CAMBRIDGE — Ninety graduating seniors of The Cambridge Matignon School crossed the commencement stage Thursday evening, marking a jubilant but bittersweet farewell to the proud Catholic high school that announced this month that the 2022-23 school year would be its final one.
Seeing the school close its doors after 75 years of academic and athletic achievements stirs up feelings of nostalgia and pride, students and their families said.
“Matignon is far more than just a small Catholic school,” Valedictorian Laura Ann Bett said, addressing her classmates, who sat shoulder to shoulder in their emerald green gowns and mortar boards. “It is truly and always has been a community.”
She paid tribute to a school where students feel recognized, and find their callings through academics, athletics, student government, and other clubs.
“Today is especially bittersweet,” Bett said. “Not only are we concluding a chapter in our lives, but we are saying goodbye to our beloved high school for good.”
Former House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill’s family had a special relationship with the 75-year-old college-prep school. His daughter, Susan O’Neill, a graduate from the class of 1964, delivered the Class of 2023′s commencement speech on Matignon Field.
Amid chirping birds and a brisk evening breeze with the Matignon tower as a backdrop, O’Neill said she looked forward to a future led by such a diverse, educated, socially conscious generation of digital geniuses and risk takers.
”Although this is the end for Matignon, it is the beginning for you,” she said. ”We’re counting on you to use your talents to tackle the challenges, and we’ll follow your lead.”
O’Neill, who began her professional career as a teacher before moving on to union organizing and fundraising for non-profits, urged the young graduates to seek out the “power and impact” and fulfillment that a life of public service offers. ”A life focused on service will help you live a fulfilling life.”
O’Neill, attended Matignon along with her sister, Rosemary, class of ‘61, and her brother, Michael, class of ‘69. Other O’Neill family graduates include cousins from the classes of ‘57, ‘62, and ‘84.
O’Neill, who lives in Washington D.C., owns an event firm, Susan O’Neill and Associates.
The school, founded by the Archdiocese of Boston in 1947 and known simply as Matignon High School before changing its name in 2020, educated generations of working and middle class families in the Cambridge area.
For decades beginning in the 1970s, the school’s storied boys’ hockey program was one of the state’s true powerhouses, winning eight state championships between 1975 and 1993, catapulting the likes of Shawn McEachern, Steve Leach, Tom O’Regan, and Niko Dimitrakos into the NHL.
But financial hardship and enrollment issues forced the closure of the school, Matignon officials said earlier this month.
Enrollment had declined from 400 students in the 2016-2017 school year, to 300 this school year, with a further drop expected next year, according to the Archdiocese of Boston. Tuition this year was $17,250.
The archdiocese owns the building and land on which the school is located. No decision on its future has been made, a spokesman for the archdiocese said.
After its final commencement, the back of Matignon Field buzzed with joy and the release from formality. Families flocked toward their graduates with cellophane-wrapped bouquets, clusters of balloons, and cellphone cameras ready to shoot.
Encircled by fellow graduates and caught up in the spirit of the moment, Theano Joseph, 18, in a pair of dark shades, mugged for snap after snap.
“It feels good to be part of the last class with all my friends,” said Joseph, who lives in Cambridge. “This is a moment we will treasure forever.”
Mekhi Lowe-Smith, 17, of Jamaica Plain, said he instantly had a sense of belonging when he enrolled at the school at the beginning of his junior year.
“It felt like family here,” Lowe-Smith said. “Everyone was cool, and I connected with all my teachers.”
Senior class President Alex Baldwin said she was sad for the future generations who wouldn’t enjoy the benefits of a Matignon education and support system.
“Matignon has just opened up the doors to so many opportunities for us,” said Baldwin, 18, of Wakefield. “It’s just sad to see an amazing, tight-knit community just fall apart.”