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Laughs and memories: Pacelli graduates the class of 2021

As Pacelli valedictorian Jayden Lewis began his speech Wednesday night, he warned those in attendance that there would be jokes and implored the crowd to laugh.

But it was when he was more serious that Lewis really found the theme of the evening.

“There has been a lot of adversity this last year,” Lewis said. “I’m beyond grateful that we could be here tonight.”

Under the vaulted ceiling of St. Augustine Catholic Church Wednesday, Pacelli held its commencement for the class of 2021. It was a return to the familiar following last year’s graduation that was held with seniors and their families watching from parked cars in front of the school because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lewis talked of the memories his class made over the years and joked what it would be like when his classmates had kids in the future who might claim times are tough.

“Back in our day we had to survive a pandemic to graduate,” he imagined his classmates saying, but it wasn’t without a hint of truth.

While Pacelli was able to go through the entire year in person, aside from a pair of times it had to go to distance learning, it didn’t take away from the concerns that what happened to last year’s senior class, might happen again this year.

“It really just makes me appreciative of the entire experience [of senior year],” Lewis said before the ceremony.

In her address to the class during the ceremony, Pacelli Dean of Students, Kelsey Stenzel, lauded the class of 11 students for how they handled the school year and the growth she saw throughout.

“I’ve seen so many successes in so many areas,” she said. “After this evening you have achieved the title of alumni.”

Students, families and staff had the chance to share the evening with Bishop John M. Quinn out of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester. Before the start of the ceremony, Quinn talked with the students and posed for photos.

As he took in the moment Quinn, himself an adjunct professor for St. Mary’s University, marveled at the meaning of graduation.

“For me, as bishop, graduation is a time our future young men and future young women complete high school at Pacelli and are ready to go to university or perhaps the military,” he said. “They are formed as women and men of Christian values and leadership.”

“Being with these young people is a real blessing,” he added.

Principal Kane Malo, who’s first graduation as principal took place in the uncertain beginnings of the pandemic, urged the seniors to find their way in the world and to not fear being lost at times.

In those times, he said, it’s important to follow God’s plans for them.

“In the world it’s easy to get lost,” he said. “Be who God wants you to be. Go out and find your spark and set this world on fire.”

As Lewis found his way to the end of his speech, he reminisced on his time with his classmates. The memories they made and the people they will become.

He summed it up as a series of moments contributing to one experience.

“What’s made these memories so great is that I was able to do them with my classmates,” Lewis said.