The commencement at St. Vincent Pallotti High School on May 26 not only celebrated graduating seniors, but it also marked the school’s 100th commencement and the retirement of a beloved teacher after nearly half of a century.
The 105 members of the Class of 2021 deserve kudos for persevering through a pandemic year to earn their high school diplomas. Palloti operated on a hybrid schedule, combining in-person and virtual learning, during the past school year. Thanks to improving COVID-19 metrics and loosening restrictions, the class was feted at an in-person, outdoor, masked ceremony on school grounds along St. Mary’s Place. Graduates were allowed a small number of in-person guests at the graduation, but hundreds joined in to watch the celebration on video stream.
The celebration began with Mass celebrated by the Rev. Larry Young, the pastor of St. Mary of the Mills Church. The event then transitioned to the commencement, the 100th such event the school has held since being founded in 1921. Anna Pham was honored as valedictorian of the class, while Max Bagileo was honored as salutatorian.
Graduates and guests heard a commencement address delivered by Emilie Hunt-Shipman, a Pallotti alumna from 1968, who retired this month after 49 years of teaching French at her alma mater.
“I’ve always liked the teaching profession ever since I was a little girl,” Shipman said in an interview. She studied languages while an undergraduate at the now-closed Dunbarton College of the Holy Cross in Washington, D.C., and was tasked with substitute teaching while a college senior for a Pallotti French teacher on maternity leave. When a full-time position became open at Pallotti after her college graduation, she was offered it.
“I like working one-on-one, in person with students, sharing the information, teaching them ... about different cultures, their style of life, their language, their music, their history, their food,” Shipman said.
Shipman took students on spring break trips to France 23 times in her 49-year tenure. She laughed when asked how many students she had taught in her nearly five decades as a classroom teacher, the number much too high to count.
A defining moment of Shipman’s tenure at Pallotti was the 1990 prom. It was there that she met another chaperone, Jerry Shipman, who had been volunteering with the school’s computer program. The two married in 1992, and Jerry Shipman is now Pallotti’s director of technology.
For a woman who has been an eyewitness to half of the school’s history, Shipman said she has seen many changes. Among them are the emergence of a robust technology program, the development and expansion of Advanced Placement courses, the growth of the sports program, and the founding of the well-regarded arts academy.
The challenge of virtual and hybrid learning was difficult, requiring adjustments to curriculum and new ways of presenting information to students, but Shipman said Pallotti faculty rose to the occasion.
The time was right for retirement, Shipman said. She’s not exactly sure what it will look like, but there are a few volunteer opportunities in which she is interested, and she may tutor or assist students for whom English is a second language.
“I have been very blessed and very happy at Pallotti,” she said. “I just feel very fortunate to have had the time that I’ve had to do what I enjoy doing ... It’s a very family- oriented community.”
Originally named St. Mildred’s Academy when it was founded in 1921, the high school was first operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph. The Pallottine Sisters arrived in 1934 to take over operation of the school and in 1957 the name was changed to St. Vincent Pallotti High School in honor of the order’s founder. As it looks to the future, the school is planning to construct a new multiuse athletic building and turf field.
Jeff Palumbo, Pallotti’s president and principal, said during the commencement ceremony that records indicate that there were one or perhaps two seniors when St. Mildred’s Academy opened, making this year’s event the 100th commencement. The school had planned a number of celebrations that could not be held this year because of the coronavirus.
“We are going to have one heck of a 101st anniversary and parties very soon,” he said.
Contact Old Town columnist Mary Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.