Saint James grads told to try to do great things


Saint James School

Graduates: 38

Speaker: Retired Col. Thomas H. Kirk Jr.

ST. JAMES -- Mike Russ has spent the past five years in the small community of Saint James School, and said he is ready to move on to college next year in New York.

Russ, 18, was one of 38 to graduate Sunday from Saint James School, outside Hagerstown.

"I've been ready for this for a while," said Russ, of Frederick, Md. "It will be sad, though. You live with these people. You see them every day."

Saint James School is an Episcopal, college preparatory boarding and day school for grades seven through 12. The school enrolls about 235 students.


The school's commencement speaker Sunday was retired Col. Thomas H. Kirk Jr., who was captured while serving in the Vietnam War and spent more than five years in the prison camp known as the "Hanoi Hilton" -- where John McCain famously was held prisoner. Kirk told graduates and their families Sunday about his time in the prison camp, and also about the two years he spent in solitary confinement.

He said his time as a prisoner of war taught him about faith, integrity and performance.

"We are not all going to do great things, but we should all try," Kirk said Sunday.

He challenged graduates to periodically look at themselves in the mirror and ask, "How am I doing?" in regard to their faith, family, honor and integrity.

"Every day of your life, try to be just a little bit better," Kirk said.

Danielle Ford of Charles Town, W.Va., said the last week has been "so much fun that it makes you forget about all the hard work."

On Saturday night -- the night before graduation -- seniors spent time at a teacher's house and then went to a Waffle House at midnight.

There also was a plan that never materialized to jump in a river that runs behind the school, Ford said.

"It's a tradition," she said. "I think everyone always says they're going to jump in, but they never do."

Russ said he attended public school before going to Saint James School in eighth grade, and said his experience as a boarding student will prepare him for dorm life in college.

"This has prepared me academically, ethically and socially," he said.

Russ won an award during Sunday's commencement for all-around athletic ability. He played football, basketball and baseball at Saint James, and will play basketball in college on a partial scholarship.

Caroline Salisbury of Middletown, Md., is one of three Saint James graduates heading to an Ivy League university. She will enroll at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., to study agriculture. Salisbury, whose four older brothers all graduated from Saint James, said she grew up on a farm and wants to pursue a career in farming.

James Itell of Williamsport said he will enroll at Elon University in North Carolina and hopes to major in business or communications.

"I'm excited to move on," he said. "I know I feel like it's my time to leave ... time to move on to something new."

Itell said he also is sad to leave the school in which he has been enrolled since eighth grade.

"I'll miss my friends. I'll miss this place. I'll miss the teachers," Itell said. "Definitely I'm going to miss my friends the most."

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