‘I have never felt closer to God’
There were laughter and tears, warm embraces and continuous camera flashes as 628 seniors from the Diocese of Orlando’s five Catholic high schools prayerfully closed one chapter in their lives and looked forward to the next, during their school’s baccalaureate Masses celebrated by Bishop Noonan during the last weeks of May.
“Graduates, you are the future,” Bishop John Noonan said to each graduating class. “What you are now is God’s gift to you. What you can and will become is your gift to God.”
As they prepare for their futures, filled with hope and promise, several school leaders reflected on what their Catholic educations have meant to them and how their educations have prepared them for the future. The students recognized that a Catholic education is a privilege, and the experience, for some spanning more than 13 years, offered them the opportunity to grow in their faith and love of God.
“My education has instilled in me the virtues of understanding, compassion, patience, humility and, of course, love,” said Bishop Moore Catholic High School graduate Shawn Duong. “It has taught me to have pride in my faith and in my beliefs. It has taught me not just how to make moral decisions, but why to make them.”
“Looking back on my time as a Celtic,” said Blessed Trinity graduate Rosemarie Evangelista, “I have never felt closer to God, experienced so many uplifting moments with my peers, or felt so educated and prepared to handle the challenges I will likely face later in my lifetime. Catholic education has encompassed my lifestyle and made me a better person.”
Besides the solid academic foundation, Catholic schools offered the students the opportunity to serve those in need, no matter how large or small the effort.
“Serving others and the community should come from one’s heart,” said Jessica Perez, a graduating senior at Santa Fe Catholic High School in Lakeland. “My volunteer experiences helped me learn more about how things work in society and taught me to be more appreciative of what I have been given.”
“It is important to serve others,” said Father Lopez Catholic High School senior Hannah Lethcoe. “Service is something that is a constant part of life at Father Lopez and we are encouraged to get involved in the community outside of school, but we also serve each other daily. From helping a friend with a physics problem to holding the door open for someone carrying a lot of books, the little things that we don’t think about are really what make the difference in everyday life.”
Ray Watkins from Melbourne Central Catholic High School said he will most remember the camaraderie among his classmates. “As I reflect upon the miracle that was our class coming together, I can say with confidence that it was through our faith that we were able to bond as one,” he said. “Even though we all entered MCC coming from different parishes, backgrounds and at different levels in our faith, God helped us to see his goodness in one another and to learn that we are all brothers and sisters in our life’s journeys.”