By Savanna Kearney

Ten years ago, the 2008 senior class of Saint Francis Catholic Academy donned their caps and gowns and received their diplomas, marking them as the first graduating class of the first and only Catholic school in Gainesville. A decade later, the 41 students of the Class of 2008 are off doing big things, but they still made time to return to their old stomping grounds and reconnect with fellow classmates.

(Back row, from left to right) Stephen White, Joseph Polcyznski, Alicia Breton, Terry Lee, Courtney Arnold, Wayne Gabb, Rick Ferreira, (front row from left to right) Kaitlin Bradley, Diane Karston, Oriana Pina, Sarah Lewis, Yasmin Gasser and Jacquelyn Tareaglione. (photos by St. Augustine Catholic/Woody Huband)

Saint Francis Catholic Academy held a 10-Year Reunion for the first graduating class Saturday, Dec. 22. The reunion began at 1 p.m. with a tour of Saint Francis, a school that was 21 years in the making until it finally opened its doors on August 16, 2004. Later, alumni gathered at Swamp Head Brewery from 6 to 10 p.m. to end the night.

Many students from the first graduating class of Saint Francis have taken what they learned during their time in school and used it to create a name for themselves.

2008 graduate Terry Lee attended the 10-year reunion. After graduating from Saint Francis, he attended Tuskegee University and then Columbia Southern University, and is now a regional recruiter and diversity coordinator for the Georgia Department of Transportation, as well as an adjunct professor at Atlanta Technical College. Although he wasn’t raised Catholic, Lee said he appreciated the faith-based, close-knit community the school offered.

Kaitlin Bradley, class of 2008 president and organizer of the reunion, greets Terry Lee, vice president of the class of 2008. (photos by St. Augustine Catholic/Woody Huband)

“Saint Francis was probably one of the best schooling experiences that I have had both academically and socially,” he said.

As vice president of his class at Saint Francis, Lee said he recognizes the value of the leadership opportunities the school gave him.

“I think what I appreciate most about Saint Francis was the opportunity to gain lifelong friends,” he said. “As the first class, we’ve stayed pretty connected throughout the years.”

Oriana Pina is a Saint Francis first class alumna who now works as a communications director for the U.S. House of Representatives after going to Florida State University for her bachelor’s degree and George Washington University for her master’s. As the first person in her family to attend college in the United States, Pina said that her experience at Saint Francis was life-changing.

(From left to right) Stephen White, Joseph Polcyznski, Rick Ferreira, Terry Lee and Cliff Whitty catch up over a few beers at Swamphead Brewery in Gainesville (photos by St. Augustine Catholic/Woody Huband)

“I think because we were the first graduating class, we had so many people invested in us and our success that it really helped me to start off on the right foot in college,” she said.

Pina said that she’s grateful for relationships she formed with both the students and teachers in high school.

“I’m really proud to have been part of the first graduating class of Saint Francis.”