Top graduates of historic Class of 2020 share plans, pandemic separation lessons

EDITOR’S NOTE: Below are photos and brief biographies of the valedictorians and salutatorians at the seven Catholic high schools and academies in the Diocese of Peoria. We congratulate them and all graduates in the Class of 2020 who persevered through a senior year like no other.

The top students were invited to answer two questions: 1) “Name one or two significant memories from your high school experience, and explain what made them memorable,” and 2) “What life or faith lesson(s) have you learned from the last two unusual, historic months that you might not have realized had it not been for this time of separation?” We thank them for their thoughtful responses.


MATTHEW PANOPIO — Valedictorian

Parents: Edward and Phoebe Panopio

City: Bloomington

Parish: St Patrick Church of Merna

College choice: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Anticipated major: Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering

High school activities: track and field, Math Team, Scholastic Bowl (captain), Academic Challenge Team, spring musical, Chess Team, National Honor Society board member, Mu Alpha Theta President, Ambassadors

Memorable moments: I decided to join the musical for the first time in my senior year. It was a fun and new experience for me and it was great that we got to perform the musical twice before the stay-at-home orders were put in place. It was definitely a little out of my comfort zone but performing the musical and spending time with friends at rehearsal was a personal highlight for me; I’m glad I was able to push myself and be a part of it.

Pandemic separation lessons: I’ve definitely realized how much of my daily life I had been taking for granted. In spite of what is lost during the events of this pandemic, I’ve been trying to make the most of what I have by keeping my days structured and being intentional about strengthening my relationships with my family and friends.


KRISTIN VOSE — Salutatorian

Parents: Matt and Marie Vose

City: Bloomington

Parish: St. Patrick Church of Merna

College choice: Purdue University

Anticipated major: Mechanical Engineering

High school activities: tennis, Ambassadors, Mu Alpha Theta, Math Team, Academic Challenge Team, Craft Club, BroMenn Hospital volunteer, Miller Park Junior Zookeeper, Midwest Food Bank volunteer

Memorable moments: Making it to state in tennis my junior and senior years was very significant for me because it was the result of all my work during the season and off season training, and it was great to have it all pay off in such a special way.

Pandemic separation lessons: I learned that it is important not to take simple, everyday things (friends, family, vacations, good health) for granted because nothing is guaranteed and these things mean a lot more to us than we realize.


JULIA GRACE TANGEN — Valedictorian

Parents: Lyn and Shelly Tangen

City: Champaign

Parish: St. Matthew

College choice: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Anticipated major: Interdisciplinary Health Sciences on the Pre-Nursing Track

High school activities: National Honor Society, Spanish Club, cheerleader, House Fellowship System Leader

Memorable moments: One of my favorite memories from my high school experience was my senior year powderpuff. Not only did the seniors win but we had so much fun while doing it. It was something I will remember doing with my friends for a long time. It was such a high energy event and we were all so excited, making it so much more fun.

Pandemic separation lessons: These last two months have definitely been an experience. Throughout this time in quarantine I have come to realize the importance of gratitude and patience. This time isn’t what we truly wanted but I have found that having patience throughout it all and being grateful for everything I have is helpful to get through this time. Being grateful for the high school experience I received and looking forward to my future has been quite important during this time for me.


JUSTIN ADAM SMITH — Salutatorian

Parents: Adam and Stephanie Smith

City: Champaign

Parish: St. Patrick (Urbana)

College choice: University of Southern California

Anticipated major: Architecture

High school activities: service trips, football, working backstage for the musicals, and math team

Memorable moments: The most significant memory I have from my high school experience is when the STM football team in my junior year got to play Rantoul at Memorial Stadium. It was so cool to play in a college stadium, but what made it most memorable is how we came back in the fourth quarter to win the game.

Pandemic separation lessons: I realized in this time of separation that time management is a really important skill to master because we still had assignments due during the day even though we were not at school. I had to motivate myself and make time to work on those assignments.


ISABELLE PETERS — Valedictorian

Parents: Drs. Andrew and Eleanor Peters

City: Danville

Parish: St. Paul

College choice: Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pennsylvania

Anticipated major:  Theatre

High school activities: National Honor Society, archery, band, Scholastic Bowl

Memorable moments: Volunteering has always been a staple at Schlarman, and doing it with my friends and having fun while helping the community will always stay with me.

Pandemic separation lessons: I learned that we need to make the most of every day, and cherish every memory. We live in the present, and if you spend too long dwelling on the past or the future you miss making memories in the now. I wish I could go back and appreciate my final days more.


