ORLANDO, Florida — Despite not being able to complete their senior year in the classroom, this year will be memorable for the class of 2020.
This year’s graduating class has endured a worldwide virus, a quarantine and will face a job market unlike other years — combining a recession with a conflicted reality of life during a pandemic.
Because of these struggles, the Florida Catholic diocesan newspaper wanted to offer a special congratulations for graduates of Catholic high schools in a special video tribute. The Florida Catholic contacted all 12 Catholic high schools in its partner dioceses of Orlando, Venice and Palm Beach to garner the lists of graduates for its annual special section.
And this year, schools were asked for another request — a list of alumni who would offer video congratulations to the class of 2020. Schools responded enthusiastically to the idea. Alumni were contacted by email, and some responded with videos they shot at home, at their parish or in their office.
The Florida Catholic compiled the and edited the videos into an eight-minute collection where alumni honored the strength and persistence of the graduates as they applaud their transition into the future.
From a fashion designer to two priests, health care workers to a judge, a professional athlete to a state governor, the alumni came from all walks of life and from a variety of locations.
McKenzie Ivy, a graduate of John Carroll High School in Boca Raton, offered her words of encouragement while serving as a nurse on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Chicago. Along with words of wisdom, Father Fred Ruse, an Orlando priest who graduated from Father Lopez High School in Daytona Beach, offered a practical idea — put a face mask in between two pages of the yearbook as a reminder of “what these times have been and what they mean.”
“This was a seed of an idea that grew into a beautiful video,” said Ann Borowski-Slade, associate editor of the Florida Catholic. “Our hope is the class of 2020 watch the video with a smile, find some inspiration and a gain hope for their futures.”
One of the youngest alumni was Peter Jean-Marie, an independent fashion designer and 2015 graduate of St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples. He provided encouraging words for the 2020 teens. “You are powerful,” he said. “Powerful enough to make a huge difference. Powerful enough to change the world. So, chase your dreams.”
Bishop Moore Catholic High School 1964 alumni Msgr. Robert Weiss honored the 2020 class. Weiss served the St. Rose of Lima Parish in Newtown, Connecticut, when the town’s elementary school — Sandy Hook Elementary — suffered from a tragic school shooting in 2012.
“I hope that you go forth as the class of 2020 that you use that for perfect vision for your future in all that you do,” he said. “Choose right and always stay close to the Lord. … My prayers are with you for a blessed and happy future.”
Shannon McFee, class of 1986 from St. John Neumann Catholic High School, gave advice to the graduates. “The education I received there has served me well,” he said, now a Collier County circuit court judge. “Be who you are. Be true to yourself. Be true to those around you. And be kind. And if you are, you are going to have tremendous success in the future.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan gave an uplifting speech to his fellow Father Lopez Catholic High School graduates. “The COVID-19 pandemic has required all of us to make incredible sacrifices,” he said. “But it in no way lessens the accomplishments or diminishes the achievements of each and every one of you. Congratulations, stay safe, may God bless you all.”
There was one person who offered congratulations who is not an alumnus of the Catholic schools. Chief Jeff O’Dell of Kissimmee Police Department shared the very special connection the department has with a 2020 graduate of Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers — Megan O’Grady.
O’Grady is the teenage founder of Blue Line Bears, a nonprofit organization with the goal of helping the children of fallen law enforcement officers cope with the devastating loss of a parent by sewing a teddy bear out of the uniforms of officers who died while on duty. In 2018, O’Grady presented bears to two families of the Kissimmee Police Department.
“Megan, because you have such a wonderful heart, and care enough to make a positive difference in people’s lives, I wanted to wish you nothing but success in the future and a huge congratulations from your friends at the Kissimmee Police Department,” O’Dell said.
The video closes with the words from Jacoby Ford, a former wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders, who graduated from Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach in 2005. For the video he didn’t sport a Raiders jersey. Instead he proudly wore a Cardinal Newman T-shirt.
“I am really proud of everybody, every single person,” Jacoby said. “The circumstances might be different, but it never takes away from the education you guys will get at Cardinal Newman. … Good luck to everybody that is graduating this year. God bless and stay safe.”
Beaulieu is copy editor of the Florida Catholic, the newspaper of the dioceses of Orlando, Palm Beach and Venice and the Archdiocese of Miami.