Meet the top graduates of our seven Catholic high schools

The seven Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Peoria have completed commencement exercises. Following are brief biographies of the 2014 valedictorians and salutatorians at each school. We congratulate them and all members of the Class of 2014.

This year, we invited the top students to answer two questions: 1) “How would you describe the advantages of attending a Catholic high school?,” and 2) “Name one or two moments you will particularly remember from your high school experience, and explain why they were memorable.”

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SAMUEL FURLONG — Valedictorian
Central Catholic, Bloomington

Parents: Steve and Laura Furlong
Town: Bloomington
Parish: Epiphany, Normal
College choice: Duke University
Anticipated major: Biomedical Engineering

High school activities: Jazz band, jazz combo, concert band, Scholastic Bowl, swim team, Science Club, speech team, collegiate biochemical research, math team, Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering, National Honor Society, Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership, volunteering with children with autism

Catholic high school advantages: It allows for a superior academic experience in an environment of respect, integrity and morals.

Memorable moments: The first time I performed with the jazz combo my sophomore year. It was memorable because I love jazz and it was fun to create our own arrangements.

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MICHAEL BILLINGTON — Salutatorian
Central Catholic, Bloomington

Parents: Mike and Patty Billington
Town: Bloomington
Parish: Epiphany, Normal
College choice: Washington University in Saint Louis
Anticipated major: Biomedical Engineering

High school activities: Class officer, Interact Club (Rotary), Vita Christi, Student Ambassador, Scholastic Bowl, math team, basketball, track and field, United Way Emerging Community Impact Partners Project

Catholic high school advantages: A Catholic education fosters growth in an array of areas. Teachers and students work seamlessly together to create an environment that encourages not only the growth of educational knowledge, but also the growth of a strong character and a faith in God built on rock. Teachers prepare students for life after high school by challenging them academically and teaching them values they can apply to all parts of their lives. Catholic school communities value the students’ relationships with God in addition to the students’ educations. Daily theology class, combined with the plentiful opportunities to encounter Christ in the Eucharist, stimulate an atmosphere that allows for the development of moral character as well as intellectual character.

Memorable moments: A memorable moment from high school is winning the state championship in basketball. The thrill of pulling out the win in triple overtime is an experience I will never forget.
Another memorable moment from high school is attending the March for Life in Washington, D.C. with many of my fellow seniors. Being among thousands upon thousands of other pro-life supporters fighting for the right to life was a life-changing experience that has helped me to more greatly appreciate the Catholic community.

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DEMETRIOS SOFRONIS — Valedictorian
The High School of Saint Thomas More, Champaign

Parents: Petros and Eleni Sofronis
Town: Champaign
Parish: Three Hierarchs Greek Orthodox
College choice: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Anticipated major: Industrial Engineering

High school activities: Soccer, track, National Honor Society

Catholic high school advantages: As mentioned in my valedictorian address, attending a Catholic school betters you in every way possible. Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, it is stressed that we strive for perfection in all aspects of our lives whether it be academics, athletics, or character. In total, a Catholic school helps you reach your full potential.

Memorable moments: I will never forget when we beat our rivals in soccer for the regional title. Our hard work and dedication brought us to victory in front of so many people.
Most importantly, though, giving the valedictorian address was truly my best memory. Delivering such a speech in front of so many people made my graduation an exciting and perfect way to end my high school experience.

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SAMUEL SHEA POWERS — Salutatorian
The High School of Saint Thomas More, Champaign

Parents: John and Kim Powers
Town: Champaign
Parish: Holy Cross
College choice: Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington
Anticipated major: Business

High school activities: Cross country (captain senior year and member of IHSA Class 1A State Championship team my junior year), track team (captain senior year and member of IHSA Class 1A State Championship 4 X 800 meter relay team my junior year), National Honor Society (president my senior year), Student Council, STM Ambassador, math team

Catholic high school advantages: A Catholic education teaches us more than just academics. It helps us to become better people and stronger Christians. It teaches us the value of doing the right thing and instills in us the courage to do what is right.

Memorable moments: I will miss my friends, teachers, and the family atmosphere at STM. One of my favorite memories from my high school days will always be my junior year cross country season which culminated in a state championship. When I look back on this experience I will remember that with teamwork and dedication you can accomplish anything and how much fun it was to share this with my teammates.

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JORDAN MARGANSKI — Valedictorian
Schlarman Academy, Danville

Parents: Adam and Teri Marganski
Town: Rossville
Parish: St. Paul, Danville
College choice: University of Illinois
Anticipated major: Biology

High school activities: Varsity volleyball, basketball, track, Academic Challenge

Catholic high school advantages: Attending a Catholic high school provided me with a close-knit community that is rarely found in public schools. The students at Schlarman were able to grow in an understanding of faith together throughout our years in Catholic school, and that created bonds and a level of respect that are hard to replicate.

