Laura Keener, Editor.
As the 2019-2020 school year comes to a close, it is safe to say that the Class of 2020 will have experienced the end of their senior year and graduation in ways that no one could have predicted. The COVID-19 pandemic had leaders around the world enacting sweeping regulations in desperate attempts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and to save lives. With each passing day churches, schools, businesses were told to close their doors to in-person interaction and to find new ways — virtual or contact-less ways — to conduct business, to learn and to worship.
As the seniors packed their school bags March 13, for what was anticipated to be two weeks of Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI), they undoubtedly could not have known or even imagined that this was going to be their “last time” — their last time in their school, their last time with their teachers, their last time with each other.
But it was also a time for some firsts. Students and teachers, together, with little time to prepare, for the first time moved in-classroom instruction to a variety of digital platforms. In the Diocese of Covington, teachers reported that students remained engaged and completed their assignments, indicative of the teachers, students and parents determination and dedication to their education.
The Class of 2020 is the first to have caps and gowns distributed and diplomas picked up in a parade-like caravan or delivered directly to their door with their teachers cheering from sidewalks. They are the first class to experience a virtual graduation, with each school imagining what that would look like. Then realizing what was imagined through the cooperation of administrators, parents and students, all working together, sharing photos and videos and, most of all, heartfelt sentiments that were pieced together and shared online.
And, in many ways, the virus that threatened to keep people apart has brought the seniors together. The Class of 2020 is the first class in the diocese to begin its graduations together with one Baccalaureate Mass celebrated by the bishop.
“Your graduation this year is not what you imagined and not what I imagined for you but that doesn’t diminish you and it doesn’t diminish your accomplishments,” said Bishop Roger Foys in his homily, May 18, at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.
For the Baccalaureate Mass the cathedral church was empty except for Bishop Foys, Father Daniel Schomaker, vicar general, Father Joseph Shelton, administrative assistant to the Bishop and the seven high school pastoral administrators concelebrating. The seniors, their teachers, parents, families and friends participated by watching the live stream on the Cathedral’s website.
“You have been in a Catholic school and you have heard me say many, many, many times that there are alternatives to Catholic schools but there are no substitutes … A Catholic school is about developing a way of life. If we are going to develop a way of life that is going to be meaningful, although challenging, then we have to hear, receive and act upon the word of God.”
Reflecting on the second reading, Bishop Foys encouraged the graduates to be agents of change.
“Paul says to the early Christians, ‘Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.’ It’s easy to conform ourselves to any age of the world, it’s easy to go along with the flow, there is absolutely no challenge in that,” Bishop Foys said. “Our faith challenges us and it calls us to challenge others … You can transform the world, you can make a difference … You can be that agent of transformation in a world that has lost its way.”
Bishop Foys acknowledged that life isn’t always easy; the end of their senior year has surely taught them that. But he encouraged the graduates to heed the words of St. Paul.
“Paul says, rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. I could not give you seniors any better advice than that,” he said.
Bishop Foys acknowledged that due to the pandemic many people have had to sacrifice in many ways — healthcare workers risking their lives in caring for the sick, workers whose work was deemed non-essential have lost income in order to protect others and family members were unable to care for their loved ones as they died.
“You, yourself, have looked forward to your graduation and have had such great enthusiasm for your final days of your high school career — prom night, senior night, awards banquets, graduation, baccalaureate Mass — we are aware of your pain and your sacrifice. We’ve all had affliction and sacrifice, but we can endure because we rejoice in hope. In the final analysis what matters most is Jesus Christ, our salvation.
“So as you celebrate this accomplishment, the end of your high school career and the beginning of whatever is to come next, be young men and young women who rejoice in hope, who can endure affliction because you have hope, and who never stop praying. God will bless you for that,” he said.
Bishop Foys ended his homily with words of congratulations.
“My congratulations to all of you. I wish you well and pray that you will have a bright future,” he said.
The baccalaureate Mass as well as the virtual graduations of all nine high schools are available for viewing here.