Tuesday morning brought a light drizzle to Keenan Field, followed by a heavier cloudburst around 9:15. With Prep’s 145th Commencement set for 10 o’clock, everyone was thinking it, even if no one would say it: what if the rain doesn’t stop? But as if someone had flipped a switch, hazy sunshine took hold over downtown Jersey City just in time for Prep to celebrate the Class of 2023. In a way, it was only fitting that graduation day would begin with uncertainty for this newest crop of Prep alumni, whose freshman year was upended by the arrival of COVID-19. And in the same way, it was only fitting for this outstanding class that the skies would clear (mostly!) as the morning wore on.
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Dr. Susan Woolever, Director of Campus Ministry, opened the ceremony with an invocation. “Dear God, what an honor it is to be on the road with these young persons, Prep’s Class of 2023. You have journeyed with them thus far on the road, and provided them with companions through their friends, families, teachers, and coaches.” She added, “We give you our time this morning and the futures of these graduates, inviting your presence to be known, for our hearts to be open to experiencing only goodness, and for our words and actions to be glorifying to you.”
Student speaker Rishi Bhandari, ’23, who also served as student council president among many other leadership roles, reminded his classmates of the ups and downs that have defined their years at Prep. Drawing inspiration from the statue of Saint Peter on Warren Street that he helped to unveil in September, he noted, “The story of Saint Peter, his shadow, and the golden keys mirror the high school experience of many Prep students in its themes of courage, brotherhood, and resilience.”
Just as the Class of 2023 became well-established at Prep during the spring of their freshman year, the sudden arrival of the pandemic closed campus while casting the world beyond these walls into disarray. Their sophomore year was devoted to negotiating hybrid classes and limited student activities. “When we were forced to navigate these new turbulent waters, we refused to be defeated, a testament to the Prep spirit that defines our class.” Junior and senior years brought a gradual return to the fullness of the Prep experience, and the class took full advantage in every area, leaving an indelible mark on the place they have called home.
“With the golden keys in our hands and the Jesuit ideals in our hearts, we strive to make our mark upon the world,” he said. Let us depart from this sacred space with a new sense of clarity and fortitude to live out the core values that define us as Prep men: competence, conscience, and compassion. Together, let us march forward as fearless pioneers, enthusiastic trailblazers, and adventurous fishermen, actively exploring the boundaries of uncharted waters, always seeking to learn more.”
Mr. Salvatore Veniero, ’05, Director of Global Initiatives and a member of the World Languages Department, was this year’s faculty speaker. He shared part of his experience reaching out to potential partner schools around the globe for Prep’s exchange programs. “Whenever I am trying to explain what Prep is like to a potential partner school, I am talking about our Prep guys. I am describing, usually bragging, about you and explaining why you make this the perfect school to partner with.
“I know many times throughout your Prep careers you have heard about the Grad at Grad – The graduate of a Jesuit school at graduation – and the values that such a person is supposed to embody,” he continued. “Well, you’re here now, the graduates at graduation, and the extent to which you live up to those values determines what Prep is.”
Mr. Veniero concluded, “I hope that you reflect on that today, reflect on what you bring with you from Prep, and how that can shape your future. Then, when you hear about the successes and trials of those sitting around you today I hope you root and care for each other as brothers, protecting the legacy you are entrusted with. That is what Prep pride means and I am proud to call you my Prep brothers.”
Following the presentation of diplomas, Prep President Michael Gomez, Ed.D., ’91 offered a closing reflection, reminding the newly-minted alumni that the lessons of Grand & Warren are designed to remain with them wherever they go. “The Prep experience…motivates you to constantly refine the person you will be for the rest of your life,” Dr. Gomez said. “I hope as you continue this lifelong refinement of your mind, heart, soul, and character, you make a great discovery. I hope you discover the holy boldness and sacred madness inside you…that stirs your soul to love and dream, the one that creates an unstoppable dream inside of you, that puts a dent in the universe when it comes true.”
Dr. Gomez also presented the Insignis Award to Mr. Philip McGovern Jr., ’76, P’11, a 2018 Legends of Prep honoree, who is concluding his service as the chair of Prep’s Board of Trustees. “As not only a proud alumnus, but also the son, the brother, and the father of Prep alumni, his connection to the Jesuit values that define life at Grand & Warren is both deep and personal,” Dr. Gomez said. “Those values guide his every decision, and, in turn, guide us to live our mission to the fullest. Mr. McGovern epitomizes all that Jesuit education is about…”
The Insignis award was just one of the awards presented during the ceremony. A full list is available here.