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Class of 2021: Tested by the virus, lifted by their faith

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SAN DIEGO — On the cusp of graduating in May, we asked seniors at San Diego Catholic schools a question: What lessons of faith prepared you for the unprecedented challenges of the last year?

Their answers reveal young men and women tested by the pandemic, who have emerged stronger, ready for tomorrow’s trials. Here is a sampling of their voices:

Grant Glasgow, Cathedral Catholic High School
Hope can sometimes be very difficult to find, and all too easy to lose. What started out as an extended spring break bled into a junior year that fizzled away and a lacrosse season being canceled. Thankfully, I’ve been able to look beyond the masks and regulations and have hope and faith that a better future awaits us. During this strange, disconnected time, I have rested soundly by placing my trust in others and in God. I tried my hardest not to lose sight of the future while still living in the present,  readying myself for the chains to be lifted and life to resume. Now, sports have begun, gyms are beginning to open indoors, and traffic has steadily increased. I’ve never been more happy to see an ocean of brake lights.

Rachel Trus, Mater Dei Catholic High School
The world is a hot mess. Every time you turn on the news, you could weep at the grief of COVID-19, mass shootings and racism. I have endured this confusing year because of my faith. “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her” (Luke 1:45). Our God is a loving God. I am blessed beyond measure because of my very existence as a daughter of Christ, created in dignity. I am here today because God carries me when I am not strong enough to stand on my own. I have two options when I feel so overwhelmed by the weight of the world: complain or do something. Doing something resembles a cross, something that is rough and heavy. God sees us and will help us carry our crosses if we let Him.

Emma Hernandez, Academy of Our Lady of Peace
During this time of a global pandemic, I never would have thought my faith would grow so much as it has over the past year. I have learned that, not only have I grown as a person, but I have also learned that God will always be there in times of need. Without realizing it, prayer has become an essential part of my life. As I work to keep my faith strong, I have found that, spiritually, one of the most meaningful things to pray for is the virtue of hope. God has taken care of us and loved us all of our life. This gives hope that God will take care of us in the future. This is something that I will keep with me throughout my life.

Bria Sosa, Mater Dei Catholic High School
Because I attend a Catholic school, I can talk about my faith with my friends. So many of us have realized God does not put us through things that we cannot handle, and although it may not make sense right now, later in life we will look back and understand how these challenges reveal what God wanted us to see; we must turn to Him. I am sad for those who have been adversely impacted by COVID-19 but am grateful for the spiritual growth. God has helped us open our eyes and our hearts. I believe that this will help me in my future when facing challenges. I am ready to face life’s challenges as a gift from God. I now know, through God all things are possible.

Nick Li, Cathedral Catholic High School
Countless times through the pandemic, it was easy to lose hope and motivation to work or academically strive. Looking back, it was truly a character-developing phase of our lives. We focused a lot on Catholic Social Themes in class, and one that particularly stands out to me is solidarity. Quite literally, the world had to band together to fight this global pandemic. Even if we are still in different stages of alleviation, it was the first time that I had seen everyone united under one cause. This should be the ideal mindset even after this issue is solved. There are tons of sources of conflict in our lives, ranging from social to economic to personal. Although there may not always be an issue that affects everyone, it is important to remember that banding together will produce fruitful results, and now there’s strong evidence of that.

Dominic Ramirez, Mater Dei Catholic High School
I would say that the teachings about God’s plan for our future have provided the most comfort. Going through the process of college applications, especially during COVID times, has led to absolutely crushing levels of stress about where I’m going to end up next year. However, like we learned, life is going to be a long and bumpy road and sometimes we get rejections and things get chaotic, but we always end up in a better place if we just trust in His process. It sounds hard or even ridiculous at times, but I think that it was the thing that helped me most during the months I spent waiting for colleges to reply. I put my best God-given effort into it, so all that was left was for me to wait for God to do His thing.

Molly Abrom, Cathedral Catholic High School
Before the pandemic, I had an extensive list of things that would make me happy: being among many friends, going on adventures until late at night, and traveling to new places. When all of these privileges were taken away during quarantine, I struggled to find fulfillment with a minimal amount of excitement in my life. In time, I discovered how to find contentment within myself through the process of prayerful meditation. I learned that through trust in God, I find peace, and through that peace, I can find true happiness.

