Shane Godso wore a rhinestone-studded “15” on the tassel of his graduation cap on the day he received his diploma, a blinged-out symbol of his last year at Redemptorist High, but he still has not said a proper goodbye. Nor does he want to.
Every stage of the 19-year-old’s life was spent at St. Gerard Elementary, Redemptorist Junior High and then Redemptorist High School. His longtime connection to the schools gave him a wardrobe brimming with forest green, too many wolf trophies to count and a constant mantra of “we’re all family.”
To know Shane is to know Redemptorist.
Redemptorist has been a faithful, across-the-street neighbor to him. He grew up on St. Katherine Avenue and could always peer through his front windows and see the school’s stadium. And he would like to think that he has been a faithful neighbor, student and friend to Redemptorist, as well.
But the relationship between Shane and the school will never be the same again. Redemptorist Junior and Senior High are closing in a matter of weeks, making it all the more difficult for Shane and his friends as they go through the bittersweet rituals of graduation.
One of Shane’s friends and a fellow Redemptorist graduate, Cody Edwards — son of former Redemptorist football coach Sid Edwards — still remembers the day his father named Shane the “Keeper of the Rock.”
The coach asked 6-year-old Shane to look after the football field and the school once practice finished and everyone headed home. Edwards could not always make sure Redemptorist was OK, but all Shane had to do was flick aside a curtain.
“They were the people who were always here,” the younger Edwards said. “The Godsos were a constant.”
Shane lived up to his title, occasionally confronting football field intruders or reporting them to the police. And his family, full of Redemptorist graduates ranging from his grandparents to his mother, beamed with pride about Shane “Keeper of the Rock” Godso.
The Godsos felt betrayed when the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge announced in December that Redemptorist High School would close at the end of the year because of low enrollment counts. They eventually had to accept the reality: Shane would be one of the final students to graduate from the 65-year-old school.
He will not be able to stop by and say hello to the teachers who taught him how to play percussion instruments, or forced him to cradle a fake baby when it cried, or asked him to combine his last four years of math classes into a scrapbook.
“I always knew I would graduate from here,” he said as he strolled past the school’s stadium bleachers on graduation night. “I just never expected to be the last class.”
Most school spirited
Shane is outgoing, sometimes sarcastic, usually polite. His mother, Dana, and his grandparents, Theresa and Sonny, and several other family members instilled in him his love for Redemptorist.
But it is Shane who became uniquely devoted to the school. He joined the soccer and bowling teams, dressed up in the school’s itchy wolf mascot costume and earned the senior favorite title “most school spirited.”
His future, like many people at 19, could go in any direction. He’s working as a locations assistant with Baton Rouge’s movie and television industry.
He is not sure if he will continue to work in film or if he will eventually enroll at Baton Rouge Community College. Before he started the movie and television job, he wanted to become a State Police officer.
In his final few weeks at Redemptorist, the reality that the school would soon close for good had not fully hit him.
He slaved over final projects, like one for Moral Life class where he had to figure out how he would ask the woman of his dreams to marry him. He even impressed himself with his plan: a swanky dinner at Olive Garden.
“It’s Italian, so it’s gonna be romantic,” he said.
Another of the many “lasts” in his waning weeks at school was playing the drums for the final time in a Redemptorist Mass at nearby St. Gerard Majella Catholic Church at the end of April.
He tapped the drum set, keeping the beat to “Come Now Is the Time to Worship” as St. Gerard’s pastor, the Rev. Marcel Okwara, walked toward the altar.
“I know today is almost like a funeral Mass for you,” Okwara said. “Instead of turning this into a funeral Mass, let’s turn it into a thanksgiving Mass.”
Okwara told the students that Redemptorist High School will live forever in their hearts. Most homilies end with a sign of the cross, but this one ended with applause.
First hello to fast friends
Former Redemptorist student Joey St. Pierre remembers Shane as the first person to say hello to him when he started school in 2011. They were in the band together.
Their high school trajectories took different paths, but they stayed close even when Joey switched to an online school a few years after they met. Shane remained at Redemptorist and took up new instrument after new instrument.
During the school’s final band concert in late April, Shane showed off some of what he learned since his friend left.
