Catholic Herald reporter Jenny Snarski, top left, stands by son Alex after a baccalaureate Mass at St. Francis de Sales Parish in Spooner honoring parish members who are 2022 graduates of Spooner High School. Loree Nauertz, associate director of the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship, is standing near the Snarskis. Six of the seven young men also attended St. Francis de Sales Elementary School. (Submitted photo)

When I recall how it felt to put my first-grade son on the bus for the first time, I can still sense the lump rising in my throat. It was one of the first concrete acts of letting go for me as a mom.

Of course there have been many similar moments since that fall morning 10 years ago, but I can say that watching him walk across the stage for his high school graduation was not one of them.

During the past month’s graduation-related celebrations, emotions and reflections, the welling sense of tightness in my chest is solidly grounded in gratitude and grace, in large founded on the Catholic education we were able to provide him through the eighth grade.

Of course, there were ups and downs during those first years – unsettling circumstances related to squabbles and misunderstandings with classmates, discipline habits and organizational skills that needed improvement – but those are the stuff of life, the stuff that no parent can, or should, try to help their children avoid.

I also remember the nervousness – mine and his – during middle school about how to move into the public school for ninth grade. My siblings and I had never been in any environment other than a parochial or private Catholic school throughout all 13 years of primary and secondary education.

Even though his St. Francis classmates transitioned together, and Alex had been involved in some Spooner sports teams and clubs with public school kids, I remember multiple conversations during those years and since.

I had always heard the Catholic school kids stood out at the high school, and I have heard similar comments related to stories I have covered for this paper.

This year the Spooner class followed suit, with both salutatorian and valedictorian coming from Catholic families. They are young men who have excelled in sports and academics, performing arts, service and leadership among their peers.

The common denominators of all of those conversations and reflections over all those years have remained pretty consistent – the values and virtues learned at Catholic school have been a rich and plentiful complement to how my husband and I have tried to raise our children.

The first value I have appreciated is the opportunity to raise my children alongside other parents and families who are committed to their role as parents and formators of their children. My children’s friends are from families I have become close friends with, often because we share the same values and outlook on life, similar mindsets with boundaries and general behavior expectations.

Secondly, the relationship skills and resilience these students have displayed can be directly connected to their small class environment and the virtues they learned and saw exhibited at the Catholic school. Respect, understanding and forgiveness aren’t merely topics of anti-bullying campaigns. These are subject matter of everyday life and faith – in religion class, in the practice of the sacraments and in an environment where God is acknowledged and a sense of brotherhood in Christ a reality.

I remember a few fellow students in particular that my son struggled with over the years. I have told these stories over and over again – how the teachers and parents worked together to encourage the students to work through things together, to appreciate each other’s individuality, to respect and learn solid relationship skills of communication and patience while at the same time respecting themselves.

Thirdly, I have valued the environment of virtue and balancing faith with everyday life. Honesty, responsibility, perseverance, kindness – gifts and fruits of the Spirit – have been more than motivational phrases or poster-worthy quotes.

Critical thinking, study habits and the art of healthy discussion and making an argument for a position: These aspects of a classically Catholic education carried through to high school excellence along with a strong sense of knowing oneself, strengths and weaknesses.

None of this is to say that children can thrive only in a Catholic school setting – of course, so much of it does relate back to home life and parenting. But I do want to affirm the value of allowing those values and virtues to be taught in a setting more than just home in their foundational context of faith and religion – a belief system and way of life that doesn’t have to apologize for a Christian worldview or equate it as merely one of a number of acceptable frameworks to live by.

A few months back, my Dad asked me what I thought about the public high school experience. I couldn’t respond anything other than being grateful for the foundation Alex has had, and that his exposure to a world outside the “Catholic bubble” had helped me feel confident in sending him into the college world.

High school has plenty of challenges. In all honesty, middle school felt more challenging – those years are filled with so many changes. I would not trade for anything the chance that my son and his Catholic school classmates had to grow and develop themselves in a setting that was a little more protected during a time that proved to be essential for their strong sense of self moving into young adulthood.

Rounding the corner to this next stage of parenting, I admit some lumps in the throat again. He won’t be under the same roof, but I know that he will be under the protection of the same Father he was introduced to at home and in Catholic school.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be bumps in the road, mistakes made and lessons to learn academically and personally. My confidence that my son will become the man God has created him to be is solidly secure on the foundation that we’ve tried to give at home, and bolstered by many years of Catholic education.

Good luck and Godspeed to the Class of 2022!