June 4th was graduation. Father Searby was the chief celebrant at the Mass, concelebrating were Father Dominguez, uncle of graduate Ricky Garcia and Father Oubre, uncle of graduate Sean Peters. Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia Attorney General and father of graduate Alie was the graduation speaker. Valedictorian was Collete Marchessaut and Salutatorian was Michael Ragel. Here is Michael's speech.
What is the “Seton experience?” After being here so long, we really should have some sort of answer to that question. For most of us, this has been an adventure of more than just years. I’m sure that everyone will remember Seton in a different way, because every person is different. What I’ve noticed during my time at the school is that Seton itself is very different – in some ways, it’s been different bordering on strange. Oddly enough, strange has turned out to be a good thing. Sometimes, we’re all called to be a little strange; to be who we are, even if who we are is different from those around us. When I think of how Seton has affected me as a person, has affected all of us, I’m thankful we went to such a unique school.
When I first came to Seton, I was a naïve homeschooler, ill-versed in the ways of the standard classroom. I had been warned about it all: there would be homework, long tests, science fairs, and even something called Latin. Well, junior high didn’t match up exactly with my expectations. I’ll always remember one particular day in Geography; Mr. Pennefather gave us an exercise in which we had to locate and firebomb Dallas. I’m still not exactly sure what the city ever did to him. It’s kind of ironic that several of our classmates are going to college there. Reading 8 was quite an experience; in between lectures on Romeo & Juliet, we organized a poker syndicate in the back corner. World Culture was awesome; we tasted ketchup chips in Miss Abernathy’s class, and figured out that if your project in Mr. P’s class includes food, you will get a 100. I learned that if a teacher asks you “Did you like my maple syrup better than the store-bought kind?” your answer should be yes. Even if you didn’t. Being new to the formal school concept, I was somewhat surprised to find such odd, seemingly unrelated occurrences happening at Seton.
High school didn’t get any less surprising. Mrs. Campbell took us on Freshman Fridays. English 10 brought us the all-important concept of “focusing.” Mrs. Dial skinned us with her overpriced snack business; I don’t hold it against her though, since the money paid for prom. Senora Perez shared many of her espiritual drops with us. Mrs. Cooper always managed to appear right when we were breaking the rules and put us in trouble. By the way, if anyone wants evidence of that, there’s an interesting video on Facebook which involves baseball bats and a parked car. Ask Frankie, Phil or Jack. But the best class discussions were definitely in Physics II. Mr. Scheetz taught us all manner of important, unfathomable topics in that class. For example: everyone knows that a cat will always land on its feet. And toast will land butter-side down. So, if you strap a piece of toast butter-side up to a cat’s back and throw it off a building, what happens? We debated this for a while; Mr. Scheetz’s opinion is that the buttered cat will simply fly away and never hit the ground at all.
Those are the academic quirks and miniscule tidbits of eccentricity which populated Seton’s curriculum. I’m sure that I speak for my entire class when I say how truly thankful we are to the teachers of Seton. Besides sharing so much of your knowledge with us, you taught us how to behave, how to joke around, and that it is possible – sometimes – to enjoy learning. You made Seton a different experience, one which has shaped who we are as men and women.
It is that concept of who we are, who we students have become, that really suggests to me the innate strangeness of Seton. I’ve never been to public school. From what I’ve heard, they’re no foreigners to strangeness themselves. But we’re a different kind of strange at Seton. We have Mass in a gym with a roof which drips on us, and we have a sound system that can always, always be counted on to go out at the worst possible moment. Those are some humorous differences; others are more thoughtful. Whenever misfortune struck someone in our community, you could count on a prayer chain being made in religion class the next day. We went to pray at the abortion clinic many times, standing out there even when it was very cold. And every school day we spent at Seton, we started each class with a prayer.
I know a lot of us took the class prayers for granted. American History was notorious for mumbling/studying for the daily quiz. But we all know that the prayer was more than just an opportunity to review the policies of the New Deal. Prayer is one of the ways that we express our faith and our belief in God together. Now I’m aware that we’ve heard plenty of “Religion is awesome!” talks in our time at Seton. Probably enough to last, well, until about our twentieth class reunion. But the point is still true; what sets Seton apart as a different sort of school, what has set our class apart, is the Christian community that we have formed together.
Not every school has what we have. And I know that our class is pretty awesome, and maybe it’s just been us the whole time. But how often have we stopped to think about the fact that we actually know everyone in our class well enough to talk to them? I mean, where else could a complete nerd (such as me), just walk up to one of the most popular students and have a spontaneous rap throwdown? I see you Kate Franke! Did we sometimes group ourselves up for different activities and events? Yes. But we have always come together when we needed to. We’ve led holy hours and masses, organized food drives, and made spiritual bouquets. We always finished strong in Spirit Week; maybe setting aside our class song this year. We’ll never listen to Out of the Depths again . . . but we pulled through together, and that’s what’s important.
We have been blessed at Seton to have a different kind of community, one which enables us all to see each other as persons of unique value. And it’s true, we share many beliefs and principles which the world we are about to enter does not. I used to think that when I graduated from Seton, I would have to go forth to do battle with the screaming, foaming-at-the-mouth liberal hordes of evil and destruction. If you believe Mr. Pennefather, they’re going to be led by Oprah and Al Gore. But that’s not the way it is. We’re going to meet people who are just like us. Because differences of opinion, even in serious topics, will never change the fact that everyone is a person with dignity and some grain of the truth. The more we respect people the way we have at Seton, the easier it will be to find the whole truth together.
To my classmates, and to our families, I’d like to say thank you, one more time, for being the community that you are. The time we spent together has meant the world to me, and I hope it has to each of you as well. We are different, and not just because we were the smartest class that Seton has ever seen. As we turn the page on high school and prepare for what comes next, I beg you, please, stay different. Stay strange. Because the world needs the kind of different which we created at Seton. Thank you and God bless our class.