Alumni Night 2016
Each January, St. Catherine’s invites recent alumni to speak about their high school, college and professional experiences and to reflect on the value of their time at St. Catherine’s. This year’s panel of alumni included three college students and three high school students. Speakers were:
The alumni answered several questions posed by AC guide Kathy Hijazi and parents in the audience. The following are some questions addressed and insights shared by our graduates:
What was the transition from St. Catherine’s to high school and/or college like?
“A Montessori education, no matter what, is going to prepare you for whatever nature of academics you’re pursuing. When you’re here, you don’t really feel like you’re taking in all the teaching and knowledge, but whenever I look back on it, I don’t know how I would have gotten through without being a Montessori child. It really taught me a lot about independent study and how to really think for myself.” William Melbourne
“As far as transitioning, academically it wasn’t necessarily such a strange ordeal in part because the eccentricities of [HSPVA’s] way of teaching were very similar to those here. For example, I was in the creative writing program, and one of the things that we did constantly was workshop pieces, workshop material, or discuss just some work of writing….Going back to the seminars, that was so familiar as a way of learning. Rather than listening to a teacher talk, it was let us discuss, let us as the students discuss this and propose different ideas.”
“Three things I really learned from St. Catherine’s were organization, work ethic, and discipline. One of the first things we learned when we stepped into the AC is how we implemented the planner, and how the planner is your best friend and how you use that with everything—with athletics, projects…Even now I swear by my planner and use it with everything, whether it’s with my job or with my classes. I use it all the time.”
“In high school, you’re just expected to be more independent and figure things out for yourself. They’ll give you some information, but then you’re expected to read the textbook and take notes on your own and figure it out. So the Montessori study skills that I didn’t even realize I was getting when I was here, they pay off and you’re able to be more independent and not have to depend on the teacher. But also you can ask the teacher—you’re used to the teachers always being there and being really approachable—so you can have a better relationship with them.”
“I went to Strake Jesuit. Academics weren’t a big problem for me. I got in. I transitioned. Freshman year was not that difficult as far as academics. The thing that was the big difference was definitely the size. I mean, I had 250 kids in my class, which isn’t huge, but it’s still much bigger than the 11 people I graduated with. I loved St. Catherine’s. I loved how small it was.”
“[Transitioning to Bellaire], it was pretty much a sink or swim situation, and I probably wouldn’t have swum if I hadn’t gone here. St. Catherine’s taught me the confidence to have in myself, and when I needed someone to hold my hand through something, St. Catherine’s was there. They definitely helped me find the self-confidence and believe in myself in order to be independent.”
“[Transitioning to St. Agnes] wasn’t hard, it was just different from St. Catherine’s, being that you wouldn’t have the same people in every class, and you wouldn’t necessarily know everyone in your grade. There are people this year that I’ve met in my classes that I would have had no idea whether they were transfer students or if they’d been there the whole time. The nice thing with St. Catherine’s was that I became really close with the people that were in my grade.”
What do you believe is the most important thing you learned at St. Catherine’s?
“I think a big thing that St. Catherine’s really instilled in me is to not be afraid to say what you want.”
“I’m never afraid to ask a professor or any teacher a question—I think that’s something I learned from St. Catherine’s. Half the time the people in the room have the exact same question or something similar, so it’s better to just go ahead and ask, rather than waiting for the test.”
“I think one of the most important things that I learned going here is to foster my creativity and be passionate about things. Even just applying to engineering, I want to do something creative, because I think that’s how I thought and how I learned from a Montessori education. You’re doing things with your hands, you’re just being creative, and that’s what I want to do with my life.”
“I learned to write sitting in there at the kitchen table, but more fundamental than that is the urge to create and the urge to discover, which was fed by a lot of different things. The fundamental approach to the way we were taught wasn’t: This is a thing, and this is what this thing is. It was: Here is a simple question, or a seemingly simple question. Now find a way to describe it, find an equation that describes it.”
“St. Catherine’s helped me realize how I retained information, and what I can do to really understand concepts. So if I’m confused about something, then I just really need to go over the information again and again and do things like draw diagrams and talk with friends, or even debate things, and if we’re not sure, just keep talking until we can figure out the entire process, or then ask for help if we really need it.”
“We’ve always had seminars [at St. Catherine’s], and I’m in AP English right now and having seminars again. And I remember a lot of other students in our class were kind of nervous about seminars, like what should they do, they’ve never done that before. And some students really like talking, but others really just like the lecture style. I’ve really enjoyed the seminars and worked off of them and used them for essays, so I feel like that’s really helped.”
