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124th graduation held at St. Bernard

St. Bernard Preparatory School in Cullman celebrated its 124th commencement on Sunday, May 21, in an impressive ceremony conducted in the Abbey Church under the direction of Father Joel Martin, O.S.B., headmaster of the school.

After the opening prayer led by the school chaplain, Father Linus Klucsarits, O.S.B., the program began with an introduction of the Board of Directors and the school faculty and staff.  

As part of the commencement exercises, the St. Bernard Prep Board of Directors recognized two alumni who received the “Distinguished Alumnus Award” whose lives of service and accomplishment reflected well on the aims the school has for her students. The recipients of this year’s award were Mike K. Natter and Robert M. Lee.

The commencement address was delivered by Robert M. Lee (’06). A graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, it was there when he began his pioneering work in cybersecurity as a Cyber Warfare Operations Officer tasked to the National Security Agency, where he constructed a first-of-its-kind mission, identifying and analyzing national threats to industrial infrastructure. Lee is a recognized authority in the industrial cybersecurity community. He is CEO and co-founder of Dragos, a global technology leader in cybersecurity for industrial controls systems (ICS)/operational technology (OT) environments. Lee kept his message to the students very short and to the point. Recalling his time at St. Bernard, he stated that he was never the top student or athlete, simply because it wasn’t important to him at the time. He reminded graduates that life was often about second chances. “Take those opportunities and grow with them.” 

After the commencement address, Father Joel  announced the 2023 graduation awards. Elizabeth Hazard received the valedictorian award while Xavier Pautler earned the title “Salutatorian.” In giving the General Excellence Medal, the highest award given to a graduating senior, Father Joel stated that “the criteria for this award requires that a student must be enrolled at St. Bernard Prep for the last two full years, be dedicated to academic excellence, exercise leadership, and represent the values of the school.” The 2023 General Excellence Medal was presented to Cole Bissot.

The graduating seniors were called forward by Father Joel and diplomas were presented by Abbot Marcus Voss with St. Bernard President Jim Miller assisting him. After the awarding of the diplomas, Elizabeth Hazard gave her valedictory address.  

Hazard said, “We are faced with many emotions as graduating seniors; we should treat this change like any other, and move forward, confident that the abilities and lessons we have learned at St. Bernard will continue to serve us in our future endeavors and lead us down the path that God has planned for us. Just as we moved on through the past four years of high school, as C.S. Lewis says, ‘There are far far better things ahead than any we leave behind.’ With this, fellow graduates, I ask you to embrace the changes we are bound to encounter and always remember the roots that we have planted and the home that we call St. Bernard Preparatory School.”

This year’s graduating senior class of 20 students had the distinction of earning $2,161,999 in scholarships and were accepted into colleges and universities across the United States.

School President Jim Miller spoke briefly to the students, giving them several quotes to keep in mind as they go through life, the last being the words of Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never, never, never give up.”

Father Joel Martin concluded the ceremony calling attention to the important role that challenges have in life. “We need challenges because we come alive in struggles,” he said. “We have high expectations for your future. Go and take St. Bernard with you.”

Afterward, all sang the school’s Alma Mater accompanied by organist Jannie Ratliff, a prayer was offered by Abbot Marcus, then the graduates exited the Abbey Church in a grand recessional accompanied by the Alabama Pipes and Drums. A reception was held in the St. Bernard Dining Hall.

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