The Southern Cross



‘The Most Radical Gift I Can Give to Others Is Love’

Graduating seniors share enduring lessons from their Catholic education

By Aida Bustos and Denis Grasska

Commencement season begins in late May at the San Diego Diocese’s five high schools and extends into mid-June as local Catholic elementary schools hold their eighth-grade graduations.

“It’s a milestone ... a victory that comes after focus and hard work,” said John Galvan, director of the diocesan Office for Schools, reflecting on the high school seniors and eighth-graders poised to graduate.

Galvan stressed that more than 99 percent of those who graduate from local Catholic high schools go on to attend a college or university, including the leading ones. Catholic schools offer a rigorous academic curriculum, but they do much more than that. They are about formation as much as education, he noted, preparing students to be tomorrow’s leaders.

“In Catholic schools, they get challenged for sure with their academics,” he said, “but they’re also known and loved within these communities of faith and learning, and that’s wonderful.”

On the cusp of their graduation, a sampling of 12th-graders share how their Catholic education has prepared them to succeed, in college and beyond.

Alexander Ayuso, Vincent Memorial, attended St. Mary School (El Centro)

The most important thing I’ve learned is tolerance; to not only be tolerant of other's ideas and respect their beliefs, just as they [should] be tolerant of mine, but even be tolerant if the person is not tolerant or respectful. You should still be the bigger person.

Adrian Carretero, Mater Dei, attended St. Therese Academy

One important lesson I learned is that hard work pays off. My teachers made sure that I always worked the hardest I could —slacking off was never an option. Dr. Suzanne Till has been a massive help during these four years. Her Science Academy program helped cultivate my interest in science and gave me the opportunity to complete a six-week computational chemistry internship with Dr. Kufareva of the UCSD Skaggs School of Pharmacy.                  

Andres Castro, St. Augustine, attended Sacred Heart School (Coronado)

One important lesson I learned is not to judge. I've learned how to be patient with people, and listen to their story. This has helped me to see the world with a more open mind, and be more accepting of different opinions.         

Coley O’Connor, Cathedral Catholic, attended St. Michael’s School (Poway)

The greatest lesson I learned is that things do not necessarily happen for a reason, but God will bring the best out of every situation. This has prepared me for the future, especially college. I know that my dreams will be surpassed in ways I do not even know yet.

Eugenia Dominguez, Cathedral Catholic, attended Sacred Heart School     

The most important lesson I learned is to treat people the way you want to be treated. You are what you give. The world is full of ignorant and bad people but also good and kind people. I learned that it isn't always going to be easy to deal with the ignorant people, but if I give respect, kindness, love, and compassion, I do my part in making the world just a tiny bit better.

Mariana Frangos, Academy of Our Lady of Peace, homeschooled and attended Evans School and All Hallows Academy

It’s been a blessing to be surrounded by people of the same faith as me. I’m someone who wants to be close to God; though there are sometimes struggles with that, it’s nice to grow with friends who are going through the same thing as you. Being in Catholic school has given me strong roots in what I believe. If I come across someone who tries to challenge me, I know will stay strong in my faith.

Ari Galindo, St. Augustine, attended St. Therese Academy

An important lesson I learned is “Do small things with great love.” This education taught me to help my fellow human being no matter how small the task. It prepared me to be a representative of the human race and my faith; to show how generous, intelligent, kind, and altruistic we can be. I learned to be a better person and teach others they can become better, too.

Juan Andree Garay, Vincent Memorial High School, attended Our Lady of Guadalupe Academy

The most important lessons from my Catholic education came from academics and sports. Responsibility and patience. Responsibility means you have to be on time to turn in work or be early to school or practice. Not everyone is going to agree with you, so you have to have patience and not give up on him or her too easily.

Ryan Gapski, Mater Dei, attended Holy Trinity School

I learned to choose love and compassion over fleeting things like wealth, power, and material goods. It helped me determine the career I want to pursue: public service.            The lessons that Mrs. Anamaria Anthony taught me were invaluable to the formation of my understanding of how I should go about life as a son, a student, a professional, and one day, a parent, too.

Cesar Gomez, Mater Dei, attended Rohr Elementary

The most important lesson I learned is to love others. I became tolerant. Dr. Suzanne Till has been the greatest teacher in my entire life. She has given me so many academic opportunities, such as an internship at the Living Coast Discovery Center and at UCSD. She has guided me throughout my entire high school career. She helped ignite a passion for the sciences in me. I will never forget her.

