For more than an hour before the scheduled start of Holy Family Academy’s graduation on June 1 at St. Henry’s Church, people started to show up carrying flowers and cameras – grinning at each other as if they had come through some dramatic experience and had come to this moment to celebrate.
Parents and friends snapped pictures of everyone and everything, even before the 45 graduates of the Class of 2009 made their way down the center aisle. Many of the hundreds of guests seemed determined to capture every nuance of the moment and treasure it forever.
Although each year is significant to the teachers, students, and families involved, in some ways, this year’s graduation ceremony marked a special moment not just for those graduating, but for the school and the community – as if the school itself had gone through some important trial and had come out the other side stronger and more able to face the wide world.
A year ago, many believed the Class of 2009 would be the last class to ever graduate from Holy Family Academy and these students the last to make the march down the center aisle of the cathedral-like St. Henry’s to collect their diplomas.
In January 2008, the Sisters of St. Joseph’s, who owned and operated the school since its inception early in the 20th century, informed students, teachers and parents that they would close the doors of the school after the Class of 2009 graduated.
But parents, teachers, alumni and community leaders banded together and over the last year managed to take over operations, guaranteeing that the doors will open again in September, lifting a dark cloud from this year’s graduating class.
Each student’s face beamed as she moved, knowing that others in future years would follow in their footsteps.
In her speech, valedictorian Toni Marie Logro asked her fellow graduates why this moment was so special to them, and why so many people needed to witness the event.
“Most of the graduates said they didn’t know,” she said. “But after a moment of reflection, they said they were excited about getting on with a new life.”
And the people who came to watch were helping these students along the way.
Logro said she found the loyalty and friendship students have developed truly remarkable and hope they would last.
“Graduation is not only about the cap and gown, it is a celebration of growth and maturity, a special time to reflect upon our accomplishments over the last four years,” she said.
Principal Sister Mary Ellen Ford, who will be stepping down this year as a new principal takes over in September, received a standing ovation from students and parents for the work she did for the 12 years she spent at Holy Family, leaving just a measure of sadness in the air over the loss.
While the school is saved, many good things from the past must change. Susan Ward will become the new principal.
Sister Patricia Kelly, of the Sisters of St. Joseph, said her order was very proud to have sponsored Holy Family Academy for 84 years and expressed gratitude to the “I Believe in HFA, Inc.” board, which takes over operations in the school as of July.
“Although our sponsorship ends this month, our love and support remain with Holy Family Academy in all ways possible,” she said.
Sister Kelly called Sister Mary Ellen’s leadership “remarkable,” raising a cheer from the church filled with graduates and families.
But Sister Mary’s parting had some pleasure when she got to announce the fact that the still-incomplete tabulation of scholarships for the 45 graduates this year was over $4.5 million.
“This is a class small in number but big in heart, leadership and vision,” she said.
This graduation also honored the Class of 1959, which was the second group of students to graduate HFA at its current location on Avenue A.