DANVERS — St. John’s Preparatory School held its 113th Commencement exercises on Saturday morning as Head of School Edward P. Hardiman, Ph.D., conferred diplomas upon 272 seniors during an outdoor ceremony held on the school’s campus. The one hour, 50-minute program kicked off beneath threatening but rain-free skies.
St. John’s graduating class endured a global pandemic that began halfway through their freshman year, and had its final months on campus marred by unthinkable personal tragedy for an entire Prep family this past February. Not surprisingly, featured speakers–students and dignitaries alike–quickly put aside pomp and circumstance. Instead, both collectively and distinctively, they emphatically declared that each of us, all of us, must be accountable to one another to ensure that a just and peaceful world is part of our future.
In his valedictory address, Jonathan R. Rodriguez of Lawrence, the son of a father who immigrated from Puerto Rico and a mother who immigrated from the Dominican Republic, urged graduates to shape their future in a manner that pays tribute to and creates avenues for both those who got them to this point, and those who will follow.
“None of us is here graduating today solely because we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps,” Rodriguez said. “To one degree or another, we have all received instruction from a teacher or mentor. A handshake that communicated something greater than a mere greeting. We have received financial as well as moral support, indescribable love, and a much longer list that I will let each of you fill in for yourselves.
“But what will you live for, tomorrow?” Rodriguez continued. “We must choose to live for things that will outlive us! My family has taught me not only with their words, but also with their sacrifices that, whether I succeed or I fail spectacularly, this moment is not the end. Following their footsteps, I must learn to live not only for my own future, but for the future of my family as well. We have gathered here today to celebrate our past and to face each of our futures. How will you choose to shape yours?”
In all, this year’s seniors represented 50 cities and towns across the Commonwealth, including as far east as Rockport, as far south as Revere, as far west as Lowell, and as far north as Amesbury. Four were international students. A class-high 17 seniors hail from Marblehead as well as Danvers, while another nine commuted from out of state (Seacoast and southern New Hampshire) and a pair hailed from North Reading.
The class salutatorian was Jackson Belanger of Boxford. The senior class speaker came in the form of a creative duet delivered by Thomas Healey of Peabody and National Merit Scholarship recipient Leyad Zavriyev of Swampscott; their classmates chose the pair. Rodriguez, the valedictorian, will attend Stanford this fall, while Belanger is bound for Georgia Tech, Healey heads to UMass-Amherst and Zavriyev to Brown University.
In his remarks to graduates, Dr. Hardiman P ’19 ’21 ’26 implored them to be forthright and true to their convictions, but to remain vigilant about a universal truth: Words matter, and more often than not, actions speak louder than words.
“As you prepare to leave this campus, it is essential that you constantly remind yourself what you say, to whom you say it, and how you say it matters and impacts others,” Hardiman said. “It is also essential that you seek to ground your words and actions in love. Sometimes, our words and actions are challenging, even though they are focused on the common good. (Harness) the power of one who uses words and actions to be a beacon of respect, a beacon of community, a beacon of love, and one whose actions and words show the world your commitment to knowing, valuing, and loving all whom you encounter.”
Introduced by Belanger, the 2023 Commencement student-selected keynote speaker was retiring social studies teacher Bill Britton, who served as a Marine Corps tank commander during the Vietnam War followed by a successful career in business before coming to St. John’s 25 years ago. An Atkinson, N.H. resident, he delivered a stirring address framed by the concept of honor and leadership, adapted from his military service.
“You go forward from this sacred ground into a world where you will be tested, but you go with distinct advantages,” said Britton. “You are armed, not with the weapons of war, but with principles that can guide you in moments of moral jeopardy. You will make mistakes. Own up to them. You will choose wrong paths. Change directions. Pay the price to put yourself on a path to happiness, because your joy will be compelling, and you will have the opportunity to make the world a better place for all with whom you come in contact.”
More than half (53%) of the graduating seniors are members of the National Honor Society, while 11 were National Merit Scholar-commended students and four–Matthew A.P. Dunn of Danvers, Brian T. Nguyen of Melrose, the valedictorian Rodriguez, and senior class speaker Zavriyev–were NMS Finalists. There were 30 legacy graduates this year, meaning the graduate’s father, grandfather or great-grandfather also graduated from the Prep. A remarkable 38 Eagles student-athletes signed national letters of intent to continue their athletic careers in college.
Victor Rivera Jr. of Methuen received the Xaverian Award, the highest honor the school can bestow upon a graduating senior. It is presented to the class member who best epitomizes the values and tradition of Xaverian education, which are to promote human dignity, act with compassion and integrity, pursue justice and peace, and live lives of service to society. Rivera will matriculate at Marist College (N.Y.) this fall.
At 12:21 p.m., with rain falling atop the massive white commencement tent, the new Prep alumni turned the tassels on their mortarboards from right to left, symbolizing the official conclusion of their high school experience. Following a benediction by Raisa Carrasco-Velez, director of St. John’s Office for Multicultural Affairs and Community Development, the graduates celebrated a traditional mortarboard toss at the ceremony’s conclusion.
College acceptances for the Prep’s Class of 2023 included six Ivy League schools and four schools in the UMass system as well as The University of Chicago, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Georgia Tech, the University of Virginia, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Purdue, UCLA, Tufts, College of the Holy Cross, Middlebury, UNC, the University of Michigan, Northeastern, Vanderbilt, and Trinity College Dublin, among 245 total institutions to date.
Graduating Eagles will fly away to locales as far west as Washington State, as far north as Maine, as far south as Florida, and as far east as Ireland, along with many states in between, including Alabama, South Carolina, Colorado, Montana, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Oregon among others.
North Reading graduates
The graduates from North Reading are Justin Andrew Armata, a member of the National Honor Society and the recipient of both the Loyalty and Service Award and the Silver Key Scholastic Art & Writing Award for Ceramics and Glass, and William M. Sawyer.