High school graduates in archdiocese face pandemic uncertainty, retain long-term hope

| May 20, 2020 | 0 Comments

Olivia Pace, a senior at Benilde-St. Margaret School in St. Louis Park, poses May 13 near Goldy the Gopher on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis, where she plans to attend school in the fall. JOE RUFF | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Catholic high school graduates face uncertainty in the next stage of their lives as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact schools, parishes and businesses across the country.

Some are rethinking the cost of college, particularly if classes go online to help prevent spread of the virus, said Amanda Anderson, guidance and college counselor at Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in St. Louis Park. Paying $40,000 to $60,000 a year to go online starts to look pretty steep, she said.

Commitments to colleges and universities usually are made by May 1. Now, many colleges are pushing that day to June 1.

“That gives kids a little more time,” Anderson said.

But many soon-to-be graduates in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are sticking to the plans they made before the virus hit the United States early this year, and they retain long-term hope and commitment to those plans, said Anderson, other school counselors and students themselves.

Seniors are pushing ahead at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School of the Twin Cities, said Raquel Gudiel, the school’s director of college counseling. Many want to stay with financial aid packages they’ve been offered — although if classes go online they might have to work with schools on a refund for fees paid in advance for on-campus activities and housing that wouldn’t be used, she said.

Students also might find they have to adjust their plans in late summer, as the pandemic’s impact continues to be felt on university and college campuses, Gudiel said.

Wait and see

Officials in higher education also are in a wait-and-see mode, after switching to online-only coursework in mid-March.

“We are at a time of ‘betwixt and between’ in living with the uncertainty the COVID-19 pandemic situation has created,” said Becky Roloff, president of St. Catherine University in St. Paul, in a May 1 statement to that school’s community.

While summer classes will be online at St. Catherine, plans are being made to offer a mix of online and classroom coursework this fall, with modified living and eating arrangements on campus to account for social distancing requirements and other safety measures, Roloff said.

A combination of online and classroom offerings also is planned for the fall at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. Social distancing and other safety accommodations will be made, the president, Julie Sullivan, said in a statement May 1.

Even as high school seniors turn their eyes to the fall, the pandemic is challenging them in other ways, said Pamela Patnode, dean of women at Chesterton Academy of the Twin Cities in Hopkins.

“I notice a real sense of loss,” she said. “I think the seniors are hopeful for the future. But they are grieving. These seniors, none of these students could have imagined their (high) school careers would end in quarantine. They miss spring sports and theater, choir concerts, and they wonder if there will be a graduation ceremony.”

Still, seniors are forging ahead, Anderson said. “Some are excited, meeting roommates online. …They will just go,” she said, unless something blocks their plans and they have to change course.

A commitment to moving forward with faith, hope and flexibility is certainly true for eight graduates of Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Cristo Rey, Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Chesterton Academy in Hopkins.

William Domler

“I’m supposed to head off to college at the end of June. Hopefully that date won’t change. But it might,” said William Domler, a Cretin-Derham graduate and member of Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul, who plans to attend the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.

Frankie Lynch of Benilde-St. Margaret said he expects to join Washington University’s cross-country and track teams this fall as he seeks an engineering degree at the school in St. Louis, Missouri.

“I’m still hopeful I will be on campus in the fall,” said Lynch, a member of St. Patrick in Edina. Perhaps the coach will ask the team to be in St. Louis to train, even if classes are online. Perhaps classes and dorm rooms will be set up with social distancing and other procedures to help prevent spread of the virus and the illness it causes, COVID-19, he said.

Frankie Lynch

Or perhaps he will be home, Lynch said, still training, learning online, getting ready for when life gets back to some semblance of normal and he can enter the new learning and sports environment he eagerly anticipates.

A classmate of Lynch’s, Olivia Pace, is taking a similar approach to her plans to attend the University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Sciences in the Twin Cities, with an eye toward becoming a doctor. She would like to live on campus, but wouldn’t have to because her family lives in Minnetonka.

