LONG POND – Members of the Notre Dame High School Class of 2020 had their promising futures put on the “fast track” and were given the opportunity for one final “victory lap” – literally – as the Pocono Raceway welcomed the Catholic school community from East Stroudsburg for its commencement on May 30, 2020.
The Notre Dame graduation was the first of several commencement celebrations at the tricky triangle. The racetrack graciously offered to open its doors to any school so that graduation ceremonies could take place with recommended guidelines for social distancing.
Consisting of four parts – Baccalaureate, Senior Awards, Conferring of Diplomas and a Congratulatory (Victory) Lap – the Saturday morning graduation ceremony had the Notre Dame Class of 2020 along with family members and friends take part while remaining in their personal vehicles.
“It was awesome. It was so much fun. I had a total blast. It was really great and even better than I could have ever imagined,” graduate Nicole Siciliano of East Stroudsburg said after taking her victory lap.
As the name of each of the 51 graduates was announced, the senior’s photo was displayed on the Raceway’s video board. The graduate’s vehicle then proceeded to the track to line up behind the Pocono Pace Car, which led all the vehicles for a “victory lap” around the raceway’s signature triangle loop, and ultimately to the “finish line” to dramatically conclude the ceremony – and the Notre Dame graduates’ high school experience.
Graduate Bailey Reilly’s vehicle stood out in the crowd. The top of her car was decorated with a mortarboard and a large makeshift mask was placed on the front hood.
“I wanted to be as creative as I could be. I wanted to make a lasting impression on my classmates and their family and friends,” the Saylorsburg graduate said.
Reilly added that she thinks she enjoyed the Pocono Raceway graduation more than she would have if it was a regular commencement.
“I loved that we were on the Jumbo-Tron. I loved that we could have all of our friends and family park behind us and they’d be able to see us on the Jumbo-Tron. My favorite part was taking the lap around the Pocono Raceway. I loved that,” she added.
The unique commencement ceremony was witnessed by Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, who was on hand to offer remarks and benediction, all while Blue Ridge Cable Television provided video coverage of the event.
“ As we looked for options for graduation during these uncertain and challenging times, we wanted to ensure our students had an experience to remember as they move onto their next chapter,” Jeffrey Lyons, principal of Notre Dame High School, said. “We found a great partner with Pocono Raceway in order to make this a reality and are grateful that they allowed us to use their facility. We are also thankful to
Blue Ridge Cable for their generous offer to provide technical support to carry out this special graduation ceremony.”
The longtime Catholic school principal recalled the truncated academic year and the final days of normalcy in March, which at least saw the district-champion Notre Dame Mock Trial Team compete in the regional finals.
“But everything stopped two days after that,” he said. “Fortunately the Diocesan Office of Catholic Schools reacted very quickly and distance learning began immediately, with Google Classroom and all its possibilities.”
This year’s Notre Dame graduating class proved exceptional in its academic accomplis hments and boas ted five valedictorians for scholarly excellence. They include: Kevin Castner Jr. of Easton;Alexander Fouad of Stroudsburg; Colin Kissell of Cresco; Justin Peeney of Stroudsburg; and Bianca Pigon of East Stroudsburg.
Each provided a brief speech for the commencement ceremony.
“I know all of you are capable of success beyond your wildest dreams. The only variable in that equation for success is you. I hope all of you can find your favorite part of this treat we call life,” Kevin Castner said during his speech.
“A piece of advice to my class: cherish what you have and remember what you had. Remember high school for what it was – a building block for our lives, a place to discover ourselves, and a place to learn from others,” Alexander Fouad said.
“Our time together at Notre Dame ended abruptly, and I know that not one of us feels that was fair. The best thing to do now is to look back at fond memories and impressive accomplishments with a smile and pride,” Colin Kissell added.
“Class of 2020, I encourage you to break out of your comfort zone as you move on from Notre Dame High School. Surround yourself with people who support you, and don’t forget to be that support for everyone else. Try something new, seize opportunities, and create adventures,” Justin Peeney said during his remarks.
“I would like to point out that Notre Dame’s Class of 2020 is the best at adapting to new and uncharted situations. I remember our teachers calling us ‘the guinea pigs’ of Notre Dame because if there was a new schedule set in place, a new teacher or a new class, our class was seemingly the group to experience it first. We never expected to get hit with a curveball during our last months of senior year, and we never thought we would be graduating on Pocono Raceway either,” Bianca Pigon said.
Forty-eight members of the Class of 2020 will attend institutions of higher learning, 11 of whom will do so at Catholic colleges/universities. Two graduates will enter the work force and one plans to pursue military service.
Notre Dame seniors merited a total of 136 scholarship awards worth nearly $6.8 million.