PROVIDENCE — Of the nine St. Patrick Academy graduates who walked proudly into their commencement ceremony on June 13, Alesen Jajou’s journey to this moment was the longest.
Eight years ago, Alesen, the class valedictorian, and her family left Iraq to escape religious persecution. By the time they left, she could already speak two languages: Arabic and Chaldean. Before coming to America, they lived for a while in Turkey where she learned to speak Turkish.
Arriving in America, she then quickly learned English. By the time she arrived at St. Patrick Academy to begin her high school years, Alesen thought she was done learning languages, that is until she found herself in Mrs. Noelte’s Spanish class.
“I still remember the first day I walked through the doors as a ninth grader,” she said. ‘I was nervous, but something inside of me said not to get nervous because my classmates immediately made me feel like part of the class,” she said. “Each of us accepted each other for who we are.”
She put all her energy into her studies and activities, and as a community, she and her fellow students pushed each other to strive to be their very best at whatever they did.
Alesen participated in student council, sports, drama, model legislature, service projects and other activities at the school designed to build and strengthen their character, especially their moral character.
“We completed community service to make a difference in the world,” she said. “We fed the hungry, walked against domestic violence and supported human rights, especially the Right to Life. Spiritually, we were fed each day by morning prayer. We celebrated Mass each Friday as a student body, and that strengthened our bond with God and to each other.”
Alesen did exceptionally well in her studies, and was even invited to interview for a seat in the next freshman class at Brown University. She will attend Rhode Island College on a scholarship in September, where she plans to study business finance.
Although the graduating class was small, as the school is still in the early years of its transition from a Catholic elementary and middle school to a high school, 100 percent of those graduates are going on to college.
Principal Bruce Daigle welcomed the students and special guests to the June 13 commencement, including Msgr. Albert A. Kenney, diocesan Moderator of the Curia and Vicar General; Father James Ruggieri, pastor of St. Patrick Academy; Superintendent of Catholic Schools Daniel Ferris; John Primeau, director of the North American Catholic Educational Programming Foundation; State Senator Maryellen Goodwin; Mr. and Mrs. John Picerne and Dr. Patricia Ryan Recupero, chair of the St. Patrick Academy Board.
Daigle encouraged the students to not only focus on their strengths as they move forward, but also to come to terms with their own weaknesses.
“No one is perfect. Nothing is perfect, except God,” Daigle told the graduates.
“We not only need to accept this fact about ourselves, we also need to recognize those flaws that hinder us and strain our relationships with others. Most importantly, we then must confront those failings, pray for God’s help, and enter into a wrestling match with ourselves that will last the rest of our lives. Abraham and Moses did it, Peter did too, and so did Paul and Theresa and all the saints who have ever marched into heaven – so you’ll be in good company.”
Msgr. Kenney commended the graduates for their willingness to serve as role models in a world that needs positive, faithful and courageous leaders.
“It is my belief that God is alive in all of you,” he told them.
Commencement speaker Gabriel Amo spoke about how he started his academic life at St. Mary’s School in Pawtucket after his parents emigrated from Africa to America.
He would go on to graduate from Moses Brown on scholarship, then Wheaton College and Oxford University. He worked one summer at a Liberian refugee camp in the African nation of Ghana.
After completing his education, Amo then went to work in the Chicago headquarters of President Barack Obama’s campaign, which led to a position in the White House as a staff assistant in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
At 27, Amo was recently appointed by Gov. Gina Raimondo to serve as the state’s new director of public engagement, in which he is responsible for bringing together representatives of business, labor, minority groups and many others to work with the governor to create opportunities for all Rhode Islanders.
“Who would ever have though that a poor kid from Pawtucket would end up in the corner of the West Wing of the White House?” Amo said.
“Every single second has been worth it.”
He told the students that hard work is deeply connected to their achievement, and they shouldn’t fear failure.
“It’s okay to stumble, as long as you get up,” he said, encouraging them to never settle for just good enough.
“Do in your heart what you feel to be right,” he advised the graduates. “I have no doubt about your future if you do what is right.”
Salutatorian Bachelard Pierre thanked God for giving him the gift of life.
“Without God at my side, I don’t know where I’d be,” said Pierre, who was commended for leadership in the school and his positive attributes of confidence, humility, poise and kindness.
Pierre will attend Rhode Island College in September.