“The plan is to live on campus next year. But I’m thankful my family is just a half an hour away. I would be happy to give up my room for anyone who lives more than an hour from campus,” said Pace, a parishioner with her family at St. Mary of the Lake in Plymouth.

She remains committed to her choice of profession and to the university.

“One thing the pandemic has taught me is that medicine is the road for me. I’m ready for the next chapter of my life, no matter what form it comes in,” Pace said.

In God’s hands

Domler said the uncertainty of the fall has not impacted his commitment to joining the Army as a commissioned officer. If classes go online, he will remain with his family in St. Paul and take them.

“Things could be worse,” he said. “I’m grateful I’m not sick, my family’s not sick.”

And he’s leaving it in the Lord’s hands.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and someone is watching over us,” Domler said. “I’m placing my trust in God.”

Sally Zweber

At Chesterton Academy, Sally Zweber said she is committed to joining one of the Catholic evangelical teams of young adults that travel the country each year with NET Ministries of West St. Paul. Whether that happens this fall or sometime in the months that follow, Zweber said she will not be deterred. Long-term plans: After her NET Ministries experience, attend Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, perhaps study theology and philosophy.

“It is very tempting to despair in times like this,” said Zweber, a member of St. Michael in Prior Lake. “But I’m so convinced this is what the Lord wants me to do. Whatever the timing is, I’m OK with that.”

Another Chesterton graduate, Grant Hagen, said he feels called to the priesthood, and this fall he plans to enter St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul. As he works through that application process, plan B is to attend the University of St. Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. Physical therapy remains an interest, as well, he said. If online classes become the only option this fall, he can stay home and attend that way, he said.

Grant Hagen

“I’m not too worried about it,” said Hagen. “It’s God’s plan, if he wants me at seminary or college. I will be OK with whatever.”

At Cristo Rey, senior Maria Medel plans to attend the University of Wisconsin in Madison; Ignacio Sanchez is headed to St. John’s University in Collegeville and Nyemade Fallah is bound for Carlton College in Northfield. None of them has changed their plans in light of COVID-19.

Nyemade Fallah

“I still want to continue my plan and go to school,” Fallah said. “My plan is to be on campus, but if that changes (to online coursework) to preserve my health or the health of others, I will make that change.”

Even if the fall doesn’t work out to be on campus, the spring might, or the next year, Sanchez said.

“I’ll just continue to work my strategies,” which includes earning a business degree, with an emphasis on finance or accounting, he said.

Medel said going online wouldn’t be all bad in the fall.

“I’m kind of OK with it, just so I can stay with my family a little longer, and go on campus in the spring,” she said. Whatever happens, she remains committed to the university she has chosen, Medel said.

“The university is a great academic institution,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Maria Medel

Short-term plans

While college and other longer-term goals remain intact, summer plans have changed for several of the students. They also are learning about living under stress in an unprecedented time, they said.

“In times of crisis, people can shine,” Lynch said. “Walking around the neighborhood, I see people putting up rainbows in windows, helping health care workers with personal protective equipment donations. People I know are helping a neighbor with groceries, simple things like that.”

Ignacio Sanchez

Pace said she has friends who had to cancel summer travel plans, and some students are considering a year off from school in hopes the pandemic will become less of an emergency. Her orientation to the University of Minnesota moved from a weekend opportunity to meet people in person to four to five hours on a computer — but at least it was available in some form, she said.

Pace said she had hoped to continue volunteering this summer onsite at Children’s Minnesota Hospital in Minneapolis, visiting ill children in their rooms. That’s not possible, at least not right now, with COVID-19, but some online visiting and activities are planned, including a virtual volunteer talent show.

“I don’t have any standout talents,” she said, laughing. “Hopefully, I’ll come up with something.”

Hagen said his plan to work at a local hardware store for the summer can proceed because it is considered an essential service under Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home orders.

Hagen’s father, Bret Hagen, said college planning has taken on a new dimension under the pandemic, but the family can adjust. His children having held jobs and put money away for college has helped, he said.

“I think we’ll have to be flexible if, and when, he heads off to college,” he said. But financial aid and other details can be handled. “I think we’ll still be able to manage that.”

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