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Top students reflect on high school years

The Diocese of Palm Beach honors its Catholic high school graduates, particularly the valedictorians and salutatorians, with senior spotlights. In the first of three articles shining a light on excellence in Catholic education, the Florida Catholic spoke with top seniors at Cardinal Newman High School.

WEST PALM BEACH | Living a busy life can be a constant struggle for balance. If work begins to weigh you down too much, you could get burned out, and if you play too much, the mediocre results may hurt progress toward your goals. That need to find a healthy balance is on the mind of many people — even high school students.

As Jordan Anderson, Cardinal Newman’s 2023 salutatorian, advanced through her high school years, finding that balance became more of a priority. She would advise incoming freshmen to be aware of the pitfalls.

“It’s OK to still engage in activities and be social, but I would say it’s definitely important to still focus on your schoolwork,” she said. “I got a couple of B’s my freshman year. They were in very simple classes. It was just because I didn’t do homework or do a project. I think it’s just so easy to do those things and not regret it later on when you’re a senior and you’re looking back, and it brings down your GPA.”

Anderson, the daughter of Jeff and Karen Anderson, said she also learned the importance of developing friendships with peers who are positive influences and have similar goals. “If you find your people, then it makes school more fun, you’re more focused on your activities, while also being friends with people who give you a good influence,” she said.

Forming those close bonds during high school has been a highlight for Isabel Gonzales, Cardinal Newman’s valedictorian, the daughter of Peter and Josie Gonzales.

“I think those friendships will last a long time, even past when we graduate,” she said. “I also think I’ve grown a lot. There’s a great academic program here, and the teachers are very supportive and helpful. They’re always helpful in every aspect of helping us succeed and thrive in every way possible.”

Attending a Catholic high school has meant a lot to Gonzales, who earlier went to St. Clare School in North Palm Beach. She has appreciated being encouraged to pray, talk about her faith, participate in campus Masses and have a chapel to visit in the mornings to reflect and quiet her mind.

For Anderson, who attended public school for her elementary and middle school years, Catholic education added a new, affirmative dimension to her life.

“When you’re in public schools, you really aren’t allowed to talk about anything religious,” she said. “I feel being able to pray and saying prayers before class and on the morning announcements almost makes it feel more of a safe space, like it’s more welcoming and you can just express yourself freely.”

Both students spoke about their favorite teachers, who served as mentors and helped them mature as individuals. They mentioned English literature teacher Kristine Byrne, who Anderson said motivated her to read and Gonzales said was open to more than one interpretation of a novel.

Math teacher Patricia Smith nurtured Anderson’s love for mathematics to the point that she will pursue an aerospace engineering degree at the University of Florida and possibly work toward a position in the Air Force or Space Force.

Gonzales gave kudos to science teacher Christine Granados, who “is always looking for ways to communicate the material in a fun way with projects or more interactive activities. She’s very thoughtful, always coming up with ways to keep us entertained, working our hardest, even when she can tell we’re having trouble or getting tired. She always goes the extra mile. That’s really helped me stay on track.”

The valedictorian’s advice to freshmen is to avoid being intimidated by the high school experience. “Just take it easy, take it slow and enjoy it,” said Gonzales, who will attend Ave Maria University, majoring in nursing and possibly go to medical school. “Don’t get so caught up and overwhelmed over little things because these are some of the most formative years of your life and you should really make the most of them.”

From Anderson’s perspective, high school went by like the blink of an eye. “Especially the last two years,” she said. “It starts off and it goes pretty slow. Then, before you know it, you’re a junior, and then you’re a senior and graduating. It doesn’t feel real.”

For more information about Cardinal Newman High School, visit, call 561-683-6266 or follow the school on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.