What is your favorite memory of being at St. Catherine’s?
“I really liked the trips, but I want to emphasize that it’s not like I have just one special memory and that’s my favorite, or that that was the only thing I enjoyed here. My point is that I really enjoyed it here.”
“One of my fondest memories here was probably making soap. Ms. Hijazi and I got to spend a lot of time together doing that. It was just a really cool experience to make something and then sell it to the community here…and then the chemistry behind it, too—because when we did something, you were going to propose a plan for it, and you wouldn’t just do it—you had to figure out all the backing behind it.”
What problem do you want to solve when you grow up? What problems do you see yourself tackling?
“A Montessori education is something that I value highly. And I am working with St. Catherine’s on this new high school development, and it’s something that I definitely found a passion for.”
“Making sustainable energy more efficient and more affordable, and the same with fuel efficiency with cars.”
“Since I don’t really know what I’ going to do right now, it’s hard to pick one issue because there are so many, but overall whatever I do go into—and I am interested in science—I would like to solve problems and really get invested in them.”
“I would like to go to a place like Africa or anywhere impoverished or with children and the elderly who are sick and just help them—help with sickness and disease.”
“There are many problems, but I think a lot of them can be understood as a consequence of a view that is very fundamental to our world. The reason that I am an artist is because I believe that art, in any form, is something that can be used to create change—to create change on a very fundamental level, on a very subsidiary level—to everything in culture. To me that issue is objectivity in the sense that people and so many things are viewed through the lens of being a resource, and part of that comes from this idea fundamental to science which is measure what is measurable, make measureable what is not. That is so fundamental and so useful in science, but it’s applied to social spheres, it’s applied to the realm of human life in ways that simply don’t work.”
“I want to focus on teaching high school, and one of the problems that I would solve is that the agriculture programs in different schools is very diverse. I feel lucky going to Bellaire because they offer a lot in their ag program, so doing FFA you can do anything from leadership to showing animals to judging contests…anything you want to do, the opportunity is there. But some of the other schools don’t even have an ag program anymore, and that is mainly because the principals will limit their kids because of funding and because they want their students to be more academically focused. Now at Bellaire there’s someone who made a perfect score on the SAT, but not everyone out there is like that. Not everyone is driven to get a perfect score, but I believe that other people have passions that drive them in different directions, and I want to strive to make high schools have more opportunity. I want every kid in high school to have the same opportunities that I have because I believe that [ag] is a great program, and you grow so much as an individual in any way that you want. The tools are all there, you just pick them up, and you go, and you learn.”
Do you have any advice for parents or students in the audience about going forward? Do you have any advice about their education or things that they should know that you now know about educating yourselves?
“If you end up becoming the type of parent that is just hounding your kid to improve the grades, he’s like 300 times less likely to actually want to do it. I’m not saying don’t encourage your students to prosper academically, but to remember that the goal of education isn’t for a number or a grade; it’s actually taking knowledge and applying it. It’s not to let it just sit there. It’s not to memorize, regurgitate and forget.”
“Foster that creativity and the passions. I’m lucky enough to have an amazing mom and dad, and they’ve always been supportive of what I do and what my brothers do…I would say do what you love to do and be creative with everything that you do.”
“If you have an idea, you can basically make it happen.”
“I think every child should find within themselves to do their best on their own. That self-drive from within to do your best and have a little self-competition—maybe I didn’t make an A on that one, I made a B instead, so next time I’m going to strive and study harder—I think every child should definitely learn that, so that they can push themselves on their own.”
“Don’t push as a parent, don’t demand. And that means not always asking and not always getting to know what’s going on. There’s a kind of intense vulnerability in the process of being a teenager that contrasts so distinctly with the angst, and the anger, and the lack of communication that manifests itself superficially. And I think that time is maybe not the process of the most change, but the period in which change is the most frightening, and in which we as young people know the least about how to approach that.
“As our identities change over the course of 10 years, in terms of what we want to do and in terms of who we are, there’s so many pressures in society that demand that question who are you and what are you doing, and I think the best thing that a parent can do is to not be demanding that, to not be demanding to know who you are. Because you don’t know. Being able to have one place, being able to go home and not have to answer that question constantly is one of the most valuable things when going through that period in life.”