Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Erin Kay­ata erin.kay­ata@stam­for­dad­vo­; (203) 964-2265; @er­in_kay­ata

Matthew Valentin cel­e­brates af­ter re­ceiv­ing his diploma dur­ing the Trin­ity Catholic High School Class of 2018 com­mence­ment ex­er­cises on Satur­day in Stam­ford. At left is Sta­cie Stue­ber, as­so­ciate su­per­in­ten­dent of the Dio­cese of Bridge­port. TCHS Prin­ci­pal David Wil­liams is at right.

STAM­FORD — Damian Ry­dzewski was more than just first in his class when he graduated from Trin­ity Catholic High School on Satur­day as vale­dic­to­rian.

The cer­e­mony also made the 18-year-old, the son of Pol­ish im­mi­grants, the first in his fam­ily to grad­u­ate high school in the U.S.

“I’m re­ally proud and happy I was able to do this,” Ry­dzewski, a Stam­ford res­i­dent, said. “That’s what (my par­ents) came here for — a bet­ter life for their chil­dren — and I’m tak­ing ev­ery op­por­tu­nity I can.”

For sa­lu­ta­to­rian Kather­ine Janik, 17, be­ing sec­ond in her class at Trin­ity is some­what of a fam­ily tra­di­tion. Her two older sis­ters, who graduated in 2011 and 2013, were also ranked sec­ond in their classes.

“When I was lit­tle, I told them I wanted to beat them. My goal was to beat them,” she joked. “But I didn’t want to show them up.”

While Ry­dzewski and Janik have dif­fer­ent sto­ries be­hind their top spots, they’ve walked sim­i­lar paths to get there. The two have been in school to­gether for years, dat­ing as far back as kin­der­garten at St. Ce­cilia’s School (now the Catholic Academy of Stam­ford).

The vale­dic­to­rian and sa­lu­ta­to­rian ad­dressed 81 grad­u­at­ing seniors at Satur­day’s cer­e­mony, as did John Carrigan, the school’s di­rec­tor of guid­ance, Trin­ity Prin­ci­pal David Wil­liams, As­sis­tant Prin­ci­pal Chris­tine Wag­ner, Rev. Joseph Gill, the school’s Epis­co­pal chap­lain, and Sta­cie Stue­ber, as­so­ciate su­per­in­ten­dent for the Dio­cese of Bridge­port.

Ry­dzewski and Janik said it was the size of Stam­ford’s Catholic schools, plus the op­por­tu­nity to ex­press their faith there, that ap­pealed to them.

“(It’ll be) re­ally weird not to see the same faces you’ve been see­ing since you were lit­tle,” Janik said. “But it will be a good change. We’ll all be back in the sum­mer to see each other. I like how small (it is) and I’m able to ex­press my faith. We go to Mass to­gether, con­fes­sions are held. Faith is a big part of my life and it was im­por­tant for me to con­tinue that in high school.”

Over the years, the two said they’ve formed spe­cial mem­o­ries with their class­mates from help­ing each other with school­work, play­ing sports and go­ing on class trips.

“We un­der­stand how every­one learns and we help each other,” Ry­dzewski said.

Janik and Ry­dzewski were in a lot of the same classes, such as Ad­vanced Place­ment Chem­istry. Both are plan­ning on go­ing into sci­ence and math-based fields.

Janik plans to study architecture at the Catholic Uni­ver­sity of Amer­ica in Wash­ing­ton. Ry­dzewski wants to study en­gi­neer­ing and Ger­man as part of the Eurotech pro­gram at the Uni­ver­sity of Con­necti­cut where he’ll come out with two de­grees and in­ter­na­tional in­tern­ship ex­pe­ri­ence.

Matthew Brown / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Matthew Brown / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Trin­ity Catholic High School Class of 2018 com­mence­ment ex­er­cises on Fri­day in Stam­ford.

Damian Ry­dzewski de­liv­ers his Vale­dic­tory ad­dress dur­ing Trin­ity Catholic High School Class of 2018 com­mence­ment ex­er­cises.

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