Four schools. Four pockets of the state. Four unique classes of seniors.
At each graduation ceremony, caps flew, grins lit up faces, and some times tears fell, a combination of joy at moving forward and sadness over saying goodbye.
The classes of 2013 ranged in size from a stadium packed with graduates to a small event reminiscent of family reunions.
Bishop England had the largest group with 164 students, followed by St. Joseph’s with 77, Cardinal Newman with 52 and St. Francis Xavier with nine.
Like the size of the classes, the seniors’ experiences at their respective schools were all different, with some immersed in the competitive world of multiple sports while others moved at a more tranquil pace.
St. Francis Xavier formed as a private facility in 1997 just after Sumter Catholic High School closed. It caters to a small community and participated with the diocese to receive national accreditation.
Susan Lavergne, principal, said their size creates a warm, welcoming environment where students can thrive as individuals.
She described her seniors as “having a vibrant faith which they readily shared with others. They were outgoing and welcoming. They were creative and wanted to be involved in all facets of school life.
Similarly, St. Joseph’s was also formed by a group of parishioners intent on having a Catholic high school. It opened in 1993 and draws from all over the booming Piedmont area.
“Like other Catholic schools, St. Joseph’s is Christ–centered and very attentive to the mission of the Church,” said Kenneth Covington, an English teacher at the school. “Our families are very happy to have the Catholic culture with an emphasis on academics and moral formation.”
Their class of graduating seniors was described, overall, as very independent.
“Although they’ve been a challenge at times, their good spirit and drive have left an indelible impression on the school,” said George Carr, math department chair and senior class advisor. “With so many going to college in state, we are hopeful that they will make a positive contribution to our local community.”
The two diocesan schools, meanwhile, are the elders of the group, with histories dating back to the early years of the diocese.
Bishop England was founded in 1915 on the peninsula and relocated to Daniel Island in 1997.
Sallie Tompkins, director of guidance and college counseling, said the school sets the bar high — academically, spiritually, athletically — and the students rise to meet it.
She called the recent graduates a happy bunch, saying they celebrated successes but didn’t dwell on setbacks. Tompkins added that she is retiring this year and said the “amazing group” of seniors is the perfect class to retire with.
Cardinal Newman can trace its roots back to a private girls’ school run by the Ursuline Sisters in 1858. It operated under various names and came into the diocesan fold in 1957 as Catholic High School of Columbia, changing to Cardinal Newman in 1961.
Cara Condra, English teacher, described the recent graduates as passionate in all they do.
“I see future politicians, Academy Award winners, special needs teachers, lawyers, mathematicians, college professors, missionaries, and journalists. In our little microcosm… I see the future and it looks promising,” she said.
More than anything, she said everyone at Cardinal Newman is a family.
One thing that all the high schools — and their class of seniors — have in common is faith-based learning. Tompkins said education based on the teachings of Christ creates a more inclusive environment and holds students accountable to act like Jesus in how they treat their peers.
Next year, John Paul II High School in Bluffton will join the diocese, although it will be several years before they have their first graduating class. Chris Paul, principal, said the school will open Aug. 21 with seventh- through ninth grades.
Paul said they had a competition on their website to choose school uniforms and a mascot, which will be the Golden Warriors.