Bishop Noll Institute finds new ways to celebrate Class of 2020

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Senior Jessica Suarez, of Hammond, and her family pull up to Bishop Noll Institute June 4 to celebrate graduation. After all seniors walked through the ceremony, they lined up for a parade through Hammond. (Photo provided)
by Jennifer Pallay

HAMMOND, Ind. (June 11, 2020) – Although graduation looked different for the Bishop Noll Institute Class of 2020, the spirit of joy and celebration remained. On June 4, the school celebrated its 94 graduates with an outdoor ceremony, livestream Mass and pre-recorded commencement program.

The Bishop Noll Class of 2020 received more than $9 million in college scholarship offers and will attend 31 different colleges and universities in eight states. After a tumultuous final few months of their high school careers, the students wanted to come together one last time to close one chapter of their lives before they begin the next adventure.

The celebration included a full day of events starting the morning of June 4 when the Most Rev. Robert McClory, bishop of the Diocese of Gary, celebrated the Baccalaureate Mass for the Class of 2020. McClory, co-celebrants, and members of Bishop Noll’s administration team took part in the Mass, which was filmed at Holy Angels Cathedral and live streamed to the Bishop Noll community. A few hours later, seniors and their families attended a festive drive-thru diploma ceremony in the school parking lot. Families drove through a balloon arch and dropped off their seniors for a celebratory walk past faculty and staff members who have served them throughout their high school careers. With music playing by a DJ, they stepped up to an outdoor stage and picked up their diploma while receiving a socially distanced congratulations from Principal Lorenza Jara Pastrick. Students then returned to their cars and lined up for a Class of 2020 parade through Hammond, ending at Optimist Park.

Bishop Noll Institute senior Bakori Jones, of Riverdale, walks through the graduation ceremony in the school parking lot June 4. (Photo provided)
Senior Jessica Suarez, of Hammond, and her family pull up to Bishop Noll Institute June 4 to celebrate graduation. After all seniors walked through the ceremony, they lined up for a parade through Hammond. (Photo provided)
Caitlin Roberts (right), of Hammond, displays her diploma on the outdoor stage at Bishop Noll Institute’s graduation ceremony. She is congratulated by Bishop Noll Principal Lorenza Jara Pastrick. (Photo provided)

Later that night, a pre-recorded formal commencement ceremony aired as students watched at home with their families. It included words and prayers from Principal Pastrick, Bishop Noll President Paul Mullaney, School Chaplain Rev. Kevin Scalf, C.PP.S, and Campus Minister Stacia Bolakowski. In addition, the salutatorian, valedictorian, and commencement speaker gave speeches from the Bishop Noll auditorium.

In his speech, salutatorian Elijah Carrasquillo, of Highland, welcomed guests to Bishop Noll’s first virtual graduation.

“I know it is not the ideal situation, or the ceremony we wanted, but the world is just not a good place right now and being safe, smart, and healthy is important more than ever,” said Carrasquillo, who plans to attend Purdue University West Lafayette. His speech focused on all the class had to be thankful for including their families, Bishop Noll faculty and staff, and each other. Most importantly, he said, was thanking God for the seniors’ ability to share their gifts to make the world a better place.

“Bishop Noll has ingrained an everlasting Catholic identity in us, and it is one of the most important things we will take away from this school. …We have learned to love and treat our neighbor as we would like to be loved and treated. We have been taught to use the gifts and talents we have been blessed with to spread God’s love.”

He ended by saying his class is ready for the future: “We have been prepared to take on any challenge that faces us, and we have what it takes to continue to be successful in our lives and to continue to make those around us proud, including ourselves.”

Next, Mullaney introduced Alex Molina, MD, a member of the Bishop Noll Class of 1998, as the commencement speaker, saying it was fitting to hear from him as the world battles through the COVID-19 pandemic. Molina is a specialist in family medicine in Chesterton and parishioner at St. Paul Catholic Church in Valparaiso.

“You’re held to a very high standard here, one that will serve you well as you continue in life,” Molina said. He told the students that one of the many lessons he learned in high school was how to deal with adversity, something they now understand more than most. He encouraged them to look for the positives even through it is OK to be upset when life is difficult.

He told the students they are the perfect example of what good can come from a crisis. “Despite dealing with the worst pandemic this world has seen in over 100 years, you have been able to persevere, adapt, and stay the course to graduate from this great institution,” Molina said. “You were able to do it despite the great adversity we have all faced recently. This says something both about as you as a person and about your character. Now you know going forward, when times get tough, when times get difficult, you have what it takes to step up to the challenge, to adapt, and to get the job done.”

Valedictorian Giovanni Komyatte, of Highland, recapped the class’ four years together and said that despite their different backgrounds, “We all came together, walked the same halls, attended the same classes. …We all met friends and eventually became family.”

“Our senior year has been a whirlwind and all I can seem to remember about it has been these past few months,” Komyatte, who will attend the University of Notre Dame, continued, noting that the last time they saw each other was in March when they thought they were getting an extended spring break. “We made the best of a horrible situation to finally be here at our commencement, and now we are tasked with moving on from it for whatever life has in store for us. …We have to move on from everything we didn’t get this year and appreciate what we did.

“Because of COVID, we did not get what we were expecting, but that is OK. In life, not everything will be always be what we expect, and these past few months have really showed it.”

Komyatte encouraged his classmates to look to the future without forgetting the journey that brought them there. “Don’t let your four years at Bishop Noll be clouded by these past few months. …We have made it through all of this and came out on top,” he said. “Use it as a reminder of who you are so you know who you are becoming in the life ahead of you.”

This completes Bishop Noll Institute’s 99th school year. The Forever Noll centennial celebration will take place during the school’s 100th year and culminate with a gala event on the actual anniversary 9-16-21.

Bishop Noll Institute is located at 1519 Hoffman Street in Hammond, Indiana.