If you ask any St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy senior their plans after graduation, they likely already know.
After all, they’re the second graduating class that has a 100 percent college acceptance rate.
And Principal Chris Chirieleison said he’s not surprised, as it resembles the goal of the school.
“It’s evidence of our mission that we want to go into this as a college preparatory school that teaches kids self-discipline and helps them demonstrate the meaning of higher education,” Chirieleison said. “We’re helping prepare them for the next level, and helping them develop habits of success before they leave.”
According to the National Catholic Education Association, Catholic schools have an 85 percent college acceptance rate compared to 39 percent for public schools.
Catholic schools also boast a higher graduation rate of 99 percent compared to public schools at 78 percent, school spokesman Brad Groznik said in an emailed statement.
“It’s a pretty special feat for us,” said senior Garrett Bastardi, who plans to attend Penn State. “I think I speak on behalf of my class when I say it speaks volumes for the kind of work ethic we have.”
But with graduation 2 p.m. Saturday at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on Penn State’s campus, it’s not an easy task.
“I’ll miss football and the friends I made, and I’ll miss the school atmosphere here,” said Trent Fye, 18, of Bellefonte. “I moved to this school for a reason where I knew I could thrive, but I think it prepared me for the next phase in my life.”
Fye was part of the inaugural football team that beat Mercyhurst Prep, 46-6, in its first game.
“I’ll never forget it,” Fye said. “It was like that ‘a-ha’ moment for us, but there is a lot of improvement that needs to be made. I’m just glad I could be a part of it.”
In the school’s second graduation, 32 students will receive their diplomas.
That’s more than double the number of graduates from last year, Chirieleison said.
And to prepare for the day, seniors were asked to participate in a semester-long project that focused on their time at St. Joe’s.
In January, each senior was asked to write a speech about graduation and present it to the school. Each week leading up to graduation since the beginning of the year, two students presented their speeches.
Senior Riley Haris stopped in the middle of a class speech to catch her breath.
She shed a tear in the process of telling fellow classmates about what the past four years meant to her.
“You just want to get to college, and then you stand in front of your teachers and friends that you have now, and it’s hard,” Haris, 18, said. “The beauty of being at a small school is how personal it is and that there is not a big gap between students and the administration. I hope the (underclassmen) can see that.”
The class speeches wrapped up Monday.
“It’s bittersweet,” Haris said. “It’s amazing that we can move on, but scary to leave the kind of environment and nature we got so comfortable with.”
This year’s seniors are part of the first graduating class who started their freshman year at St. Joe’s.
Haris and classmate Carrie Shearer were two in a handful of those students who spent four years at the school.
“We’ve been here since the beginning, and can give a unique perspective about our time here,” Shearer, 17, said. “It’s been really rewarding to see (the school) grow.”
The school was founded in 2011 to provide a faith-based education with a mission to teach students faith, scholarship, leadership and service.
Sue Paterno is this year’s commencement speaker, and senior Cecilia Surovec, 18, of Boalsburg, will sing the national anthem.