From the immediately recognizable strains of Sir Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" to the blessings conveyed by Rev. Ray Cook O.M.I., to the celebratory cap toss, Incarnate Word Academy's 2021 Baccalaureate Mass and Graduation Ceremony was a fitting tribute to a class whose 74 members will attend some of the country's most prestigious colleges, including Carnegie Mellon, Howard University, New York University, the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Notre Dame.
Held at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in downtown Houston on Saturday, May 22, the day's celebration began with Mass, where Father Cook drew inspiration from the day's reading of the Gospel of St. John, which says that "there are also many other things that Jesus did, but if those were to be described individually, I do not the think the whole world would contain the books that would be written."
He reminded the graduates that they have written a story of their four years at the Academy together, and they are part of a larger whole. Their story, however, is not complete and there is much more to write. But before writing it, they should reflect on where they are.
"You faced a lot these four years," he said. "And this moment in time will never happen again. It can be remembered, but I don't think the entire library at IWA can contain all the stories you have if we were to write them down. All of your names are in the book of IWA. You are part of that story."
In her salutatory address, Madeline Taylor offered an original poem, with rhyming couplets that reflected the graduates' shared experiences.
"This year things may have been a little strange,
But we supported each other as we embraced the change," she recited.
"Though it seemed like the college application process would be impossible,
We conquered it all and are now unstoppable...
So please tell me if you could,
Should these instances go by any name but sisterhood?"
Maddie is heading to the University of Notre Dame, where she'll major in biochemistry or chemical engineering with a concentration in biomedical engineering.
Class of 2021 valedictorian Mary Julliette Billings began her address by talking about the idea of leaving home, both her own and the shared 609. She reminded her fellow graduates of the advice so often heard from IWA's athletic director, Rick Perez: "you get out of it what you put into it." She extended his thought by reminding them of something her father told her, to run your own race.
"It's too easy for doubts to creep in," she said. "But we step up as bold, authentic servant leaders, united as Women of the Word. No matter how far we go, the things we bring from home will keep pace with us."
Julliette will attend Carnegie Mellon University, where she plans to study chemical engineering.
The day was one of celebration and joy for the seniors, who saw many of their traditions this year modified in some way due to the pandemic. Across a year of remote instruction, hybrid learning, social distancing and mask-wearing, these young women showed remarkable grace and grit, adjusting to new circumstances and achieving tremendous academic success.
Fifty-one are members of the National Honor Society. Thirty-three are members of Mu Alpha Theta, the national high school mathematics honor society. Twenty-seven are members of the Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica. Twenty-five graduated with a Distinguished Leader designation on their diplomas. And 28 will attend U.S. News and World Report top-ranked colleges and universities.
The Class of 2021 was accepted to 136 colleges and universities across the United States and around the world, and received nearly $6 million in scholarships and awards.
"We are filled with pride as we celebrate all the successes you've achieved," said Sister Lauren Beck, C.V.I., president of the Academy. "You have become strong, confident women. Continue to trust in God and keep prayer as an important part of your life. Don't worry if you're nervous or haven't figured it all out. Your life journey is just beginning."