FARRAH ANDERSON — Salutatorian

Parents: Kirk and Kathryn Anderson

City: Danville

Parish: St. Paul

College choice: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Anticipated major: Journalism

High school activities: Yearbook, Scholastic Bowl, archery, band, National Honor Society, and News-Gazette student reporter

Memorable moments: One of my favorite memories from high school was during Catholic Schools Week when our entire school was able to visit a recently renovated historic music theatre in Danville to watch a movie. We were given popcorn and huge water bottles and we all had a great time seeing the historic theatre and watching a movie that morning.

Pandemic separation lessons: This global pandemic has shown me how interaction and personal fulfillment intersect as you get older, and how valuable the discussions with teachers and classmates are to a well-rounded education. Without the teachers and their ability to curate thoughtful debates and discussions in class, I wouldn’t be able to voice my opinion and have been given the opportunity to speak about how I really felt. Online learning just can’t compare to the individual attention and group discussions that you are able to have in a classroom, because education really is an influence of a myriad of thoughts and ideas.


KATHRYN SIENA — Valedictorian

Parents: Peter and Leila Siena

City: Ottawa

Parish: St. Columba

College choice: The University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Anticipated major: Biochemistry

High school activities: cross-country, track, Academic Challenge, Scholastic Bowl, Fine Arts Club, tech crew for the plays and musicals, Sports Medicine Club, teen columnist for the local newspaper, and Sunday School assistant teacher

Memorable moments: One of my most significant high school memories was a track practice in my sophomore year. The distance part of my team was running on a side of town that is separated from Marquette by a large, windy bridge, and it stated to hail. My teammates and I quickly ducked into a nearby grocery store, but we didn’t have any cell phones, so we knew we would have to run back to the school in the hail. Luckily for us, a longtime Marquette supporter happened to be shopping in that grocery store, and offered to drive the team back. This memory is significant because it reminds me of the team bonds that I grew with my teammates in hard times and of the caring family atmosphere that is characteristic of Marquette. I know that if I ever need them, all of my teammates and any Marquette supporter will always be there for me.

Pandemic separation lessons: I have certainly learned to appreciate each day as if it were my last! Looking back, I am amazed at how insignificant I saw what turned out to be my last day of high school classes, and I wish that I had taken more time to enjoy the day. I have also taken to heart the idea that God’s plan is greater than anything we could ever imagine. At first, I was crushed that I would miss my last Fine Arts Festival, musical, and track season as well as ceremonies such as senior Mass, baccalaureate, etc. As time went on, however, I realized that although I may not see it now, what is happening will ultimately bring me the greatest joy; I look forward to the day that I will better understand God’s great plan.


SEAN KISSEL — Salutatorian

Parents: Douglas and Lenee Kissel

City: Millington

Parish: St. Columba (Ottawa)

College: St. Ambrose University

Major: Nursing

High school activities: basketball, golf, track, plays and musicals

Memorable moments: My most memorable moment of high school was definitely my junior year when the varsity basketball team was playing Seneca at home. We were down two with about three seconds left. None other than the great Jack Snook threw a “Hail Mary” half-court shot and sunk it at the buzzer for the win. It was the most amazing feeling to see the whole school and all of the parents rush the floor to celebrate the victory.

Pandemic separation lessons: I have learned that no matter what, do not give into the temptation to just do nothing. Many times in life we are faced with the decision to take the easy way out, or push through and persevere. Often we are caught taking the easy route. But I have learned that during these times when everything seems kind of hopeless, it’s the ones that trudged on that will come out on top.


SYDNEE O’DONNELL — Valedictorian

Parents: Mike O’Donnell and Melanie Petri

City: Peoria

Parish: St. Philomena

College choice: Loyola University Chicago

Anticipated major: Political Science

High school activities: tennis, National Honor Society, concert choir, Scholastic Bowl, German Club

Memorable moments: One of my most significant high school memories is making it to state in tennis this year because I have always been a doubles player, but with the unconditional support of my teammates and coaches, I was able to have a successful senior year playing singles.  My team never gave up on me and was by my side whether I was winning or losing, helping me to have an incredibly fun season that I will always remember.

Pandemic separation lessons: In these past two months, I have learned how united we all are with others in our communities even when we aren’t able to be physically together.  Instead of remaining stagnant and isolated during this trying time, we are hosting virtual graduations, meetups in our separate cars, Zoom proms with our friends, and online classes.  This continued dedication to each other and our communities has inspired me and made me realize that even during the darkest times in our lives, we are never truly alone.


