Hillside student gives farewell address to first class of graduates in the Girls Prep Division at St. Benedict’s Prep

Photo Courtesy of Katherine Noyes

NEWARK, NJ — Agnes Aghanwa, senior group leader of the Girls Prep Division at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, gave the farewell address to the first class of Benedict’s women on Saturday, June 5. A resident of Hillside, Aghanwa is the first to lead the Girls Prep Division, an all-female division she and several classmates advocated for and created following the closure of Benedictine Academy in 2020. As senior group leader of the inaugural division, Aghanwa oversaw the leadership structure that puts students in charge of the day-to-day operations of St. Benedict’s, while managing the added complications and pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aghanwa reflected on the events that brought the first group of young women to the co-institutional high school division. “We brought 60 girls in to take a chance on our division,” she said. “We came from different schools with different values, but we had one thing in common: We wanted one place we could call home.”

Through Aghanwa’s leadership, more than 70 young women did make “the Hive,” as the school is known, their home in the inaugural year. The girls established their own group system; ran daily convocation, which was offered virtually throughout the year; oriented themselves to Benedict’s traditions; and completed the Backpacking Project, a 55-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail that is a requirement for graduation. The Girls Prep Division is also growing; approximately 110 young women are enrolled for 2021-22.

Aghanwa thanked Father Edwin Leahy, Class of ’63, who has served as headmaster since 1973, for listening and giving the young women the opportunity to join the St. Benedict’s community. “Thank you for giving us the strength and for trusting that these teenage girls would be able to run the school here today,” she said.

Turning to the Class of 2021, Aghanwa added, “I am so proud of all of you. Thank you for trusting that I would lead this school and this division correctly. Today we leave the school, but forevermore we are known as Benedict’s women.”

Aghanwa graduated from St. Benedict’s with a 3.5 grade-point average. She will attend Drew University, where she plans to study psychology as a pre-med student, this fall.