Owen Sienko and Connor DiMarco served as the valedictorian and salutatorian for Holy Ghost Prep’s Class of 2018, respectively.
A truly gifted writer headed to Syracuse University renowned S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in the fall, Sienko was perfectly suited to be the valedictorian, a role in which officially bid farewell to the school for the Class of 2018 during the graduation ceremony on June 2. As the salutatorian, DiMarco, who will attend the University of Michigan this fall, welcomed the entire Holy Ghost Prep community to graduation weekend by giving an address at the Baccalaureate Mass on June 1. The complete text of their speeches appear below.
Connor DiMarco's salutatorian speech:
“Mr. Geruson, Mr. Danilak, Faculty and Administration, Family, Friends, and most importantly my fellow graduates, good evening and welcome to Graduation Weekend.
Four years ago, we arrived together as freshman; lost, confused, excited, but nervous. Some of us came from big schools with lots of friends, and some of us were the only people from our grade schools. But when we sat in our classes, and we were all met with the same kinds of confusion.
“An all-boys school,” they say, “you never have to worry about how you look.” But then you see him. You walk into Mr. Goulet’s classroom and you see the perfectly pressed shirt, the precisely tied tie, and carefully coiffed hair.
Then they say, “You’ll be able to relax. You’ll walk into class, take your blazer off, and focus on learning.” But then you meet her. There are rules on the corner of 9th and Passyunk, and there are rules in Mrs. Carmine’s classroom, and no one takes off their blazer, and God help you if you show up with coffee.
But if there is any certainty you have as a freshman, it’s what will happen in religion class. There’ll be a little prayer, you’ll learn about the Church, and it’ll all go smoothly. But then it turns. People start talking politics, and there’s yelling, you form alliances with people you’ve never met before, and before you know it, Fr. Phil has launched a piece of chalk across the classroom, and as you dive to avoid the shrapnel, you realize how much you love Holy Ghost.
As the salutatorian, my role is to welcome; to welcome all of you to the commencement, and the celebration of our four years at Holy Ghost. We arrived together, failed some tests, and adjusted. Then we got into a rhythm, and along the way, we stepped out of our comfort zones, tried new things, learned about ourselves and made lifelong friends. Now, this weekend, we can celebrate our time here, and be thankful for all the opportunities we’ve been given.
First, we should thank our parents, who sacrificed to give us the chance to come to Holy Ghost, and who gave us constant support for the past four years. Thank you for always standing by us, through the successes and the failures, and for all your help throughout high school. You have given us this incredible gift of attending Holy Ghost; so thank you.
Next, we should be thankful for all of the teachers and the amazing resources we’ve had here at Holy Ghost. Our teachers have been dedicated to all of us, even staying after hours, just to make sure we know how to balance an equation, or use the subjunctive mood. Your commitment to all of us will never be forgotten; thank you for all you have done.
When I think of Holy Ghost, and all that I’ve learned, I think of my time in the Dominican Republic, on our school mission trip. We spend a little over a week there, running a sports camp at the local parish in San Juan de la Maguana, with Father Don, the Spiritan pastor.
In the Dominican Republic, we don’t build houses, and we don’t bring money or supplies; we foster a relationship, between the people in the town, Father Don’s parish, and the Holy Ghost community here in the United States. What we do doesn’t immediately pull anyone out of poverty; it changes the way people think.
The Church in the Dominican Republic doesn’t give people money, but it provides education, and a path out of poverty, in a place where it could seem inevitable. Their situation is obviously less than ideal, but with the right help, they can achieve their own success, and can be the best version of themselves, instead of trying to be like us. Over time, the people in the Dominican Republic begin to look at their situation differently; Father Don changes the world every day, by changing how people think.
Our distinction as the only Spritain school in the United States has provided us with the unique understanding of engagement, brotherhood, and spirit. We have accomplished countless, incredible things together over the past four years. Small victories like passing a Chem test we didn’t study for, beating Lower Moreland in basketball, or taking bigger risks, like traveling to a foreign country on a mission trip. But the most important thing we’ve learned from all of these experiences is that our success is not measured by how shiny our trophy is, but by our ability to help others. We can do a lot of things on our own, but we must always remember that it is our commitment to helping others to achieve their own success and to changing the way people think that can truly change the world.
This is what we learned at Holy Ghost. Mr. Goulet didn’t change the way we thought about dressing perfectly; he taught us how to clearly express ourselves through writing. Mrs. Carmine didn’t want us to be hot; she wanted us to know that details and rules matter, especially 11 lines into solving an integral. And Fr. Phil didn’t blow through a box of chalk just to get our attention, but for us to realize that the world’s problems are real, and we have to be empowered to understand and change them.
Holy Ghost, over the past four years, has changed the way we think. All of us came with some kinds of expectations about the school and the world around us, and Ghost has shown us a different way of thinking. As cliche as it sounds, if you can change thinking, you can change the world, and Holy Ghost and the Spiritans have put us in a position to do just this, even if it’s as simple as choosing a hair product, wearing a blazer, or tossing some chalk.
So this is the welcome to our end. Tomorrow, we will get our diplomas, walk down the path one last time, shake hands with our teachers, and leave as alumni. But the handshake is not a farewell, but rather a welcome: a welcome and an announcement to the world: an announcement that we are ready to change how the world around us thinks. Thank you everyone, for the best four years of my life. Enjoy the weekend, and to everyone here tonight, welcome to the beginning of our celebration."
Owen Sienko's valedictorian speech:
“Good Morning to our guest speakers, Mr. Geruson, Principal Danilak, Fr. Agber, Fr. McDermott, Fr. Silvio, Faculty, Family, Friends, and my Brothers in the Class of 2018.
