Top graduates of Class of 2023 look back with gratitude and forward with hope
Graduation ceremonies for the Diocese of Peoria’s graduating Class of 2023 are complete. Congratulations to all!
Following are brief profiles and photos of the valedictorians and salutatorians for seven of the eight Catholic high schools and academies in the Diocese of Peoria: Central Catholic High School in Bloomington; The High School of Saint Thomas More, Champaign; Schlarman Academy, Danville; Marquette Academy, Ottawa; Peoria Notre Dame High School, Peoria; St. Bede Academy, Peru; and Alleman High School, Rock Island.
The eighth, Chesterton Academy of the Sacred Heart in Peoria, does not use a class rank system and therefore does not have an official valedictorian or salutatorian.
The Catholic Post 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 lasting memories from your high school years, and what makes those memories special?
We thank them for sharing their stories of faith, fun and hard work with our readers.
BLOOMINGTON l Central Catholic High School
Parents: Theresa French, Randy French City: Bloomington Parish: Epiphany, Normal
College choice: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Anticipated major: Chemistry
High school activities: Scholastic Bowl, math team, academic challenge team, National Honor Society officer
Catholic school advantages: The quality of the education at Central Catholic is ahead of the other schools in our area. The smaller size of the school makes it a community. I know everyone in my class and have had the opportunity to grow close with my teachers. We bond together when facing hard times.
Lasting memories: My fondest memories of high school are from my senior year, not only because I have a terrible memory, but also because after four years, I am closer to my classmates than I have ever been. Recently, Central Catholic hosted a Special Olympics event and the senior class volunteered. The opportunity to help these children ages 2 to 8 was joyous, and seeing my classmates being so enthusiastic and caring was such a privilege and assured me of the goodness of the people I had spent the last four years of my life with. Also, this year we went on our senior retreat to Lake Bloomington. We went on hikes, played games, and ate gondolas for maybe the last time together. In small groups, I had the opportunity to learn more about some classmates I was not as familiar with. Despite the sunburn, I made memories I hope to never forget.
Parents: Mark and Karla Kossler City: Bloomington Parish: St. Mary, Bloomington
College: University of Notre Dame Anticipated major: Biology
Activities: Band, symphony, Interact Club (service-oriented club in partnership with local Rotary branch), school musical, Earth Club
Catholic school advantages: Attending Catholic high school has made me a more open, caring, and faith-filled person. I consistently felt supported by all my teachers and was pushed to become the best person I could be both inside and outside of the classroom. I feel like attending CCHS has really shaped me into who I am today, and I am eternally thankful for it.
Lasting memories: One of my favorite high school memories was being involved in the spring musical, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” It was so much fun and I got to experience it with many of my close friends. Another favorite high school memory was going to the all-state conference for flute in January and playing some really unique pieces with lots of phenomenal musicians.
The High School of Saint Thomas More l Champaign
Parents: Chris and Nicole Dickerson City: Champaign Parish: St. Matthew, Champaign
College choice: University of Notre Dame Anticipated major: Business
High school activities: Basketball, soccer, National Honor Society, Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica (Spanish Honor Society)
Catholic school advantages: Attending a Catholic school has given me the unique opportunity to grow simultaneously in mind and spirit. I was able to grow in my faith, as a person, and in my academics at the same time.
Lasting memories: One memory of high school that sticks out to me is our all-school adoration. Many students would stand up and sing along to the worship songs being played, and it was just really fun to be all together and worship the Lord.
Parents: Barry and Julie Suits City: Rantoul
College choice: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Anticipated major: Chemical Engineering
High school activities: Soccer, baseball
Catholic school advantages: You are pushed to become the best version of yourself by being held to a higher standard not only academically but also as a person.
Lasting memories: My Spanish 3 class of junior year because it was with my best friends and a fun time where life seemed simple and carefree. It was also with a teacher who taught my parents when they were in high school (Gary Gebauer, now retired).