Sophia Jordan, Mater Dei, attended St. Pius X Catholic School, St. Mary's (Pairs, Ill.), and St. James Catholic School (Savannah, Ga.)

I have set myself to a higher standard through my Catholic education. I have learned to be more responsible, have better time management skills, and to be a better person overall. Through activities like sports and leadership, I've grown used to public speaking, marketing events, etc., that will hopefully help me in a future career in teaching.

Ivana Letayf Lazo de la Vega, Academy of Our Lady of Peace, attended Sacred Heart School (Coronado) and  Le Chatelard (Catholic girls school in Switzerland)

I have been very inspired by Catholic social teaching. In college, I want to pursue some sort of social justice or human rights, law and public policy career. Because of the grounding I have received, I’m still going to pursue my faith in college … The values I have will guide me the rest of my life.

Kira Lukasik, Academy of Our Lady  of Peace, attended St. Pius X Elementary School

Learning to be an independent thinker is my takeaway from my Catholic education. I’ve grown a lot and developed my own interests, seeking out opportunities that I want. I have developed the confidence to venture into the unknown; the risk does reap the reward if you’re willing to take that jump initially.

Chuong Nguyen, St. Augustine, attended Australian International School (Saigon)

I learned through my Catholic education to be conscious of the world around me, and to be a well-rounded individual. My education taught me to try things outside of my comfort zone. My English teacher, in particular, taught that there are things more important than grades and academics. We should be concerned with our own well-being and not about what others think.

Paulina Nguyen, Cathedral Catholic, attended St. Francis of Assisi

The Golden Rule is “love your neighbor as yourself,” and in my eight years of Catholic education I have witnessed the kindness and sacrifice of others. I have learned to listen before judging, forgive before being angry, and to love above all. No matter where someone comes from or who they might appear to be, that person has dignity and deserves love and respect just like everyone else.

Kendall Ota, Academy of Our Lady of Peace, attended Explorer Elementary School (San Diego) and St. Charles Borromeo Academy

I learned about the importance of integrity and community. At OLP, these are not just theoretical principles, they are concrete things that are happening every day. My classmates help me all the time in projects and I also help them. I know college can be overwhelming at times. I know I have talents and skills that I can use to help people, and also realizing that, occasionally, I will have to accept other people’s help.

Molly Schroeder, Academy of Our Lady of Peace, attended Our Lady of Grace School

Most of all, I learned how to serve people through all of these years of Catholic education. The call to something higher is integral to the Catholic faith as a whole — and has been a theme of my Catholic education. I’ve lived a pretty decent life. I think, “God, why did you give me all these things?” I believe it’s because He wants me to do something for other people. I’ve seen how Christ-like love does engage and change people.

Olivia Solorzano, Vincent Memorial, attended Discovery Kids (Mexicali) and Our Lady of Guadalupe Academy

The most important lesson I learned in school is to love people and accept them. I believe that all of the values – including tolerance and honesty — everything comes from love. That's the mission that Jesus came to spread and what we're supposed to spread too. I plan to live how a faithful Catholic should live, no matter if I will be judged by it in college. I'll be brave and do what I know is right.

Nicole Stepovich, Academy of Our Lady of Peace, attended Santa Sophia Academy

The greatest lesson I’ve learned is that the most radical gift I can give to others is love.  Jesus was radical in that He fought everything with love instead of with violence or anything else. As I go into the world, I can radically love people. I can bring the gift of understanding a person, walking a mile in their shoes. Going forward, I could use this gift in my community, college or across the world.

Kathryn Zwick, Mater Dei, attended Thurgood Marshall Elementary School

I learned through my education the importance of community and building meaningful relationships. This lesson helped prepare me for my future, in college and beyond. 

Class of 2019: By the Numbers

958: Number of students graduating from five high schools

100%: Portion of seniors who are graduating

70%: Portion of seniors accepted to four-year universities (average)

30%: Portion of seniors planning to attend two-year colleges (average)

Leading Destination Universities

U.S.: Brown, Cal Tech, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Columbia, Cornell, Creighton, Gonzaga,  Georgetown, Holy Names, MIT, Princeton, San Diego State, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA, UCSD, UC Santa Barbara, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California, Villanova, Yale. Mexico: Autonomous University of Baja California, CETYS, Técnologico de Monterrey


Academy of Our Lady of Peace: May 24

Cathedral Catholic High School: June 1

Mater Dei Catholic High School: May 31

St. Augustine High School: May 31

Vincent Memorial Catholic High School: May 31

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