Graduating from high school usually means the end of childhood and the beginning of an often painful and challenging transition to become responsible adults. In the JEZSU (Fényi Gyula Jesuit High School, Miskolc, Hungary) 12th graders spend their last year not just crazily studying for their final exams, but also completing the 8-year long journey that has endowed them with values, dreams, principles, skills and strengths for the Future with a capital F.
The program of the final year consists of a carefully planned and timed series of events celebrating the graduating classes including, among others, several unique ceremonies, prayers, guided reflection sessions, a ball and an elegant party.
Each graduating class creates their own symbols and motto, make and publish a movie, perform special dances, songs, share their messages upon graduation with the whole JEZSU community in a performance. A Hungarian tradition is the night serenade, when the classes travel all night throughout the city and the surrounding villages visiting the homes of their teachers to thank them for their work with singing and music. (The neighbours are used to it and usually enjoy the joyful event.) JEZSU students start the night singing for the Jesuit fathers at the church. The crowning event of the year just before their final exams start is a retreat ending with a night vigil.
“The vigil has become a tradition, where the graduating classes share a spiritual experience for the last time. They go to the retreat house in the mountains, and have an extraordinary, unforgettable night. This year, because of the virus situation most programs had to be adjusted to the safety requirements. We could not go to the wilderness, met in the church at the altar, but the content remained. The event gave them an opportunity to stop, look back on the 4-8 years they have spent here, and express their gratitude for one another and everything they have received here. The vigil is also a time to look ahead to the future, intercede for and bless one another. So it is the end of one road and the beginning of a new one, leading to a more secular world where we want them to be able to exercise the freedom only found through God.”
“One may ask why all these extra programs instead of studying even more, if we want our students to be admitted to university. The challenge and mission of all educators is to prepare the youth for a future while we often find it hard to make sense of even the present. What are we to teach them, while most intellectual content is freely available online? Knowledge accumulated today may be outdated tomorrow, so instead of sharing mere information, we choose to walk along with the youth and be their companions in learning, finding God in everything, and creating new knowledge. Ignatian pedagogy and spirituality are excellent tools for teachers and educators to accompany the children on this journey. We consciously devise our program and curriculum with the aim of community building, spiritual growth and teaching our students the skill of discernment and reflection. The actual subjects provide excellent platforms to develop their desire to find God in everything, develop their creativity, build strong, lasting relationships, become parts of an organic, nourishing community and live constructive, happy lives.”
“I am not really religious, but I have always enjoyed the daily Examen, morning prayers, weekly assemblies, Sunday Mass, pilgrimages, retreats and all the spiritual programs. It has been good to be together with my classmates, get feedback from my teachers and other students. In the JEZSU my needs for religion and spirituality have been well catered for.”
“Every year the retreat has been a great experience, but the vigil was something else. We had no idea what it would be like, because ever since this tradition started, probably 20 years ago, the12th grade faithfully keeps the program a complete secret, so as not to spoil the surprise and wonder for the next graduating class.”
“We sometimes are not fully aware of what a strong community we have become during our 4 or 8 years in the JEZSU. My sister, a JEZSU alumnus, told me that when she entered university, she was quite shocked to see how lonely many students would get, while people from the JEZSU often meet up, share accommodation, go to Sunday Mass together, and support one another.”
“I am aware that in the JEZSU community we have grown up protected and sheltered from many realities that will hit us in the face as we leave. But as for me, I believe that I have learnt and practised the skills of reflection and discernment, so I will be able to tell right from wrong and not get lost when I enter the outside world. Ignatian spirituality, our values, skills and the supporting JEZSU community will stay with me and will always help me face whatever may come, as long as I live.”