Before James McKane transferred to Saint John’s Catholic Prep High School in Buckeystown his sophomore year, he was often the target of bullying.
At one point, the bullying got so bad at St. Maria Goretti Catholic High School in Hagerstown that McKane considered taking his own life.
But that didn’t happen — instead, McKane, 18, was one of 66 graduates of Saint John’s on Thursday afternoon, a group that received their diplomas in front of hundreds of parents, siblings, other relatives and friends in the gymnasium of that school.
McKane was awarded the Peace Award of Frederick County for his anti-bullying work in 2017. He said he was inspired by Kirk Smalley, president of Stand for the Silent, an anti-bullying nonprofit. Smalley gave a speech at the school in October 2016, right after McKane arrived.
“That kind of motivated me to start my own anti-bullying stuff and I did two years of tennis rallies for Stand for the Silent,” McKane said. “I just decided to basically take my love for tennis and my thing I hated most, bullying, and I just put two and two together.”
Thursday’s ceremonies marked the 186th year of commencement exercises at Saint John’s. Principal Will Knotek, in his first year at the school, lauded the student body’s commitment to service: In total, they’ve tallied more than 12,800 hours of community service.
“It’s their cohesiveness as a group, and they have great spirit for the school,” Knotek said.
During the exercises, co-valedictorians Emily German and Julie Brisbane addressed the class, urging them to take their experiences at Saint John’s and be successful after high school.
German thanked the Class of 2019 for being supportive in her four years there.
“No matter the situation, you can count on these people to help,” German said. “You can count on these people to have your back on whatever you want to pursue.”
The 66 graduates will attend 44 colleges or universities in 17 states.
School President Thomas Powell also thanked the school’s faculty for mentoring the senior class. The students voted for the most inspirational faculty member of 2019, which was awarded to Robert Krajewski, the chair of the Department of Theology.
But every faculty member got a vote, Powell said.
“This faculty gets it,” he said. “They know their job is to not only pass on that knowledge that they have, but really be a mentor to our students.”
Both German and Brisbane said in their speeches the small class of graduates created a tight-knit community and memories they will remember for the rest of their lives.
McKane agreed with that — and said it helped him pursue his anti-bullying efforts.
“I was kind of shy at the time [I transferred], but over time I started to open up to the kids more, and they started to treat me more like family,” McKane said. “And that’s the best part about Saint John’s. You actually feel like a family, and there’s never a moment where you feel isolated and alone.”