Here we are after four years of Fig’s speeches, Coop’s lab reports, Mr. Goulet’s “fun handouts…” We’ve really been through the ringer and faced countless challenges, but we’ve risen to the occasion, and now here we stand, imminent graduates of Holy Ghost Prep. Today, after exiting through the red doors as per tradition, we find ourselves at the end of the road. As you all know, those doors symbolise both the beginning and end of our journey. We entered through the doors four years ago, and now we exit them for the last time as HGP students.
Now that I think about it, there have been a lot of “lasts” this year. The last free period. The last milkshake drive. The last “today is B Day.” Sometimes, we had no clue that our fondest memories had just passed for the last time. I was thinking about that while writing this speech, and I was just filled with this overwhelming feeling of dread. It’s a shot in the gut, you know?
We’ve all been a part of this community for so long. I’ve been honored to call you guys my brothers. We’ve been through so much together. A lot has changed since we first set foot on campus as clueless freshmen four years ago. The Founder’s Computer Lab is now a cooperative workspace. The Cornwells Computer Lab is now Dr. Tomshaw’s room. Dr. Tomshaw’s room is now the Innovation Center. Speaking of doctors, Mr. Puleo is now Dr. Puleo. The Holt Center was planned, funded, and constructed within our tenure. Mr. Geruson is now our president. Six faculty members retired, twelve more have arrived, and the only remaining students who walked the halls during our freshman year are the ones sitting next to you. Think about that. We are the physical manifestation of the last four years, the culmination of all of these changes. We’ve witnessed it, changed with it, grown with it. We’ve come to call this beautiful stack of ancient stones our home. The red doors have stood throughout the rapid evolution of our community, and it is through them that we leave this familiar place, shed our weathered shells, and cross the threshold of adulthood into a new world.
“A new world.” Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Mysterious? None of us has any clue what lies ahead, but that’s the thing about opening new doors. You never know what’s on the other side, and, here comes that dread again, those moments can be scary. I know I’m terrified. I’m terrified of the new faces I might see, of the familiar faces I’ll miss, and of the challenges I’ll inevitably face. I could talk about how each one of us has been endowed with the skills and knowledge we need to succeed in life, that we’re going to jump every hurdle that this new world throws our way. The truth is we don’t know what obstacles lie ahead, but we trust that Holy Ghost has imbued within us the capacity to think critically, act confidently in our pursuits, and overcome any challenges we might encounter. The evidence of this lies within what we’ve achieved here. Both the hockey and soccer teams won state championships, but those wins only came after countless grueling practices and heartbreaking losses. Luke Muller and Collin Landers won the state championship for their forensics performance two years in a row, but they probably couldn’t tell you how many hours they spent writing their acts, performing them for Mr. Figliola, and then going back to the drawing board and starting all over. The mock trial team finally won a match, but not before I baffled the judge by requesting a sidebar, which, apparently, you are not allowed to do. All of these victories did not come without adversity, heartbreak, and sometimes even failure. But doesn’t it feel good when you finally get over that hump and really accomplish something? Nothing compares to that feeling.
As students of a premier preparatory high school, we’ve been given a fantastic educational experience, as well as unique opportunities to act as leaders in serving the global community. Every year, we make a real impact by giving children in the Dominican Republic the once in a lifetime opportunity to just be kids for a week. I had the great privilege of embarking on this mission trip. Every moment of the trip -- when the cashier at Burger King called Jared “Jurt,” when Mr. Ryan hosted late-night poker games on the roof, when we arrived at camp in the morning to see the smiling faces of the children—these were the kinds of formative experiences that none of us will ever forget. It is through experiences such as these that we grow closer to our brothers and strengthen the bond between one another. On the senior retreat, that bond was solidified. I shared my fears with those around me, just as they placed their trust in me. We laughed together, cried together, broke couches together…We left retreat with a genuine relationship that cannot be called anything short of brotherly.
Now, it is up to us to use that knowledge, commitment to service, and sense of community to immerse ourselves in this new world, serve those in need, and make a lasting difference. Holy Ghost has given us the key cards to unlock the doors to our futures. And if the key cards malfunction, we can always use our aptitude for breaking furniture to knock those doors down. I’m sure there’s a magnet lying around here somewhere… I have no doubt that we’ll achieve great things in college and beyond. However, regardless of what we accomplish, those triumphs will not be without their challenges. We’ll stumble. We’ll fall. God knows how many times I’ve done that walking up the stairs with a stuffed school bag. What matters in the end, though, is that we get back up and keep going, and it feels good to walk through the door on time. We should remember that feeling of accomplishment, that feeling like you’re above the clouds. Crave it. Chase it. But more importantly, remember what it has taken to get where we are today - the sacrifices our parents have made, the time our teachers have invested in us, and the gifts which the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon us - and prepare for what it will take to move forward. Yes, we’re smart, talented, handsome, but we still have so much to learn and so much to experience. It’s scary that I’m not going to be able to share those experiences with you guys. It’s kind of surreal, actually. But although we might be leaving this place and parting ways with one another, this is not goodbye. Rather, this is an opportunity to use what we’ve learned and what we’ve become to open new doors in the world. There are people and places across the globe who have waited long enough for the change we have been trained to be in the world. There are deadly diseases to treat and cure, barriers to equality that must be breached, doors blocking social progress that must be propped open. It is time for us to nudge, shove, and, yes, force open those doors.
Remember, though, that the most important thing about some doors is that you can always walk back through them. Those red doors over there will always be open to us, and we will always have a home here. I feel like I have a brother in each and every one of you. I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve accomplished, couldn’t be more excited to see what differences we’ll make in the future, and couldn’t be happier to share such an amazing high school experience with my classmates. So, as we walk away today with diplomas in hand and fires in our hearts, let us set our eyes upon the future and prepare to kick down any doors that stand in our way.
In one heart…”