Embracing a world of opportunity: Celebrating the Class of 2021
June 8, 2021
HOUSTON - As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to affect the world, the Class of 2021 saw opportunity — opportunities to improve life, make changes, build their faith and move forward.
While their school year was far from typical, and masks and social distancing became a normal part of their life, they persevered on, knowing they have a chance to improve the world. The following is a glance into the hard work of the valedictorians, salutatorians and outstanding students from Catholic high schools around the Archdiocese.
Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School
One of the two Outstanding Students from Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School’s 2021 graduating class is Angelica Marquez. She will be attending Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut in the fall to study biology.
In school, she was in the Student Council, National Honor Society, Art Club, Yearbook Club and the CWSP Student Leadership Team. Through Cristo Rey Jesuit, Marquez said she had many ways of helping her community. At school, she tutored other students in biology, chemistry, geometry and algebra. Outside of school, she volunteered at the Houston Food Bank. After finishing her studies, she hopes to come back to Houston and help her parents retire back to their hometown in Mexico. Marquez said, “it was only due to both my parents and my two brothers’ examples and experiences that I was allowed to dream big.”
The other Outstanding Student from Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School’s 2021 graduating class is Stephanie Lemus. This fall, she will be attending Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine to study biology or biochemistry. She is the first in her family to attend college.
In school, Lemus was involved in sports like cross country and tennis. She was also a part of the American Sign Language Club, Culinary Club, class president of the Student Council, and the National Honor Society. In the community, she volunteered with the Houston Food Bank, food drives near her home and be a peer leader for the confirmation class at her church. After college, she dreams to come back to Houston to create change.
“No matter how big or small my impact on the world is, I want to be able to help at least one person with the career I choose to pursue,” she said. “My hope for the future is to be able to make my family proud.”
Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart
Kaitlyn Giveon is the Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart Class of 2021 Valedictorian. She is considered a lifer, as she started at Duchesne in Pre-K4. Her classmates described her as hard-working, intelligent, thoughtful and caring. Her teachers said the same, adding diligent, genuine and kind to the list. She is respected by many in the community and is a trusted friend to all.
Giveon will be attending the University of Texas in the fall at McCombs School of Business.
Carina Kass, Salutatorian of the Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart Class of 2021, started at Duchesne in the lower school and is equally regarded by her friends and faculty. She is creative, motivated, respectful, determined and generous to everyone. Like Giveon, when someone starts talking about Kass, people automatically smile, as they hold her in such high regard.
Kass will be attending Southern Methodist University in the fall at the Cox School of Business.
Frassati Catholic High School
The Frassati Catholic High School Class of 2021 Valedictorian, Chiara Melchiorre, will be attending the University of Texas at Austin in the fall.
Over the past four years, she has served the school as a peer math tutor and as a Student Ambassador. Melchiorre is also a member of the National Honor Society and the World Language Club. She served the local community by volunteering at the Houston Food Bank, the Montgomery County Food Bank, and Casa Juan Diego.
The Frassati Catholic High School Class of 2021 Salutatorian, Vanessa Munguia, will also be attending the University of Texas at Austin in the fall. She plans to study natural sciences.
Munguia has been very involved in school activities throughout her four years. She participated on the volleyball, soccer and tennis teams and was the varsity tennis team captain. She was also a member of the youth and government, and Culture of Life clubs, as well as National and Spanish honor societies.
Munguia assisted at school Masses as a lector and altar server. She served her community at school through the Executive Council and as a student ambassador. Outside of school, she performed numerous hours of community service at St. Luke’s Hospital, her parish, the Houston Food Bank, Casa Juan Diego, St. Dominic’s Village and Reach Unlimited.
Incarnate Word Academy
Mary Julliette Billings and Madeline Taylor are the Incarnate Word Academy (IWA) Class of 2021 Valedictorian and Salutatorian. Billings will attend Carnegie Mellon University, where she plans to major in chemical engineering. Taylor will attend the University of Notre Dame, where she intends to major in biochemistry or chemical engineering, with a concentration in biomedical engineering.
