Bishop O'Connell graduation 2021

Felicity Fittante, Elaine Ly, Alissa Bursey, and Emmy Ly prepare for the Bishop O’Connell High School graduation on June 3, 2021. (Photo by Dave Facinoli)

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The venue was different (blame COVID) but other traditions remained intact for Bishop O’Connell High School’s 61st graduation ceremony.

Long held among the soaring pillars of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, the Class of 2021 was honored instead in the school’s auditorium – a last-minute switch from the football field due to weather concerns.

But for members of the 298-strong graduating class, the specific location was less important than the chance to come together and celebrate accomplishments in a year that, truly, was like no other.

“Class of 2021, we have struggled, we have overcome and we have persevered,” said student speaker Khanh Le, who delivered the salutatory address to classmates, faculty, parents and friends.

“The seniors led the way for the rest of the school in staying positive,” Le said. “Today, we turn the page.”

Head of School Bill Crittenberger, wrapping up his first year in the job, touched on the unusual pandemic year the graduates faced with dignity and resolve by wearing masks, experiencing hybrid schedules and incalculable unknowns.

“Yes, throw in the 17-year cicadas,” he noted wryly. “You can’t make this up.”

Despite, or perhaps because of, all that was thrown at them, the graduating seniors were well-prepared to take on future challenges, Cittenberger said.

“Look out, world – here comes the Bishop O’Connell Class of 2021!” he said.

Bishop O’Connell is one of four high schools within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington. School leaders at all four were able to pivot and provide in-person instruction throughout the 2020-21 school year for parents who wished it, even as most public schools stayed locked down and students locked out throughout the first half of the year or longer.

Michael Burbidge, the Roman Catholic bishop of Arlington, said seniors helped all those below them rally to the cause of education, despite the challenges.

“You’ve been a very successful part of the program at Bishop O’Connell, and we congratulate you,” he said.

The achievements of the graduating class were lauded at the ceremony, which clocked in at slightly more than 90 minutes. More than half of the graduates received some type of academic college scholarship.

Prior to the presentation of diplomas, a number of students were honored with awards in various subject areas announced by principal Carl Patton. Tess Brinkmann, Rachel Ivany, Monica Balistrere, William Rimicci and Akaria Brown III earned multiple accolades.

The Principal’s Award for outstanding leadership went to Brown, Bridget Agyekum, John Armor, Ryan Griffin, Tyler Rooney and Alexandra Visek.

Sara Ghanbari received a General Excellence Award and gave the valedictory address.

“We did not want to, but we pushed through the little inconveniences,” she said. “There is no place for the ‘can’ts’ in our futures. It’s important to live our lives as the people we want to be.”