Bishop Timothy McDonnell gets a reading on the Facebook use of the graduates.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — At the beginning of the year, the St. Joseph High School class of 2012 sealed away slips of paper recording the thing they most treasured and desired.
On Sunday afternoon, salutatorian Nicole Akramoff pulled out the golden treasure box and ceremonially removed the four pieces of tape — symbolizing the four obstacles to be overcome — to make their dreams become real.
"At St. Joe, we've learned all the skills to defeat these obstacles," said Akramoff from the pulpit of St. Joseph's Church. "Now it's time to put them into practice."
Taken from Paulo Coelho's "The Alchemist," the telling of a spiritual journey of a shepherd and required reading this year for the seniors, Akramoff ticked off each obstacle as she peeled off a piece of tape.
First, the support network of school and family made things possible, but she said, "But we need to stop depending on others and be our own decision makers." The second, love, defines us — but that means keeping positive people in your live so that love is a blessing and not a restraint. Third, the fear of failure. "The great thing about failure is it only matters if you let it," said Akramoff. "Don't quit ... by putting yourself out there you've already won."
And fourth: The fear of success. When you're just about reach everything you want, you sabotage yourself.
"Never hold yourself back; take comfort in all the small ways you've succeeded before both in school and out of school," said Akramoff. "Believe you can handle all that life throws at you."
With that, the box was open, and so were the possibilities of her 44 classmates seated before her in the packed church.
"While we were here at St. Joe, these dreams were kept safe but also restrained," Akramoff. "Now they are in our hands. ... From here we make our own futures."
It's a future filled with open doors — opportunities if the class of 2012 just steps through them.
"We entered St. Joe as children and we exit as adults, young still but adults," said valedictorian Michael A. Spiller, of the experiences that formed them not only as students, but as people. That included classes that opened doors to a range of experiences, from history to religion to math.
Valedictorian Michael Spiller urged classmates to open doors to oppurtunity; salutatorian Nicole Akramoff told them they could overcome obstacles to reach their dreams. See more photos here.
Which doors they chose may well determine who they are - or will become. Don't worry about mistakes, he said, they're trials for learning, and through learning you can break the barriers that bind you.
"Where ever you look there are doors open in every aspect of life," he said. "There are always opportunities to further yourself ... There is always a way to redemption. The future is ours for the taking."
The old saying is that every journey begins with the first step, and Spiller urged his classmates to take that step now, to prove "you want to be the best you can be."
Bishop Timothy McDonnell handed out the diplomas and the Rev. James K. Joyce, chairman of the school board, presented the graduates for the school 110th commencement. "I graduated 48 years ago and I welcome all of you to the alumni of our great school," said Joyce.
McDonnell cautioned them not be so entranced by Facebook, texting and other social connecting that they can't hear God.
"Here's my question to you ... where among your [Facebook] friends is God? Are you in touch with him several times a day?" he asked, after nearly every member of the class raise their hands to acknowledge they were on Facebook.
"You've got all the tools to make adult decisions," said McDonnell. "But keep in touch and give yourselves the time, the silence, to hear him speaking back. I guarantee, keep at that, and you won't need Facebook. .... There's one day, face to face, when you really graduate from this life to eternity."
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