Today is graduation day for the Partnership Class of 2020. It was the end of an already historic year and a tumultuous week within our beloved New York communities and across the country.
As our schools shared photos of our graduates, along with stories from students about what they would miss most about their schools and advice they would give to others, what is striking amid so many challenges is the persistence, resilience, and growth of our eighth graders–who give all of us cause for hope.
Our hope comes from eighth graders like Edith de Jesus Gonzales, from OLQA, who shared that the people who have impacted her the most at the school are her friends. “They pushed me to do things I never thought I would, like joining the track team. They also had a sense of confidence that I admired about them and they were so just so happy which made me happy.”
And students like Lilah Campusano at Sacred Heart give us hope. Embracing this time when business-as-usual isn’t so usual, Sacred Heart isn’t having one valedictorian speak–the administration invited all students to share remarks, and Lilah’s were among those to be chosen for sharing today. She’s telling her teachers, “Thank you for putting up with my shenanigans and for believing in me even when I didn’t believe in myself…these teachers always encouraged me to keep going and never give up, and I’m beyond grateful for it.”
Even as we celebrate our young people, our school communities are suffering–from three months of coronavirus shutdown, and from confronting yet again the pain and the anger of the continued struggle for justice amid police brutality and racism across our country. And even though classes ended last Friday, our schools took time to reflect, to pray, and to share both pain and resolve.
Sacred Heart Principal Abi Akano shared with her school community, “These are especially challenging times for our community and country, yet they provide us with an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and character. We cannot be blinded any longer by injustice and pain…We are better together and as a community, we stand against racism, hate, and bigotry rooted in communities across America. We cannot and will not keep silent….Our friends, our neighbors, our children deserve better than this for our country.”
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As she invited middle school students to an open Black Lives Matter discussion on Monday morning, St. Athanasius Principal Jessica Aybar included a prayer with her invitation: “When our neighbors are suffering and angry, help us to show empathy and compassion.
When we witness injustice, both directly and indirectly, help us to stand against it.
When we are confused or don’t understand, give us open hearts to love and open ears to listen.
When we are frustrated, give us the motivation to use our voices for good.
When we are tired, remind us of your walk with the Cross.
When we are hopeless, remind us of the hope of the Cross.
God’s love is for me.
God’s love is for you.
God’s love is for everyone.”
St. Mark Principal Dominic Fanelli began the week with the message, “We Walk This Road Together,” an email shared with his community in which he states, “As we grapple with a world that can feel as if it has shattered into so many pieces, we can still stand together and pray in solidarity against all forms of hatred. In response to the death of George Floyd, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops calls upon us to pray that God will ‘heal our deeply broken views of each other, as well as our deeply broken society.’ As I have shared with you many times this year, please know we are better together as a St. Mark Family, we are with you and I love you.”
St. Charles Borromeo Principal Dan Faas shared with his community ways in which the school’s mission to “Seek, Serve, Heal, Love, Grow” calls for a response to the challenge of racism: “Especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, these recent hateful events make us feel like the country is being torn apart. But we must still strive to identify, name, and then heal these deep wounds, many which go back centuries. It’s the privilege of all of us who work in education to help form our students to be healers and agents of change.”
Partnership Superintendent Kathleen Porter-Magee sent an unequivocal message to our school communities: “Animated by our Catholic faith, we believe in the sacredness of each person…And as educators of faith, we join with those who say loudly and clearly that Black Lives Matter.”
And Our Lady Queen of Angels music teacher and network leader Vincent Hale shared a deeply personal reflection, both anguished and hopeful, about how his identities as a Black man and a Catholic educator inform his feelings this week. He proclaimed, “as a Black man, I am frustrated. I feel like my hands are tied behind my back and I can’t break free. However, as an educator, I am inspired. I find motivation in the vocation of shaping the minds of today’s youth and tomorrow’s leaders.”
The events of this spring break our hearts–and renew our conviction that the work we do must transform our students’ lives. There is much work ahead–for our nation, and for our network. Yet as Vincent Hale reflected, “as a Christian, I am a disciple with hope to bring.” And as communities of faith and learning, we are all disciples with hope to bring–every student, family, educator and friend of the Partnership. So the words Ms. Pauline Hyatt shared this week with Our Lady Queen of Angels’ eighth graders resonate beyond that special group of young people:
“Despite the uncertainty in the world right now, you are about to embark on a unique journey. Embrace and enjoy it knowing that your story is ongoing, your future adventures are promising and the journey to fulfill your purpose and potential unlimited.”
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A letter to the Class of 2020 from our beloved Mrs. Hyatt. ??