– By Edwin Hearn, President, St. Augustine High School
Another Class Act Dedicated to Saints
Recently, I caught up with Tom Graciano (‘68), and asked if he would consider sharing his “Saints Experience” with Saints Scene. In Tom’s humble and always good natured manner, his first instinct compelled him to say, “Other alums are more accomplished and could offer more.” After a little arm twisting, he relented and asked to see the questions.
In reading his responses, you will understand why Tom was chosen for this interview. Tom has been involved in the Parochial School Football and Basketball Tournaments, the Alumni Basketball Night, the Summer Jobs Program, where alumni business owners offer summer job opportunities to Saints students, and the Senior Writing Contest, where seniors synthesize their “Saints Experience.” Tom is a current board member for the Alumni Association and sits on the Saints Hall of Fame Committee. Tom offers a most interesting perspective on Saints in the 1960’s and Saints today.
What is your most memorable moment at Saints?
My most memorable moment came 30 years after graduating from Saints. Due to certain circumstances that occurred towards the end of my senior year, one of the gold medals for excellence given at the Senior Awards Assembly was not awarded to one of my classmates.
At the 30th reunion of our class, Father Patrick Keane, OSA, who was our principal, made the drive from Villanova Preparatory School in Ojai to make the presentation of this award to our very surprised classmate. It was a medal that, without a doubt, was earned, but temporarily lost to youth. The school recognized that maturity and growing up comes at different times for all of us. The right decision was made twice, and simply reaffirmed what I already knew – St. Augustine is all about class!
Do you have a memorable moment with your favorite teachers?
St. Augustine provides an environment for students to thrive. This same environment allows teachers to share their passion for their work, their subject and their life. We were lucky to have many fine instructors who did just that. My favorite teacher, all time, was JB-T. He was affectionately called Mr. John Bowman, Tyrant. Our English teacher extraordinaire and also the disciplinarian, he was passionate about both. We learned fear as well as Shakespeare. In an effort to hone our senior writing skills, JB-T instructed us to write an opening line that would grab our reader’s attention. Lacking originality and imagination, I simply wrote, “Mr. Bowman is full of s___!” Today, I sheepishly admit, I caught his attention, but am fortunate it didn’t go any further. I’m proud to say that we remain friends to this day and still laugh about my lack of inspiration.
What is one word that you feel describes Saints?
Respect! Our ASB Advisor was Father Walter Vogel, OSA. He had but one rule, respect! His classroom definition of respect was simple and direct. He respected our right to be there, he asked that we respect his right to teach and that each of us respect the right of our classmates to learn. He had a unique and acute sense of propriety, and was a wonderful role model. Can you imagine the possibilities for the world if we lived by this one simple rule?
How would you describe the “Saints Experience?
The “Saints Experience” is as unique as the boys who walk the halls. Since 1922, teachers have come and gone, times have changed, buildings have been replaced, but the Augustinian recipe for preparing young boys for the future remains tried and true. The boys are welcomed, they are taught to learn, to work hard and to not set limits. They are challenged mentally, physically and spiritually. They set goals and make and keep commitments. They interact with teachers and students alike and they build relationships. Yet, the experience remains unique to each student as they are invited to use and develop their own personal gifts in the process. They eventually walk into their futures as young men bound together by the experience shared by generations of Saintsmen. An appreciation of the experience grows with time. Understanding and hope in the “Saints Experience” comes with the comprehension and nourishment of its daily influence. Giving back to St. Augustine is simply a matter of perspective and one’s thanksgiving!
What drives you to support Saints today?
I don’t feel particularly driven, but I know I am in a relationship; one that I care about a great deal. In order to strengthen a relationship, it takes a nurturing attitude, work, and communication. I give back to St. Augustine because it is how my relationship grows and improves; it is stimulating! Any alum can have this relationship, however the timing is different for each of us. I was lucky! Awhile ago, I was asked by a man who has given back to Saints more than I could ever dream.
Ross Provenzano (‘66), was President of the Alumni Association at the time and challenged me to get involved with an alumni project. I accepted and 24 years later I continue to work on new projects and still enjoy the challenges. My advice to other alums: if called upon – accept it as you won’t regret it. If the call doesn’t come, then when the time fits, stop by school and share your time and expertise – you will be welcomed home.