ANNA KIEFFER — Salutatorian

Parents: Sam and Libby Kieffer

City: Morton

Parish: Blessed Sacrament

College choice: Marquette University

Anticipated major: Accounting and International Business

High school activities: Student Ambassadors, Teens for Life (board member), Lumen Christi Core Team, Beau Grant Foundation Club, Anchor Club

Memorable moments: My friends and I got together before school and during advisory periods to talk with our favorite teachers, which was memorable because we continued meeting up over video calls while separated. Going to sporting events, dances, and concerts with my friends to make fun memories together outside of school.

Pandemic separation lessons: Everything happens for a reason, and God always has a plan. This time of separation has made me realize how much more I need to show appreciation for the people in my life.


MACY BOSNICH — Valedictorian

Parents: Alan and Melissa Bosnich

City: DePue

College choice: Northwestern University

Anticipated major: Neuroscience

High school activities: volleyball, basketball, track, Heritage Club, Ambassadors, Lectio Divina, InterAct Club

Memorable moments: My most significant memories from high school have to include the first few months of high school and the last few months of high school. When I came to St. Bede, I didn’t know a majority of my classmates. There are a number of towns and schools that feed into the Academy, so everything was new. St. Bede welcomed all of us with open arms, and I was able to bond with my new classmates so quickly. As I closed out my high school experience, I saw that same community stretch into our remote learning. I still stayed in touch with my classmates and teachers. The community that started forming the first few months of high school made the last months that much easier to navigate.

Pandemic Life is thrown at us unexpectedly, but God only throws us challenges He knows we can handle.

Pandemic separation lessons: This quarantine made me appreciate everyday things I had taken for granted. As difficult as it has been, the challenge has made me adapt and grow as a person and a student.


KASSIDY BRADY — Salutatorian

Parents: Tom and Kerri Brady

City: LaSalle

Parish: St. Patrick

College choice: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Anticipated major: Chemistry

High school activities: volleyball, basketball, softball, student government, Heritage Club, Lectio Divina, Interact Club, prom committee, eucharistic minister

Memorable moments: One of my favorite high school memories was winning the basketball regional my senior year. At one point in the season we were 1-17, and probably written off by most. About half way through the season we were able to turn it around, bond as a team, and come back to win the regional.

Pandemic separation lessons: I have learned that there is always something good in everything. While at first I was upset about the events we were missing, I began to become appreciative for the extra time with my family and I learned not to take anything for granted.


EMMA LEGARE — Valedictorian

Parents: Jim and Jenny Legare

City: Colona

Parish: Christ the King (Moline)

College choice: Saint Louis University

Anticipated major: Neuroscience

High school activities: National Honor Society President, Dance Marathon Registration Captain, Junior Rotarian, football cheerleading, Emeralds Dance Team, Alleman Ambassador

Memorable moments: One of the most significant memories from my high school experience was in the classroom of my Junior Year French class. Our teacher, Madame Anderson, would teach us our French lessons and life lessons as we headed into the college application process. I will always remember our classroom jokes that helped us understand the new language. I will also always remember my Biology II class with Mr. Shaffer because of the immense amount of knowledge I learned in a short amount of time. Similarly to Madame Anderson, he would entwine life lessons into our daily lectures. I learned a lot of educational content in these classes, but I also learned life lessons to last a lifetime and that is what made those experiences so memorable.

Pandemic separation lessons: In these past few unusual months, I learned our faith can truly be expressed in the simplest ways. I was always taught that the smallest decisions to practice our faith meant the most and now I have lived it for the past few months. I learned every moment counts and we need to be grateful for the little things in life. In general, it’s the small things that matter most in life, and there’s a way to incorporate God into our daily lives.



Parents: Molly Kindelsperger, Kent Kindelsperger

City: Milan

Parish: Zion Lutheran Church

College choice: University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

Anticipated major: Undecided

High school activities: volleyball, softball, International Club, National Honor Society, Ambassadors

Memorable moments: My most significant memories from high school are probably finals prep week. The stress of finals is unforgettable in itself, but I always spent that week or so before finals studying with friends every day after school. It was both productive and entertaining, as it gave me a chance to spend more time with friends I barely saw during the day. I also really enjoyed the opportunities to help them out in whatever subject they needed.

Pandemic separation lessons: These last two months, I learned the importance of self-discipline. I had to regulate my daily life in a way that I never had before, as I was the only one holding myself accountable for my actions. Discipline was very important in online schooling and getting my work done regularly, but also for staying inside. It takes continuous effort, good time management, and determination.

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