While at IWA, both young women were active in school organizations and the Houston community. Billings volunteered with St. Anne Catholic Community and with Kids’ Meals. She often was an altar server at school Masses. Taylor was the 2020 -2021 Student Council student body vice president, and one of the captains of the school’s cross country and track teams. Both were Falcon Ambassadors, serving as tour guides for prospective students. They were also both actively involved with IWA’s Campus Ministry Team, and members of the National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta and the Sociedad Honoraria Hispanica.
“In the future, I hope to be working as a biochemical engineer, engaged in the research and development process of pharmaceuticals,” said Billings. “I also hope to be surrounded by friends and my wonderful family. I absolutely could not have any of this without their constant love and support.”
She’s also looking forward to someday creating a scale model replica of her house out of gingerbead.
Taylor shares similar sentiments.
“I hope to one day be a successful oncologist or biomedical engineer, surrounded by my family and friends,” she said.
O’Connell College Preparatory School
The O’Connell College Preparatory School Class of 2021 Valedictorian is Nicholas Cortinas. He will attend Texas A&M University in College Station in the fall, where he plans to major in finance. During his time at O’Connell, Nicholas has been actively involved in the National Honor Society, where he served as president and in Student Council as Student Body Secretary and Class Treasurer. He has also been a part of the tennis team, Delta Epsilon Phi and campus ministry.
The O’Connell College Preparatory School Class of 2021 Salutatorian is Gagandeep “Gia” Kaur.
She will also be attending Texas A&M University in College Station in the fall, majoring in biology. Some of the activities that Kaur was involved with at O’Connell were Student Council, National Honor Society, theatre arts, volleyball (manager), tennis and various activities such as donating for jeans for troops and the Galveston Island Humane Society.
St. Agnes Academy
The St. Agnes Academy Class of 2021 Valedictorian is Beth Athaide. She will be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge Massachusetts.
Athaide has been a member of the Chamber Orchestra for all fours years at St. Agnes. She served on the Dominican Preaching Team and was regularly an alter server at all school Masses and spent two years as part of the Stage production team. She sparked new life into the St. Agnes STEM club. She helped grow St. Agnes’s middle school math competition. She marches in rallies and writes to legislatures. She knows that in learning more and becoming better herself, she can better change the world.
The St. Agnes Academy Class of 2021 Salutatorian is Lily deGroot. She will attend Georgetown University in Washington D.C. in the fall to study medicine.
She was a four-year cross country and track athlete, captaining both teams and helping lead track and field to a state title this year.
She has served as a member of student council, and she was a core member of the Dominican preaching team. DeGroot was a member of the St. Agnes future medical professionals and the pro-life club. She was a Girl Scout and president of the St. Agnes Caritas Club. As a member of the Caritas Club and on her own, she supported the homeless community in Houston, especially after Hurricane Harvey. She also volunteers at Texas Children’s Hospital.
St. John XXIII College Preparatory
The St. John XXIII College Preparatory Class of 2021 Valedictorian is Gabrielle Allen. She will attend Rice University this fall, where she plans to double-major in Cognitive Neuroscience and Philosophy, with a planned minor in Russian on the Pre-Med track. She was also selected to be a Rice Owls cheerleader.
She was a member of Neri House and served her senior year as captain. She was also National Honor Society past-treasurer and vice-president. In addition to participating in track and field, Allen was also a Lion Ambassador and was a member of the National art, science and Spanish honor societies.
Outside of school, Allen accumulated over 330 league and volunteer hours through the National Charity League, worked as a pre-school gymnastics coach, was a doctoral research intern for behavioral neuroscience at UT-Austin, assisted in biomedical trials at UTMB, and served as a page in the Texas State Senate.
Allen is looking ahead to a career in medicine and hopes to work with Doctors without Borders in the future.
The St. John XXIII College Preparatory Class of 2021 is Luke Parmenter. He will be attending Holy Trinity Seminary next fall, pursuing a degree in theology.
Parmenter has been named a National Merit Finalist by the college board, as well as an SJ23 Scholar Athlete. He represented Aquinas House through many leadership responsibilities. He served as president of the National Honor Society, president of the International Thespian Society and president of the Science National Honor Society. He also was a four-year soccer letterman and team captain in both his junior and senior seasons.
