Pacelli graduates 17, including Lewison

Published 11:09 am Thursday, June 2, 2011

Pacelli students gather during graduation ceremony Wednesday evening. From left: Heather Wolf, Stephanie Kocer, Audrey Ferris, Lauren Rieker, Nyabang Diang, Dani Felten, Ryan Rust, Joshua Carlson (hidden), Lindsey Chapek, Garrett Jenkins, Colton Scherer, Lisa Tan, Justin Herold and Jiang Tao. Kocer was valedictorian, Chapek was salutatorian, and Kocer, Chapek, Rieker, Sherer, Tan and Tao all graduated with honors.

Perseverance was the word for Pacelli High School’s class of 2011. After the passing of Joe Lewison, who died Feb. 1 when his truck collided with a train, the class of 17 students (Joe included) persevered through their studies and their lives this year. Joe, along with the rest of the class of 2011, were honored Wednesday evening at Pacelli’s graduation ceremony.

“Their perseverance was outstanding,” said Pacelli Principal Mary Holtorf. “After a tragedy like Joe, some kids give up but none of these kids did.”

It was an emotional time as Joe’s name was called to receive a diploma. Joe’s parents Mary and Jon accepted his diploma, four months to the date of his death.

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“There wasn’t a dry eye in the church,” Mary Lewison said. “It was just unbelievable. I’ve never experienced so much love.”

Jon and Mary had already teared up by then, as they were presented with Joe’s cap, signed by the entire class.

Father Joseph Fogal gave the commencement. It’s Fogal’s last year in Austin, as he is being transferred to Rochester. He spoke to students about how important academics are and no matter where they went in life, to always turn to their faith when there are bumps in the road.

“They have had to persevere,” Holtorf said. “That was the main thing that I think their class was able to do. There were a lot of tears.”

The Lewisons had their own gifts for the seniors. Each senior received a black rosary with pink beads, Joe’s favorite color. There’s an inscription in each rosary that says “You betcha!” It was Joe’s favorite catchphrase.

“Emotional was an understatement,” Mary said.

The 2011 class had plenty of accomplishments to be proud of. Five students graduated with honors. Eight students received the Alpha-Omega award, which signifies that they went to Pacelli from kindergarten through high school. Stephanie Kocer was the valedictorian and Lindsey Chapek was the salutatorian. Chapek, who was Joe’s girlfriend and best friend, spoke about Joe and thanked everyone who had supported her after his death.

“She had a hard time making it through, but she did amazingly well,” Mary said.

Joe’s presence was felt at the ceremony. Mary received an e-mail from one senior after graduation was over, who said he got chills when Joe’s name was called and felt his presence, as Mary and Jon had.

“We knew he was there,” Mary said. “Every one of us felt he was there.”

Each senior is going on to college, with two attending the University of Minnesota, two attending St. Mary’s University, one attending Drake University and several attending Riverland Community College.

“Their class will be successful,” Holtorf said.