school,” Thaddeus said. “Each track heads towards its own destination, to many different places across the country and the world…
“A quote from one of my favorite teachers, Mr. Burokas, rings true: ‘There’s always another train leaving the station.’ There are so many options to choose from, so many tracks to depart from, that the pressure and rush of the future can become overwhelming; but, in the same way that we’ve navigated through our time at Prep, we’ll all be prepared for whatever train we decide to go on, no matter when or to where it departs.”
And so on a stormy evening in May, one Prep journey was at an end – the disparate particles that were once lost freshmen had been forged into something new and different, ready to begin their new journeys as the graduates of the Class of 2019.