COLORADO SPRINGS. Four years ago, the 57 seniors who made up the St. Mary’s High School class of 2016 left a big mark on the school and the surrounding community.
They earned more than $12.4 million in college merit scholarships, produced four military academy appointments, two ROTC scholarship recipients, and countless others who earned presidential and full scholarships to the colleges of their choice. Those alumni are now in their last months of college and looking at their futures, but as they look back, they see the indelible mark that their time at St. Mary’s has left on their lives.
St. Mary’s strives to develop the whole student through its faith-based, college-preparatory curriculum. For both Kaila Baca, a senior at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Jimmy Velten, a senior at the U.S. Naval Academy, time at St. Mary’s helped them develop a deeper understanding of their faith.
“Before the Academy, I had never been in an environment with such a diverse set of backgrounds,” Baca said. “I’m now with people from every religion, who come from all over the country, and have different upbringings, and many have challenged my beliefs and asked me why Catholics believe what they do. I found myself having to explain in depth the tenets of my faith, which I wouldn’t have been able to do without the faith education given at St. Mary’s.”
Velten said his faith experience at St. Mary’s gave him the opportunity to grow and become confident in his faith. He believes that confidence will continue to impact his life as he is commissioned in the Navy.
“St. Mary’s gave me the foundation for my faith. It was the true beginning of my relationship with God,” Velten said. “This will help me remain steadfast in my beliefs in the future when I am in a foreign place surrounded by people with completely different backgrounds and beliefs.”
For Emma Cummings, a senior at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, and Joshua Fowler, a senior at Gonzaga University, the faith community at St. Mary’s inspired them to seek out a similar community in college. Fowler said the faith community at St. Mary’s inspired his inclination to study at a Jesuit-denominated institution. However, he also felt that the faith-based education at St. Mary’s provided him with the cultural sensitivity to engage with people from different cultural and religious backgrounds. Cummings said her choice of a smaller Jesuit college was a direct result of her time at St. Mary’s.
“I sought out a smaller faith community for college,” Cummings said. “I wanted an environment similar to St. Mary’s where the professors would know me personally and be interested in my personal life and faith life. I wanted to have people I felt were on my side and supporting me. That helps me better handle everything.”
Academically the class of 2016 felt prepared for college, regardless of the majors they pursued in college. Baca and Cummings said the science and mathematics classes at St. Mary’s provided the foundations they needed for college.
“St. Mary’s prepared me very well for college, especially biology with Ms. Hanshew and physics with Mrs. Tibbits,” Baca said. “A lot of my academic career in college focused on STEM classes in everything from astronautical engineering to vertebrate zoology where a foundation in these subjects proved to be invaluable. There were high expectations coming into these courses, so having a background in STEM courses in high school was extremely important to my academic success.”
Cummings, who is pursuing a degree in nursing, had a similar experience. She said she was prepared for the chemistry courses required for her degree thanks to Mrs. Frederick’s philosophy of practicing drills over and over.
“I hated it when I was in her classes, but found what I had learned was so helpful once I was in college,” Cummings said. “I can say the same for AP Biology; it prepared me for what I would need for nursing.”
For Fowler, his course work at St. Mary’s allowed him to get a jump start on his finance major. “My St. Mary’s finance class stands out in my mind with its investment simulation,” he said. “At Gonzaga, we didn’t have an investment simulation until senior year. So, it was great to have this experience early on, and it helped me place first in my simulation of 60 students at Gonzaga University.”
Fowler said in English writing at St. Mary’s he learned skills that easily transferred to college. His St. Mary’s AP Spanish course allowed him to jump to a higher class than most college freshmen.
“While English writing is an ever-growing skill, St. Mary’s foundation through Dr. Wheeler’s AP English course taught me the value of writing, revising, and persuading, and I could transfer those skills and values to my college courses,” he said.
Graduates have also found St. Mary’s rigorous schedule — balancing academics, sports, community service, and leadership opportunities — to be the perfect training ground for college.
“The time management skills I learned during my time at St. Mary’s greatly contributed to my success academically at the Naval Academy,” Velten said. “St. Mary’s gave me the opportunity to take on a variety of challenges, including multiple sports and leadership roles at the same time.”
Cummings also found the time management skills learned at St. Mary’s to be invaluable once she arrived at college.
Members of the class of 2016 said that their time at St. Mary’s taught them about themselves as well as about community. Velten said his time at St. Mary’s taught him to not be afraid of challenging himself with multiple commitments at once.
Baca said she is grateful to have been a part of such a big community of Catholics, many of whom continue to be a part of her life even four years after graduation.
“Some of the best people I know, in quality of character and genuine care for others, I met at St. Mary’s and still keep in touch with,” she said. “These people are very special to me, and I’m grateful to have them as a part of my life. In that way, St. Mary’s gave me a great gift.”
Fowler, too, said he values the culture based on family values that St. Mary’s promotes.
“One of the most important aspects of St. Mary’s is that family environment and the long-lasting knowledge, faith, and community that the school cultivates,” he said. “This culture imbued this philosophy into my life, and I can now carry these values with me wherever I go.”
In an effort to support and promote that community, Fowler has started giving a monthly financial gift to St. Mary’s.
“Giving back to St. Mary’s is important to me because, in reflection, education is a critical element to what shapes our beliefs and how we think and operate within the world,” he said. “I felt that St. Mary’s did an excellent job of providing me with the culture and opportunities that led me to where I am today.”
(Amy G. Partain is director of communications for St. Mary’s High School.)