“Darling, I will, be loving you, till” he and a few other guitar players sang as they strummed along to Ed Sheeran’s current chart topper. Their voices squeaked when they tried to hit Sheeran’s high note on “We’re 70.” They shook their heads and laughed.
When everyone was packing up to leave, Shane strapped on a quad set of tenor drums and started playing. A few others grabbed drums and joined in, striking their drumsticks to the beat of a crowd favorite.
The parents and friends started dancing, all ponying in unison, snapping one hand in the air and switching to the other. The drum set died down and Shane hopped off the stage. He pulled his mother and grandmother in for a hug.
“I never knew you could sing,” said his grandmother, Theresa.
“I didn’t either,” he replied.
Black velvet and a smile
Shane borrowed a black velvet vest from his friend Seojun Lee to wear to prom. It didn’t matter that it was May in south Louisiana and that velvet was warm; he liked the vest.
Seojun was a foreign exchange student from South Korea. Like St. Pierre, Shane become one of Seojun’s first friends at Redemptorist when he started at the school this fall.
In South Korea, Seojun went to school 14 hours a day. He preferred the lack of constant competition in American schools, and he said Americans are friendlier.
Prom dates didn’t work out for Shane or Seojun. So the two teenage boys split an order of queso at Caliente in a Central strip mall before the dance.
Seojun wore a smart bow tie and was excited about his first prom. Shane was more focused on the extra-innings LSU-Mississippi State baseball game on the television across from their booth.
A pretty, blond waitress walked up to them. She asked if she should split the check.
Shane’s eyes finally moved from the TV. He gave an overly enthusiastic yes and started a conversation with her. He gazed at her as she walked away.
“It’s kind of awkward,” Seojun laughed. “Two guys going to a restaurant. It’s kind of like a bachelor party.”
Mississippi State won the baseball game 8-7 in the bottom of the 12th inning. It was time to go.
Time for goodbye
Shane finished senior exams. He received more wolf trophies. And the day finally came when Redemptorist would say goodbye to him regardless of whether he was ready to say goodbye to the school.
His mother, Dana, graduated in 1987. Seeing the school every time she walked out of her home made the impending closure more difficult. Despite her many Redemptorist T-shirts and the green nail polish she wore for her son’s band concert, she was ready for it to be finished and to move on.
Shane’s grandparents Theresa and Sonny both graduated in 1967. Theresa’s graduating class had about 150 students, while Shane’s included 53. She was not ready for graduation, and she certainly was not prepared to say goodbye to the school.
“If it was an ordinary graduation I would be, but not for this,” she said.
Redemptorist’s enrollment has declined steadily over the past 20 years, according to the Catholic Diocese. The school projected to enroll 146 students between grades seven and 12 for next year when Catholic leaders made the decision they just couldn’t keep the junior and high schools open.
It’s clear at Redemptorist events how small the school became; all of the students filled up about half the church during the final school Mass, and the school’s concert band has 14 members. But for some students, the small size was a plus; they said they liked the tight-knit atmosphere.
At graduation, Shane’s mother, grandparents, brother and sister-in-law, aunts and uncles squeezed into the Godso family’s designated pew at St. Gerard Church.
When Shane stood to receive his diploma, he wrapped his hand around the tassel with the “15” emblem.
He grabbed his diploma, posed for a photo with Bishop Robert Muench and walked back to his pew with a grin and a slight head shake. And just like that, Redemptorist had said goodbye to him.
His direct connection to the school was gone. But he was all smiles.
Tears held and shed
After graduation, his friends and family crowded onto the small porch of his mother’s house. A large Redemptorist flag with a lone wolf painted on it swayed behind them.
Shane was proud of keeping his emotions in check. He had cried at the senior Mass that morning, but did not spill a single tear in the evening.
“He’s gonna cry himself to sleep tonight,” his friend Joey St. Pierre laughed.
Shane plans to bid one last farewell to the buildings, maybe go on a final walk through the school and sit on the football field and reminisce. But he says he will never truly “say goodbye” to Redemptorist, even once the property becomes something else and Redemptorist becomes part of his past.
Until both Shane and Redemptorist move on with the next chapters of their lives, he still considers himself “Keeper of the Rock.” And no matter what the school becomes and what happens to it in the future, he will be watching.