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Life is a healthy mix of faith, school, social life


Editor’s note: The Diocese of Palm Beach honors its Catholic high school graduates, particularly the valedictorians and salutatorians, with senior spotlights. In the last of three articles shining a light on excellence in Catholic education, the Florida Catholic spoke with the top seniors at Saint John Paul II Academy.

BOCA RATON  |  The valedictorian and salutatorian at St. John Paul II Academy are alike in many ways. They’re both outgoing, funny, athletic, hardworking and planning to attend the University of Florida. They were also surprised to learn that they were at the top of their graduating class.

“I didn’t expect it. I just tried hard, but I didn’t expect to do this well,” said Maria Ferer, 2024 valedictorian at the Boca Raton high school. 

Salutatorian Maximus Tirado added, “I didn’t know either. I was actually shocked.”

During their high school years, Ferer competed in cross country (team captain for two seasons), soccer, track and lacrosse for varying amounts of time, while Tirado played baseball, track and volleyball. He helped start the volleyball program at the school.

Due to the pandemic, their freshman and sophomore years were odd, with few regular school events, they said. At that time, students were given the choice to attend classes online or in person and wear masks. Most chose in-person learning. 

“Then in junior and senior years, it kind of started to get more normal,” Tirado said. “Plus, we had our Kairos retreat this senior year, so that brought everybody together. Everyone’s friends now.”

Ferer added that “junior and senior years were the best years because everybody kind of got to know each other more. School just became normal. You got used to it more. We’ve had more stuff going on that we can involve ourselves in the last two years, like school dances, prom and homecoming.”

Ferer, whose parents are John and Claudia Ferer, attended Catholic school for seven years in Weston, then public school, before moving to New Zealand, where her mother pursued a master’s degree in environmental engineering. But when COVID-19 took hold, they returned to Florida. 

Tirado, the son of Omar and Roxanna Tirado, attended elementary and middle school at Spanish River Christian School, which is around the corner from the St. John Paul II campus in Boca Raton. In college, he plans to major in finance and seek a career as an investment banker, like his dad, or a hedge fund manager. Ferer’s path toward being a physical therapist will begin by majoring in biology or health science.  

Both students credit math teacher Michael Simianakis for guiding them through calculus and explaining complex concepts. Ferer also mentioned religion teacher Ryan Longton, while Tirado applauded AP biology teacher Manuel Burgos. “His classes are always fun. He’s just always having a good time. Good teacher and good person, too,” Tirado said. 

It’s no surprise that their advice to younger students is similar. Ferer urged them to not ignore their assignments but apply themselves to achieve their goals. Tirado said, “Work hard in school, but also enjoy your time while you’re in school because it goes by really fast. Definitely have a good balance of work and study, then outside of that socially also. Do extracurriculars and participate in all the school events you can.”

Having a healthy mixture of school and social life is important, they said. Tirado feels that he had a good balance of both, while Ferer said, “During the week, we just did our work. And then on the weekends, we were able to hang out with our friends and do everything that we wanted to do.” 

Ferer and Tirado expressed gratitude to their parents and high school staff for supporting them and helping build a strong foundation in the Catholic faith. To her fellow students, Ferer said, “I’m just proud that I got to grow with them.”

For more information on Saint John Paul II Academy, visit To learn about all schools in the Diocese of Palm Beach, go to or follow the Office of Catholic Schools on Facebook, Instagram and X (Twitter).