By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – “When someone believes in a child, positive things can happen.”
Father Mark emphasized this success formula Thursday night inside The San Miguel Program’s gymnasium during the Commencement Exercises for the Class of 2023.
It’s that very individualized, supportive and caring approach that has defined the school which has been laser-focused on its mission: “Breaking the Cycle of Poverty through Education” since opening as a middle school in 2006. Now, 17 years later, it has only increased momentum and breadth, evolving into a multi-faceted program, offering a 12 year commitment to each of its students and families.
The fruits of all those hard labors were on full display during graduation, as fifteen proud, confident boys, clad in grey pants, sharp blue blazers adorned with the school’s insignia, and bowties made their way into the gymnasium. Following a Musical Prelude, Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance and Introduction of the Class of 2023, Father Mark provided background on the Valedictorian, Gustavo Laureano.
“I’ve been in education 40 years, and I’ve never been among a student this flawless,” Mark said of Laureano, whom he praised for taking advantage of all of the school’s offerings. “We are all so very proud of him.”
A member of the school’s nationally recognized rowing team, who is continuing to compete this month, Laureano spoke of the life lessons- such as creativity and versatility- he mined from being a row team member. The fulfilling experience did not come without its challenges, sometimes lofty ones.
“We cannot let the bad start to bring us down, but must use redemption,” Laureano said about those hurdles. “All of these experiences have helped me become a better leader and person.” Referring again to redemption as the combat tool to mistakes, Laureano added, “The world needs good men; let’s all pledge to be good men.”
Two of those great men role models were in the room Thursday evening, proudly watching the Class of 2023 be awarded medals, diplomas and awards. One was Arshay Cooper, the subject of the documentary, A Most Beautiful Thing, whose personal storyline focuses upon the potent, positive catalyst rowing instilled and inspired in his life. Now a strong supporter of all the San Miguel Program students, Cooper is “paying it forward,” doing all he can to keep that rowing fire burning within them.
“This is family,” Cooper affirmed, looking out to the Class of 2023 and their family and friends. “We polish diamonds, and teach young people how to inspire the fire in them rather than be harmed by the one around them.” Alluding to the multitude of lessons embedded in the sport of rowing, Cooper stressed the top one he learned: How important the coxswain position, filled by the smallest person, is.
“This member needs to study and see things the other members in the boat don’t see,” explained Cooper about the coxswain’s priority. “He is the person to make sure the boat doesn’t hit a wall and gets everyone to safety; when I realized that, it’s when real success came, because when you trust the coxswain, you make it to the championship of life.”