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June 04, 2024

Cap Toss at the Cathedral

The class that entered Holy Angels at the height of the pandemic graduated on May 31 with pomp, circumstance, and a cathartic cap toss. The Academy recognized the Class of 2024 at a jubilant commencement ceremony and Baccalaureate Mass celebrated by The Most Reverend Michael A. Saporito. Festivities were held at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark.


AHA President Melinda Hanlon noted the collective accomplishments of the 144th graduating class. Together, they logged 23,607 service hours and received $11 million in scholarships to pursue their undergraduate studies at top-rated colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, and Ireland, including the following Ivy League schools: Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, and University of Pennsylvania.


“They have triumphed,” President Hanlon declared.

AHA’s Class of 2024 celebrates on the steps of the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.


Olivia Papp of Hawthorne, who earned the highest cumulative average, was named commencement speaker, the highest honor AHA may confer upon a graduate. Elise Tao of Upper Saddle River graduated Second in Merit, and Sarah David of Cresskill delivered the senior response at her peers’ request.

Sarah David and Olivia Papp on Graduation Day.


Principal Jean Miller introduced Papp as “a natural born leader.” Papp earned AHA’s Mother Caroline and Nonna Dunphy scholarships. She is a National Merit® Commended Student and recipient of the NJSIAA Scholar Athlete Award. In addition to playing varsity volleyball, she is a national team libero with the Sideout Sports Volleyball Club. Papp served as president of the National Honor Society and the Tri-M (music) Honor Society. She is also a member of the math, French, art, and science honor societies. Her activities included representing AHA as an Angel Ambassador, and singing for the chorus and Seraphima (the a cappella ensemble). She volunteers for the NJ Special Olympics and the La Vida II childcare center, and is a retreat team leader and a Eucharistic Minister. She will attend McGill University.


Papp reflected on the kindness she has experienced from the AHA community, and pondered what people would see if mirrors reflected people’s internal features.


“Much of life itself is a reflection of what we’re willing to put into it,” she observed. “We’re not defined by the things we can’t control.” Life, she noted, is more about what one does for others.

Elise Tao and her class moments before commencement.


Elise Tao earned AHA’s Mother Caroline and S. Nonna Dunphy scholarships and was a Coca Cola Scholarship semifinalist. She explored her interests in business, politics, and international relations as an award-winning member of DECA and Model UN. She is the founder of Student Mathletes, and was active with Student Council. In 2022, she represented AHA at the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Conference, where she became an advocate for Everytown Students Demand Action, an anti-gun violence organization. Tao is a Commended Student and a member of the National Honor Society, the Mu Alpha Theta (math) honor society, the Science National Honor Society, the Business NHS, and Rho Kappa (social studies honor society). She is founder of “Synthesis Publications,” an online literary magazine. Her written submissions have garnered multiple Gold Keys in the regional Scholastic Art & Writing Competition. In 2023, Tao participated in the 16th Annual Disney Dreamers Academy as one of 100 teens chosen from 25,000 applicants. She also attended JCamp, the Asian American Journalism Association’s national multicultural program. Tao, who is the 2024 Distinguished Young Woman of New Jersey, will soon compete for the national title. This fall, she will enter Harvard.


Dean of Academics Carmen Quiňones introduced Sarah David, an Advanced Placement Scholar with Distinction and a member of the National Honor Society and the French, science, and social studies honor societies. David was Senior Class President and VP of Project Period, which advocates for women’s health. She developed and taught online cooking classes for children and online English lessons for Ukrainian students. She represented AHA at HOBY, and served as president of Angels in Anatomy. This year, David was one of four Angels selected for the Englewood Hospital Surgical Research Program. She also enriched her education at the Perry Initiative Outreach Program, Columbia’s SHAPE Biomedical Engineering program, the Duke Pre-College Chemical Toxicology program, and the NYLF: Medicine and Leadership Forum. An avid soccer player, David was captain of AHA’s varsity squad and a member of two club teams. She will continue her education at Vanderbilt.


“I stand up here in front of all of you today filled with so much hope and happiness, knowing that such great things will come everyone’s way, because, if our freshman selves could see us here right now, they would all say that the good things have already started to come: college acceptances, scholarships, relationships with teachers, good grades…and, most importantly, friendships,” David observed, adding, “AHA was not about finding what you love, but about who you love.”

AHA President Melinda Hanlon, Principal Jean Miller, Dean of Academics Carmen Quiňones, and Dean of Students Andréa Beyer. The banners represent Blessed Mother Theresa Gerhardinger, who established the School Sisters of Notre Dame (AHA’s foundresses and sponsors), and Mother Caroline, leader of the SSNDs in America.


President Hanlon provided an introduction for alumna speaker Janice Savage, who is assistant dean of research at Columbia Climate School. After her 1994 graduation from AHA, Savage received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Boston College and a master’s in health policy and management from The New School. Savage’s address highlighted the value of living with bravery, friendship, and empathy.

Janice Savage (AHA ’94 — center) and her family.


“You will find yourselves in moments when you may not be able to control everything around you, but you can control how you react to these challenges,” Savage said. “I hope that you will listen to that voice in your heart that helps you to lead with kindness and empathy. Use that voice to take care of this planet, and to take care of each other.”


Dean of Students Andréa Beyer, Dean Quiňones, Principal Miller, and President Hanlon congratulated each graduate as she received her diploma. Afterward, AHA’s newest alumnae processed out of the cathedral for the traditional cap toss on the cathedral steps and began their next chapters.