June 22, 2021
AHA’s 141st Class Will Continue Studies at Bard, Yale, & Beyond
The Class of 2021 gathered on the school field, sitting with their families to observe health and safety protocols.
As a class, the new graduates dedicated 16,646 service hours outside of AHA, and amassed more than $11.5 million in scholarships. In a few months, the new graduates will be studying at top-tier colleges and universities, including Bard, Brown, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Rutgers, Seton Hall, Vanderbilt, and Yale.
AHA President Melinda Hanlon welcomed everyone to the ceremony. She noted the graduates’ extraordinary collective accomplishments, saying this class learned to embrace adversity.
“I hope you’ve learned that you can make a difference, choose a less traditional path, and that change can be a good thing. May these be the lessons you take from the last year,” President Hanlon said. “I hope you know what smart and amazing women you are.”
Madison Oaten delivered the opening prayer. Oaten is a member of multiple honor societies and has been active with the golf, tennis, and debate teams. She worked on the yearbook, served as an Angel Ambassador, led Campus Ministry retreats, and volunteered at her church. Her voice is familiar at AHA, as she has helped lead morning prayers in person and via video.
Principal Jean Miller introduced Brigid Miller of Pearl River, New York. This Angel was named Commencement Speaker, the highest honor AHA can confer upon a graduate, for maintaining the highest average among her peers. She is a National Merit® Scholarship Finalist, an Advanced Placement Scholar of Distinction, and a member of multiple honor societies. In addition to the National Honor Society, she is a member of the national honor societies for top students in art, mathematics, Spanish, and science. She has taken courses at Manhattan College and Notre Dame University. During her years at AHA, she served as an Angel Ambassador, an AHA Diversity Council member, Student Council representative, debate judge, managing editor of the AHA Voice, and contributor to the AHA blog. Last fall, she was commissioned as a Eucharistic Minister. Miller has also participated in the Perry Outreach program, an opportunity for women to gain hands-on experience in engineering and medical careers. In 2020, she organized an outreach to purchase and deliver lunches to staff at assisted living facilities. Miller is a volunteer at Spectrum for Living, Meatloaf Kitchen in New York City, and Englewood Hospital.
During her senior year, she was president of Project Greenhouse, a group that grows produce in the campus greenhouse and delivers it to a local food bank. She earned AHA’s Mother Caroline Scholarship and Sister Nonna Dunphy Scholarship. Miller has received gold medals for her outstanding work on the National Spanish Exam. She was selected for the University of Notre Dame Leadership Seminars, and received the Dartmouth College Book Award for Exceptional Academics.
In her address, Miller reflected on what it means to be an Angel after graduation. She noted that Angels display powerful traits, including resilience, respectfulness, intelligence, and selflessness. Angels value curiosity, adjust to new situations, and develop genuine connections, she added. Miller noted that, even during the atypical circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, she and her class retained their bonds and kept AHA traditions alive. She noted the importance of embracing vulnerability, setting goals, and taking steps to achieve them. In conclusion, Miller noted the importance of using one’s talents and voice to impact society and speak up for others.
She will continue her education at the University of Notre Dame.
Isabelle Egan of Oradell was Second in Merit. Egan’s many achievements include earning the 2021 NJSIAA Scholar Athlete Award. As a bowler, she was named First Team All-League. She finished first in the 2019 BNC Bowling Tournament, and contributed to her team’s county and state sectional championships. This Angel is also a top softball player, and helped her team become State Sectional Finalists. She earned the Sister Catherine Green Kindness Award and the Sister Nonna Dunphy Scholarship. She is a member of the National Honor Society and the art, science, math, and Italian honor societies. She is a National Italian Exam medalist, earned the Coccia Foundation Italian Studies Award, and won the American Mathematics Competition. She participated in the Yale Young Global Scholars program, the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Seminar, the NYU Pre-Medical Exposure Program, and the UN Day of the Girl. She has volunteered in Costa Rica and at Spectrum for Living. She is an Angel Ambassador, a debate judge, a Sign Language Club member, AHA Voice contributor, and literary magazine editor. She has also been a leader of Project Greenhouse. This fall, she will study at Georgetown.
Alexandra Durbak (AHA ’98) was this year’s alumna speaker. After her graduation from Holy Angels, Durbak attended Bryn Mawr College. She spent a semester studying in Argentina, and received a bachelor’s degree in political science. Durbak, who speaks multiple world languages, went on to earn her master’s in business administration from Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires.
Durbak was a member of AHA’s Amnesty International Club and now serves on the Amnesty National USA Board of Directors. Durbak is an executive with Eisai, a company that works to improve the lives of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Durbak remarked that life is a journey, and there is more to it than just one end goal, because there is always another mountain to climb.
“Happiness based on a goal is fleeting,” she told the class, noting that it’s not necessary to limit how we encounter joy. She urged the Angels to find happiness everywhere, including in nature, in service projects, and in the kindness of others.
Academic Dean Francesca Tambone-Puzio introduced Olivia Martinez of Paramus, who delivered the senior response at the request of her classmates. Martinez is a member of AHA’s nationally acclaimed varsity dance team, which has won three national titles in the past four years. Tambone-Puzio described Martinez as a compassionate young woman who has been active with Girl Rising, Student Council, and the Black & Hispanic Cultural Society.
Martinez pointed out that the bonds within her class remain unshaken, despite the fact that the seniors could not all be together in the building until April. She noted the commitment of the faculty as the students moved from in-person classes to online and hybrid courses. Martinez expressed her appreciation for teachers who kept their classes engaged through activities like “Karaoke Fridays,” when she and her Spanish class would sing along to artists like Shakira. Significantly, Martinez noted that she has enjoyed AHA’s all-girl advantage so much, that she decided to continue the experience by enrolling at Barnard College. She commented on her appreciation for AHA’s growth mindset atmosphere, noting that, when failure occurs, “It’s what you do afterward that defines you.”
After singing the “Alma Mater” and tossing their caps, the new graduates lingered on the field, visiting with their cherished sisters well after the ceremony concluded.
Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds.