A historical graduation ceremony has celebrated the first group of Year 12 students to complete their high school studies at Mar Narsai Assyrian College (MNAC) in Sydney, Australia.
The graduation, held on 21 September at Edessa Reception Centre, was blessed with the presence of His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV Catholicos Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, who was formally invited by the school through His Beatitude Mar Meelis Zaia AM Metropolitan of Australia, New Zealand and Lebanon. Accompanying His Holiness on his Australian sojourn is His Grace Mar Emmanuel Joseph, Bishop of Canada.
Looking at the 32 graduating MNAC students, His Holiness expressed his pride and congratulated the first group of year 12 students who will commence their high school certificate in mid-October.
"Faith in God and being closer to the Church is the fundamental criterion for all the success in the world," said His Holiness with enthusiasm.
His Holiness said the church is now reaping fruits and committing to its parishioners in all aspects, calling on church members to interact with programs developed by the church in their services to ensure the future of the church's, in their spiritual, social and educational life.
Stressing the importance of Christian values, His Holiness spoke about cultural identity and the importance of being a good Australian citizen and abiding by the laws of the land in which we call home; the land that gives us the rights that our fellow brothers and sisters in the Middle East so desire.
His Holiness expressed the joy and pride that he felt on the 15 September when he visited St. Hurmizd Assyrian Public School (SHAPS) and pointed out that all 600 students prayed the Lord's prayer in the Assyrian language, the pearl of our culture and nation, and recited Matthew 5:16.
Offering encouraging words towards His Beatitude Mar Meelis, His Holiness thanked His Beatitude for his continual hard work and efforts for the church and its faithful in the diocese.
Further, His Holiness thanked principal of MNAC, John Haskal, along with all the teachers, staff and families of the students for their works. Particularly, His Holiness expressed the importance of parents in the life of the children, being the fist teachers they'll ever have.
Proud parents and families of students were among the guests of the graduation ceremony, which took place with an organised program of entertainment and honourary speeches.
The school choir opened the ceremony with the singing of the Australian National Anthem, the Assyrian Church of the East's anthem and the Assyrian National Anthem, before the Lord's prayer was recited by the school captains, Joe Barota Zia and Reema Khamo.
Masters of ceremony, Mary Joseph and Christopher Hardom, officially welcomed guests and members of parliament, and introduced a group of students performing the evening's first entertainment: a traditional Assyrian folk dance, showing the education and traditions taught at the school.
Principal of MNAC, John Haskal, thanked His Holiness and the prelates for their encouragement and acceptance of the invitation. He further went on to give a brief history of the school, from His Beatitude Mar Meelis' vision in establishing a school in the diocese, to its inception.
Deputy principal of MNAC, Edward Dinkha, similarly expressed his feelings and signified the importance of such schools for the future of our church and nation. Specifically, he spoke on the nationalistic and religious education through the Assyrian Church of the East and the guidance of Rev. Narsai Youkhanis, who was recently appointed school chaplain.
School captain Reema Khamo delivered an emotional speech on behalf of all year 12 students, and graduating student Rita Betyou recited a touching poem on the importance of the school.
"A day so beautiful, blessed and bright. I have been privileged to have graduated with His Holiness present. May God continue to work through MNAC so the College may prosper," Reema, 17, later told news.assyrianchurch.com
Graduating student Christopher Dinkha, 17, said he hoped to commence further studies in financial auditing and corporate law.
"As young Australian Assyrians, we ultimately were proud of our community who supported is on the night of our graduation. We were honored to be graduating in front of His Holiness Mar Dinkha as well as other Assyrian leaders and MPs, who always inspire us to carry our spiritual, ethical and patriotic practices," said Christopher.
Being the first group of students to graduate from MNAC in the presence of His Holiness was a great joy, said 17-year-old Chanel Ivanoff, who has plans to become a criminologist.
"Having received a blessing from our beloved patriarch on our graduation was something my fellow graduates and I will carry in our hearts for the rest of our lives," said Chanel.
His Holiness awarded the Mar Dinkha IV Honourary Award to student Youhan Cheery, who excelled in all his subjects.
"It was a momentous day for the Assyrian community," said Youhan, 16, of the ceremony. "Hopefully there will be more graduations to come."
Following MNAC's success and popularity within the Assyrian community in Sydney, the diocese will push forward with its plans to build a new high school and college in Horsely Park.
Speaking at the graduation ceremony, His Beatitude Mar Meelis said the project will cost an estimated $15 million.
By the beginning of 2012, the temporary buildings used as classrooms, which are presently located at the rear of the Assyrian Australian Social Centre, will be moved to the new premises until the new building construction is complete.
His Beatitude encouraged faithful to continue to donate as they always have, once this project is complete, as the church will fully be catering for all ages of faithful, from preschool to college years.
His Beatitude further thanked the architect of the project, the city council, specifically Anwar and Ninos Khoshaba, and Andrew Roham MP for his support in all of the church's projects. At the same time, His Beatitude thanked all the teachers, staff, students, volunteers, family and guardians of the students for all their input in making the graduation and the schools what they are today.
A special thanks by His Beatitude was offered to His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV for accepting the invitation to attend the graduation.
At the conclusion of the graduation, His Holiness placed a cross around the neck of each student and handed them a personally signed prayer of blessings.