“Dear young people, please, don’t be observers of life, but get involved. Jesus did not remain an observer, but he immersed himself. Don’t be observers, but immerse yourself in the reality of life, as Jesus did” - Pope Francis, 2013.
Eight outstanding Year 12 student leaders from systemic secondary schools across the Diocese of Wollongong have been awarded the prestigious Bishop’s Student Excellence Awards in recognition of their outstanding commitment to their Catholic faith, their academic, sporting, creative, and vocational achievements, and community-based accomplishments during the 2020 school year.
Nominated by their school principal, the award was presented to one graduating student from each systemic school who exemplified the very best of Catholic education. This year, more than ever, the student recipients of this prestigious award have answered the call of Pope Francis to be more than observers of life, having taken up the responsibility and commitment of serving their school, parish, and the local community—providing inspiration, hope, and encouragement to those around them.
This week, Brian Mascord DD, Bishop of Wollongong, presented the students with their award at an official COVID-safe ceremony celebrated by family members, school principals, and senior Catholic Education Office personnel, at the Villa D’Oro Function Centre in Wollongong.
Due to HSC exam commitments, Jonathan Staunton, a Year 12 student from St John the Evangelist Catholic High School, Nowra, was unable to attend the event in person, but thanks to the benefits of living in a digital age, was still able to join the ceremony via Zoom, alongside the school principal, Sandra Hogan. The use of technology to engage students with their learning and many school-related events had been a common occurrence throughout the final year of schooling for the graduating class of 2020.
Attending his first Bishop’s Student Excellence Awards since being appointed Director of Schools in January this year, Peter Hill acknowledged the difficult year students have faced, particularly Year 12 students, and praised the recipients for their leadership and incredible accomplishments throughout what has been a challenging year.
“It’s clear that the challenges presented by COVID-19 did not dull your spirits,” he said. “Whether witnessing to your faith, participating in your parish, leading your fellow students, or reaching out to those in need, each of you in various ways has reflected the model of Christ and embodied the core values of Catholic education. In a time when many have felt hopeless, you have continued to make known the love of our God. In the darkness of this year, you lit a flame of hope.”
Mr Hill also encouraged the students to be proud of their faith-filled education and take what they had learnt with them as they begin the next chapter of their lives.
“As we near the end of this strange and difficult year, I encourage you to keep your flame of hope alive,” he said. “I know that you will take the virtues, values, attitudes, and skills of your Catholic education, and—as bearers of Christ’s light—continue to brighten the lives of everyone around you.”
These sentiments were echoed in the words of Bishop Brian who congratulated the students on their achievements and thanked them for being examples of hope in their school communities.
“Tonight I profoundly say congratulations for being examples to others, for being people who are prepared to step out on a limb occasionally, to be witness to the mystery of what is possible. You bring your incredible gifts to the life of who we are.”
Bishop Brian also spoke about the importance of having the courage to trust.
“You’ve put trust in yourself, your families, and those who have educated you. Because of those three things you've entered into a relationship that is quite unique and life-giving. As you finish Year 12, I’m calling you to trust in your story, the story to which you belong. It not just the story of your individual school or family, but what you’re called to trust in is the experience of the mystery, the unknown. As you walk ahead and embark upon that journey, recognise there’s always someone walking beside you - God” — Bishop Brian Mascord.
All the student recipients felt humbled and incredibly honoured to receive the prestigious award.
Noah Nieborak of Corpus Christi Catholic High School, Oak Flats, said receiving the award had affirmed the value of his Catholic faith. “It’s such an amazing honour to receive this award, considering the number of students who are eligible for this. The fact that I was chosen means a lot, and really confirms and deepens my Christian faith,” he said.
Jaden Legaspi from Mt Carmel Catholic College, Varroville, finished his last HSC exam a few hours before the awards ceremony and had mixed feelings about his school year coming to an end.
“I’m incredibly relieved the exam period is over, and I feel really grateful for the year that I’ve had and how much has been done for us,” he said. “I know it’s been a difficult and unprecedented year, but I think that the way the Catholic Education Office has still provided an opportunity for us to recognise our culture, our spirituality, and academics is incredible.”
Jaden also acknowledged the ongoing support from Bishop Brian throughout the year. “With Bishop Brian going out to each secondary school and having conversations with the student leadership team to get insights into how each school communities was going, and then to be able to come back together for such an event like this, I just feel so blessed and grateful,” he said.
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE YEAR 12 RECIPIENTS OF THE BISHOP'S STUDENT EXCELLENCE AWARDS 2020:
BIANCA CACCIOLA - ST JOSEPH’S CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL, ALBION PARK
Please view below Bianca's citation being read aloud at the ceremony by St Joseph's Principal, Amanda Wilson.
SAMUEL FRANKLIN - HOLY SPIRIT COLLEGE, BELLAMBI
Please view below Samuel's citation being read aloud at the ceremony by Holy Spirit Principal, Christopher Agnew.
JEMMA ABERNETHY - MAGDALENE CATHOLIC COLLEGE, NARELLAN
Please view below Jemma's citation being read aloud at the ceremony by Magdalene's Principal, Matthew McMahon.
JONATHON STAUNTON - ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL, NOWRA
Please view below Jonathon's citation being read aloud by St John's Principal, Sandra Hogan.
NOAH NIEBORAK - CORPUS CHRISTI CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL, OAK FLATS
Please view below Noah's citation being read aloud at the ceremony by Corpus Christi Principal, Robert Muscat.
ASHLEE STEVENS - ST BENEDICT’S CATHOLIC COLLEGE, ORAN PARK
Please view below Ashlee's citation being read aloud at the ceremony by St Benedict's Principal, Kerry Piatek.
AMITH JACOB-KOVOOR - JOHN THERRY CATHOLIC COLLEGE, ROSEMEADOW
Please view below Amith's citation being read aloud at the ceremony by John Therry Principal, Wayne Marshall.
JADEN LEGASPI - MOUNT CARMEL CATHOLIC COLLEGE, VARROVILLE
Please view below Jaden's citation being read aloud at the ceremony by Mt Carmel's Principal, Stephen Lo Cascio.
Each awardee received a framed certificate, two books selected by the Bishop, and a small gift. CEDoW would like to congratulate all students for their recognition of this prestigious award and wish them the very best for the future.
The Bishop's Student Excellence Awards is a Diocesan-wide celebration of the personal and community achievements of young people graduating from our Catholic schools. For more information about the awards and our CEDoW Awards and Recognition Program, visit our Lighting the Way Faith & Learning Awards and Recognition page.