WILDWOOD — Wildwood Catholic High School’s 63rd commencement had special meaning for the 40 graduates who accepted diplomas and threw their mortar boards into the humid air Monday along Atlantic Avenue. It almost didn’t happen.
They were just halfway through their freshman year when the Class of 2013 faced a closing of the school by the Diocese of Camden, which would have happened if not for a huge effort from the school’s extended community.
Valedictorian Elijah Neville and Salutatorian Grace Lederer both based their commencement speeches Monday at the Church of Saint Ann on the school surviving.
“On Jan. 4, 2010, our lives changed forever. That day we were told we would close as a school,” said Neville, who will attend Rowan University in the fall.
Neville said the past four years have provided a good lesson in how to adapt to change as different administrations came in and each had different rules.
“Change is not easy. It never is, and we experienced it. We persevered. We became more mature, more prepared,” Neville said.
Instead of hurting the class, Neville said, the class thrived in academics, athletics, community services, the arts, schools clubs and other areas.
“We not only survived the storm, we prospered in the aftermath,” said Neville, whose brother, Graham, was valedictorian in 2011.
Lederer, who is going to Saint Leo University, St. Leo, Fla., said the potential school closing and all the administrative changes it brought will help prepare them. She said the class embraced change, and in life things turn out best for those that can handle change.
“The ordeal prepared us for the real world. Things may not always go according to plan. Here at Wildwood Catholic, we learned to roll with the tides,” Lederer said.
Lederer recalled the effort to save the school began almost immediately.
The day after the announcement that the school was closing, a truck was parked outside with a sign that said, “Save Wildwood Catholic” on the side. Lederer thanked those who “rallied behind us” to give the Class of 2013 a happy ending.
The awards ceremony held before Lederer spoke did not include an award for the graduates most likely to succeed. Lederer said, “That’s because we’re all most likely to succeed.”
Academic awards and college scholarships were announced. Grants and scholarships for the class, during the next four years, total $5.6 million.
Nicholas Regina, executive director of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Camden, told the graduates to take the knowledge, wisdom and faith they learned here wherever they go. He also thanked the parish, parents and others who supported the school in its time of need.
“That you for your commitment to Catholic education. Thank you for making an investment in Catholic education. We’re in some challenging times for Catholic education. This is proof we’re going to keep going,” Regina said.
The ceremony included its time-honored traditions as the Class of 2014 accepted the American, papal, state and school flags from the outgoing class.
Class of 1995 graduate Stephen DelMonte inducted the graduates into the school’s alumni association. DelMonte noted how important the alumni were in saving the school.
“Four years ago, the alumni said, ‘Not today, not us.’ As the general, Hannibal, said, where there is no way, we’ll make one,” DelMonte said.
Contact Richard Degener: