Bishop Garcia Diego valedictorian Matthew Helkey and salutatorian Marisa Mancinelli
Valedictorian Matthew Helkey and salutatorian Marisa Mancinelli speak to their fellow graduates during Bishop Garcia Diego High School’s virtual commencement ceremony on Saturday morning. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photos)

Bishop Garcia Diego High School celebrated its Class of 2020 with a virtual commencement ceremony on Saturday morning.

Many students across Santa Barbara County were deprived of in-person commencement ceremonies because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pre-pandemic, students graduating from Bishop Diego would file into the Santa Barbara County Courthouse’s Sunken Garden and sit behind a crowd of cheering relatives, friends, the school board of trustees, Cardinal alumni and other supporters.  

While this year’s commencement was a livestreamed video, the ceremony offered several of the same elements as a traditional graduation event, including an invocation followed by the national anthem, and welcoming and warm remarks from Head of School Karen Regan.

“As you experience these commencement exercises, my deepest hope is you feel a rising sense of self-confidence built on the foundation of many hours of hard work, and the deep friendships you have forged here,” Regan told the graduating class of nearly 60 students.

Regan spoke highly of the hardworking graduating seniors and their academic accolades.

The Class of 2020 has received more than $5.6 million in merit and athletic scholarship awards, which equates to an average of about $106,000 per graduate, according to school officials.

This year’s high school graduates received admission to 115 colleges and universities, and fulfilled more than 11,500 hours of service in the local community, Regan said.

“Your actions both in and outside the walls of the classroom are a true testament to the core values of respect, perseverance and compassion on which we place great value at Bishop Diego,” Regan said. “Graduates of 2020, treasure this day. The memories you take with you from the last four years will be some of the most poignant and lasting memories of your life.”

This year’s valedictorian and salutatorian both were energetic community members during their four years of high school.

Bishop Garcia Diego Head of School Karen Regan

Bishop Garcia Diego Head of School Karen Regan delivers the welcoming remarks during Saturday’s commencement ceremony. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Matthew Helkey, who will be attending UC Irvine to study computer science, was valedictorian. Helkey served as the school’s campus minister, yearbook editor and photographer, and a member of the National Honor Society, California Scholar Federation and STEAM society.

The active Eagle Scout earned a Bishop Diego community service award for working more than 200 hours, many of which were spent training altar servers at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Santa Barbara, and serving the homeless on Urban Plunges with his confirmation youth group. 

Helkey earned more than $1 million in merit scholarships, according to school officials.

During his farewell speech, Helkey said these are unprecedented times, and he urged his peers to fondly look back at the cherished memories at Bishop Diego.

“We all hope soon it will be safe to gather to celebrate our class in-person,” Helkey said. “Current events exemplify the old adage that life can change in an instant as we watched the world shift around us.”

Marisa Mancinelli, who is headed to UCLA and plans to pursue a double major in biochemistry and design media arts, was named salutatorian. She also performed the national anthem at the online commencement ceremony.

Mancinelli has demonstrated a keen interest in academics, a desire to volunteer and provide service, and showed a passion for sports throughout her high school career.

She has earned membership into the National Honor Society, the California Scholarship Federation, campus minister and STEAM society, among other recognitions. 

Mancinelli earned Bishop Diego’s community service award. She served more than 500 volunteer hours as a counselor in training at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and a math tutor for elementary students.

Bishop Robert Barron

Speaker Bishop Robert Barron congratulates the Class of 2020. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

During her speech, Mancinelli reflected on notable high school memories, including unforgettable sport games, spirit week, eating tacos, dancing and other fun experiences.

“Today is a special day for the Class of 2020 for many reasons,” she said. “It marks a date in history, a celebration of our accomplishments in the midst of a global pandemic. Today’s crisis has affected us all in many ways that we never expected or experienced before. But, despite this, our Bishop family has gathered together in spirit to celebrate the graduation of the Class of 2020 — even within the sorrow and grief, the light overcome is as we reflect on our class memories.”

Mancinelli later said “the best is yet to come Class of 2020. Never give up on your dreams. We made history.”

Sydney Naour received the Cardinal of the Year award. She demonstrated a strong school spirit, a passion for academics and a kindness recognized by classmates. The distinguished recognization is chosen by a vote of the senior class.

Auxiliary Head of School Tom Crawford presented the senior class. 

In addition to introducing the Class of 2020, the Bishop Diego faculty honored the graduating class by sharing a brief reflection or memory.

A slideshow displayed the graduates’ photographs and accomplishments on a video.

Saturday’s commencement speaker was Bishop Robert Barron, founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

“Congratulations to everybody,” he told the Bishop Diego Class of 2020. “It’s a super accomplishment. It’s an amazing thing … going through those four years and coming to this successful completion.”

Bishop Diego is a private Catholic school at 4000 La Colina Road in Santa Barbara.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.