Bishop Tylka tells Class of 2021 ‘you have been chosen’ as commencements begin

Members of The High School of Saint Thomas More's Class of 2021 joyfully toss their graduation caps into the air moments after the conclusion of commencement ceremonies at the school on May 15. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

CHAMPAIGN — The mortarboards of the Class of 2021 may have been tossed to record heights at The High School of Saint Thomas More here May 15, fueled by the joy the seniors felt to be able to graduate as a class with family members present.

That joy was shared by faculty, staff, and guests — including Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka, who celebrated a baccalaureate Mass the previous evening at St. Matthew Church. (A list of commencements at all Catholic high schools and academies of the diocese is found at the end of this story.)

Calum Beckett receives a fist bump from his grandfather, Steve Beckett, as he processes with The High School of Saint Thomas More’s Class of 2021 into the school gym for the graduation program on May 15. Calum, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Urbana, plans to attend the Boston-based Berklee College of Music in the fall. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

“I know it’s been a real challenging year as we navigate all of the COVID stuff,” said Bishop Tylka at the close of Mass. “It’s been a challenge for us all, but we’ve persevered and we’ve had a good year nonetheless. So thank you for all the efforts at Saint Thomas More to provide this wonderful gift of Catholic education.”

In his homily, Bishop Tylka repeatedly reminded the graduates that, like the apostles, “you have been chosen” to love and follow Jesus.

“Who knows where you will go? Who knows, but God, what is in store for you,” asked Bishop Tylka. “But what we do know is that through the gift of your Catholic education you have been invited into a deeper relationship with Jesus.

“Know that God is always with us,” he continued. “And when we walk with God, amazing things can happen in our lives and in the world. We’re proud of you, we’re grateful for all you’ve done, we look forward to all that you will do because of your Catholic education, but more so because you have been chosen by the Lord to go and preach the Gospel.”


The gratitude carried over to commencement ceremonies celebrated in the school gym the next day.

“I cannot tell you how happy I am that we are able to have some semblance of normalcy today,” said Sister M. Bridget Martin, FSGM, principal, before inviting the school’s 40 seniors to walk across the stage and receive diplomas.

There were modifications because of COVID-19 protocols. There was no reception, and both the baccalaureate Mass and commencement were ticketed events with limits. Both were broadcast via livestream.

Sister Bridget acknowledged that after the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020 and sent students home — altering graduation plans for last year’s seniors — “we weren’t really sure what this year was going to look like.”

Valedictorian Maris Green.

“We bought a lot of sanitizer and rubber gloves and masks, and put signs all over the building about how to wash hands properly and wear a mask properly,” she continued. “We spaced desks in classrooms six feet apart and made students eat at student desks in the lunchroom. This year has brought challenges for all of us, and yet here we are,” she said, looking out at the seniors in their green caps and gowns with invited family members seated behind them.

“This year has been anything but ordinary,” acknowledged senior Maris Green, valedictorian, in her address. “Yet the faculty and staff at Saint Thomas More has worked tirelessly to restore a sense of normalcy in the classroom. And for that we are all extremely grateful.”

Green said her time at the school has taught her “how to put Christ’s teachings into action,” and urged her classmates to “continue to seek Christ in the way you choose to treat others.”

Father Michael Pica, chaplain, thanked God for the blessings bestowed on the Class of 2021 and encouraged them to model the virtues of the school’s patron as they live out their own vocations.

Sister Bridget called to mind the words of St. Catherine of Siena: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

“Class of 2021,” Sister Bridget said at the close of the graduation ceremonies, “I ask you to dig deep and ask the Lord who it is he’s calling you to be, and how it is he’s asking you to set the world on fire.”


More than 500 seniors will receive diplomas in the coming days in ceremonies at the seven Catholic high schools and academies in the Diocese of Peoria.

Commencements began the weekend of May 14-15 with ceremonies at The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign (see story above) and the 129th commencement for the 57 graduating seniors of St. Bede Academy in Peru.

Ceremonies to come include:

  • Central Catholic High School in Bloomington will have graduation ceremonies for 90 seniors at St. Patrick Church of Merna at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 23;
  • Schlarman Academy in Danville has 20 seniors who will receive diplomas during a graduation Mass at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 23, at the Paul C. Shebby Gymnasium on Schlarman’s North Campus.
  • Alleman High School in Rock Island will honor 101 graduating seniors at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 30, at the Alleman Athletic Complex
  • Marquette Academy in Ottawa will host outdoor graduation ceremonies for 38 seniors at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 30, at Gould Stadium.
  • Peoria Notre Dame High School has 161 seniors who will receive diplomas during commencement ceremonies at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 30, at the Peoria Civic Center Arena.

The Catholic Post will again honor the valedictorians and salutatorians at the seven Catholic high schools and academies in the Diocese of Peoria. Photos and profiles of the top graduates of the Class of 2021 will be published in a June issue of the diocesan newspaper.

EDITOR’S NOTE: More photos from commencement ceremonies at The High School of Saint Thomas More have been posted to The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook. 


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