San Miguel Holds 14th Annual Commencement

By Jennifer L. Warren

NEWBURGH – From the moment Senator Rolison stepped foot onto the San Miguel Program grounds last spring, he knew he had entered a very special place.

Rolison was immediately welcomed by a group of respectful and enthused students, clad in their blue blazer or dress, grey slacks, along with white shirt, sharp uniforms. The proud contingent of youth proceeded to sing to him. Then there was the unforgettable dog -excitedly providing a memorable greeting. Inspiring quotes and messages aimed at hard work, character, and achievement, along with framed images of smiling students adorned the walls.

“There is a special, unforgettable feeling when you come to this school,” said Rolison, who returned to the campus, filled with a similar vibe, presenting personalized commendation awards to two students at Friday’s 14th Annual Commencement Exercises. “And I just really think each time I’m here, how I need to come back.”

San Miguel Program Valedictorian, David Jimenez, received his diploma from one of the school alumni at Friday’s Commencement Exercises.
San Miguel Program Valedictorian, David Jimenez, received his diploma from one of the school alumni at Friday’s Commencement Exercises.

Testament to that desire to return to this “homey,” welcoming, authentic space could be further seen in the impressive number of alumnus who were on hand to celebrate the occasion. Some came to receive diplomas not allotted during COVID. Others were present to have the privilege of personally awarding diplomas to this year’s graduating class.

Another- a- soon-to-be high school graduate- Julian Marin- who when coming to San Miguel was intensely focused on breaking through any limitations in order to escape his dangerous surroundings and secure a prosperous future- credited the school with teaching him brotherhood, and was the evening’s guest speaker. Then, there was the trio of exceptional brothers, Jonathan, Christian and Christopher Recinos, Program graduates, attending esteemed boarding schools for the past four years where they will graduate from this week, and who just all learned of their acceptance (Jonathan’s was conditional to be confirmed this week) to the United States Naval Academy. Still others, both in college and graduates, simply yearned to return to a place that forged indelible, positive, priceless imprints on their lives and paths.

San Miguel Program Salutatorian, Jency Pineda, delivers words at Friday’s Commencement Exercises.
San Miguel Program Salutatorian, Jency Pineda, delivers words at Friday’s Commencement Exercises.

That transformative San Miguel magic was once again acutely evident in this year’s graduates. Each of the 14 students, referred to by Executive Director, Father Mark Connell, as “some of the finest young people I have ever encountered,” possessed unique gems, revealed in an assortment of areas: academics, athletics, the arts and their character. Several overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles, learning precious lessons in the process.

Class Valedictorian, David Jimenez, delivered words in his speech on his personal journey, one laden with minimal motivation, reading challenges and behavioral issues when he first entered the San Miguel School in fifth grade. The recipient of the esteemed “Grit and Grace Award” Friday, Jimenez credited his turnaround, fueled by hard work that spiked his reading scores and overall academic performance, to the incredible support of the school, allowing him to believe in his abilities-potential. Alluding to specific, treasured memories he will carry with him from each one of his classmates, Jimenez, who will be attending Wasatch Academy in Utah in the fall, further spoke of the potency of those bonds.

“The close friendships are what makes this place so special; we all get along, spend a lot of time together all year, and because of the small classes, really get to know one another,” said Jimenez. “Also, this place has really taught me that hard work pays off; I saw it in the classroom, overcoming my shyness with the help of my teachers and really improving my grades and enjoying learning; I also really saw it with the rowing program, and the way my teammates and I all worked together toward a common goal.”

That nationally recognized rowing program lies at the epicenter and epitomizes much that the San Miguel Program aspires to instill in its students. Demanding tenacity, quick thinking, improvisation, teamwork, problem solving and other critical life skills, the athletic outlet is an extremely successful catalyst in carving out strong character traits, required not only in a boat, but in life. Another distinguishing quality of the grades 5-8 Program, founded in 2006, is its 12 month commitment to a safe, positive and high quality learning environment for all of its students. That unwavering support continues on through their high school, college and beyond journeys. Guided by the mantra, “breaking the cycle of poverty through education,” in everything they do, the Program’s success lies in its numbers: 100 percent of their middle school students enter 9th grade on time, of their high school graduates, 99 percent graduate on time, and 90 percent opt for higher education. However, perhaps more than anything the impact San Miguel makes is on the individual’s lives who they forever transform.

“Coming to this school really changed me; I was always getting in trouble in public school, and even started off here acting up, but that didn’t last long at all,” said Jency Pineda, the Salutatorian of the Class of 2024 and headed to Saint Margarets School in Virginia in the fall. “I would always see all of the alumnus and other role models all around me here-how they carried themselves as well as their talking to me about my potential which really motivated me, building my confidence, discipline and maturity and making me start really thinking about my future.”

That lasting effect can be seen on each of the San Miguel Program students-former and present-faces as well as in everything they do.

“With the way things are in this world right now, and the problems we are facing, it’s easy to lose hope,” said Father Connell, as he concluded the commencement and proudly surveyed the array of students surrounding him. “But, I never, ever lose hope here.”

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