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Dumfries Pope John Paul the Great High School
'Pioneers' receive first diplomas
Seniors bask in honor of being first graduates of Dominican-staffed high school Friday morning
Gretchen R. Crowe | Catholic Herald
Gretchen R. Crowe | Catholic Herald
Guests applaud the graduates of Pope John Paul the Great High School in Dumfries.

Tears streamed down the face of Dominican Sister Mary Brigid Burnham as she hugged student after student swathed in flowing green gowns Friday morning following the first graduation at Pope John Paul the Great High School in Dumfries.

By 11:30 a.m., the world belonged to the 62 graduates: they’d shaken the hand of Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde, checked out their diplomas, posed for a picture with mom and dad and — of course — thrown their caps high into the bright blue morning sky.

“It’s a great moment,” said Pierre Benjamin, fresh from taking a photo with his graduate son, Corey Benjamin, who will be attending the University of Arizona on a full scholarship. “He’s starting to discover what he wants to do. I’m very proud.”

Pride was a theme of the day, with everyone from the parents to Bishop Loverde expressing his or her joy, gratitude and pleasure at watching the first group of seniors from the school walk across the makeshift stage at the edge of the football field.

“It’s a great day,” said Sister Mary Jordan Hoover, principal. “One I’ll remember.”

As she welcomed the gathered crowd of diocesan officials, faculty, staff, family and friends, Sister Mary Jordan thanked everyone from Bishop Loverde to the members of the diocesan Office of Planning, Construction and Facilities for overseeing the construction of the physical plant that opened less than two years ago.

“Today we come together for the inaugural graduation recognizing that many people have played a part in making this school possible,” she said.

Father Thomas P. Ferguson, episcopal vicar for faith formation, gave the invocation, thanking God for the success of the school and asking Blessed John Paul II, the school’s namesake, to intercede for all gathered.

Graduates Stephanie Saadeh and Krista Shaw gave the valedictory and salutatory addresses, respectively, with Saadeh calling the day “unforgettable.” Amid remembrances and advice to graduates and the other classes, Saadah said she hoped the graduates “keep the fire of faith burning strong.

“I hope we will pray for each other across the years and across the miles,” she said.

Mike McDaniel received the St. Thomas More Award; Thomas Ranieri the St. Gianna Molla Award. Right before the procession off the field — and after a loud count to three — caps soared into the sky, allowing graduates to express their emotions with flings of the wrist and laughing faces. The smiles continued as the crowd gathered outside the school following the ceremony. Picture after picture was snapped: grads with parents, grads with teachers, grads with each other.

“I feel grateful for getting to share these three years with them,” said Sister Mary Brigid, chair of the religion and English departments, following the ceremony. “I’m excited for them.” Sister Mary Brigid said she’s especially looking forward to watching the graduates live and defend the principles learned through the school’s bioethics curriculum once they are out in the world.

There’s no doubt that these students were formed in a special way through the bioethics curriculum taught by the Dominican sisters.

“It’s taught me a lot and made me smarter,” said Graduate Joaquim White. “It’s made me become the person I am today.”

“You can tell that the reason she is the way she is is because of the school,” said Loretta Krakie of her daughter, graduate Cathryn Krakie. “She’s learned a lot about herself and what’s important to her and what’s important in life.”

Bishop Loverde said their time at the school had prepared “the pioneers” of John Paul the Great to face the challenges of life yet to come.

“Your years at Pope John Paul the Great High School have equipped you to know how to resist the gravitational forces of evil and to cooperate with the gravitational forces of God’s love,” he said. “I am very proud of each of you. Congratulations and may God go with you always.”

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