The Class of 2019 gathers in front of the church before the ceremony begins.
Songs, Speeches and Special Moments Make Graduation Memorable for the Class of 2019
Family members, friends and well-wishers packed St. David’s Field at St. James School on June 15th for a joyous occasion — the graduation of our fifth class, the Class of 2019.

The 17 graduates arrived for the ceremony full of excitement and showing off their unique personal styles, from pink tutus to gold bow ties. The previous evening, during a moving Baccalaureate Mass at the Church of St. James the Less, graduates shared reflections on their time at St. James School. Tyjiere Jackson, later announced as a Founders Cup Award recipient, said, “This place taught me how to really love others.”

After processing onto the field to “Pomp & Circumstance,” graduates joined in a rousing rendition of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” commonly referred to as the “Black National Anthem.” The song was led by opera singer Frank Mitchell, who has become St. James School’s unofficial singer for all special occasions. Later, Frank closed the ceremony with the beautiful spiritual, “Ride on King Jesus.” The Rt. Rev. Daniel G. P. Gutiérrez, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, also took part in the celebration, giving the closing benediction.

This year’s keynote speaker was alumna Lashay Smith, Class of 2015 and newly graduated from Little Flower Catholic School for Girls. Lashay, who will attend Cabrini University in the fall, is highly regarded by her younger peers as a role model for success. “Getting older and moving forward is all about adjusting to change. It might be a little more difficult than you expect, but it will get easier,” Lashay promised the graduates. She shared a number of “freshman survival tips,” including get to know your principal, chat with people you don’t know at lunch, and come back to St. James School often for support.

When it was time to receive their middle school certificates, each graduate was personally introduced by a teacher or staff member important to him or her. In his introduction of Elijah, a member of House Patientia, Principal Dave McDonough shared, “Elijah has shown that, over four years, young teens can make tremendous growth in the way they demonstrate patience. Elijah has patience with the amount of work needed to be successful, and patience and love for his younger sister Nevaeh. Elijah, my hope is you are patient with others and impatient with yourself, because you should push yourself every day to go higher and higher.”

Several students were recognized for extraordinary achievement, including Geonna Peterson, valedictorian, and Endiah Woods-Gates, salutatorian. Both gave impressive speeches. School Co-Founders The Rev. Sean Mullen and Dr. Audrey Evans proudly presented the Founders’ Cup Award to two students who live out the concept of AGAPE, which at St. James School stands for adaptability, gratitude, awareness, patience and excellence. This year’s recipients were Tyjiere Jackson and Ny’Yira Reese.

Our newest graduates are now part of an active group of 69 alumni, who attend high schools and colleges across the region. Part of the St. James difference is to continue fostering strong relationships with students long after they graduate. St. James alums are back on campus often for help with homework, to research college and jobs, to connect with the Graduate Support Team or just to catch up with one another.

Congratulations to the Class of 2019,
and good luck in 9th grade at your high schools!

Class of 2019 High Schools
  • Boys Latin Charter School
  • Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School
  • Mercy Career and Technical High School
  • Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts
  • Roman Catholic High School
  • TECH Freire Charter School
  • West Catholic Preparatory School
Tyjiere receives his certificate.
Hannah proudly processes to the stage.
Samir is all smiles on graduation day.
Eyoni expresses her excitement.
Full STEAM Ahead During Summer Camp in July
Summer has a different meaning for St. James School students than it does for students attending other schools. After a two-week break, all rising 4th-8th graders arrive at school each morning for a unique program that mixes education with recreation. STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) Camp is a time to continue learning and growing their minds throughout the month of July.

Here are some of the class projects:

  • 4th graders are getting accustomed to group work while striving to build the tallest and strongest spaghetti and marshmallow towers.
  • 5th graders are building catapults, paper airplanes, balloon cars and hovercrafts, then testing them and measuring results.
  • 6th graders are challenging their analytical minds by solving problems and testing items in a lab. 
  • 7th graders are walking on eggshells — literally! They have designed and produced shoes that enable them to walk on a row of eggs. 
  • 8th graders are building websites! They are learning coding programs and deciding what their websites will say about themselves.

The last week of July, our students will head to NorthBay Adventure Camp in Maryland. This week-long overnight camp is a chance to have fun, but also get out of their comfort zones and into a new environment.

The extended year at St. James School helps students retain what they have learned, extend their learning and become more high school ready.
A Word With Makai (Class of 2019)
Interviewed by Father Kellner

You traveled recently. Where did you go and how did it contrast with where you live? North Philadelphia is a whole lot different from Beaver Island, Michigan, where I just went on a graduate service trip. My block has more trees on it than most in my neighborhood, but it is messy, with trash always seeming to collect. There isn’t a lot of space, even though we do have a few vacant lots. On Beaver Island there was just so much space and wilderness.

My trip to the island started on a boat. I had never been on a boat of that size. Leaving the harbor, we had great views of the surrounding beaches, dunes, lighthouse, and the open lake ahead of us. The two-hour ride was really soothing. I spent it talking with my friends, taking a nap and just relaxing. This all prepared me for the laid back atmosphere of the island.

