By JANE WILSON, Special To The Bulletin | Published June 7, 2007
The gymnasium at Pinecrest Academy buzzed with excitement as students, faculty, family and friends gathered to celebrate the school’s inaugural commencement exercises on Saturday, May 26. That afternoon, 15 students, the class of 2007, became the first alumni in Pinecrest history.
The festivities began with a baccalaureate Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Celestino Migliore, apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York. Archbishop Migliore later extolled the “values and virtues imparted by Catholic education” as a “means of spreading truth and love” during his commencement address.
Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue, who was one of the guiding forces behind the inception and the growth of Pinecrest Academy, gave the homily at the baccalaureate, noting that he was “filled with pride and with true joy” to “see our sons and daughters standing on the threshold of true life.”
Archbishop Donoghue went on to characterize the graduation not just as a transition, but as a “transformation.” He explained to the graduates that “God is helping us to become the person he wants us to be,” and “if we believe in our baptism, our faith, the Church … we who live with, in and for the faith—we are transformed.”
A highlight of the Mass was the offertory presentation, designed to reflect the four areas of integral formation on which Pinecrest Academy’s pedagogy is built. Students presented textbooks to represent their academic formation, sports trophies won to represent their human formation and the forging of character, a crucifix to represent their spiritual formation, and emblems of their charitable work to represent their apostolic formation.
After the Mass, the familiar strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” signaled the beginning of the commencement exercises. After the graduates had marched to the stage, Pinecrest executive director Rick Swygman welcomed the crowd, remarking that the ceremony marked a culmination of many years of hard work. He reminded the crowd that Pinecrest was just an idea 15 years ago, formed by two women who came together with a common goal. He also addressed the graduates and noted that they were establishing a fine legacy for future Pinecrest students.
This was borne out as the class awards were presented, in accordance with the four areas of integral formation. In the area of academic achievement, Leanne Cassandra was recognized as salutatorian and Elizabeth Kelley was recognized as valedictorian of the class. Kelley had also won the Journal Cup, and both young women received the Marcus L. Johnson award for excellence in academics and athletics.
When the awards for human formation were presented, John Tarpley, Pinecrest’s principal, told the crowd that every student had achieved in this area, noting that each member of the class had lettered in at least one sport during his or her time at Pinecrest. The athletic award for the girls school was presented to Leanne Cassandra, while the award for the boys school went to Francisco Garcia. The awards for the leadership component of human formation went to Kathleen Flanagan for the girls school and Luis Domenge for the boys school.
The Apostleship Awards were given for spiritual and apostolic formation. Paloma Ramos, who had shepherded a group of inner-city children through their first Communion sacrament, was given the award for the girls school, and Eric Quintana, who had been active in mission service and a team leader, was handed the award for the boys school.
While noting that the highest award given was “what you take with you from Pinecrest,” Tarpley presented the Integer Awards to recognize the graduates who had achieved the most in all four areas—the highest “completeness” in formation of the whole person. These graduates addressed their class and the assemblage.
Francisco Garcia, winner of the Integer Award for the boys school, gave a speech laced with humor, thanking the teachers and the parents for all their help throughout their formative years. He claimed that “Pinecrest has helped me grow into my name and become the person I am today,” and he urged his fellow graduates to become apostles and examples in the world.
Valedictorian Elizabeth Kelley won the Integer Award for the girls school, and she opened her address with a heartfelt remembrance of the time she had recently spent on service work in Jamaica with the rest of the class. Remembering with sentimental affection the early years of Pinecrest, when the entire school was small enough to fit in one yearly photograph, Kelley described the academy as the “only school I have known, and the best school I can imagine.”
In the commencement address that followed, Archbishop Migliore compared the first graduating class of Pinecrest Academy to the first produce of a harvest, noting that traditionally the first fruits are a gift to God. He spoke of the Christian foundation established by the Pinecrest education, describing it as a strong place to stand upon and use the “lever” of good works and discipleship. He also applauded the influence of the faith community as the graduates continue their search for truth throughout their lives. He closed his speech by urging the graduates to be proud of Pinecrest and the formative education it had given them.
After the presentation of the senior gift, an archway through which only Pinecrest alumni may pass, the graduates were presented to the crowd of enthusiastic family and friends. Each graduate was introduced with a truly impressive array of achievements, revealing that the Pinecrest motto, “Semper Altius” (to strive always higher), has been instilled in these 15 alumni.