Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School Celebrates 137th Commencement Exercises | Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School


Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School Celebrates 137th Commencement Exercises

Marielle Heller speaks at the 137th SJND Commencement Ceremony.

By Vivi McKee '19

On Saturday, June 1, the Class of 2019, along with their families, friends and faculty and staff, gathered in the Kelly Gym to celebrate Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School’s 137th Commencement Ceremony. This sunny morning saw 110 students receive their diplomas and be sent into the world to lead the joyful lives of faith, scholarship, and service that SJND has so well equipped them to lead.

2019 commencement exercises began with the Baccalaureate Mass on May 30, during which Salutatorian Kobe Kiener ’19, who will attend Chapman University in the fall, reflected on the four years he and his classmates shared together at SJND. Kobe recalled memorable moments and learnings from his class’ time together, and left them with some words of advice:

“‘A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.’ With this quote I encourage everyone to go forth from high school taking the road less traveled, the road that gets you to be the person you have always been capable of being. Embrace a challenge or two and understand that it is the hardships we have endured our entire lives that have shaped us into strong, independent, smart, and good looking seniors today… Be appreciative, be thoughtful, be tough,” Kobe told his classmates.

The June 1 commencement ceremony began with words from Principal Jennings, who, like the graduates, will be moving on from SJND this summer to be closer to his family in New Jersey. Saint Joseph Basilica Pastor Father George Alengadan continued with a prayer for the graduates, followed by inspiring speeches given by the commencement speaker and class valedictorian.

SJND was pleased to welcome back Alumna and Film Director Marielle Heller ’97 as the 2019 commencement speaker. She is the writer and director of Diary of a Teenage Girl and, more recently, she directed the Academy Award-nominated film, Can You Ever Forgive Me? Marielle used her experiences transitioning from acting to writing and then to directing, to advise the graduates on their coming lives:

“One of the hardest moments comes when you see that your life isn’t going down the path you anticipated - when you have to decide to go a way you couldn’t have imagined. For me, that moment came when I decided to become a director. I always knew I wanted to be a theater actor. Here at Saint Joe’s I was in plays, and in the community theater. I went to UCLA to study acting in theater and then worked as an actor for many years. I didn’t even consider that I would do anything else in my life. It was all I wanted from the time I was eight years old,” Marielle told the audience.

“But in my late twenties something shifted and I wanted to start writing. I wanted to take more control of the stories I told. I felt people around me scoff. Why did I think I knew how to write a play? Why did I think I could write a movie?” Marielle felt others wonder. “...It’s easy to look back now after I’ve directed three movies and see that this was my path. But at the time it wasn’t clear. I was taking a big leap of faith and changing the course of my life. And many days I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. Many days I still feel that way. But I had a foundation that made me feel like I could make this shift: a great family and friends and a past in which these big transitions had shown me how to stretch and grow,” Marielle reflected.

“There’s a phrase I love: ‘follow the green lights.’ Well, I was getting green lights as I pushed myself into the directing realm and it was just enough to encourage me to keep going,” she added.


Finally, the Class Valedictorian Gisele de Araujo ’19 closed out the ceremony. As ASB President, captain of the Women’s Volleyball Team, founder of the Model United Nations Club, and SJND’s representative at the 2018 Girls State, Gisele has had a busy four years at SJND. She will attend the incredibly competitive Minerva Schools at KGI in the fall where, by the end of her four years, she will have studied in San Francisco, California; Seoul, South Korea; Hyderabad, India; Buenos Aires, Argentina; London, England; and Taipei, Taiwan.

Gisele shared with her classmates three life learnings and reminders for the future, her “Notes to Self: Hindsight, Insight, and Foresight.”

“First, set goals and pursue them in ways that will leave you with more insight than when you began, even if you fail,” Gisele began. “Next, get comfortable being uncomfortable: put yourself in situations that make your heart race and revel in the moments that seem too good to be true. Then, work hard, seek truth, and be generous. Finally, recognize that things are temporary, and make time to appreciate the people around you,” she concluded.

Gisele ended her speech on a sweet note, wishing her good friend and fellow graduate Nicole Prislin a Happy 18th Birthday.

Congratulations to the following students who received annual Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School Graduation Awards, based on academic merit and character exhibited throughout their time at SJND.

Valedictorian: Gisele de Araujo
Salutatorian: Kobe Kiener
Principal's Leadership Award: Gisele de Araujo
Spirit of the Pilot Award: Hadiya Williams-Cain
Inspired by Christ Award: Joshua Henry
Fides et Caritas Award: Emma Courville
SJND Award for Excellence: Olivia Musoke

Congratulations Class of 2019! You have worked tirelessly to get to this point and we can’t wait to hear about life’s next adventures!

Click here to view photos from SJND Graduation Day 2019.

Click here to watch the 2019 Commencement Ceremony.

One hundred percent of the Class of 2019 will attend college in the fall. Learn more and view the full list of colleges here.