Catholic high school seniors remain positive amid ‘roller-coaster’ school year

Senior year is supposed to be the best year of a high schooler’s education. Who knew that in 2020, it would also be the weirdest?

The coronavirus pandemic has forced thousands of high school students to miss proms, senior trips, and the chance to say goodbye in person to their classmates. However, many of those students at Catholic high schools choose to see this as a lifetime lesson and a reminder that only God is in control and that in spite of the hardships and disappointments, he is present.

The Denver Catholic would like to honor those students who didn’t have the chance to have a “normal” graduation, but still managed to get through the school year and make this an important achievement worth celebrating.

Isaac Ritzer

The COVID-19 pandemic is something very unfortunate that has impacted everybody in one way or another. For Isaac Ritzer, Senior House Capitan at Bishop Machebeuf High School, it’s just proof that God always provides. His four years in high school were a roller-coaster of emotions; however, there is nothing more important for him than the memories, relationships, and friends he gained and for which he’s very grateful.

Isaac grew up in a solid Catholic family, where he received a very strong faith formation, but several of his teachers at Machebeuf also contributed to this faith formation in a very special way by setting an example of how to live like Christ. It is a real treasure that he will carry on to the next chapter of his life.

“My faith is something that I have always been fully immersed in… I was never taught that Church is just a side thing and that the faith only matters on Sundays,” Ritzer told the Denver Catholic. “Instead, in the classroom and at home, I was taught to build my life around my faith, because it is the most important thing. Because of that, my faith will be something I consider with every serious decision I make, and it will always be an active part of my life.”

Photo: Alyssa Sierra Photography

As for his graduation ceremony, Ritzer said that even though he would’ve liked to have a normal ceremony, he is more focused on the positive side of it, such as the great memories he has with his classmates and the things he learned during his time at Machebeuf. Just like other high school seniors across the country, to make this end of the school year a memorable and unique celebration, his friends and classmates have come up with creative ways to celebrate.

“I actually went to a ‘drive by’ at a friend’s house for his graduation. Essentially, people drove up to the house, while staying in their cars, just to celebrate their accomplishments,” he said. “One thing that happened this week was that a friend of mine signed to run at Benedictine college. He invited me to the Zoom call for his signing. It was always awesome to watch his drive and competitive spirit, and it’s so cool that he gets to carry that with him into college.”

Ritzer shared with the Denver Catholic how grateful he is for the great opportunity he had to lead his class as their senior captain and shared a message with his classmates to whom didn’t have a chance to say goodbye but will always remember.

“It was an absolute honor being a senior captain this year and watching so many of you step up to the challenge,” he said. “You showed me every day what it meant to lead in so many ways. Thank you for being teammates, peers, classmates, companions, and friends. Thank you for being there to share the great moments and also to make the bad ones a little bit better. There’s so much I could say to each and every one of you, but to keep it short, thanks for the memories! You are like family to me. I love you guys!”

Rachael Perez

Rachael Perez, a senior at Holy Family High School, knows her graduation will be nothing like what she’d imagined. Nonetheless, she has faith and has decided to focus on the greater treasures she is taking from her years at Holy Family, such as the relationships she was able to build with her teachers, whom she said pushed her to be a better student, friend, daughter and sister and support others whenever they needed help.

“[They were] an excellent example of the faith and how fruitful a life with Christ can be,” Perez said.

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can move mountains, and that’s exactly how Perez feels about the next chapter of her life.

Photo Provided

“I know there will be trials and great joys. God is there in both those times and all the moments in between,” she said to the Denver Catholic. “My faith has helped me so much and I’m so grateful for it. Because I have that faith, I’m really not scared or anxious about the future. Whatever comes next is what will be.”

Although Perez at times feels sad by the fact that her graduation ceremony has been “delayed,” the pandemic has taught her and many others the importance of adapting to new situations quickly and accepting what you can’t control. At the same time, she is aware that life must go on and she’s trying to adapt to a new “normal.”

When asked about the biggest lesson she’s learned from the pandemic and her senior year, she said, “I’ve learned not to take anything for granted. As simple as that. Everything can be gone in a split-second, so enjoy all that you can.”

“My class especially, we’ve gone through quite a bit and we know how temporary life and experiences can be,” she added. “It’s important that we all live in the moment and hug everyone as tight as possible — when it is safe and acceptable to do so.”

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”