Steven Sarabia, Mater Dei Catholic High School
The main lessons of faith that prepared me for the challenges of last year were two specific phrases: “Keep having faith” and “Follow His path.” Once COVID arose last year, I was not worried. The first month just seemed simple and something that would pass quickly. However, it got progressively worse for me.  Once it was late May, life got more challenging. I began to feel the effect of not seeing all my friends and classmates every day in school. It made me feel isolated, but I always knew God was there with me. So, this helped me to know that I must have faith in what is happening and keep pushing forward towards His path. I see these lessons guiding me in the future, especially if I ever reach another crisis.

Lola Diaz, Academy of Our Lady of Peace
The loss of loved ones, physical separation from others, loss of education, moments requiring significant forgiveness, college rejections, and the constant changes in 2020-2021 have left me dejected and hopeless. Filled with pain this past year, I turned to my newest blessing: a baby sister. Her presence is everlasting smiles and giggles, and her life encouraged me to be courageous. Although only 10 months old, she seems to genuinely love Creation. She loves playing in the grass, splashing water, listening to birds chirping, playing with dogs, and even sitting quietly in the sun. She has taught me the virtue of fortitude by finding God in all the small places.

Al Blake, Jr., Mater Dei Catholic High School
Faith has taught me life lessons during the pandemic I would not have expected. When it began, I was not too bothered. However, it did impact me and my baseball career, and I did not know when I would be able to play again. After my 2020 school year ended and I began to prepare for my senior year, I had little hope to be able to travel, see my friends, or play sports. I was stuck. As word of a vaccine and a possible reopening began, I started to develop faith that I would have a chance to be noticed by colleges and able to go out again.  With that faith, I built patience and courage. Sure enough, I was able to play again and I was able to see my friends.

Grace Hogan, Cathedral Catholic High School
I had numerous lessons of faith that this year forced me to learn, and 99 percent of the time they were insanely challenging and made me question my faith and life path in general. From COVID restrictions taking friendships and relationships from my life suddenly — to the tragic loss of many important people in my life — this year has really put me and a lot of others through ups and downs. I had to pull strength from faith and community to become the best version of myself, and trust that everything truly does happen for a reason. These experiences have changed how I see my future. Before, my view of the world was superficial and it was easy for me to focus on myself and small, insignificant things. Because of how challenging this last year has been, I see what truly matters in the world: my faith, my family, and how my outlook on life shapes what is really happening.

Frederico Rubio, Mater Dei Catholic High School
A lesson of faith that was discussed in class was about the overuse of social media. Social media was used as a form of entertainment but later began to be my excuse to not be anywhere near faith. Anytime there would be an opportunity to go to Mass, a faith talk or a retreat, I ended up choosing to stay home and be on my phone. I now see the lesson as important: to learn how to disconnect from the digital world and enjoy the real world in front of you. One person could walk from school to their house the whole way on their phone, missing out on everything happening around them. Or they can walk without looking at their phone and notice all the beautiful things God has given us. I know now that I shouldn’t let my phone guide what I do, I should seize the wheel and take a hold of my life before something goes wrong.

Christian Hall, Cathedral Catholic High School
An important lesson I learned through the hardships brought by COVID-19 was to lean on the Lord’s understanding and not on my own. I remember the hardest days and longest nights, sitting with nothing but uncertainty in front of me, something I still face today. Through this adversity, I learned that God’s plans are always better than what I have and are put in place to teach me certain lessons. As I prepare for college, I know walking with faith will help me more than ever and to lean on Jesus and His own understanding. I may have plans that I want to see come to fruition in a certain pattern, but by leaning on God’s understanding, I will trust that everything will happen just the way it’s supposed to!

Lara Vizon, Mater Dei Catholic High School
God has ways to test everyone’s faith: with hardships and obstacles. With these challenges, my faith has been a guide by reminding me that this is all a learning lesson. It is a chance to build my faith even stronger. Faith is a journey, not just a straight path, and that helped me realize that these challenges are part of that journey. Through this unpredictable time, my faith has become a way to find light and hope through God. This will carry into my future. I will now know how to rely on my faith when I face obstacles. There might be times my faith will be tested, but after what I have learned, it will only serve as a beacon of hope when I encounter hardships.

