Dressed in their white gowns and mortarboard hats, the graduates of Holy Family Academy’s 2012 class stood in the wing of St. Henry’s Church on June 7, waiting for the organ music to begin, some smiling, some looking out at the church filled with people, while the color guard gripped the poles of the flags. They tried not to look nervous, but they were.
They all knew their class was making history. They were a class that might not have existed if it hadn’t been for the parents, alumni, community members, teachers and others who fought hard to keep the school open.
In January of 2008, the Bayonne community was shocked to learn that the Sisters of Saint Joseph, who had run Holy Family Academy for over 80 years, would no longer be able to financially support the school. They announced that class of 2008 would be HFA’s last graduating class.
“We are a very special class, and this is an extra special night,” said Lauren Squillante in her valedictorian address a short time later. “Four years ago, in spite of rumors that were circulating HFA would be closing, we had the courage to carry on the tradition that the Sisters of Saint Joseph had left behind when they decided to stop funding the school. We chose to attend HFA. Tonight, it looks as if we had made the right choice.”
Salutatorian Sarah McCabe in her address also focused on the threat of the school’s closing.
“The road to this graduation has not always been a smooth one,” McCabe said. “In fact, as freshmen, we were not even sure we would have a roof for graduation. Many people questioned our parents as to why they would send their daughters to a school that might not be open in a year. But the Class of 2012 knew where we belonged.”
Courage and determination of the community was instrumental in keeping the school open for many years.
Last march for the Class of 2012
When the organ started with Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” 31 young women began their slow promenade down the side aisle of the church and then back up the main aisle as family members and friends looked on or took pictures.
No one shouted, but many applauded and waved, drawing shy responses from some of the graduates, who still looked nervous and more than a little awed.
They were members of the class that might have never been, marching up the aisle as the fulfillment of a dream many fought to keep alive.
Yet this graduation ceremony was also about individual dreams, and a chance for these graduates to look ahead and behind, to remember their roots before they spread their branches to embrace the wider world.
Squillante told a story about a girl four years ago who had woken up in the middle of the night before her first day at Holy Family Academy and, wandering downstairs, confided her fears to her mother about not knowing anyone and making friends.
The mother in this story gave her one sage piece of advice that when she went to school that first day: “Don’t sit alone.”
Both Squillante and McCabe recalled that first day when the new class gathered in the school cafeteria. McCabe referred to herself as a “scared kid” whose closest friends had gone to other schools.
“So my biggest fears weren’t that my classes would be too hard or my teachers too strict, but that I would not be able to find friends,” McCabe said.
Both girls, however, found themselves meeting new people and as it turned out, they met others who would become their best friends over the next four years.
“Friendship is an easy thing to come by at Holy Family,” Squillante said. “You went into the school and somehow you’re automatically enveloped in its warmth and its kindness. The Class of 2012 is a prime example of this loving community. One thing that I’ve noticed over the years is that we’re all friends. We’re always there for each other no matter what.”
“The road to this graduation has not always been a smooth one.” – Sarah McCabe
McCabe said for a long time, she failed to appreciate her time at HFA because she was focused on college.
“The idea of going away from home for the first time and having all these adult experiences made me take my high school experiences for granted,” she said. “But standing her tonight, I can truly reflect on everything that has happened to us.”
Then breaking down into tears, McCabe looked out at the sea of white that encompassed the first four rows of the church, the familiar faces she had seen in other contexts, in classrooms and in the halls of the school, outside going to or coming from the school, attending sporting events or dances. She said, “I’m going to miss seeing my friends every day.”
Saying she isn’t sure that the English language has the words to describe how they feel about each other, Squillante altered the lyrics from a 1965 Beatles song: “There are places I’ll remember all my life, some have changed, some remain the same, and in my life I have loved them all. But of all these places, I love you more.”