DOVER — The 20th and final graduating class of St. Thomas More Academy gathered at Holy Cross Church on June 22 and were encouraged to carry the legacy of the school with them as they moved on to the next phase of their lives.
Fourteen seniors — 11 girls and three boys — had their baccalaureate Mass, followed by graduation. Each earned a purple cord to wear on top of their gowns before receiving their diploma from Holy Cross pastor Father James Lentini. The closing of the school, which opened in the fall of 1998, was announced in February.
A few weeks later, the coronavirus pandemic closed schools across the country, and the seniors missed out on all those traditional end-of-school moments. Principal Rachael Casey apologized that they weren’t able to have a prom, musical, sports or even a senior prank. She wished they could have had graduation in a filled gymnasium on campus in Magnolia a few miles from Holy Cross.
Casey likened the past few months, and life itself, to a roller coaster.
“No roller coaster is slow, and no roller coaster that I have ridden has stopped when I felt scared or nauseous. But maybe one lesson we can share is recognizing it’s a fool’s errand to avoid, deny or wish away the ride itself,” she said.
She urged the graduates to have a sense of calm and acceptance and said present circumstances do not need to shake our faith in God or in ourselves.
“What we should focus on and strive for is to seek what’s good and right and to trust God,” she said. “When the roller coaster feels like it’s too much or you might lose your voice from screaming or pass out, God is present in Scripture to encourage you.”
Before her remarks, Casey announced that Spanish teacher Emilia Bohorquez had received the St. John the Baptist de la Salle Award. Bohorquez spent more time at St. Thomas More than any other faculty member and acted as a mentor to her colleagues as well as a teacher to her students. Bohorquez was happiest in her classroom, Casey said. She also thanked the faculty for their dedication to the school.
During the baccalaureate Mass, Father James Lentini, a former principal at St. Thomas More, praised the work done at the school over the years. He said St. Thomas More was the finest high school in the diocese with a stellar record of academic achievement, college-acceptance rates and a record of service in the community.
As he is known to do, Father Lentini invited the students and their families to step into “the wayback machine” with him to the 1970s to illustrate his point. In 1975, a new product became available, Betamax machines. It was the first technology that allowed people to record programs off their televisions or to buy movies to watch at their homes. But a year later, in November 1976, a competitor called VHS was introduced, and over the next decade it became the dominant format for home recording and playback despite its inferior quality. Betamax refused to compromise its product and slowly faded from the public consciousness.
“It was the better product, and the true believers knew that. We here at St. Thomas More knew then, and know now, that come what may, we have the better product,” he said.
“We did more with less, and always did more with St. Thomas More. We were the better product. We held on to our basic values, that win or lose. St. Thomas More Academy was to be something different than other high schools in our area.”
Father Lentini recalled a visit from a Middle States team when the school was going through the reaccreditation process. Team members talked to staff, parents and students are part of the process and were impressed with what the school accomplished despite its size.
“St. Thomas More might be small, but its intimacy is its power,” Father Lentini said, quoting the report. “The word that the team heard over and over to describe our school was ‘family.’”
“Other high schools might have their VHS, but you guys are my Betamax. You are the better product no matter what anybody says,” he said.
In one other reference to the ‘70s, Father Lentini spoke about the late Scottish singer Gerry Rafferty and his song “Get It Right Next Time,” released in 1979. A line reads, “When you’re standing in the crossroads, every highway looks the same.” When the graduates find themselves at a crossroads, he said, they should look for the cross. “See Christ guiding your way.”
“As you leave our community into that great big world … remember the primacy of God in your life. Remember the value of having a faith well-practiced,” he said.
Casey said one positive aspect of her time in quarantine was that it reminded her that God is in charge. We don’t always need to know the future.
“Maybe 2020 is not a bad year, representing all the things you didn’t get to do. Maybe it isn’t a time to be sad. Maybe it’s a year where we learn for ourselves – yes, by necessity – to place our trust in God, to be the face of Christ for others, to not let the unexpected deter us, to find and bring joy.”