Schlarman Academy l Danville
Parent: Shari Blough City: Danville Parish: Holy Family, Danville
College choice: Southern Illinois University, Carbondale Anticipated major: Speech Communication Disorders and Sciences
High school activities: Basketball, archery, tennis, softball
Catholic school advantages: Attending a Catholic high school is amazing because you are able to get more one-on-one time with teachers and the school forms a tight-knit family.
Lasting memories: My favorite memory of high school was my senior class trip. We got to spend the whole day together and we all had a lot of fun. It was one day we could all come together and make memories together.
Parents: Jonathan and Teena Dixon, Kathy and Ken Hillard City: Danville Parish: St. Paul, Danville
College choice: Southern Illinois University, Carbondale Anticipated major: Pre-Physician’s Assistant
High school activities: Volleyball, cheer, softball
Catholic school advantages: I gained the advantage of attending the Eucharistic Conference this year in Peoria alongside some monumental figures, which allowed my faith to grow substantially and in a way that I will forever carry with me.
Lasting memories: One lasting memory was my junior class retreat to St. Mary-of-the-Woods (Indiana) where I gathered a greater understanding of Mother Guerin and her influence in the Catholic religion, alongside my fellow classmates and Father Bo (Schmitt). Another great memory I have is the short time Father Thomas Szydlik (chaplain) had with us for our senior year and the great influence he has had on me in regards to my faith.
Marquette Academy l Ottawa
Parents: Christopher and Kenya Machetta City: Marseilles Parish: St. Patrick, Ottawa
College choice: Valparaiso University Anticipated major: Nursing
High school activities: Key Club, Order of the M, Student Ambassador, Crazy Cru, Fine Arts Club, choir, executive secretary of Student Council, Science Club, Companions in Christ, WYSE team (Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering), National Honor Society, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, National Society for Leadership and Success, softball (three years), cheer, volleyball
Catholic school advantages: The many advantages of attending a Catholic high school have enabled me to flourish both intellectually and spiritually. Not only did I deepen my faith, but I also acquired the values of responsibility, compassion, and service. Along with the dedicated faculty and staff, the curriculum is diverse and challenging. I’ve been able to identify my individual strengths and weaknesses because of the special one-on-one relationships and faith-based environment established in the classroom. By laying a strong foundation of faith, a Catholic education not only equipped me for academic challenges, but also for adversity encountered throughout life. Ultimately, the magnitude of my Catholic education has influenced me to be a competent leader in all aspects of my life.
Lasting memories: Although it is difficult to pick just a few special memories within my high school career, senior retreat was by far my favorite. Senior retreat, one of Marquette’s most beloved traditions, is a three-day event in which the senior class reflects upon the past four years as they prepare to transition into the next chapter of life. It enabled my classmates and I to strengthen our relationships with each other and God. It was a special reminder of the past four years; all of the good memories, growth, and relationships that were made as this chapter starts to close. The time I spent with my peers at senior retreat was an exceptionally powerful experience that I will cherish forever.
Parents: Edward and Becky Biggins City: Ottawa Parish: St. Patrick, Ottawa
College choice: Benedictine College Anticipated major: Elementary Education
High school activities: Cross country, softball, Key Club, Student Council, Fine Arts Club, Order of the M, prom committee, National Honor Society, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, WYSE team (Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering), Student Ambassador, Junior Go Club, theater, honors choir, Companions in Christ
Catholic school advantages: Attending a Catholic high school provides students with a solid foundation for theological formation. Our rapidly progressing campus ministry enriches our minds and hearts through faithful community. Above all else, our centrally located chapel, containing the Real Presence of Jesus, provides both the space and opportunity for students to have personal encounters with our Lord on a deeper level. It is these qualities that allow students who attend Catholic high school the advantage to cultivate their relationships with God while in high school so that they may be prepared to enter the world beyond as joyful disciples of Jesus Christ.
