For 59 Saint Bernard grads, small school makes them feel like family

Norwich — As "Pomp and Circumstance" sounded from the organ and violin in the loft on Friday evening, proud Saint Bernard School parents stood between the pews of the Cathedral of St. Patrick, but perhaps the proudest parents were ones who weren't even there.

Teddy Nosiku and Aaron Nyambe called up their respective parents in their native Zambia on Friday morning. The two are the first in their families to graduate from high school.

"I'm so very happy," Nosiku said after the ceremony, and after joyful greetings from his sponsor, host family and other well-wishers. "I really don't know how I can express it."

Thanks to Chikumbuso Women and Orphans Project, founded by North Stonington resident Linda Wilkinson, Nosiku and Nyambe came to the U.S. in February 2017 and began their studies at Wheeler High School.

But the terms of their visas did not allow them to remain in a public school beyond a year, host Sabrina Buehler said, so Saint Bernard welcomed the two in January.

Despite not being at the Montville-based private Catholic school for very long, Nosiku said he felt like the school already has become a part of him, and he felt accepted.

He felt like his classmates were family, much like student speaker Henry Cox indicated as he addressed the other 58 members of the Class of 2018 at the 60th commencement on Friday.

Cox spoke about how he was "quite shy" but decided to audition for the school play to break his timidity. In his speech, he recited in a booming voice his lone line — "There's enough dynamite to blow up the whole town!" — and added as an aside that it's "very fun to say out of context in a cathedral."

Cox forgot to say his line on opening night, but joining the drama department opened doors for him and made Saint Bernard feel like home.

Some graduates are not the first in their family for whom Saint Bernard has felt like home. After the conferring of the diplomas, eight students presented medallions to parents and grandparents who are alumni.

Charles Anderson gave a medallion to both a parent and a grandparent. So did Mia Londregan, who commented before the ceremony that 13 of her family members in total have graduated from Saint Bernard.

Sydnie Ziegler got to present a medallion to her father, who two days earlier was honored by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut as Citizen of the Year.

Bishop Michael Cote followed the presentation of medallions by recounting wisdom from Pope Francis' most recent apostolic exhortation, which has the subtitle of "the call to holiness in the contemporary world."

Cote posited, "I suspect each of us has a fear or struggle for holiness, a fear that we might not reach it, a fear that we might be mocked or ignored, or even that we might be hated by others."

But he said that holiness just means becoming whole and becoming what God intended us to be. Cote encouraged graduates both to combat selfish inclinations and to heed the call to become saints wherever they may go.

e.moser@theday.com

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