Commencement Celebrates Class of 2024’s Faith and Achievement
Posted on 06/07/2024
Illuminated by the stained-glass windows of the Church of the Sacred Heart, St. Thomas Aquinas High School celebrated the Class of 2024 with its annual Baccalaureate Mass and Commencement Ceremony on Thursday, June 6, marking an important milestone with faith, reflection, and anticipation for the future.

True to STA tradition, the day began with Baccalaureate Mass, a longstanding ritual of prayer and thanksgiving. The Mass was a moment to thank God for what has been and to ask for His blessings in what is to come, setting the spiritual tone for the day’s celebrations. The ceremony began with the presentation of the symbols of the class: the friendship chain, drama mask, musical note, diploma, class ring, uniform, and Christ candle, each emblematic of the diverse experiences and achievements of the members of the Class of 2024.

The homily by Fr. Mike Tabernero resonated deeply with the congregation: “Just as the bread and wine are transformed into the Eucharist, so too can your talents and knowledge be transformed into gifts for others as you illuminate those around you.”

Music, an integral part of the school’s liturgical life, was performed by the liturgical choir led by alumnus Mr. Joseph Cullinan ’02. The choir’s rendition of familiar hymns such as "Our God Is Here," "We Are One Body," and "City of God" created a sense of community and shared faith. As a segue between Mass and the graduation ceremony, the graduates were treated to a final rendition of student-favorite worship song, “Big House.”

To inaugurate the Commencement Ceremony, the Most Reverend Bishop James F. Checchio of the Diocese of Metuchen bestowed a blessing upon the graduates.

The ceremony then proceeded with speeches from the class salutatorian and valedictorian, each providing a unique perspective on the shared experiences of the graduates. Salutatorian Marissa Nieves praised the excellence that she witnessed in her classmates, from athletic fields to theater stage to classrooms. "Most of all in our class, I see friendship and connections: those that have been there since day one, those that we’ve fostered along the way, and the new and unexpected ones that seem almost serendipitous," she remarked.

Valedictorian Annika Schmidt spoke with heartfelt sentiment about the difficulty of leaving a place that had become a second home over the past four years. She urged her peers to prioritize personal happiness and passion in their future endeavors. "In your journeys toward success, make sure you keep yourself in mind. Make sure you do what you do because you love it, not because you are trying to please someone else. Make sure you are happy in what you do, and you leave yourself room for fun experiences and building relationships," she said.

Bishop Checchio then conferred diplomas to each of the graduates as their names were read by Class Advisor Mr. Vincenzo Dama ‘14, marking their transition from students to alumni of St. Thomas Aquinas High School.

After an enthusiastic celebration, it was four-year Class President Olivia Alicante’s turn to share her thoughts with the audience, encapsulating the collective experiences and aspirations of her peers. "We've faced a pandemic, online school, and many uncertainties, yet here we stand, ready to embrace the future. Let us carry the lessons of STA with us, cherish the memories, and strive to make a positive impact on the world," she declared, her words echoing the resilient spirit of the Class of 2024.

In his address to the students and their families, Principal Harry Ziegler echoed the sentiments of the three student speakers, reflecting on the resilience and growth of the students throughout their high school journey: “Your generation triumphed over one of the most serious global events of the century. And now you are thriving and ready to make your mark on the world.”

As the new graduates turned their tassels and left the church to celebrate their achievement with family and friends, they carried with them not just their diplomas, but the enduring values, lessons, and friendships forged during their time at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, ready to embark on the next chapter of their lives.

Graduation Class of 2024