By Monsignor William J. Linder
Graduation is a joyous occasion where tears of happiness are shed, childhood friends make pacts to stay in touch and the door to the future swings open for those who are ready to leap forward.
As I attended the commencement exercises at Saint Vincent Academy, I saw rows filled with family members eagerly waiting for their daughters to cross the stage and receive their hard earned diplomas from an academically rigorous private, college preparatory high school for young women in Newark.
The scholarship fund that I established many years ago has financially supported many young people through their high school careers at top flight prep schools such as SVA. I was especially proud this year to applaud for Chioma Onwunaka, SVA Class of 2015 valedictorian and a Monsignor William J. Linder Scholar, as she took to the stage to deliver remarks before her classmates, school administration and family.
Chioma is the 18-year-old daughter of New Community Director of Nursing Veronica Onwunaka. It’s evident that the teen takes after her mother, who is ambitious, smart and strong-willed. As a single parent, Veronica has raised four outstanding children (her son, the eldest, is in college, and her two younger daughters will be a senior and junior at SVA in the fall). Meanwhile, Veronica completed a master’s degree while balancing her role as a parent and overseeing the NCC Extended Care Facility, which serves seniors and disabled adults in Newark.
A few days before commencement, Chioma gave me a letter that expressed her gratitude for being a recipient of the scholarship fund. I already knew that Chioma was raised well by her mother and had grown into an articulate and capable young woman, but the letter drove it home. The composition was beautiful. Her thoughts were very mature.
As I sat and listened to her valedictory address, I could easily picture Chioma achieving her goals of entering the medical field. To me, she represents a generation of young people who know what they want in life and boldly pursue it—while remaining firmly rooted in family and hungry for knowledge.
When I think of the many graduates of SVA and other private schools who were scholarship recipients, it overwhelms me. Veronica and her daughter make me glad that I did what I did with my life. Indeed, the future is looking very bright.