DANVERS — As the graduating senior best epitomizing the values of an Xaverian education, senior class speaker Joseph Burke Thibodeau of Andover traced his years at St. John's Preparatory School and the personal connections he made that formed him and others.
Before hundreds of well-wishers gathered for St. John's Prep's 100th commencement exercise, Thibodeau recalled a senior retreat to Cape Cod in which a diverse group stayed up late and sang songs strummed on a guitar by a fellow classmate. They sang even when they did not know the words.
"For some reason, we relished in the music we were all creating," said Thibodeau, who said the retreat summed up life at St. John's much more than the pomp and circumstance of yesterday's graduation.
"We are graduates, yes. We are Eagles, yes. But let's face it, we are vastly different people."
This diverse bunch of "golden eagles" made history yesterday as the 100th graduating class of the Xaverian Brothers-sponsored secondary school for young men. The school was founded in 1907 and the first class graduated in 1911.
Spectators' cars filled the parking lots of the 175-acre hilltop campus on Spring Street while well-wishers gathered under a huge outdoor tent for the 11 a.m. ceremony. Headmaster Albert J. Shannon awarded 305 diplomas.
Valedictorian Alfred J. "A.J." Rossi III of Manchester exhorted his fellow classmates, many of whom have achieved great things in high school, to have a measure of humility in life.
"We must build ourselves up and lift those around us," said Rossi, who won the valedictorian medal.
This year, social justice and Western philosophy teacher Michael Leonard of Salem gave the commencement address.
At first, Leonard was humbled by the "tremendous honor," but then approached Religious Studies Department Chairman Alexander Roche on advice about what to say to seniors.
Roche asked Leonard: "What is the truth you must tell them?" and Leonard said a single sentence popped into his head: "Fear is the mind-killer."
"That's it," Leonard said.
Leonard went on to explain the line comes from Frank Herbert's science fiction work, "Dune," a book that was handed to him in 1992 by a friend. Back then, Leonard was unsure what to do in life, having spent his youth on the sidelines, and his first years outside of college in fear of what to do next. The saying allows a character in "Dune" to pass a crucial "gom jabbar" test, and put aside his fears. Leonard drew inspiration from the book, and went on to become a teacher at the prep school.
Later in the ceremony, Shannon awarded Thibodeau the Xaverian Award, saying a teacher had remarked Thibodeau had taken a course in which he not only knew the subject matter, but the teacher was grateful to have him in class.
Shannon also spoke about the financial sacrifice many families make to send their students to the all-boys day school. He told the graduates: "You are St. John's ... It is a great day to be an eagle. You take a piece of us as you leave."
Graduation at a glance
Number of graduates: 305
Yesterday was St. John's Prep's 100th commencement as the first class graduated on June 16, 1911. Among the first graduating class was Edward A. Coffey, the mayor of Salem from 1938 to 1947.
Joshua Voges Pondick of West Newbury won the Salutatorian Medal.
John L. Dunlop, Class of 1984, won the Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Twenty-six graduates received legacy awards. Riley Jennings Bates of Topsfield received the award with his father, Francis J. Bates Jr., Class of 1975, and his grandfather, Francis J. Bates, Class of 1945; Valedictorian Alfred J. Rossi III of Manchester and his cousin, Giacomo R. Voorhees of Beverly, received the legacy award together with their grandfather, Alfred J. Rossi, Class of 1955, and Rossi's father, Alfred J. Rossi Jr., Class of 1980.
The Class of 1960 celebrated their 50th reunion this past weekend and were recognized at commencement.
Source: St. John's Prep
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.