Lasting memories: A memory that I am certain will outlast all others from my time at Marquette, is our recent pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., to march for the unborn. To try to put into words the way in which the Lord was abundant in His presence on that trip would be an injustice. The sheer number of youth unified through faith and conviction was extremely moving. The group from my school were such true joyful witnesses of the faith, despite any crosses we had to carry, that it inspired me to reflect on my own relationship with God and the way in which I desire to live. Because of that, this trip will live on in my memory as the reason I reconnected with the Lord. The people that were there with me will forever have my gratitude for creating an experience that truly changed the course of my life.
Notre Dame High School l Peoria
Parents: Kevin and Shelley Anderson City: Peoria Parish: St. Vincent de Paul, Peoria
College choice: DePauw University Anticipated major: Physics
High school activities: Tennis, National Honor Society, Lumen Christi, Teens for Life, Student Council, Student Ambassador
Catholic school advantages: The advantages of attending a Catholic high school are having more accessible opportunities to build a relationship with God. As people mature, they may find it difficult to make time for confession and Mass. Eventually, they can convince themselves that these practices are unimportant. By attending a Catholic high school, I constantly have the ability to reconnect with God regardless of other priority changes in my life.
Lasting memories: My sophomore year, we (the soccer team) were losing to Morton by three goals at halftime. Nonetheless, we came back and won the game 5-4 under the lights while the student section roared. This memory is lasting because our team persevered against all odds. Not only was the team supporting each other, but the PND community was united as a result. Another lasting memory is eating lunch at the same spot every day. The group of friends that surrounded me at lunch was made up of many different personality types and passions. I enjoyed getting to hear about the struggles and plans of classmates that I only communicated with at lunch. Lunch was also a time where everybody could be honest with each other without judgment.
Parents: Amy and Dan Couri City: East Peoria Parish: St. Philomena/St. Sharbel, both in Peoria
College choice: University of Notre Dame Anticipated major: Aerospace Engineering
High school activities: Band, theater, wrestling, football, baseball, tennis, and Student Government
Catholic school advantages: I believe that most of the advantages of a Catholic school stem from the community that surrounds them. With a shared faith, many students are not only more open to talk about serious personal or moral issues, but also feel a stronger bond to those around them. The community that Peoria Notre Dame prides itself on rests on the foundation of faith and it is that faith that leads the community toward the proper path.
Lasting memories: Most of my lasting memories stem from achievement. One such memory comes from my sophomore year, when I qualified for sectionals in wrestling. Prior to high school, I had never wrestled and most of my time on the mat was spent getting pinned. However, I spent that next year focusing and working on my skills which allowed me to become good enough to scrape by and make it into sectionals — a huge accomplishment considering my experience. The validation from seeing that hard work manifest itself in success was immensely gratifying. Another memory I have, which I often think about fondly, comes from a school dance. It is no major secret that many attendees of school dances do not truly spend their time dancing, and at this particular dance I had shown up late after a wrestling meet and I was exhausted. Rather than dance, I found a group of my friends and started talking, after which we proceeded to talk jovially for the entirety of the dance. Having spent more time focusing on grades than friendships, that dance marked a moment where I consciously decided to alter my priorities; rather than ensure academic success at all costs, I made sure that I took time to find lasting friends that I know, if need be, I can talk to for hours.
St. Bede Academy l Peru
Parents: Stephanie and Jim Grivetti City: Ladd Parish: St. Joseph, Peru
College choice: University of Iowa Anticipated major: Civil Engineering
High school activities: Eucharistic minister, Illinois State Scholar, girls’ golf and bowling, 2022 Illinois News Tribune Girls Golfer of the Year, 2022 Bureau County Female Golfer of the Year, Student Ambassador
Catholic school advantages: Attending a Catholic high school provides closer time with teachers. There is also a closer community among the students. I truly felt as though I was welcome both inside and outside the classroom.
Lasting memories: One lasting memory from high school is when my golf team freshmen year won regionals. It was truly special because as a freshman they used my score to help win regionals. I was very emotional that day, and it was very exciting in general.
