WILLIAMSPORT  –  As pictures  of  each  Saint  J ohn Neumann Regional Academy graduate flashed across a projection screen, the theme of the Class of 2020 commencement instantly became clear.

“Our  class  is  literally  a family,” valedictorian Josiah Reid of Linden said, speaking on behalf of the 13 graduates. “We eat lunch together. We have conversations about life. We share laughs. We learn how to cooperate with each other and utilize our abilities. But most importantly, we create memories that will forever be encrypted in our minds.”

The Thursday, May 28, 2020, ceremony, which was held at Saint Boniface Church, was unlike any in the school’s history. In addition to mortarboards and tassels,  many of the graduates wore a face mask with the school’s logo and maintained six foot social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because of the coronavirus, the last time the students were physically together in a classroom setting was Friday, March 13, 2020. The school quickly transitioned to distance learning to finish out the academic year virtually.

“We lost nearly half of our last year together, but I think it only brought us closer together,” Reid said emphasizing the importance of graduation night. “We wanted to be together because we realized how much we missed each other, how weird it was to not see our closest friends every day, and how important it is to show one another how much we appreciate them.”

Eight of the  graduating seniors will attend Penn State University next year. Some of the other schools that students will attend are Lycoming College, East  Stroudsburg University and Central Penn College. At least one graduate plans to immediately enter the workforce.

In welcoming her classmates to the commencement ceremony, salutatorian Maria Helminiak of  Williamsport  noted  this year’s graduation is unique not just because  of the COVID-19 circumstances.

“This is a very important year for Saint John Neumann High School. We are the 50th class to graduate from this school. The unusual circumstances of the past few months have made our journey as seniors quite memorable in ways we are sure no other Neumann senior class experienced.”

Instead of finishing their senior year with get-togethers and sporting events, Helminiak explained how the Class of 2020 has been forced to spend its final weeks away from each other.

“We took seeing our friends and going to school for granted, but this situation has shown us how much we should appreciate those moments,” she added.

Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, Catholic Schools Superintendent Kristen Donohue, Principal Alisia McNamee and Father Bert Kozen also addressed the graduating class.

“Tonight’s ceremony might look  different but  it  doesn’t diminish your accomplishments,” McNamee told graduates. “You are family, today, tomorrow and always.”

Acknowledging the unique  circumstances of the commencement, Father Kozen told the graduates, “It will certainly be memorable.”

Highlighting the benefits of their Catholic education, Donohue said each graduate from Saint John Neumann Regional Academy is uniquely prepared for the future. She encouraged the Class of 2020 to be creative, think critically and set goals that are meaningful.

“You are all very impressive… We are so immensely proud of you,” Donohue noted.

Bishop Bambera echoed that praise for the graduates. In the midst of upheaval, concern and fear with the coronavirus, he challenged the graduates to leave their mark on society.

“We need you and your gifts in our world and in our lives. We need your hope. We need your enthusiasm. We need your determination and your generous spirits and we need your faith,” Bishop Bambera said.

The  bishop  encouraged members of the graduating class to be men and women who are concerned about others, who serve generously and are accepting of outsiders.

“You have been entrusted at Saint John Neumann with the values of the Gospel of Jesus, values that set you apart and values that make you who you are as Christians,” Bishop Bambera added.

Members of the Class of 2020 from Saint John Neumann have been awarded a total of 24 scholarships, with a total value of $842,893.