The coronavirus outbreak has disrupted the foundations of daily life. For Catholic high school seniors in the Diocese of Sacramento – and their families – the catastrophe at times left a large, empty space where signature coming-of-age moments should be.
Senior retreats, grad nights, proms, spring sports banquets, baccalaureate Masses, award ceremonies — gone or changed for the most part. Seniors have lost their bearings at times, replaced by questions of: What now? What next? When?
Not completely so, says Jonathan Rodrigues Fong, salutatorian of the class of 2020 at Jesuit High School in Carmichael. He has been taking it one day at a time and participated in modified celebrations. On May 4, seniors and their families took part in a drive-thru in the Jesuit parking lot to pick up their caps and gowns, with faculty and staff waving homemade signs and cheering on graduates.
On May 20, the gifts and talents of the class of 2020 were celebrated during a livestreamed baccalaureate Mass from the Phelan Chapel of the North American Martyrs, including music, prayer and worship. Following the Mass, Jonathan delivered his salutatorian address.
From May 21-23, seniors and their parents chose a time in the chapel for their commencement walk and presentation of their diploma cover, instead of the traditional graduation ceremony.
On June 3, seniors enjoyed Jesuit’s 54th commencement celebration at a drive-in setting on two screens, where they and their families viewed a movie with the senior class as its stars.
Being at home since mid-March with distance learning afforded Jonathan time to reflect on his four years at Jesuit and to be grateful for his faith, his academics and his wide range of extracurricular activities. “Graduation is the reward for your hard work, not taking away from the experiences, but just the final ending,” he says, thoughtfully. He is the son of Sutton and Isabel Fong, attended St. Robert School and graduated from Brookfield Academy in Sacramento, and is a member of St. Joseph Parish in Elk Grove.
He was president of the speech and debate club, as public speaking has been his passion since sixth grade. He was also a Kairos senior retreat team leader, president of the French Club, president of political discourse and advocacy, chair for Team CARE (mental health and wellness program), and liturgy workshop specialist in campus ministry, organizing school liturgies. He also had the honor for the past year of serving as the student representative on the Diocesan Pastoral Council advising Bishop Jaime Soto.
In the fall, he will attend Fordham University, a Jesuit college, and plans to major in political science, with a minor in French language and linguistics. He would like to pursue law school and diplomacy in the future.
During the past few months, Jonathan has missed the lack of normalcy and routine. Last year he started the practice of a daily journal, as St. Ignatius of Loyola advised, to reflect on one’s experience of prayer. “It’s a personal examen for me, where I focus on gratitude and betterment each day, plus an overall reflection and a prayer intention. Writing in my journal has gotten me through this challenging time. I would be doing this otherwise, so I’m finding the most faith, hope and strength by doing the things I can keep the same.”
He also finds hope from the prayer, “Patient Trust,” by Jesuit Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, as well as the Serenity Prayer by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.
“For me, the most crucial thing in this pandemic is finding those things in your life that are the same and normal, whether it be journaling or having your family around and finding hope in them,” he concludes. “It’s important to find things that are all around you for which you are truly grateful.”