Commencement exercises for (NWC) are held every year in the awe-inspiring Cathedral of Saint Joseph on Farmington Avenue in Hartford. The graduation is decorous and dignified, yet warm and emotional.
This year did not depart from tradition. Speaker after speaker at this year’s graduation – the school’s 48th – on Wednesday evening reminded the 163 graduates that their four years of rigorous college-prep academics combined with a quality Catholic education has held them in good stead.
“You are young men and women who will make a difference in our society and in the Church of tomorrow,” said Margaret Williamson, principal and chief administrator of NWC, which is located in West Hartford.
The graduation speaker selected this year was Richard Lamb, a NWC graduate (Class of ’67) and award-winning reporter for WCBS Newsradio 88 in New York City. Lamb told the students that no one can take away their “great Catholic school education.” He said he was “in awe” of their accomplishments in this age of the Internet and its many distractions and saluted them for “studying and putting distractions aside.” He praised their families for persevering despite the recession to send their children to a private school.
Lamb has been on the scene reporting on several key events in the past 30 years, including flying on the same plane with Pope John Paul and covering his funeral; standing just feet away from President Bush right after 9/11 at the site of the Twin Towers devastation; and freezing in the cold in January 2009 as President Obama was sworn in as president. He credited his start in journalism to a legendary NWC speech teacher and drama coach who encouraged him to study broadcasting.
“You are prepared for life,” Lamb told the graduates, and then gave short snippets of often-heard advice: “Choose to do what you love. There’s no substitute for hard work, but family is number one. Love what you do. To thine own self be true.”
But he also turned to religion, saying, “God loves you and is your ally. If you turn away, you will be welcomed back.”
“Be true to yourself but most of all – keep the faith and it will be there for you all the time.”
The valedictory address was delivered by Agata Harabasz of East Hampton, who graduated with highest honors and was one of three “Summa Scholars” named by the Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Hartford. (The other two were salutatorian Elizabeth Allen of Burlington and Mark Mossberg of Windsor.)
Harabasz focused her speech on how she will most miss her fellow classmates and drew on two popular books for inspiration.
Life lessons can be learned from the characters in the “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games” series, she explained, noting that Harry Potter, for example, found that “friendships can be found in unusual places” and “a true friend will never abandon you.” Good and love will triumph over evil, added Harabasz.
"I dare you to have the courage to live life and live up to your God-given potential. And[like Harry Potter] never be afraid to ask for help,” Harabasz concluded.
It was announced that 99 percent of the graduates are headed to four-year colleges. School officials said these schools include Princeton, Notre Dame, Johns Hopkins, Boston College, Wake Forest and UConn, to name a few. This year’s class had a large number of students (46) who made highest honors (3.67 cum), and 36 students graduated with honors (3.3. cum). The 163 graduates, who reside in 31 area towns, were made up of 90 girls and 73 boys, according to school administrators.
A strong athletic program is a hallmark of NWC. This year, 24 seniors, or 15 percent of the Class of 2012, committed to playing sports in college for Division I, II, III schools.
In reverence for the holiness of the majestic setting, the audience was asked to hold their applause until all the graduates had been handed their diplomas and refrain from heading to the altar to take photographs. The huge crowd of faculty, family and friends complied, and gave the graduates a standing ovation after the last name was called.
A prayer service included readings from Scripture and prayers and a song performed by the NWC Concert Choir. Trumpets blared for the processional and recessional by the Commencement Band, which seemed to soar high above the crowd.
The blessing of the graduates was conducted by Archbishop Henry J. Mansell of the Archdiocese of Hartford, who presided over the ceremonies. The Reverend Joseph Crowley delivered the opening prayer.
An emotional moment came when Dale Hoyt, superintendent of Catholic Schools, announced the retirement of beloved faculty member NWC Vice Principal Richard L. Callahan, who will leave the parochial school after 21 years.
As the graduating class excitedly prepared to head off to their safe grad party (an all-night cruise on the Lady Katherine followed by a 5 a.m. breakfast back at the high school), Hoyt had some parting advice: “You know Jesus Christ, you know the Gospel message. Now transform the world and put faith into action.”