What was special about that experience? What did you learn?
Our service project on the island was to survey three nature preserves, run by the Little Traverse Conservancy. For three days we would walk through the woods, dunes and shorelines taking pictures of plants and animals that we saw and posting them online using the iNaturalist app. This activity was, truth be told, a bit boring for me. I don’t really ever walk around my neighborhood looking for what is growing or living. Father Kellner, Ms. Brake and Ms. Hopkins pushed me to be more observant and to look when I would normally walk right past something.

I got to see some things that I’ve never seen before, like little common butterworts, which I was interested in because they are plants that eat bugs. Since my number one complaint about the trip was the bugs, I was happy to meet a plant that eats them.

We also saw Northern Water Snakes and Garter Snakes. Ms. Brake would pick them up, but that was not for me! I looked at them from a distance. I also got to see hundreds of tadpoles swimming in pools of water along the shoreline, and then adult frogs and toads jumping and hopping along. The small fish, whose shadows you noticed before you saw them, were cool to observe as well.

Why is giving back and service important to you?
I got to go biking, climb sand dunes, watch sunsets, kayak, swim and have a lot of fun with the other graduates and adults on the trip. But in addition, I got to do something that helps support the work of Little Traverse Conservancy. It made the trip more meaningful that it was not all about me.

We also would spend a part of each day at St. James Mission, the church on Beaver Island, praying for the island community and for our families and neighborhoods back home. I had never thought about my prayer being an act of service, but Father Kellner invited us to think about it that way. I believe that God can really help us through our prayers, but I also think that just the act of thinking about others helps to change me as well. It is a way to be observant of the people in my life, as well as to wonder what they might be thinking or feeling.

Do you have any reflections now that you've graduated St. James and will be starting high school at TECH Freire?
I have already shared my experiences with my grandparents and began telling my little brother all about it as well. Sharing our experiences with others is an important part of making things not just about yourself. As I get ready to start high school, it is important to remember that I have a lot to offer my new school community: that my stories, skills and abilities are things I can use to help others.

I also think sometimes I need to take a second or third look at someone, or something, like I had to on the island. I need to ask questions about them and be open to learning from them. I didn’t know what any of the plants or animals were when I first saw them, but a little investigation and help from my peers and teachers helped me to understand them better. I think that being open to seeing things and people differently than we might at first is the most important thing that I will take from this experience.
In Their Own Words: House Humilitas
House Humilitas 8th graders with 4th graders and newest inductees during House Draft.
One fun way St. James School students and staff show school spirit is through House pride. Houses participate in service activities together and compete in friendly competitions throughout the year, leading up to the House Cup Tournament, which was held in June. Our four Houses are Patientia (patience), Industria (diligence), Benevolentia (kindness) and Humilitas (humility).

We asked adult members of Humilitas what it’s like to be a part of their House.

“My highlight from this year was House Cup day. Humilitas has not yet won a House Cup, and every other house has. But this year during our House Cup competition we showed up and gave every activity our all. After our loss, we dusted ourselves off and resolved to keep trying. That was an extremely proud moment for me to witness.” — Greg Louis, Teacher

“Our House is unique in the number of legacy students we have. Three of our four newest dragons had an older sibling in House Humilitas. During this year's House Cup, graduating 8th graders Hafeez and Shanjae had their younger siblings and newest inductees, Yaasir and Syniah, by their side for a thrilling day of competition.” — Anastasia Carroll, Teacher

“We truly are a humble bunch of individuals that make up this close knit group. Humilitas members really enjoy being behind the scenes and supporting all students in their achievements.” — Fabian Austin, Graduate Support

“Some of my favorite memories of the past year come from when we are having fun: kids taking 45 minutes out of their day to be kids. The "Song Along" game was a huge hit this year. The group broke into two teams and the moderator presented a word, such as happy. Each team had 2 minutes to list as many songs as possible that contain the word in their lyrics. Then the teams go head to head singing one song at a time until one team runs out of songs on their list. I loved watching the kids' personalities shine through as they played along together.” — Anastasia Carroll, Teacher
One Way You Can Help This Week!
Transform Your PA Taxes into a St. James Scholarship!
By redirecting your state tax dollars to St. James School, you can reduce your taxes by 90%.
Check your eligibility!

  • Yes! I am an employee, owner or shareholder of a business authorized to do business in PA
  • Yes! I am retired, or an employee of a nonprofit and I own stock in a business that operates in PA
  • Yes! My tax liability is $3,500 or more
  • Yes! I want to direct my PA state tax liability to St. James School
  • Yes! I believe all children deserve the same quality of education in Philadelphia
If you said Yes!, take advantage of this opportunity to help our students get a great education. Contact Martha Heuser or visit for more information.

Why wait until the fall? Sign up now for a guaranteed spot in the program!
St. James School is a faith-based Philadelphia middle school in the Episcopal tradition, committed to educating traditionally underresourced students in a nurturing environment. The school is a community that provides a challenging academic program and encourages the development of the moral, spiritual, intellectual, physical and creative gifts in its students.
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