Natasha Preece, Cathedral Catholic High School
God has a plan set out for us, and all we need to do is rely on Him for guidance. This knowledge has proved especially helpful when having to navigate a world full of uncertainties and challenges we never saw coming. As a senior, I would have never thought that a majority of my last year in high school would be spent behind a screen. In the end, it’s become a blessing. I’ve been able to rekindle friendships, grow in my faith, and rediscover old hobbies. By trusting God that these unprecedented times would eventually come to an end, I was able to look at the world and these experiences through a more positive mindset. Now that I’m off to college, I know that trusting in Him will lead me exactly where I need to go.

Natalia Shamoon, Academy of Our Lady of Peace
Our community has grown stronger through its ability to overcome this horrible time in unity. Personally, I relearned the lesson that God’s love is unwavering. No matter what trials we face, whether that be a global pandemic or the evils of racism or the harmful effects of social media, God will be there. His truth in Scripture lives through any time. His words will inspire me each time I read them. Most of all, I learned to lean on God. I learned to put my crosses on Him and ask Him to guide me through the difficult journey that is life. He is the only one who can truly understand me. My plans for next year are to attend college and to continue living with the same fearless nature.

Benjamin Ramirez, Mater Dei Catholic High School
The most important or relevant lesson given to us this past year is to trust His plan. Throughout this year, everything has been fairly uncertain. School, college, finances; everything has been a concern. It is so easy to be drowned in worry and anxiety, especially for seniors this year. So, what is most important is to count the blessings that we do have and be especially grateful for them in this uncertain year. I hope that I can carry on that lesson of trust for my years in college because I know it can be another hard time for students. I hope it can take some anxiety and worries off my back.

Lukas Fuster, Cathedral Catholic High School
As I reflect upon the past year, I realize just how much of my life I have spent focusing on the negatives of daily life. In the last 12 months, I have learned to find the good that God has put into my life. I have learned to cherish watching a movie with family, going out with friends, and most importantly, I have learned to find God’s presence in these unprecedented times. When we surround ourselves with positivity, or actively find the sanctity in a place that is not so positive, we will appreciate every good thing that is to come. I ask God this one thing every morning: Show me how it gets better. By doing so, I find that I appreciate every single positive thing the day has to offer, and I can fully appreciate God’s presence in my life.

Victoria Williams, Cathedral Catholic High School
Last year was full of unpredictable challenges that at times made me lose hope, but never did I lose faith. God always has a plan. I’ve lived by this lesson my entire life, but it wasn’t until this last year that I needed it the most. With each day bringing a new piece of information that more times than not was detrimental to the state of society, I found myself needing my faith more than ever. I believe that God is walking with me, holding my hand. Whenever something bad would happen, I reminded myself that it was purposeful and God is with us, no matter what. I want this lesson to be with me my entire life. It truly lets happiness remain.

Alexa Gonzalez, Mater Dei Catholic High School
The lesson of faith that has sustained me is that God knows what is best for me. For example, I have to decide between two colleges; I am leaving it to God for Him to show me which one will be best for me. Another lesson is to always communicate with Him. I learned to always be thankful for every single thing that He has permitted me to have because easy He gave my life, easy He can take it away from me. This past year, I grew a stronger relationship with God; I have gotten more comfortable with His presence in my life. I know that I can trust Him with everything in my life, therefore I leave everything to Him.

Brynn Gorney, Mater Dei Catholic High School
I believe that the lessons of patience and believing in the plan God has for you, even when you can’t understand it, are two things that helped me through any challenges brought about by the virus. This is not to say that I am very skilled at either thing. What really got me through, however, was this knowledge that my continual efforts to keep everyone safe in combination with my own (wavering) patience would eventually help me to work through His plans for me. I know that this virtue and trying to accept God’s plan will be extremely helpful as I move on to college and will be left on my own to make choices.

Dillon Wilhite, Cathedral Catholic High School
This past year has been very difficult for me and for all of us. The COVID-19 pandemic brought up many challenges that came our way. From millions of deaths, to lockdowns, feelings of isolation, fear, no school, no sports, and no sense of community, it was a struggle. How did I get through it? I have gone to Catholic school my whole life, and have developed a strong faith foundation over the years. Throughout this time, I have learned many important lessons to help me lead my life and guide my future. I have learned that everything happens for a reason and to always turn to God for help. Despite all the craziness of this past year, I have turned to my faith and trusted in God.

