Helen Xia

On May 24th, the Catoctin Class of 2023 had their graduation ceremony at Emmitsburg’s Knott Arena. While it’s one of the most exciting times at Catoctin High School, it’s also one of the busiest–for good reason. Catoctin is known for its well-rehearsed procedures during this celebration, and this year is no exception. I was present during the two days of graduation practice, where the senior class and Catoctin band committed to running through the steps of graduation until they were “drilled into” everyone’s heads. (Each practice was about three hours!) From the timing of when to walk down the aisle to when to sit down after receiving diplomas, the seniors practiced precisely how the process would play out. You may remember my article last month about graduation’s incredible organization–well, this is where that coordination comes from!

Secretary Lacee Andrew (who was named the FCPS School-Based Secretary of the Year!) offered insight on the “behind the scenes” of the ceremony. “There are so many little details that go into planning graduation and the awards ceremony,” she stated. “Some of those things are looking at each student’s birth certificate to check the spelling of their name to ensure diplomas are printed correctly, creating a very large spreadsheet to capture all awards/honor societies, etc. The work of graduation starts months before the ceremony takes place.” Again, these oftentimes invisible efforts are what make the celebration run so smoothly. Thanks to the dedicated staff members’ contributions, the precious emotions at graduation can be the focal point of the event.

Speaking of emotions, there is much thought behind the speeches given at graduation to convey so many sentiments in so few words. One may think that, since the event itself remains constant year by year, the speeches can be recycled and reused–however, that is not the case. “Each graduating class is comprised of unique personalities, causing each graduation to be unique,” Catoctin Assistant Principal Mary Jacques expressed. “I always look forward to listening to the speeches and performances, which are different every year.”

Principal Jennifer Clements shed some light on her thought process when formulating her touching speeches: “My favorite line (I say this frequently and not just at graduation, but I definitely include it in every speech) is: Use your powers for good! I will admit my speeches every year are similar, yet I work hard to personalize [them] for the group that is graduating. This year, I took some inspiration from this class’ freshman yearbook. (I wanted to remember who they were as ninth graders to reflect on their growth over the last four years, and they have come a long way!)”

Despite the great amount of work behind each graduation, it’s “the happiest day of the year,” as described by Jacques. This sentiment was echoed by Clements, who explained, “Graduation is my favorite day of the year. I love that we get to celebrate the culmination of our students’ commitment and work for the past 13 years. I also love the positive energy and emotions that everyone (graduates, staff, families, and friends) are feeling – pride, joy, anxiety, and excitement.”

Within the ceremony, there are numerous noteworthy aspects. Personally, I enjoy listening to each class’ musical selections the most. During graduation practice, for instance, Seth Remsburg’s performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the baritone saxophone was phenomenal. Professor Russell Headley also sang “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver with his guitar, which received loud praises from the crowd. Last year, even, I remember taking special notice of the singers when I watched the Class of 2022’s graduation live online. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, I could never do that!” Thoughts like these only make me appreciate the students who show their talents to the audience at graduation more.

Of course, there are many more elements to the ceremony than the musical performances, so I asked others what stood out the most to them during graduation. Interestingly, I received three different answers from the three staff members I interviewed. “My favorite part of graduation is when, as a graduating class, the tassel on the mortarboard is moved,” Jacques replied. “It is an old tradition that visually imparts the end of the high school years and a new beginning.” Andrew said, “My favorite part of graduation is watching the excitement and the happiness in students’ eyes as they walk across the stage, knowing their hard work paid off.” Finally, Clements responded, “I have two favorite parts of graduation. The first is seeing all of the graduates lined up in the fieldhouse just before the ceremony. The excitement and pride is palpable. My most favorite part is the privilege I have (as the principal) to shake each of their hands as I give them their diploma.”

For those that are graduating, Andrew gave her best wishes: “You have made such a positive impact at Catoctin High School. I wish you the very best in this next chapter of your life!” Jacques, too, provided wise advice: “Be a good human. Work hard and be kind. If you can, travel the world. Meet new people and experience new cultures. It will make you appreciate what you have. Never forget where you came from and where your roots lie.” And, don’t forget Clements’ favorite saying: “Use your powers for good!”

At graduation practice, I felt proud of Catoctin’s seniors. I watched from the bleachers as my peers received envelopes of their hard-earned cords, final report cards, and certificates. According to Andrew, “117/192 graduates will be recognized for their achievements (4-year honor roll, honor level, honor society membership, top 5%, etc.)”; this is a time for recognition indeed.

It’s surreal to think that, after this graduating class, my class will be the oldest in Catoctin High School. Next year, instead of sitting to the side and watching students rehearse, I’ll be sitting on one of the chairs and walking across the makeshift stage. I don’t think I’m ready, but I guess I have to be.

Once again, congratulations, Catoctin’s Class of 2023! Go, cougars!

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