RIDGELAND—This year, for 2017 commencements, the Diocese of Charleston had an extra graduation as the first class of seniors from John Paul II School crossed the stage to receive their diplomas.
They are an eclectic group of 18 students with a wide range of personalities and strengths, but one thing they have in common is a deep and driving faith.
Heather Rembold, assistant principal, has high praise for the students, and their parents, who took a chance on a brand new school because having a Catholic education was that important to them.
“We are so grateful for their pioneering spirit,” said Rembold, who has been at the school since its inception in 2013.
Of the 18 graduates, nine of them started as freshman at the very beginning and were the first at everything. They held the school’s first prom, fielded the first athletic teams, and created the first artwork, Rembold said.
It was mostly exciting and fun, but at times the responsibility weighed on them, and school officials said they are proud of the students’ courage and perseverance.
The Class of 2017 helped form the school from the very beginning, selecting basics such as colors, themes, and mascots. The Golden Warrior, for example, was taken from scripture, said Sister Pamela Smith, of the Sisters of Sts. Cyril and Methodius.
Even more importantly, the senior class set the tone for Catholic identity that the rest of the school will continue to follow, she said.
Sister Pam, diocesan secretary of education, took the helm of JPII in its first year and led as interim principal through June 2015.
“Many of the students I’ve known since they were young children at St. Gregory School,” she said, adding that watching them grow into young adults was a joy and she is proud of all they’ve done.
She points out their creation of SHIELD, which stands for service, holiness, integrity, excellence, leadership, and diversity. The two students, male and female, who best represent these values receive the Nolite Timere award.
Katy Binkowski and Karl Johnson are the first recipients of this award and have set the bar for future Golden Warrior graduates to emulate, said Mary Beth Dever, a spokeswoman for the school.
Esther Lawrence, valedictorian, and Megan Reilly, salutatorian, along with all their other classmates, also excelled in academic accomplishments. All total, they racked up $1.3 million in total scholarship offers.
As with all graduating classes, the students are following a variety of paths. Some are going straight to college while others consider careers or travel.
Cherri Fletcher is planning to serve her country with the U.S. Navy, following in the steps of her mom. Her first stop is boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Training Center.
Another graduate, Mario Aguilar, is considering the priesthood and hopes to enter St. John Vianney Seminary in Miami, Fla.
Wherever their futures carry them, they will long be remembered at their alma mater as the pioneers of John Paul II.
“They all have different stories about their journey, but I feel like they’ve all left a little bit of themselves behind at JPII because of their contributions to it,” Rembold said.
In a way, they’ve also led the way for two other schools following close on their heels. St. Anne in Rock Hill will graduate its first class of seniors next year, followed by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
Top photo, Miscellany/Gerald Weaver: Students shift their tassels from right to left, indicating that they have graduated from John Paul II Catholic School in Ridgeland.
Four other schools in the diocese also celebrated Class of 2017 commencements. They are Bishop England in Charleston, Cardinal Newman in Columbia, St. Francis Xavier in Sumter, and St. Joseph’s Catholic in Greenville. See photos below.
Bishop England High School: 170 graduates
Valedictorian: Elizabeth Frances Ludlam
Salutatorian: Corey Devon Clancy
Cardinal Newman School: 107 graduates
Valedictorian: Meighan Parsh
Salutatorian: Chloe Cobb
St. Francis Xavier High School: 6 graduates
Valedictorian: Casey Doyle
Salutatorian: Alyssa Weimer
St. Joseph’s Catholic High School: 99 graduates
Redemptoris Custos Award: Breanna Anderson
Father Fox Award: Sophie Coburn
Outstanding Christian Athlete Award: Jack Culumovic