Trang Woolridge,
Cathedral Catholic High School
Experiencing a new life of isolation and uncertainty throughout the last year led me towards doubt and fear of what was to come next. Every day, I worried for the health and safety of my friends, family and self. Surrounded by the same walls, I grew sick of the mundane gloom that became my new reality. These feelings allowed me to have more faith in the things that I could control. I began to pray more for my loved ones and community, help those who struggled to get their basic necessities during the pandemic, as well as find ways to better myself. Being able to help others led me to be less apprehensive about the unpredictable future.

Maximo Gutierrez, Mater Dei Catholic High School
The lessons of faith that prepared me for the challenges I faced in the last year include the following: accepting my suffering and offering it up to God, growing closer to my family and their individual struggles, sticking more to a morally good value system that can guide me through canceled opportunities that bring down my hope, and exploring my creative outlets to find purpose and meaning in my life. I can see them guiding my future: I can see myself avoiding attitudes of depression by offering my suffering to God; I can rely on the support of my family to get me through troubling times  as I grow into young adulthood. I don’t see myself being led astray by negative allures, such as money or sex, because my values will instill in me a good sense of reality and the consequences of my actions.

Matthew Reynolds, Cathedral Catholic High School
The lesson of faith that most prepared me for this past year was to trust in the Lord. This world has come to forget that God is always in control of the life we live. Therefore, there is no reason to fear; we can place full trust in the Lord, knowing He will bring us to the fullest we can be. When we follow His will instead of our own, He guides us along this journey and stands next to us each step of the way. The final teaching that I would say was important for me was living out of love. In such a dark world, the need for a beacon is extremely important, love can be that beacon and I, an instrument of it.

Marichel Britton-Loya, Mater Dei Catholic High School
Every lesson about faith, about how Christ, His disciples, martyrs and the saints, and how they acted upon each challenge they stumbled on, helped me be more open about every challenge I went through. Instead of not knowing what to do in these types of situations, I remember how each of the people mentioned above acted through difficult situations, and how each never lost faith in our Lord; how each through every situation turns it into an offering to Christ, and more. This will help guide me in the future because, each time that I stumble on a challenge, I will take a step back and see the bigger picture. I will see how my faith will influence every decision I take which will help me always move forward.

Madisongrace Guerra, Cathedral Catholic High School
Through the pandemic, my faith in God was tested and it made my relationship with Him all the more stronger. God helped me see the silver linings. During the lockdown, I committed myself to a psychology quarantine study which researched the behavioral, emotional, cognitive and social effect on kids. This study is going to be used in the psychology course curriculum at Cathedral, so I felt like I made a positive impact in a way. This was my silver lining and, looking back on it, it brought me closer to God because it expanded my level of gratitude for everyday things. This newfound appreciation has followed me everywhere since and, hopefully, will guide me through the ups and downs of college life.

Arianna Shaikhvand, Academy of Our Lady of Peace
This past year was one filled with unexpected news and overarching challenges. Personally, my devotion to the Catholic faith has allowed me to persevere and enhance who I am as an individual while facing the barriers encountered. I have learned the value of unity, family and morals that can be applied in my future endeavors. My faith has allowed me to make the best out of what life provides me because, just as we have seen it, nothing is promised. My future will be guided not only by new lessons I have gained, but the experiences I have lived through. I will maintain my faith as a priority while still recognizing the uniqueness of who I am and what I have to contribute.

Victoria Sustaeta, Cathedral Catholic High School
With this vulnerability that we all felt throughout the pandemic, I cannot help but notice that it was those with faith that had the needed clarity to navigate these unpredictable times. I established this clarity, or at least moments of it, by relying on the lessons of faith I was taught. It was not necessarily an event of the Bible or some Scripture quote that carried me throughout this pandemic, but the overall comfort of knowing the true essence of faith. I have built a trusting relationship with God, one that has enabled me to be confident in the fact that God has a larger plan for all of us. This plan may include moments of hopelessness or barbarousness, mere fragments in the larger painting that God is illustrating for me. It is my appreciation of the beauty that lies within my life’s painting that has guided me and will continue to do so in the future.

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