Cathedral celebrates Class of 2023 graduates

Published 1:20 pm Saturday, May 27, 2023

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NATCHEZ — Nearly 40 Cathedral High School scholars turned their tassels and threw their graduation caps following a commencement celebration Friday evening at St. Mary Basilica.

The 38 graduating seniors were joined by many family members and school faculty, as well as leaders of the Diocese of Jackson during the graduation.

The Class of 2023 was the first class of graduates that the church rector, the Rev. Aaron Williams, was able to grow close with through a full school year at Cathedral, having arrived at St. Mary Basilica in May 2022, just in time for the end of the school year commencement exercises.

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It was also the first class to graduate inside the historic cathedral after graduations were held in the Natchez City Auditorium for two years.

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson noted that the Class of 2023 graduation is the first of the Greenwave graduations that he has been able to attend in person since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s like freedom,” he said. “176 years … we’re well into the third century of education here at Cathedral. Cathedral in Natchez is the cornerstone of Catholic education throughout not only our Diocese but our state … built upon our cornerstone that is our Lord Jesus himself.”

Kopacz said the speeches of the Class of 2023 Valedictorian and Salutatorian both have a similar theme of perseverance through times of adversity.

Class of 2023 Salutatorian at Cathedral, Jackson Parke Lewis, has maintained a 98.83 numerical average and a 4.28 grade point average over four years.

He has been a member of the National Honor Society, football and baseball teams.

His passion as a competitive teammate leaked through in his final address to his fellow graduates at Friday’s commencement ceremony.

“When trying to decide what I wanted to write my speech about, one idea kept crossing my mind. That idea was winning,” Lewis said. “Everyone who knows me will understand this because I am as competitive as they come in all aspects of my life. From sports to field day to even the simple games we play on class retreats, I want to win at all costs. This is ironic, however, because I am a salutatorian, which means that I came in second place. As we all know, second place is the first loser.”

Lewis said hard work, perseverance and motivation are all requirements to be a winner and are all qualities that he and his classmates have demonstrated throughout their high school careers.

“Though only one of us can be ranked first in our class, we are all winners tonight,” he said. “I want to congratulate you all for working tirelessly to get here and for all of the accomplishments you have achieved. I also want to thank all of our friends, family and faculty, because we could not have done any of it without them.

“We must also thank God for getting us here today. Cathedral has instilled in each of us a firm faith that should be a guiding light in all that we do. As we move on to the next stages of our lives, let us remember all the memories we have made and the lessons we have learned. I know that in all we set out to do, our class will always be winners.”

To a similar tune, the Class of 2023 Valedictorian at Cathedral, Marissa Riley Starr, left her class with an inspirational message about setting high expectations for themselves.

She has maintained a 100.91 numerical average and a 4.35 grade point average over four years.

She has served in the National Honor Society and the Cathedral Peer Ministry team.

Cathedral teachers have pushed Starr and her classmates to success by setting high expectations for each of them, she said.

“It feels like yesterday we were just freshmen stumbling through the halls, trying to find our classrooms. Now we’re about to enter the world as adults,” she said. “Our teachers have pushed us academically, spiritually and morally, inspiring us to become the best versions of ourselves. Through our education, we’ve been given the tools necessary to continue on this journey.

“High expectations are like our own personal compass,” she said. “They guide us, motivate us and help us navigate the ups and downs of life. They challenge us to strive for excellence even when the road ahead seems daunting. Setting high expectations means having the audacity to dream big, to believe in ourselves and to be unafraid of failure. As the saying goes, ‘Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.’”

But setting high expectations is more than achieving academic success. Starr reminded her classmates that high expectations could be a motivating force through all aspects of their adult lives, as they remember the foundations of faith, compassion and integrity and all other invaluable life lessons they’ve gained at Cathedral.

“High expectations do not mean we have to be serious all the time. In fact, some of the most memorable moments are when we let go of our worries, kick back and appreciate the world around us,” she said. “As we go forth into the world, let us face challenges head-on and know that our faith, resilience and sense of adventure will guide us through. As we embark on the next chapter of our lives, let us hold on to that sense of adventure, that spirit of exploration and that ability to find joy in the simplest things.”