Kemmery Hill has been working hard over the past four years to earn her Doctor of Education degree from the University of Massachusetts, all while serving as principal of St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Longmont. However, the graduation ceremony last week was in Boston and she couldn’t make it out there — after all, she has a school to run.
So the students and faculty of St. John the Baptist decided to hold their own graduation ceremony for her.
On Dec. 6, Hill walked into a gymnasium full of the St. John’s community and her family to honor her huge accomplishment. The faculty all donned blue and white robes and gave Hill her very own black graduation robe, complete with a tiara.
The best part? Hill had no idea anything was even in the works. All week long, students and staff kept it a secret, but they all eagerly looked forward to honoring their principal at the surprise ceremony.
Though only in planning for less than a week, the ceremony came together very smoothly, said Beth Ann Rosa, vice principal of St. John’s. When Rosa found out that Hill had completed the work for her degree but wouldn’t be able to attend the graduation, she took action to make sure that Hill felt as special as she makes everyone else in the St. John’s community feel.
“I’ve been in education for a long time,” Rosa said. “Kemmery is an amazing administrator. I’m very proud to work with her. You can’t say enough about her. She is a lovely, lovely woman.”
Hill’s husband, Mike, greeted her with flowers and a kiss as she walked into the gym, completely at a loss for words.
“I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anybody in any walk of life that has more commitment to her community,” Mike said. “She really works incredibly hard to devote herself to the educational experience that these students get. I’m just so humbled and proud of her.”
Pursuing a doctorate while running a school is quite an ambitious undertaking, but Hill’s experience of the transforming power of education, and especially Catholic education, fueled her to keep learning more, she said.
“One of many things I value about Catholic education is that it focuses not only on engagement and responsibility in relation to the Church but also to the community as a whole,” Hill said. “The community of Catholic schools that we have in the Archdiocese of Denver is incredible. It’s given me so much in my life, and I want to help Catholic education succeed in any way I can.”
During the ceremony, Hill was asked to sit in a chair in the middle of the gym. Then, Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” was cued up and the whole student body of St. John’s rushed Hill to shower her with congratulations in the form of hundreds of hugs.
It’s in moments like these that Hill is reminded of why she does what she does, and why she’s so grateful to be a part of a Catholic school community.
“It’s amazing because this is what our whole Catholic community is,” Hill said tearfully. “You want to do everything that you can for them, and they make you feel so supported. They’re great kids and great parents, we’re just so lucky.”