The boys wandered in with their families, wearing nervous smiles upon their faces, as sun filtered in through the ceiling windows of the Sullivan Atrium. They arrived from all corners of the Cleveland area, each with his own interests, history, culture, personality, talents and beliefs.
It was history-making at Saint Ignatius, this, the first-ever assembly of a class of students for The Welsh Academy.
But beyond the significance of the welcome night for these 6th-grade boys and their families, it was a celebration, complete with smiles, warm handshakes, t-shirts, music, cheers, conversations, plenty of food, and the Wildcat mascot himself! Had the academy's visionary and namesake, Fr. Robert J. Welsh, S.J. '54, been alive to see it, surely he would not have been able to stop smiling.
After more than two years of intense work, under the leadership of Saint Ignatius President Fr. Ray Guiao, S.J. '82 and Welsh Academy Principal Mary Ann Vogel, Fr. Welsh's dream was now a reality. This evening of welcoming was another special highlight along the journey.
Fr. Guiao led the group in an invocation, filled with gratitude for the students and families who chose to be the first to enroll in this new school, for the many people who had helped along the way, for the Holy Spirit's blessing upon this work.
Vogel shared her great excitement to get to know each student and watch him grow during his three years at the academy and beyond. She also offered some of the comments from students during the application process as to why they chose to attend.
"I believe the Welsh Academy will fulfill or guide me to reach my full potential."
"The Welsh Academy offers endless potential for me to use my talents and other talents not yet unlocked."
"I think Welsh can help me succeed in my academics, and my father told me Ignatius isn't just a great school, it's also a family."
Interim Director of Diversity and Inclusion Christian Sanders '10 emceed the event and Welsh Academy faculty member De'Shaun Adair '14 assisted him in creating meaningful interactions between the new class and members of the Saint Ignatius Multicultural Student Union and the Student Senate.
There was the first-ever class photo, information for the parents and plenty of good conversation all around. Indeed, it was a celebration of welcome, with more certainly yet to come when the school year begins in 60 days.
As the evening unfolded, anyone who happened to have glanced up toward the ceiling would have noticed a friendly face gazing back down from the banners that hang overhead. Smiling down from above, in more ways than one, was the man whose 20-year presidency at Saint Ignatius continues to shape the school community to this day, especially now in the academy: Fr. Welsh.