The uniforms worn by the senior Pandas of Padua Academy were a little more colorful than usual this week.
The soon-to-be graduates kicked off their end-of-year traditions by painting their skirts with the logos and colors of the universities they’ll attend in the fall.
“This tradition is really important to everyone at Padua because it’s a culmination of our entire experience over the last few years,” said Jordan Kenton, whose brown-checkered skirt sported Bucknell University’s navy and orange.
Kenton is headed to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania to study mechanical engineering and minor in dance at Bucknell, with plans to enter a career in robotics.
“I’m excited, I’m nervous, and I know I’m going to be really, really sad,” she said. “It hasn’t totally hit me yet. I know at graduation or baccalaureate mass I will be crying, but I’ll be excited for the endless possibilities the next four years of college will bring.”
Seniors painting their skirts has been a practice at the Catholic all-girls school for eight years, signaling the students’ last days in class.
It was followed Tuesday by Padua’s closing liturgy at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church, just a few blocks away from the school.
That liturgy is commonly referred to by the students as the “white dress day” because seniors all don white dresses for the service and walk over to St. Anthony’s for the ceremony.
Padua’s baccalaureate mass is June 2 at St. Anthony’s, and graduation June 6 at Abessinio Stadium in Wilmington.
“Painted Skirt Day serves as a right of passage and an expression of their personalities,” said Jennifer Vintigni, Spanish teacher at Padua. “They’ve been wearing these skirts for four years now with a very strict dress code, so today is about celebrating all they’ve been through.”
Painting their skirts allows the students to reflect on all they’ve achieved and worked towards, said Tori Closson, coordinator of student culture at Padua.
“For the past four years,” Closson said, “they’ve worn the uniform, taken tests in the uniform, passed all their courses in that uniform, and now, their futures are on those skirts.”
Sofia Lozada’s skirt was shining with Neumann University’s gold and blue on Tuesday. She’s shipping up north to Aston, Pennsylvania, to study nursing and wants to be a nurse anesthetist.
“Before Padua, I was really shy, and this school has really helped me come into my own,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine I would be this strong and confident about myself four years ago.”
All the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic brought has made it hard for this moment to sink in, said Lozada.
“It hasn’t really hit me because we lost a bunch of high school memories due to the lockdown,” she said, “but we found a way to make new ones, and it’s starting to feel very sentimental to us all.”
Sofia Mazzola said she’s been counting down the days to painting her skirt, especially since she saw seniors during the lockdown come to Padua to paint their skirts and take photos in order to keep the tradition alive.
“It was awesome to be able to celebrate together in person, without restrictions or mask mandates,” she said. “We’re ending classes at Padua, but we’re all starting new classes at amazing colleges and our journey to learn continues.”
Her skirt, painted red, white and blue, indicates her next destination: Catholic University of America in the nation’s capital.
Mazzola plans to study biochemistry and criminology with hopes of a career in law enforcement, or more specifically, the FBI.
“That’s the dream,” she said.
The sisterhood and community of Padua was on full display Tuesday as everyone painted their skirts, Mazzola said, and emotions were running high.
“It’s definitely upsetting that we won’t be around the same people anymore, but it’s also exciting to move on and take that next step towards a career path and future endeavors,” she said. “The relationships we make here will continue for the rest of our lives.”
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