MYRTLE BEACH—Five students have made history at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton High School in Myrtle Beach.
On May 31, they became the first seniors to graduate from the school, which officially opened in 2016 as the first Catholic high school in the Myrtle Beach area.
Like all high school seniors in 2020, plans for their graduation ceremony were dramatically changed by the coronavirus pandemic. The event took place under tents outside on the school grounds, with each student and their family members sitting under their own white tent. Seats were spaced six feet apart for social distance requirements, and everyone in attendance wore masks. Students and faculty members wore special black masks embroidered with the Seton logo.
Circumstances were a little unusual, but that didn’t make the day any less joyful or meaningful.
Members of the class of 2020 are Matthew C. Deubell, Kaitlyn M. Hubany, Kolby E. Johnson, Anastasia N. Salyers and Jaime A. Ventura. Ventura was unable to attend the ceremony but received his diploma afterward.
The event started with a baccalaureate Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone. Priests from area churches attended along with officials from the diocesan Office of Education.
The bishop told the students and their families that it was especially appropriate to hold the landmark graduation on the feast of Pentecost, which marks the day that Christ’s Apostles received the gifts of the Holy Spirit and began their journey to spread the Gospel to the world.
“What a glorious day it is, and how special it is that on Pentecost we send these students off into the world,” he said. “As you graduate, be strong and trust in all the gifts you have received to this point. You’ve made a difference here already, but trust in the gifts of the Holy Spirit to help you use all that you have accumulated to make this world a better place.”
Bishop Guglielmone also spoke about the many years it took to establish a Catholic high school along the Grand Strand a reality.
That vision started in 2000 when the late Msgr. Joseph Roth held a feasibility study while serving as pastor of St. Andrew Church. The diocese purchased land for a school in the Carolina Forest, and Msgr. James LeBlanc assumed leadership of the effort in 2011. A fundraising committee was formed and community supporters raised $4 million toward a challenge goal of $5 million. Groundbreaking was held in fall 2015, and the school opened in August 2016 to serve students across Horry and Georgetown counties.
As with the best laid plans, there was a slight hiccup at the start of school. Construction was delayed by floods and other severe weather, so the first students attended class in borrowed space at St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church until they moved into the new building in December 2016.
Kaitlyn Hubany, the valedictorian, shared memories of those early days and other anecdotes during her address. She recalled how students would start each day with prayer while standing around a rug in the entrance area at the Coptic Church, and developed a custom of not letting their feet touch the rug while they prayed. That custom carried over to the new building and has now become a tradition, as students pray in the morning without letting their feet touch a carpet in the shape of the Seton logo.
Hubany said the class shares many other memories that stand out because nearly everything they did was some sort of milestone, including becoming members of the school’s first sports teams and student organizations.
Finally, she said that going through a pandemic while completing their senior year cemented the five students’ unique experience.
“We wanted our last year to end with fun and shenanigans but coronavirus changed all that,” she said. “It took great commitment and strength for us all to adjust to online learning as we finished out the year, but because of this experience we as a class are prepared to face future difficulties. This pandemic has only made us stronger … we will always be connected by the journeys we have gone through together.”
After the students received their diplomas, they also received commemorative pins as the first members of the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Alumni Association. They stood with their parents and talked about what their years at the school had meant to them.
“This feels amazing and it’s definitely special to know that we were the founding graduates of this school,” said Matthew Deubell, who plans to join the U.S. Air Force. “It’s an emotional experience.”
“These four years have been amazing,” said Anastasia Salyers. “I would not have wanted to go to any other school.”
The five students will also be the only senior class to graduate from the school while it’s still known as a high school. Seton will begin admitting middle school students for the 2020-21 academic year.
“It’s weird but wonderful to have this experience,” said graduate Kolby Johnson, who will attend the University of South Carolina in the fall. “I get to be part of something that is happening for the first time. It’s exciting.”
St. Anne School in Rock Hill, which graduated its first class in 2018, held commencement celebrations on May 30 with seven graduates.
Other schools in the diocese have graduations planned for later in June:
• St. Anne & St. Jude in Sumter, six graduates, June 5 with Mass at 10 a.m.
• Bishop England on Daniel Island, 153 graduates, June 19 at 6 p.m.
• John Paul II in Ridgeland, 42 graduates, June 20 at 10 a.m.
• Cardinal Newman in Columbia, 100 graduates, June 20 at 8:30 p.m.
• St. Joseph’s Catholic in Greenville, 102 graduates, June 26