ST. THOMAS — Six students graduated Thursday from Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic School during a ceremony at Holy Family Catholic Church, crossing the finish line after a long race of schooling.
Applause rang out and horns blared as the students received a variety of awards, scholarships and their diplomas.
All six graduates will be attending college. Four of the six will be at the University of the Virgin Islands, while their classmates attend Georgia State University and Johnson and Wales University.
Acting Principal Maria Daniel told the students — whom she referred to as her “six sensational stars” — that life “is like a race.”
“Graduates, love is your motivation,” she said during her remarks. “You are compelled to love, and finish every race in style.”
The Rev. Neil Scantlebury of Holy Family Catholic Church continued with the race analogy during his remarks.
“You have ran the race and have persevered until the end,” Scantlebury said. “Congratulations, you have made it over the finish line.”
Nichel Daniel, the class valedictorian and daughter of the acting principal, took home multiple awards and scholarships during the ceremony. Daniel, a Ss. Peter and Paul lifer, said before the graduation that she plans to study hospitality and tourism management when she starts at UVI.
Daniel shared one of her favorite quotes before she took the stage: “Shoot for the stars and if you fall, you will land amongst the clouds.”
She is staying true to those words, as she said she hopes to own a hotel and restaurant someday.
“I live by quotes,” she said.
Faith-based education “means a lot to me because I’ve been basically raised in the Catholic faith from young, so I just feel like anybody who really wants to get to know the religion or is struggling, I really encourage them to go to a Catholic school because it’s very grounded,” she said. “It allows you to explore different parts of yourself.”
Salutatorian Biton Charles had attended the school for eight years before he graduated Thursday night.
Charles said before the ceremony that he did not have much of an education before he came to Ss Peter and Paul, and “it’s been a huge upgrade.”
Charles plans to study marine biology at UVI.
“Try to get out of your comfort zone,” he urged future graduates.
“Because right now, I’m coming out of my comfort zone, because I don’t really like talking in public too much,” Charles said. “But it’s to help me build so I can talk to people in crowds more often.”
Charles did not let nerves stop him when he finally took the podium. He spoke about what the school has meant to him.
“When I remember my time at Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic School, academic lessons are not the first thing that comes to mind, probably to all your surprise,” he said. “As memorable as the lessons were, what really stuck with me was how the school wants students to value and represent themselves.”
Representatives from numerous reunion classes — as far back as 1954 — congratulated the graduates with remarks and gifts, from money to special Cardow watches.
One more recent alum, Maribel Okiye, was the commencement speaker. She graduated from the school in 2014 and is now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan, studying chemistry.
During her speech, Okiye urged the graduates to make as many connections as possible and always keep the end goal in mind. She also told them to “never forget where you came from.”
“Home gives you something that no one else ever will,” Okiye said. “There are very distinct memories in your life that will be from home, and no one will ever understand.”