Students surprise Longmont principal with her own graduation ceremony

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.

Kemmery Hill receives flowers from her husband during a surprise graduation ceremony at St. John the Baptist in Longmont Dec. 6 celebrating Hill earning her doctorate of education. (Photos by Aaron Lambert )

“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.”

COMING UP: Alex, I’ll take perks of a Catholic education for $500

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Answer: School where Jeopardy contestant Stephanie Sumulong teaches middle school social studies. Question: What is St. John the Evangelist Catholic School in Loveland?


On Tuesday, Dec. 3, Sumulong appeared as a contestant on Jeopardy, the beloved quiz show hosted by Alex Trebek. Though she only played for two nights, she won her first night with total earnings of $12,399.

Sumulong has been watching Jeopardy since she was very young and was excited to get the chance to be a contestant.

“I love quiz shows and games. I’ve been watching Jeopardy since I was about eight years old,” she told the Denver Catholic. “I always competed with my dad until I went to college and then found some Jeopardy fans to watch with. Currently my husband and I watch the show every night; we DVR it so we never miss it!”
In preparation to compete on the show, Sumulong practiced two weeks before her taping on the phrasing of questions.

“I wanted to make sure I wasn’t blurting out the answers like I do at home,” she said.

Additionally, she read children’s books on subjects she doesn’t feel comfortable with, such as poetry, physics and Shakespeare.

“They have basic facts that you can tuck away for some answers,” she said.

When it came time to compete on the show, she wasn’t nervous at all.

“I was extremely excited and ready to play,” Sumulong said. “I’ve been wanting to be on the show for 20 years and had even tried out once before in 2008. I felt confident in what I knew and that I had a chance to win.”

Besides teaching at St. John the Evangelist, Sumulong also grew up going to Catholic schools.

“I’m the proud product of a (mostly) Catholic school education,” Sumulong said. “I have had some excellent teachers, including nuns and brothers, along the way and they deserve much credit.”

And sure enough, all of Sumulong’s practicing and preparation paid off that first night on the show.

“I was a little upset that I couldn’t come up with the correct final answer, but when I saw the scores and realized I had won, I was pumped!” Sumulong said. “I felt like my persistence and love of learning paid off.”

Now, Sumulong is known as a celebrity to the 2nd graders at St. John the Evangelist. But more importantly, she hopes that her experience on Jeopardy encourages others to chase their dreams.

“Even if it might seem silly to others, it’s you dream and it’s worth the hard work!” she said.