Memorable moments: When “Hard as Nails Ministry” came to our school the first year. The group brought our student body together in a way none of us thought possible. They inspired us to forgive and forget old grudges and embrace all members of our community. It was a truly amazing experience.

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MARIA RADEMACHER — Salutatorian
Schlarman Academy, Danville

Parents: Eric and Lisa Rademacher
Town: Potomac
College choice: Trinity Christian College
Anticipated major: Double major in Elementary Education and Special Education

High school activities: Chorus, archery, National Honor Society, Academic Challenge, Scholastic Bowl, drama, Student Council

Catholic high school advantages: I feel that, by attending Schlarman Academy, I received the best education possible. Equipping students educationally and spiritually are the top priorities of the teachers and staff. I know that the feeling of family and community that I had at Schlarman could not have come from any other place than a Catholic school.

Memorable moments: I will always remember how our days began with prayer. Not many schools allow even a moment of silence during the school day, despite the significance of it. I believe that prayerfully beginning our days allowed us, as students, to remember how important it is to make time for God in our daily lives.

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PAUL JONES — Co-Valedictorian
Marquette Academy, Ottawa

Parents: Kenneth and Rose Marie Jones
Town: Ottawa
Parish: St. Columba
College choice: Lake Forest College, Lake Forest
Anticipated major: Neuroscience with another major or minors in philosophy and/or mathematics

High school activities: Boy Scouts of America (Eagle Scout), National Honor Society, Scholastic Bowl, cross country, track, play, musical

Catholic high school advantages: The teachers genuinely care about the students. They are more than happy to talk about anything that concerns you whether it relates to your class or not.

Memorable moments: My junior philosophy class. We had many interesting and dynamic discussions led by Msgr. Halfacre. I got to know five seniors that I will stay in contact with for the rest of my life.
Also, my final cross country and my final track meets. The feeling of four years of hard work and grueling daily practices paying off is just amazing.

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JACOB MARTINI — Co-Valedictorian
Marquette Academy, Ottawa

Parents: Thomas and Sherrie Martini
Town: Ottawa
Parish: St. Patrick
College choice: Bradley University
Anticipated major: Mechanical Engineering

High school activities: Varsity football, basketball and baseball, Student Council, Key Club, Order of the M, Crazy Cru, National Honor Society, senior retreat leader, Fine Arts Club, Student Ambassador, IVCC Honors Program — Phi Theta Kappa, drama club

Catholic high school advantages: By going to a Catholic school, the teachers are always there to help a student in need and the students are able to bond at the different religious functions. The whole academy came together on many occasions to celebrate Mass. Being able to openly practice my faith in school is by far the biggest advantage of attending a Catholic high school.

Memorable moments: One moment that I will always remember from high school is when I finished my last community college class. It was memorable because I felt so accomplished and relieved to finish my last community college class and be able to graduate with my Associate of Arts and Associate of Science. The second moment that I will always remember is Senior Retreat. It was probably the highlight of my senior year because our class bonded so well with each other and God.

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CAROLANN WACKERLIN — Salutatorian
Marquette Academy, Ottawa

Parents: Russell and Beth Wackerlin
Town: Leland
Parish: St. Theresa, Earlville
College choice: Texas A&M University
Anticipated major: Double major in Animal Science and Biology

High school activities: Running Start Program (a partnership between Marquette and Illinois Valley Community College allowed me the opportunity to earn a double associates in Science and in Arts while simultaneously being a high school student), teen columnist for the Ottawa Daily Times, National Honor Society, Phi Theta Kappa, Student Council, cheerleader, Key Club, Scholastic Bowl, drama club, part-time job at Earlville Tri-County Veterinary Service, raise my own steers for market on our family farm

Catholic high school advantages: The obvious advantage is that we are surrounded by our faith all day, no matter where you are in the school, but for me the greatest advantage is the increased knowledge I have of Catholicism. I firmly believe that the people who have something against Catholics or who ridicule our beliefs simply do not understand why we believe what we believe. I have struggled, and still do, with some of the teachings of the Catholic Church, but through my religious education in a Catholic high school I am more confident in not just my beliefs, but also in my ability to explain and spread my faith to others.

Memorable moments: Honestly, there are no particular moments that stick out. I’m sure in the future there will be more specific memories but right now high school is just a montage of hundreds of little moments. Rather, it’s the people that really stand out. I have made some truly fantastic friends and gotten to know some incredibly intelligent classmates. My hope is that I manage to stay in touch with all of them so that they are not just memories.

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NICKOLAS PUDIK — Valedictorian
Peoria Notre Dame

Parents: Troy and Beth Pudik
Town: Peoria
Parish: St. Vincent de Paul
College choice: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Anticipated major: Undeclared Engineering

High school activities: Basketball, baseball, student government, Student Ambassador, Key Club, Anchor Club

Catholic high school advantages: Attending a Catholic high school acts as a constant reminder of the importance of God in my daily life, as I take time out of my busy day at school for prayer, Mass, or Confession. The school allows me to practice, and thus grow in, the Faith that I have nurtured by surrounding me with a faculty and student body who share in my Catholic values.

