June 2, 2006

‘First-class’ graduation: 11 seniors make history at Seton Catholic High School

By John Shaughnessy

RICHMOND—When the high school seniors lined up for the photograph, they showed the closeness they had developed through four years of sharing classes, laughs, tough times and dreams.

The 11 seniors moved closer to one another, posing for a picture that would not only capture a great moment in their personal histories but a memorable moment in the history of the archdiocese.

On the morning of June 3, these four young men and seven young women—the entire 2006 class of Seton Catholic High School—will be the first class to graduate from a Catholic high school in Richmond in 70 years.

“There’s a great deal of excitement about graduation—and our school,” said Rick Ruhl, the principal. “The future is bright.”

So is the hope in the Richmond Catholic Community as Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein prepares to preside at the school’s first graduation—a moment that Catholics in this eastern Indiana city have anticipated ever since Seton High opened for the 2002-03 school year.

Before then, Richmond hadn’t had a Catholic high school since St. Andrew High School was closed in 1936. Since then, the United States emerged from the Great Depression, fought and sacrificed during World War II, desegregated schools, extended civil rights, launched a man to the moon and endured terrorist attacks on its home soil.

Now, Seton’s Class of 2006 will have its own place in the history of its school.

“It’s kind of cool,” said Marissa Stevens, a senior and a member of Holy Family Parish in Richmond. “Seventy years is a lot of time.”

Still, similar to most graduating seniors, the members of Seton’s graduating class focus on the difference the school has made in their lives and the difference they have made in each other’s lives.

“One of the best benefits of a small class and a small high school is you’re not confined,” said Brent Ropp, a member of St. Mary Parish in Richmond. “You can cross the boundaries with the other classes and with teachers in a way that you don’t find in other high schools.”

“In a small school, you can truly come to learn and love your classmates,” said Kelsie Rheinhardt, a member of St. Mary Parish. “That’s truly something special about my four years here.”

Marissa Stevens laughed and added, “It’s like one big family. We get along. We fight. Sometimes, we don’t want to speak to each other. Sometimes, we can’t get enough of each other.”

Senior year has been especially satisfying for the class.

“This year has been great,” said Ben Naseman, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Richmond. “In years past, we’ve had quarrels. This year, we’ve shared a lot of things together.”

They’ve shared memories of their freshman year when they were nervous about being the high school’s first students.

They’ve shared memories of the girls’ freshman basketball team when all the girls in the class had to play so they’d even have a team.

They’ve shared memories of having classes small enough so that their voices could be heard and their teachers could take the time to give them one-on-one attention.

Still, the moments they remember the most come from their senior year. Tellingly, their fondest memories of their senior year are moments of faith and friendship.

Those moments include their senior retreat at Saint Meinrad School of Theology and a trip to Indianapolis for a Senior Mass with the archbishop at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral.

“We were just together, and we had a lot of fun,” said Kelsie Rheinhardt as several of her classmates nodded in agreement.

“Faith has been an important part of everything for us,” said Michelle Valentini, a member of St. Mary Parish. “It’s always been there, and it’s grown more in high school with our Masses and prayer services.”

James Hoover, another senior, noted, “Even as a non-Catholic, when you come here, you get a connection between the faith and what you learn. We learn about how much God has done for us.”

The students credit this emphasis to Father Eric Augenstein, the school chaplain.

The graduating seniors have also had an impact on the school, according to Ruhl, the principal.

“They’re truly special, a caring, very tightly-knit group,” he said. “They’ll always be first. They will always be known as the ones who persevered and stuck with it.”

He said the graduating seniors have set the standard for the school’s eight juniors, eight sophomores and 15 freshmen. In a way, the Class of 2006 also paved the way for the 21 students who are scheduled to be part of the school’s incoming freshman class.

Those incoming students will become part of a school that will be sanctioned for sports for the first time by the Indiana High School Athletic Association. They will also enter the school as the Richmond Catholic Community moves forward with its capital campaign to build a new school gymnasium.

So the plans for the school’s growth continue as the seniors plan for their future—starting with their graduation on June 3 at 10 a.m. at Earlham College in Richmond. The archbishop will be there. So will Annette “Mickey” Lentz, executive director of Catholic education and faith formation for the archdiocese. So will their teachers, friends and family members.

They will come together to salute and applaud the graduating seniors: Jackie Ann Brown, Allison Cook, James Hoover, Abby Hunt, Ben Naseman, Kelsie Rheinhardt, Brent Ropp, Shane Soper, Marissa Stevens, Jennifer Sugas and Michelle Valentini.

As their names are announced and their diplomas are received, it’s guaranteed that more than a few pictures will be taken of the classmates as they hug their parents, their teachers and each other.

“We started traditions. We came to understand each other. We came together as a team and built on that,” James Hoover said. “It’s something I’ll miss a lot.”

Still, the first graduates of Seton High believe they’ll always carry part of the school with them.

“We’ve been prepared not only academically for next year, we’ve been prepared for life,” Ben Naseman said. “We’ve learned a lot of life lessons—not only about math and other subjects, but about faith and how you should live your life.” †


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