On June 2, 56 Oldenburg Academy seniors filed into the Sisters of St. Francis chapel to celebrate their last Mass together as a class. A little over two hours later, they emerged from the chapel doors as new graduates, ready to begin the next chapter of their lives.

In her welcome message, OA President Diane Laake said, "The last four years have been an incredible journey for these women and men .... They have forged a lasting bond of friendship ... and have a passion for making a difference in the world."

These students "have grown and experienced so much .... They have been tested, blessed and strengthened and are ready to go out into the world."

Celebrant Father Ben Syberg congratulated the class "on completing the easiest part of your adult life!"

In his homily, the priest referred to the movie "The Walk," which was about French tightrope artist Philippe Petit, who walked on a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers in 1974.

"Before he starts, he looks at the rope and sees everything is going to be OK .... He was 110 stories high, walking across the top of the world .... As I watched this movie, seeing this person walk among the clouds between heaven and earth, I can't help but imagine Jesus' Ascension into heaven."

"In the Ascension, God has given you everything."

Guest speaker Madonna McGovern, a 2004 OA graduate, revealed that she "formed lifelong friendships" while attending school there. When she was a sophomore, she decided she wanted to be an English teacher, and wanted to be just like her teachers who were "supportive, passionate and relatable."

The New Palestine High School educator reported, "A lot of life's greatest lessons go back to books."

In the book "A Game of Thrones," a character asks, "'Can a man still be brave if he's afraid?' His father answers, 'That's the only time you can be brave.'

"What I've learned is you need to accept your fear, but don't let it rule your life," McGovern stressed.

"In 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' Harper Lee writes, 'You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.'"

The speaker encouraged the students to be open-minded and "keep your door open in your dorm," so there's an opportunity to meet other people and learn from them.

In a Harry Potter book, J.K. Rowling writes, "'Every now and then you'll be up to no good.'"

She explained, "I want you to understand what I mean by this. College is a unique experience. Try new things. Take a weird elective. Cheer on your team at sporting events, join clubs, take a college road trip."

Then it was time for the top two students to share their thoughts with their classmates.

Salutatorian Emma Allen announced, "As I was trying to think of what to say for this precise moment, I thought of all our class has accomplished, of our education at Oldenburg Academy, what it means and what the purpose of that education was.

"Then I remembered being at a college earlier this year, listening to the dean of admissions speak, and only really remembering one thing from his speech, something that really stuck with me. He said, 'The true mark of a great education isn’t told by grades or GPAs, but by how well students learn to give back and contribute to their communities and society as a whole.' This concept stuck with me, I think, because it applies to Oldenburg Academy, and it applies to the Class of 2019.

"Throughout our four years, OA has taught us many things .... We have learned lessons about service, leadership and acceptance. We’ve learned the value of thinking for ourselves, of standing up for what we believe and the value of listening. And we’ve learned all of these things and so much more through the discussions and experiences with our parents, teachers and friends.

"We have grown from uncertain freshmen into intelligent, kind and ambitious young women and men. We have matured into students ready for the next step in our education, whether that be college, the workforce or traveling abroad. And we have matured into leaders both capable and willing to give back to our communities, no matter where we end up," pointed out the Batesville resident.

"We also know that giving back means many things. It means contributing our time, resources, ideas and perspectives and I know for a fact that every single member of our class has something to contribute. I also know that whatever we decide to contribute, it’ll be great. Right now, we are at a place in our lives where the possibilities are endless and we get to decide the impact we will have in our communities, our society and our world. We are the future leaders, doctors, teachers, lawyers, engineers, volunteers, etc., and that’s really exciting.

"This doesn’t mean that we won’t have failures, though. It doesn’t mean that we have to grow up and change the world all by ourselves. That would be a lot of pressure. It simply means that we have a responsibility to use the lessons and education we have been given to contribute to something, to think of others as well as ourselves. It means that we must continue to work hard, listen and learn."

Valedictorian Carsen Thompson recalled, "When I first came to OA, I was aware that I was entering an environment full of students who genuinely wanted to succeed and who wanted to do it the right way. Initially, this was intimidating for me. I wondered how I could ever achieve my goals if I was constantly surrounded by people working toward these same goals. However, this fear was short lived. After being here for just a short time I realized that there was not an ounce of rivalry in this class, despite the fact that it is such a talented group of people in sports, academics, music, etc."

"Our class has always had a collaborative approach to learning as opposed to a competitive one, the way that I believe learning should be done. We took this cooperation outside of the classroom as well, to the soccer fields, tennis courts, musicals, whatever it may have been. I’m so grateful to have gained this skill together that is far too often forgotten in the midst of people’s own self interests. Thanks to this class, I can’t imagine desiring to get ahead if it meant I would be doing it alone.

"I may be biased, but I truly believe our class is unique. ... I have heard everybody in this class talk about politics and religion and how we should treat people, things that most kids our age don’t think are worth discussing at all. It matters to be passionate about things, and I hope this is not something that we grow out of."

"I am sure that this class is capable of collaboratively working to accomplish the things in which we are individually passionate about, and I believe that there is not a more important skill than this in the entire world. There are so many different directions in which we will be headed over the next few years, but if we incorporate this skill into not only our careers, but our daily lives, I am sure that we will be able to make a significant impact on the world. I am sure that we will remember that the purpose of our education is not to make money and gain power, but to learn how we can positively affect the lives of others. And I am sure that we will remain committed to the values that we have gained at Oldenburg Academy."

The Connersville resident observed, "A great hero, commonly known as Winnie the Pooh, once said, 'I always get to where I am going by walking away from where I have been.' It seems incredibly simple and incredibly stupid, but to me it is very deep and very fitting. We’ve accomplished what we needed to here and it’s time to move on."

"The last four years have shaped who we are more than any other time in our lives. We walked in the doors as 14-year-olds and we’re walking out as adults. And personally, there is no better place and no better people in which I would have rather liked to become adults with. And because of that, I believe it was all so worth it.”

Diane Raver can be contacted at diane.raver@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.