Opportunities to inspire great numbers of people through selflessness and sacrifice are rare.

Opportunities to provide joy to even larger numbers of people are rarer still.

In these times of war, the men and women who most often inspire are in the military, and though the attention focused on their individual and collective heroism has fallen in recent years, arresting stories of courage and valor still break through and cause us to pause and recognize just how extraordinary they are. Sometimes it is a tragedy that makes us look up and remember.

Joy comes from many different sources, though occasions for joy on a large scale are few. The season of commencements is just behind us, and almost every time graduates of any age gather on any stage there is joy, especially in the audience that watches their family member or friend walk to receive his or her diploma.

At every one of these events, there is an unseen cloud of saints who, working through the years, made possible the ceremonies of the present day. Some of them are very much alive and keeping order in the ranks of graduates about to file across the stage. They have been doing just that for a very long time.

St. Mary High School graduated its first students in 1901; St. Vincent's first graduating class received its diplomas a century ago in 1910.

The two Akron, Ohio, schools combined in 1972, and their first class of graduates walked in the spring of 1973. All totaled the graduates from the two-schools-made-into-one are more than 17,000.

There is no easy access to the number of priests, nuns, teachers, secretaries, coaches, referees, janitors, band directors, guidance counselors and snack bar servers who have labored to make the school what it is through the 110 years since Bishop Richard Gilmore of Cleveland gave the order to build St. Mary.

Tens of thousands of individuals had to give of themselves to establish, build and nurture the institution, and its graduates have served Akron and northeast Ohio well for generations.

SVSM, as it is known, is one of more than 20 Catholic high schools in the Cleveland Diocese. A half-dozen more are in the Youngstown Diocese, and scores more throughout Ohio, and thousands more across the nation. The entire system has been built on sacrifice and generosity.

By whom? One example would be Sister Mary Jean Korejwo, who celebrated her 50th year of service as a Sister of Notre Dame this year. Sister Korejwo spent 13 years teaching in the Diocese of Cleveland, plus 21 in the Diocese of Youngstown, and then her calling took her to Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh, N.C., for more than a decade where she serves still.

But of course there are thousands and thousands of other such names, and of all sorts of ethnicities: Faust, Karrenbauer, Nosich, Hoover, Napolet, the list is really endless. Year in and year out they work and sacrifice, inspire and provide the occasion for joy.

I don't know who has been teaching at SVSM these past 10 years, but I know their type. Mary Jo Chionchio looks to be representative of the faculty, having been teaching at SVSM for 45 years, a graduate of the school in 1960, and a daughter of the SVSM class president of 1908.

Schools and faculties like these are the most amazing untold stories of all, no matter what their graduates do or don't do. These schools are mostly empty this month and next, except of course for summer school and summer practice and staff busying themselves for next year, for their next commencement.

They don't leave.

Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com