Class of 2020 Celebrates Milestones

Teresa Martinez | Director of Communications
After a historic ending to a school year, the class of 2020 was able to celebrate the Baccalaureate Mass and Commencement Exercises, in person, on June 15 and 16. 

Both the Mass and Commencement were moments of jubilation and pride, not just for the graduates, but for their parents and the administration and faculty of Belen Jesuit. It took a team of people to make the events a reality during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each event was meticulously planned, while ensuring that all guests adhered to the CDC guidelines, county regulations and event procedures.

“These events are important milestones in the lives of these young men, and we knew early on that we would have both events somehow,” said José E. Roca ‘84, principal. “It was important to all of us that both the Mass and graduation ceremony would be in person and we knew that if we waited past the ending of the academic year that we would have a better chance of being able to accomplish that. Once the venues became available and we felt confident that we could follow both CDC and County guidelines, then the logistics started coming together. A lot of people worked hard to make sure that these events went off without a hitch and a big thank you goes to Mrs. Gigi Garcia-Chang who led the charge.”

Both events were streamed live on the Belen YouTube channel and as of June 18 over 5,000 views have been recorded on YouTube for both the Mass and Commencement. Additionally, continuous coverage was available on the school Facebook and Instagram pages. This use of social media made it possible for family members to watch these celebrations despite not being able to attend in person. 

Baccalaureate Mass
Due to the restrictions in place at all churches, the attendees at the Baccalaureate Mass were limited to only the senior and his mother or female sponsor. As the doors of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church opened, on a rainy South Florida evening, each senior walked in escorting his mom or sponsor to the altar where a white rose was placed before the Blessed Mother. 

“It solidified the meaning of being a mother of a Jesuit educated boy that will now embark to be a man for others,” said Dr. Janice Maribona, class of 2020 advisor. “It brought all of us women together for the same reason, to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for all of our blessings, ask her to protect our boys and help to guide them in our absence during their college years.”

The presider was Fr. Guillermo García-Tuñón, S.J. '87 and the concelebrants were Fr. Christian Saenz, S.J. '95, Fr. Julio Minsal-Ruiz, S.J. '05 and Fr. Guillermo Arias, S.J. Several students participated in the Mass as readers, presenters of the gifts, and as members of the choir. During his homily, Father Willie inspired the class to do more and to shape the future of our country by “not looking at things with the eyes in your head, but look at them also with the eyes of the God who created you.”

“My brothers, don’t allow the number 2020 to simply go down in history as the calendar year in which you graduated from Belen Jesuit,” said Father Willie in the homily. “Let the number 2020 describe your hawk-like vision, your ability to see better and farther than any other class in the history of our alma mater. I assure you, if you take ownership of your lives, see farther than simply the present, and adapt responsibly to the changes that assuredly will come, you will soar to extraordinary heights and the world we live in will be a much better place because of it.”

Additionally, the class banner was presented during the offertory by Nicholas Oyarzun and Sebastian Alonso. Francisco Paredes ‘20 approached the altar with the Senior Banner alongside the gifts of bread and wine. Click here to learn more about the banner. 

The following students are the recipients of the Campus Ministry awards: St. John Berchmans, S.J. Altar Server Award - Alexander Gomez, St. Cecilia Music Ministry Award - Sebastian Spencer, St. Oscar Romero Faith and Justice Award - Stefano Sanchez and Pablo Puga, and the St. Peter Faber, S.J. Peer Ministry Award - Rafael Queiroz.

Click here to watch the Baccalaureate Mass and click here to view the photo album. 

Commencement Exercises
On June 16, the Commencement Exercises took place at the E. Darwin Fuchs Pavilion at the Miami-Dade County Youth Fairgrounds. The large venue allowed us to accommodate up to three guests per senior and a limited number of faculty and staff, all while maintaining safety protocols. The members of the class of 2020 processed into the venue, and although seated 6-feet apart, they were excited to be there in person with their brothers.

"Graduation was honestly such a remarkable experience, it really made my peers and me feel very loved by the faculty, staff, and our parents," said Adrian Ponce ‘20.

José E. Cil '87, Chief Executive Officer for Restaurant Brands International, Inc. was the commencement speaker. His speech inspired the graduates to always try their hardest and to apply themselves in everything they do. He shared ten tips to help guide them in the next stage of their journey. “Success, however you define, it is self-made; it’s earned,” said Cil. “Successful people come from all walks of life, but in my experience, they share common threads. Successful people have certain traits or characteristics that are common.”

The following awards were distributed at the graduation ceremony: Jesuit Schools Network and Brigadier Award - Kevin Valido, Co-Valedictorians Stephen Alexander De Varona Brennan and Esteban Sebastián Rincón, Salutatorian - Stefano Andre Sánchez, Archbishop's Leadership Award - Luis Manuel Gonzalez, The Gerard Manly Hopkins, S.J., English Award - Miguel Antonio Walsh, The Andrea Pozo, S.J., Humanities Award - Nicholas Elias Oyarzun, The Christopher Clavius, S.J., Mathematics Award - Christopher Alexander Krause, The Jose Rubinos, S.J., World Languages Award - Carlos Luis Caballero, The St. Francis Xavier, S.J., Scholar-Athlete Award - Stephen Alexander De Varona Brennan, The Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., Science Award - Matthew Jeffrey Bryan, The John Carroll, S.J., Social Studies Award - Andres R. Alfonso and The St. Robert Bellarmine Theology Award - Andres Julian Frenero.

“It truly is an honor to have been selected by the faculty and my peers as Belen’s first American Brigadier,” said Valido during his speech. “We’ve experienced so much hardship and change as we transition into this new normal. However, most of us haven’t experienced hardships like others in our community have. It is important to look back on how much we’ve learned and use that to make a difference as adults. Our experiences at Belen have made us stronger as a class; they made us more resilient and more open to change. Let’s use our Jesuit foundation and see what the future has in store for us. I urge all of us to be open to change, to learn how to view criticism and setbacks as interesting and growth-producing. To become aware of our choices and change those that stray us away from becoming the best possible men we could be.”

Click here to watch the Commencement Exercises and click here to view the photo album.
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Belen Jesuit Preparatory School was founded in 1854 in Havana, Cuba by Queen Isabel II of Spain.  The task of educating students was assigned to the priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), whose teaching tradition is synonymous with academic excellence and spiritual discipline.  In 1961, the new political regime of Cuba confiscated the School property and expelled the Jesuit faculty.  The School was re-established in Miami the same year, and over the next decade, continued to grow.  Today, Belen Jesuit sits on a 30-acre site in western Dade County, only minutes away from downtown Miami.