ROCK FALLS – The 2014 Newman Central Catholic High School graduation ceremony was all about giving thanks.
The 62 seniors who received diplomas Wednesday at St. Andrew Catholic Church were reminded often of what had gotten them to this point: faith, family, friends and faculty.
When it came to thanking family, foreign exchange student Shilong Ryan Jin had his work cut out for him. Ryan’s parents made the nearly 7,000-mile trip from China to see their son graduate in the country he has called home since September 2012. But Ryan also had his American “parents” to thank.
“I would like to thank my parents, who were always by my side supporting me and loving me unconditionally,” Ryan said. “I also want to thank my host family, Larry and Mardi Ybarra, who love me like my own parents.”
Ryan also recognized his friends and teachers who helped him adjust to a very different way of life.
“Western and Eastern culture is totally different,” Ryan said. “My teachers helped with language problems. They were always patient, and taught me how to solve problems at school and in life.”
Ryan said there were more than 2,000 students at his school in China. He was able to form a solid support base at the small Catholic school.
“This isn’t like school; it’s more like a home environment,” Ryan said. “You can make friends with everyone here. It’s easier here than in China.”
Ryan will continue his studies at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he will focus on finance. He says he will weigh his job opportunities after college, and then decide whether he’ll stay here or go back to China.
Calling, not a career
Graduate Ryan Schoaf said his faith has guided him along a career path chosen during his junior year. He will head to Sauk Valley Community College for some basic studies before moving on to Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Wheeling.
After seeking out Joe McDonald as a mentor, Ryan has had the opportunity to work at McDonald Funeral Home for 18 months. He started by prepping vehicles and now gets a chance to experience many aspects of the job.
“I didn’t care what the job was at first,” Ryan said. “I just wanted a foot in the door to see how it all worked.”
Ryan realizes it can be a misunderstood field, but he truly believe it chose him.
“A lot of funeral directors say it’s a calling, and I really believe it is – just like a priest,” Ryan said. “Not everyone can do it, but you draw on your faith to do your best to help families through their time of loss.”
‘Burning sense of duty’
Grad Mitchell Jecklin said he has known where his career path would lead since his freshman year.
“I knew I wanted a career in the military,” Mitchell said. “I have a burning sense of duty to pay back my community and country.”
Mitchell, who has a brother currently on active duty, plans to go to Iowa State University for business, and through the Army ROTC program will enter the military as an officer after graduation.
Mitchell calls the Kairos senior retreat one of the most memorable pieces of his senior year. The retreat, a longstanding tradition at Newman, is a 3-day bonding trip with teachers and classmates.
“It’s a time for us to reflect on the decisions we’ve made and what we see for our future,” Mitchell said. “It was a time of growth for me, and I felt really good about where I was headed.”
Mitchell and Ryan Schoaf both played on the state championship football team, and say they will treasure the experience. Ryan looks forward to watching his brother play next year.
“[Former NFL player] Sean Considine spoke at our mother/son banquet and told us that he would want to relive the state championship over the Super Bowl,” Ryan said.
Thankful for ‘real support’
Valedictorian Nathaniel Edison also gave thanks for the special friendships made at Newman.
“We learned how to be a real friend at Newman – not just in good times,” Nathaniel said. “Although we’ll go our separate ways, we’ll always remember what it’s like to have real support.”
Bishop David Malloy told the class to savor the moment and to remember that faith brings everything else into perspective.
“You may never again feel such collective pride as you do at this moment,” Malloy said. “If you keep your faith, no matter what you do next, you’ll change the world.”