HAMMOND — After adjusting to Zoom classes and missing milestone school traditions, Bishop Noll Institute seniors were able to have their day of recognition Thursday as they donned robes and walked across the stage.
The Class of 2021 marked the 98th commencement of the prestigious private Catholic school, which is celebrating its 100-year anniversary.
For seniors, it marked their transition into their future careers and life paths.
Bishop Noll Principal and alumna Lorenza Jara Pastrick took the podium as the commencement speaker, looking out into the crowd of about 95 students.
She shared her beginnings with the graduating class, from her parents who immigrated to America to her first job. During her speech, she asked each student to close their eyes.
"Close your eyes, take a deep breath," she said. "Think of yourself. Where do you want to be 10 years from now?
She then asked them to take out their cellphones and take a photo of themselves.
"Everyone in the class of 2021 had a different image," Pastrick said. "No matter what you see, I am here to say that anything you saw is obtainable, if you plan for it."
She ended her speech by telling the group that the person in their last photo is the only person who can help them obtain their visions of the future.
Valedictorian Carmelina Komyatte began by reflecting on the challenges the class faced during the pandemic.
"Now it's true, no other class has undergone the challenges of this past year, but it has made our accomplishments that more meaningful, that more hopeful," she said.
Bishop Noll President Paul Mullaney congratulated the class who "triumphed over the pandemic."
"You will forever be known as BNI warriors, and no one can take that from you," Mullaney told the new graduates.
Students families also were honored. At one point, students took up flowers placed under each of their chairs and dispersed into the gym to present them to tearful parents in gratitude for their support and encouragement.
As the students exited down the hallway in gowns and masks, they were greeted by applause from faculty who lined the school walls.
For graduate Mary Buksa, graduation meant moving on to study business information and analytics at Purdue Northwest.
"I feel relief and excitement," Buksa said. "I want to make local businesses better and improve Indiana businesses overall."
Dmitri Lopez plans to attend Valparaiso University to earn a degree in history.
"It feels surreal to say the least," he said of graduating. "They used to say the four years pass by, I didn't believe them at first. But it does."
Bethany Askew also plans to attend Valparaiso University to major in digital media communications.
"Honestly, I feel this last year has been challenging for everyone," Askew said. "But through this we've learned self-discipline with online classes. This year has been hard. But I am really proud of everyone. We have all worked so hard. Collectively, we have accomplished so much."