Memorable moments: Winning the sectional title during my senior season in basketball at the Renaissance Center at Bradley stands out as a lasting memory. The energy present in that one moment was unlike any other in high school. As a team, we were as close as brothers, and the collective pride amongst us as we represented our school with a victory was revealed in the cheers of the whole PND community.

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CAITLIN HAISLER — Salutatorian
Peoria Notre Dame

Parents: Alan and Rose Haisler
Town: Peoria
Parish: St. Vincent de Paul
College choice: University of Illinois
Anticipated major: Mechanical Engineering

High school activities: Varsity basketball, Student Ambassadors, yearbook, Key Club, 4-H, St. Jude Club, Teens for Life, National Honor Society

Catholic high school advantages: Students at a Catholic high school are given an in-depth education about the history and teachings of the Church. Learning why things are done the way they are helped strengthen my faith.

Memorable moments: My favorite memory is from senior year, when our girls’ basketball team beat Richwoods in overtime on our home court for our first regional championship in 11 years.

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MICHAEL BELLINO — Valedictorian
St. Bede Academy, Peru

Parents: John and Susan Bellino
Town: Standard
Parish: Holy Family, Oglesby
College choice: Illinois Wesleyan
Anticipated major: Chemistry

High school activities: Football, baseball, student government, Ambassadors, Spanish Club board, Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion

Catholic high school advantages: Attending a Catholic school surrounded me with people that had similar values as me. This allowed me to be myself without the worry of having to fit in. I now have learned the type of people that I want to surround myself with when I go to college next year.

Memorable moments: I’ll never forget the day that my AP chemistry classmates and I made a periodic table out of cupcakes for our teacher. He was so appreciative and still talks about it a year later. Also I will not forget my years as a St. Bede football player. It is too hard to pick out just particular moments as memorable, but those seasons played more of a role than anything in forming the person I am today.

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SOPHIE CARUS — Salutatorian
St. Bede Academy, Peru

Parents: Paul and Tammi Carus
Town: Peru
College choice: Ohio State University Honor Program
Anticipated major: Biomedical Engineering

High school activities: Student Ambassador, student government, basketball (captain senior year), cross country, volleyball, Interact Club, Journey youth group, SBA athletic camp volunteer, Lily events volunteer and SBA auction events volunteer

Catholic high school advantages: The main advantage is that a Catholic high school not only teaches academics, but also establishes a code of moral behavior which pushes you to become a better person every day.

Memorable moments: My junior year our basketball team advanced to the Sweet 16. This was an amazing experience because I grew very close to my teammates and I learned how valuable it is to trust others and earn their trust in return.

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JAKOB DODD — Valedictorian
Alleman High School, Rock Island

Parents: Eric and Leah Dodd
Town: Coal Valley
College Choice: University of Notre Dame
Anticipated Major: Mechanical Engineering

High school activities: Soccer, wrestling, tennis, Student Council, Students Against Destructive Decisions, National Honor Society

Catholic high school advantages: The clearest advantage I see in attending a Catholic high school is the opportunity to discuss faith-related issues. While other schools may train only body and mind, Catholic education emphasizes both of these along with the most important aspect of the spirit.

Memorable moments: I will always remember going out for wrestling for the first time my senior year and receiving a varsity letter. It was the most difficult experience of my life, but I learned many valuable lessons in self-discipline, motivation, and determination. I also made lifelong friendships with my teammates and coaches.

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MATTHEW MALLARY — Salutatorian
Alleman High School, Rock Island

Parents: Dave and Tricia Mallary
Town: Cordova
Parish: St. Ambrose, Erie; St. John the Baptist, Rapids City
College choice: Judson University
Anticipated major: Game and Interactive Media Design

High school activities: Cross country, track and field, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering, Teens Encounter Christ, Snowball, Academic Bowl, Sigma Alpha Delta, ICTM, Student Council, Friends of Rachel

Catholic high school advantages: You get to learn more about your faith and you can meet many people who have similar beliefs to yours . . . Also, you get a chance to practice your faith daily without anyone questioning you. It is nice to be able to walk the halls and be taught by teachers knowing that there is a strong sense of religious beliefs that were not there when I was in the public school system.

Memorable moments: I will always remember going to state my junior year for cross country. This was the year I transferred to Alleman High School. I got to spend more time with my friends and teammates, compete at state in my favorite sport, and do almost as well as we were predicted to do. I will also remember qualifying for state in track my senior year. It was the first time I had ever qualified as an individual in high school and I had an amazing race at sectionals to qualify.

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