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Anthony Cleary: Graduation ceremonies hold promise and hope

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and Sydney Catholic Schools’ Executive Director, Tony Farley with the recipients of the 2023 Archbishop’s Awards for Student Excellence. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and Sydney Catholic Schools’ Executive Director, Tony Farley with the recipients of the 2023 Archbishop’s Awards for Student Excellence. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

In recent weeks, Year 12 students across the country have participated in various school graduation ceremonies. I had the great privilege of attending a number of them.

The event marks a significant rite of passage for most Australian teenagers, with greater numbers of young people staying on at school than in previous generations. My own parents for example had both left school by the age of 13.

Today however, most young people complete 13 years of schooling. Many turn 18 in their final year and share in a range of wider adult rights. That said, the school graduation symbolises a transition to independence and adulthood.

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School graduations are joyous occasions, and so they should be. Naturally though, they are also tinged with sadness as a chapter of each student’s life is coming to an end.

They involve both looking back and looking forward. As the culmination of each young person’s school career, they recognise growth and maturation, and honour various forms of service and achievement. They are full of reminiscence and celebrate friendships formed and shared.

These powerful events also shine a light on the future, on lives yet to be lived. For the graduates, they can be defining moments of aspiration.

The ceremonies offer us all a sense of optimism and promise, for we hope that each graduate will share their gifts and make a difference in the world.

One of the most moving features of these occasions was the procession of graduates through a student guard of honour, enabling every child to envision the day when it will be their turn.

I established this very practice in a K-12 school almost 30 years ago, believing there was something very special in connecting those who were in their first year of school with those going out into the wider world.

And today, Year 12 students across the Archdiocese of Sydney receive a “prayer and friendship pack” from Kindergarten students in the respective feeder primary schools. It is a moving gesture that the graduates gratefully receive and appreciate.

Working with the first Year 12 class of St Charbel’s College in 1994, I was determined to ensure that graduation ceremonies adequately expressed sentiments of gratitude and appreciation.

To that end, I worked with the leaving students to help them write a graduation oath. A slightly amended version is presented here, one that could be said by any graduate in any school:

“We thank you, O God, for those people who are channels of your love in our lives.

“For those who gave us birth, and in the weakness of our infancy, sheltered, nurtured and treasured us.

“For those who taught us to walk, to talk and to explore tastes, smells, sounds, and to experience the warmth of belonging and embracing.

“For those who overlooked our faults and affirmed our strengths; and the friends, young and old, who share our tears and laughter.

“We thank you, O Lord, for the people of strong faith, who stretch our minds and nurture our capacity to explore and understand your ways.

“For those at every stage of our journey who teach us trust by trusting us, and who enable us to love others through the experience of being loved.

“We thank you for those very sincere people who have demonstrated the joys of the Kingdom of God, and especially the people who taught us to love, serve and follow you.

“May we be proud ambassadors of our school, committed to our Catholic faith and heritage, fully embracing our Australian identity.

“God of love, for these experiences, and for the knowledge that the best is yet to come, we praise Your Holy name: Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Our thoughts and prayers are with the graduating students of Year 12. May they use their gifts to contribute to a more just, tolerant and cohesive society.

And may they be people of faith who experience joy and fulfillment in their lives.

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