St. John Neumann Catholic High School graduation cap toss May 23 in Naples. (COURTESY)

Top graduates reflect brightly on the benefits of a Catholic education

Naples  |  Lorca Stainton, Zachary Laswick, Claire Sattler, John Scheck, Sam Koscho, Julian Perez, Mary Zhao and Olivia Burke are the names of young women and men whom most people have never heard of, until now. They are some of the top graduates from Diocese of Venice Catholic high schools in May 2019.

The commonality among these newly minted graduates is not only their commitment to their education, but more importantly that they are carrying with them the core Catholic values they acquired while going to Diocesan Catholic high schools.

These graduates of Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples, the Donahue Academy in Ave Maria, and Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, go forth poised for continued excellence into the future. 

Cardinal Mooney Valedictorian Lorca Stainton is going to study finance in the University of Florida Honors Program. She founded a Mission Club at her school and worked hard to give back to the community. In her four years, she bonded with her classmates in ways that helped her to succeed and become a better person. 

Lorca raved also about her teachers, who “provided personalized care when you needed it. Between the teachers and faculty and your classmates, you knew everyone was looking out for each other. That is so important in high school. It created a wonderfully positive atmosphere for everyone.”

Zachary Laswick, the Neumann valedictorian and St. John the Evangelist parishioner, is going to be studying biomedical engineering at Lehigh University and said he is well prepared to succeed at the next level. Between sports, clubs and the close-knit environment, he is confident that he has a strong foundation upon which to build his future. “The strong academics, combined with the strong faith-based component will stay with me for the remainder of my life,” Laswick said.

Claire Sattler, Summa Cum Laude graduate of Verot, will soon be studying biomedical engineering at Yale University. She was involved in numerous clubs and sports in high school, but her passion is science. She was part of an award-winning STEM Team, which competed in local a regional science and technology competitions. That passion helped her to found STEM 4 Students in Immokalee, which provides disadvantaged students the opportunity to learn about science and math.

“Verot offered more opportunities than I could have dreamed,” Sattler explained. “The academic competition is tough, but every one of my classmates found their niche. No matter what, anyone who decides to go to Verot will find their place and will be happy they made that choice.”

Donahue Academy Valedictorian John Scheck loved every minute he spent at the school he has attended since second grade. The Ave Maria parishioner has decided to delay going off to college to carry the Gospel values he learned to become a missionary in Satillo, Mexico, working with children and teaching catechism classes.

Following the examples of his instructors, Scheck said his whole class was “given lessons and knowledge that we may not fully understand for the better part of our lives but (the teachers) have shown us what it means to live, and to live well … They provided us with the tools and skills required to take on the world with the love of Christ in our hearts.”

Sam Koscho graduates Mooney as salutatorian and will go on to study economics at Dartmouth College. The St. Michael the Archangel (Siesta Key) parishioner was a football player and weightlifter in school and noted that he was surrounded by people who supported him in everything he wanted to do. This gave him the confidence to strive to be stronger both physically and academically, but also spiritually. 

Olivia Burke, Donahue salutatorian who will be studying Math at Hillsdale College and is a parishioner at Ave Maria, said the gift of daily Mass and the opportunity for confession enhanced her educational experience as much as any class she took. During the May 31 graduation, Burke said she that the model of holiness and truth instilled in her education will be carried with her for the rest of her life.

Mary Zhao came to the United States from China to start her sophomore year at Neumann. “I felt so welcome,” explained the Neuman salutatorian and St. Agnes parishioner who will be studying electrical engineering at Purdue University in the fall. “There is a family atmosphere and the students, teachers and faculty made me feel at home.”

While Neumann is a small school, Zhao said this fact gave her the opportunity to know everyone, and in return, for her teachers to know her. This proved to be a huge benefit as she received the support in a good way. “I made many friends and the teachers demanded excellence and they strive for you to do your best.”

Perhaps Julian Perez, a Verot Summa Cum Laude graduate and parishioner at St. Francis Xavier, explained his high school experience best. 

“I believe that my passions were supported and grew by being at Verot,” noted the future Georgia Tech biomedical engineering student. “The Catholic environment created a real sense of community that helped me to connect with people and the school on a higher level. This helped me build my passion for engineering and I know I am graduating but will always be part of Verot.”