Parmenter was active in SJ23’s campus ministry programs over his entire four-year career as an altar server and assisting with the preparation and celebration of weekly school liturgies. He served as head altar server as a senior, and also served as a retreat leader for both Quest and Kairos experiences, which involve students from all grade levels.
St. Pius X High School
The St. Pius X High School Class of 2021 Valedictorian is Olivia McGuire. She will be attending the University of Texas at Austin in the fall to study biomedical engineering.
McGuire was in the Student Council, where she organized school spirit events and multiple donation drives a year. She also served surrounding middle schools through hosting the middle school academic rally through National Honor Society, of which she was a member. She also served the Prince of Peace community as well by participating in youth group. In School, She was a cheerleader, played lacrosse, and was a student Ambassador and a member of the Science Club. Her two main interests are research in a lab in college as well as traveling and exploring the world.
Jaden Porter is the The St. Pius X High School Class of 2021 Salutatorian. He also plans to attend the University of Texas at Austin in the fall, where he will be majoring in computer science.
Porter served the community as a volunteer at the Montgomery County Food Bank for the Christian Service Learning Project, and he is also a member of the Knights of Columbus Squires. Porter was involved in Veritas Theatre (ITS Troupe 5571), Student Council, National Honor Society, TAPPS Academic team, Sports Medicine, Robotics Club, Key Club and Student Honor Board. He said he hopes to simply live a peaceful life and find what it is he is meant to do with both his intellectual and artistic passions.
St. Thomas High School
The St. Thomas High School Class of 2021 Valedictorian is Patrick Pham. He will be attending the University of Texas at Austin in the fall.
He was a two-year member of the National Honor Society and 2021 president and a permanent member St. Thomas Club, a group of students with a minimum 4.0-grade point average for seven consecutive semesters. He was also a member of the Archdiocesan Youth Council of the Archdiocese, chairman of Spiritual Life and chairman of Community Life.
Pham was the founder and president of the St. Thomas Business Club. He was student body secretary his senior year, and as co-captain and two-time state champion of the swimming team and state champion in track and field. Pham was also part of seven productions in St. Thomas Theater, including student director and actor.
He was also a National Speech and Debate Association Academic All-American. Pham was a Life Teen teacher assistant at St. Cecilia Catholic Parish and an Eagle Scout BSA Troop 642.
The St. Thomas High School Class of 2021 Salutatorian is Robert Diamond. He will be attending Texas A&M University in College Station in the fall.
He was a two-year member of the St. Thomas Chapter National Honor Society and 2021 parliamentarian. He is a permanent member St. Thomas Club. He received the 2021 Rev. Ronald G. Schwenzer, CSB Campus Ministry Award.
He was also part of seven productions in St. Thomas Theater, including “Frankenstein,” “Guys & Dolls,” Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “Godspell.” He was also a 2020 state champion in swimming, and a summer volunteer counselor in DECATS Houston.
Strake Jesuit College Preparatory
The Strake Jesuit College Preparatory Class of 2021 Valedictorian is Jonathan T. Makhoul. He will be attending Rice University in Houston in the fall.
In the community, Makhoul volunteered at the Houston Food Bank. In school, he was part of the SJ Quiz Bowl team, Student Council vice president, a Kairos retreat leader, a two-time freshman retreat leader, medical club president, Crusader guardsman for our mascot, and Crusader Crew leader at orientation.
After college, Makhoul is considering going to medical school and become a surgeon.
The Strake Jesuit College Preparatory Class of 2021 Salutatorian is Andrew Michael Fischbach III. He will be attending Rice University in Houston in the fall to study physics and mathematics.
At Strake Jesuit, he has been a member of the quantum physics club since freshman year, and started the astronomy club in his junior year. He revitalized the programming club with a friend during his senior year.
Fischbach is also a long-time member of the Sodality and the Frassati society, a three-time varsity swimmer and participated in club swimming over all four years, serving as the team captain for both high school and club swim team. Fischbach also served as a Kairos retreat leader, altar server for school Masses, and helped out with a number of swim meets both at Strake and with his club.