When it came time to decide what high school he was going to attend, Mark Grasso ’20 had plenty of choices.
Choate, Sheehan in Wallingford, Xavier.
The list went on. But before eighth grade, Grasso had made up his mind.
He was going to the place with all the stories.
“My brother [Brian] went to Choate and he has a lot of stories, but these stories at Xavier are just classic,” Grasso said. “I didn’t have any hesitation. I knew what Xavier had to offer from the beginning.”
As the youngest of five boys, four of whom went to Xavier, Grasso spent his childhood hearing about the school.
The names of teachers. The important events. The big moments. They were all lodged in his memory.
Through elementary and middle school, Grasso had sat at the dinner table and listened like any younger brother, absorbing every little detail. And when it was his turn, he wanted to give Xavier a try, too.
“Seeing them grow up, I saw them mature [at Xavier],” Grasso said. “This place is unlike any other place. The discipline you get taught here you wouldn’t get at any other school. I’m very glad I went here. I love Xavier. It is my home.”
At Xavier, the youngest Grasso carved his own niche through his easy-going and kind demeanor. Still, he admits it was tough at first.
“It is not easy having four older brothers that are really successful – you feel like you have a lot to live up to,” Grasso said. “But it is also motivating. I want to be as successful as them one day.”
From the day he was old enough to join them on one of their many adventures, Grasso has looked up to Anthony (29), Michael (26), Brian (24) and Nick (22).
“I would do anything for my brothers,” Grasso said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t want to be anyone else. Growing up with four brothers and two loving parents [Anthony and Celeste], you can’t ask for much more. There’s a lot of love growing up in the Grasso household.”
Despite the age difference – Mark is separated by 12 years from his oldest brother and five years from the second youngest – the connection has always been tight.
“That’s the way my parents raised us,” Grasso said. “We’ve always been really close. We’re all very similar. We all tell the same jokes and feed off of them. People always say we’re the same person”
Grasso might have followed his brothers to Xavier. But he’s far from a follower, especially at Xavier.
With his own special brand of confidence and charisma, he left his own mark on the Xavier community as a SAC member (student body vice president), a teammate (baseball) and a peer minister.
“He never judges anyone and what makes him so special is how he can connect to every person in our school community on some level,” Dean of Students Nicholas Cerreta said. “People always feel at ease and comfortable around Mark because of his genuine caring personality.”
That compassion for others is obvious when Grasso talks about Oakley Debbs, the son of one of his brothers’ friends. Oakley died when was 11 of a fatal allergic reaction to nuts was.
Grasso has tried to raise awareness for the dangers of allergies and other struggles through an Instagram account he created, where he dances and wears red sneakers in memory of Debbs, who used to have his own pair.
Grasso, who was well known at Xavier as someone who loves to dance when given the chance, wanted to raise awareness, but also do something that can bring a little joy to the Debbs family.
“The theme is ‘Red Sneakers for Oakley,’ so I wear red sneakers in all my dance videos,” Grasso said. “His favorite color was red.”
Grasso, who learned dancing from his brother Brian at age five five, tries to be true to who he is.
“I just try to have fun and spread the energy I have,” Grasso said.
Grasso credits not only his brothers and his parents for instilling in him the important values he tries to live by now, but also Xavier.
At the Xaverian Brothers Sponsored School Junior Retreat last year, Grasso had his eyes opened to what it means to be part of the Xaverian mission.
“It strengthened my faith and I became a better person because of it,” Grasso said. “I feel like it changed me as a person.”
Grasso said he had a tough time leaving the others students that he meet on the retreat because he had formed such a strong bond. He called it one of the best experiences of his life.
“I want that love I received at the retreat to be felt at Xavier,” Grasso said. “All the stuff I learned at the retreat, I want us to emulate that as a community. I want students to do their best to understand what the Brothers mean here and what the mission is. There’s a lot you can do at Xavier to strengthen your faith.”
During the Xavier Virtual Graduation this past year, Grasso received the Loyalty & Service Award, the highest distinction that any graduating senior can receive at Graduation.
“When my name was called for the award, I could not hold back the tears,” Mark Grasso said. “That moment I shared with my family in our home watching the graduation, that is, and will always be, one of the most special moments of my life.
“With everything that happened because of the pandemic, emotions were high, but I tried to hold back the tears throughout quarantine. Well, for everyone in that room, the emotions all came out at once when my name was called for the Loyalty & Service Award. I am so honored and grateful to have won such a beautiful award.”