“We made it!” declared Principal Kevin Poelker ’98 on June 27 as the seniors took their seats to begin the Class of 2020’s graduation ceremony at De Smet Jesuit — only the second outdoor graduation ceremony in school history. Seated in socially-distanced groups of three (graduates plus two family members) on the turf with faculty and staff looking on from seats along the track, the 158 members of the Class of 2020 had their long-awaited turn to cross the stage and receive their De Smet Jesuit diplomas.
To comply with safety guidelines in place at the time, the ceremony included a mix of tradition and creativity. Graduates wore maroon caps, gowns – and masks. During the convocation prayer, led by Roger Melton Jr., Class of 2020 Salutatorian, graduates offered yellow roses as symbols of gratitude to their parents.
Awards and Special Recognition
Mr. Poelker then presented the following awards and recognized honors given earlier in the school year.
Men of the Year – 12 seniors who have distinguished themselves through leadership, service, enthusiasm and hard work on behalf of their class
Jacob Alu, Alex Bentele, Jack Burton, Tim Chiapel, Tyler Fahland, John Fotouhi
Sebastian Martin, Roger Melton, James Otto, Seth Roggenkamp, Anthoine Shell and Armon Wallace
Jerry McMahon, S.J. Award - given annually by vote of the senior class to the senior who, in the eyes of his classmates, has shown the greatest concern for the welfare of others during his years at De Smet Jesuit.
JSN (Jesuit Schools Network) Awards - recognizes students who exemplify the ideals of the Jesuit profile of the Graduate at Graduation.
Windmueller/Ignatian Educator Award – presented to a teacher who exemplifies the characteristics of an Ignatian Educator, chosen by vote of the senior class
Mr. Tom Sothers
Dr. Patrick Berger Excellence in Teaching Awards – by vote of each class, awarded to teachers whose love of their profession inspires students at school to be successful at De Smet Jesuit
Freshmen – Mr. Alex Hall
Sophomores – Mr. Howie Place
Juniors – Mr. John Russell
Interim President Kevin Ruder ’93 presented the following awards
President’s Medal - awarded annually to otherwise unheralded seniors who embody the values contained in the mission statement of De Smet Jesuit
Pierre-Jean De Smet Outstanding Service Award - honors individuals who have distinguished themselves as exemplary models of service to the school community and the ministry of secondary education.
Felicie Van De Riet
Remarks from Speakers
Next up, Class of 2020 Valedictorian Alex Bentele spoke about the growth of the class since freshman year and their resilience in response to the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “De Smet doesn’t just create men. It creates men for and with others,” he said. “De Smet showed us how to be there with people that are not like us. De Smet helped show us how to be for and with others. And guys, I cannot think of a time better than right now that our country needs people for and with others.”
Motivational speaker and best-selling author John O’Leary ’95 also asked the graduates to stand, face their parents, and share a special message that included, “I love you and there’s nothing you can about it.” He continued, “This class has been through storms, but you also know what victory looks like.” He closed by asking graduates to be mindful that “God still speaks, miracles do happen, and the best is yet to come.”
Fr. James Burshek, S.J., gave the closing benediction. He offered prayers and blessings for the Class of 2020. “I thank my God every time I think of you. I am confident of this, that God who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion in the day of Christ Jesus,” he said. “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be faithful to what you have received until the day of Christ – to the greater glory of God.”
Mr. Poelker’s closing remarks, commissioning the graduates to “go set the world on fire” cued the surprise “big finish” – streams of confetti bursting from containers set up near the stage to rain over the graduates and a fireworks display on the baseball field.
Congratulations, De Smet Jesuit Class of 2020!