Top graduates from Catholic high schools offer up words of wisdom

Now that the academic year has drawn to a close, graduating seniors proudly look back at all they’ve accomplished in high school and look forward to a bright future in college. The valedictorian and salutatorian from Saint John Paul II Academy, Cardinal Newman High School and John Carroll High School were interviewed about their academic career, what they cherish about a Catholic education and what words of wisdom they’d like incoming freshman to keep in mind as they grow intellectually and spiritually. Here’s what the students had to say.


Saint John Paul II Academy, Boca Raton

Christina Nguyen – Valedictorian, attending Florida State University

“A Lasallian Catholic education has influenced my life academically and spiritually because it has motivated me to strive for greatness and to give back to those in need. It taught me that education is much more than just grades; it is also about the values and virtues you learn and develop along the way.

The teacher that inspired me the most is Mrs. Foley, who teaches science. Although she teaches one of the most challenging subjects, she never gives up on her students and is always humble and kind. Her capability to explain complex topics clearly and concisely together with her perseverance and enthusiasm will forever inspire me to do likewise.

My advice for the incoming freshmen next year as they begin their journey through high school is to take advantage of all the opportunities that they are blessed to have. It’s okay to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes, but do not dwell on them. High school is only four years. It may seem like a long time, but the years will go by quicker than you could ever imagine; therefore, Carpe Diem!”

Julianna DeBonis – Salutatorian, attending College of the Holy Cross

“Looking back on my high school career, I am most proud of the confidence I have gained and the times I have pushed myself to work harder than I ever thought possible.

A Lasallian Catholic education has helped me to discover my faith, which gives me strength during difficult times and empowers me to always care for the poor and most vulnerable among us.

My sophomore year chemistry teacher inspired me because of her passion for teaching and her determination to make sure her students not only understood what she was teaching but also enjoyed the subject.

My advice for the incoming freshman would be to cherish every moment because four years will fly by. I would also tell them to try their best in high school, but not stress too much and to have fun.”


Cardinal Newman High School, West Palm Beach

Martina Faber – Valedictorian, attending University of Florida

“In my high school career, I am most proud of being part of the International Baccalaureate program. During this program I was intellectually challenged every day, and it taught me to seek new questions and new answers. However, I am most proud of the relationships I have made in this program. Being such a small class forced us to become very close, and during this time I build friendships with incredible people. My IB classmates are eclectic and resilient. I have learned so much from their strength and it has truly helped shape the person I have become.

Being at Cardinal Newman and having had a Catholic education is an opportunity that I truly cherish. Most high schools focus on simply teaching the students for a test, and even though academic success is one of the top pillars of our school, I was taught so much more during my time at Newman. I was taught about morality and how to treat others and myself. This Catholic education not only helped me become a better person, but it helped me practice my faith every day.

My English teacher, Mrs. Gibson, is the teacher that has made the biggest impact on me during my time in high school. As a freshman, my writing skills were not very eloquent. Instead of my English teacher simply giving me bad grades in hopes that I would learn, Mrs. Gibson saw that English was not my first language and took the time to make sure that I always understood the lessons. She is the reason that I am able to write an essay today. She is an extremely strong person and genuinely cares for her students, not just their academic achievement. I am beyond grateful to have had the pleasure of being taught by her.

In high school you will run into many obstacles, some tougher to surpass than others, but you will get through them. The most important thing I learned in high school was that as long as you truly work for what you want, you will achieve it. I hope that the incoming freshman look at high school as an opportunity to achieve anything they desire and to work extremely hard for their future endeavors.”

Rebekah Brawley – Salutatorian, attending Emory University

“I grew up in a Catholic family, yet did not attend Catholic school until middle school. Receiving a Catholic education has been very important to my development as an individual. At Cardinal Newman, students are able to develop both academically and spiritually. Learning within a Catholic environment has enabled me to feel part of a community while enhancing my faith.

One teacher who inspired me the most was Mr. Powell. He was my IB History teacher for both my junior and senior years. To me, history was the most rigorous course within the IB program. Mr. Powell constantly challenged us yet was able to show us our academic potential. His teaching style really impacted my interest in history to the point where I am considering a minor in that subject. He significantly helped my ability to formulate well written historical essays.

A piece of advice that I would give to incoming freshman is to stay positive. Many challenges arise during high school, both academically and personally. A quote I like is ‘life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.’ It's through continuing to work hard and pursuing your passions that will bring you success.”


John Carroll High School, Fort Pierce

Dylan Breslaw – Valedictorian, attending University of Notre Dame

“Having the opportunity to learn in a Catholic environment has allowed me the freedom to be who I am. I’m encouraged every day to be a better student and challenged by each and every one of my teachers to stretch my academic limits. Whenever I was struggling, I always had the opportunity to visit our school’s chapel where I had the chance to listen to God in a peace-filled environment. The opportunity I had to strengthen my spirituality has led me to be a better son, friend and student.

My math teacher, Mrs. Ageeb, has inspired me a great deal, and not just through her teaching style but through her ‘grata Tuesday’s,’ where we all said something we’re thankful. More than that, she was always open to listen to my questions whether it was during class, at lunch or after school. Mrs. Ageeb has taught me geometry and calculus but most importantly she’s taught me what it means to be a true Catholic and a better human being.

To all the incoming freshmen I would say this, take risks and never be afraid to do the things you love. Accomplishing hard tasks involves hard work and sometimes you will struggle, but it’s through your failures that you continue to learn and grow. Never stop persevering and always dream big.”

Thomas Jochem – Salutatorian, attending the United States Naval Academy

“I have attended a Catholic school since Pre-K. I believe that my Catholic school experience has had a profound impact on me by allowing me to express my faith during school and by giving me a certain level of discipline and attention to detail that I would not have received anywhere else.

My freshman and senior religion teacher, Mr. Scotto, has inspired me the most over the past 4 years. He was more than a teacher; he was someone who would go beyond the required material. On September 6, 2016 my grandmother, who was supposed to pick me up after football practice, passed away. Mr. Scotto was leaving his job to go home to his family, but he saw a lonely and distraught 15-year-old boy crying on a bench. Mr. Scotto stopped everything, walked over to me, and talked with me for about 30 minutes until my mom could finally come pick me up. He showed that the profession of teaching goes beyond what happens in the classroom.

To all incoming freshman I would say that you are about to enter the best and most influential years of your life. Many high school students enter as young kids and leave as adults. Just remember to enjoy these four years because they will fly by.”