Parents: Dean and Theresa Torrance City: Granville
College choice: Auburn University Anticipated major: Chemical Engineering
High school activities: Varsity cross country, varsity bowling, varsity softball, Tea Club, Student Ambassador, Academic Challenge in Engineering and Science (ACES), Student Government
Catholic school advantages: Attending a Catholic high school has deepened my education, morals, and critical thinking skills. Not only has St. Bede offered rigorous academics and sports, but it has also challenged me to dive deeper into my beliefs as a young adult. Four years of religion class and Mass have taught me the importance of Jesus’ sacrifice, the depth of God’s love, and a sense of purpose to treat others as Christ. Simply, I would not have experienced these lessons anywhere other than a Catholic high school.
Lasting memories: During cross country season, the team celebrates Frisbee Friday where we take a break from long runs and play Ultimate Frisbee on Fridays. With such a small group, we tended to be extremely competitive. On an average, yet blistering Friday in September, the team split to play a game on the football field. Both teams were fired up, trash talking and eager to win. As the sun set in stunning golden hues, both teams only needed one more goal to win. Our opponents set up the kickoff and launched the Frisbee to us across the field. My friend, a great baseball player with a cannon for an arm, snatched the Frisbee midair. We nodded; I took off in a sprint across the field to our goal. Nobody was guarding me, so my friend threw the Frisbee to me. It floated deep into our end zone, so I dove to catch the winning goal! This is one of my favorite memories from school because my team bonded in such a memorable way. Best Frisbee Friday to date!
Alleman High School l Rock Island
Parents: Joe and Leslie Fonseca City: Rock Island Parish: Sacred Heart, Rock Island
College choice: Yale University Anticipated major: Global Affairs
High school activities: Varsity football, varsity baseball, ICTM Math Team (Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics), captain for dance marathon fundraiser, theater (fall musical and school variety show), performed with the Quad City Youth Symphony Orchestra as a pianist.
Catholic school advantages: Attending a Catholic school has allowed me to be part of a tight-knit community where the typically smaller class sizes lead to much deeper relationships with many of my peers and teachers. Also, as a result of those around me constantly modeling their faith, I am more aware of God’s presence on my life and enabled to overcome challenges more easily.
Lasting memories: One of my most impactful memories from high school is my last season as a member of the football team. I spent four years working hard with great teammates who persevered through incredible adversity. Even though my final season was difficult, I will always remember the players I spent it with, who not only pushed me to be a better athlete but also a better man.
Parents: Sue and Bill Rector City: Moline Parish: Sacred Heart, Moline
College choice: University of Notre Dame Anticipated major: Pre-Professional Health Studies
High school activities: Varsity tennis (three times as captain, three times as MVP, four times as state qualifier, All Metro and All Conference Player of the Year, conference champion, sectional champion), varsity softball, Student Council, Student Hunger Drive, National Honor Society (president), Sigma Alpha Delta, ICTM Math Team (Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics) four times state qualifier, Academic Challenge for Engineering and Sciences (ACES) two times state qualifier, Drama Club, dance marathon (logistics captain)
Catholic school advantages: The advantages of a Catholic school are found in the students, the teachers, and the faith-based curriculum. My close-knit group of classmates have been my biggest supporters, cheering with me in my victories and comforting me in my failures. My teachers are selfless and patient, and truly care about the needs of each and every student. The faith-based curriculum has instilled in us the values necessary for us all to be forces for good in the world once we leave high school.
Lasting memories: One of my favorite memories was winning the doubles sectional title with my sister as my doubles partner my sophomore year. Our family, principal, several teachers, and many classmates were there to cheer us on, and the amount of pride we felt in ourselves and in our school brought us to tears. Another memorable moment from high school was the High School Eucharistic Conference that Bishop Lou (Tylka) hosted for the Peoria Diocese schools this year. I had so much fun making new friends from the other Catholic schools and feeling the power of so many young people together, united in faith.