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Spreading kindness, and a little Funfetti

First slide

As a freshman, Estela Ralston was shocked to receive the St. Martin de Porres award recognizing her "excellence in academics, personal conduct and concern for human dignity." But those qualities her school identified in her as a freshman would come to define her four years at Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Potomac Shores.

The award came after a year of transitions. At the start of freshman year, Ralston watched the majority of her friends from St. Timothy School in Chantilly head to nearby St. Paul VI Catholic High School, while she followed her older sister to a high school where she barely knew anyone. She spent her first year trying to make new friends and adjusting to the more challenging classes in high school. Her hard work did not go unnoticed.

“I think getting that award kind of opened my eyes,” said Ralston, now a senior. Going into her freshman year, she said, “I think I just really wanted to treat everyone nicely.”

For her, the award reinforced the school’s emphasis on virtue and character. She’s still not sure how she was selected, but laughingly says her baking might deserve some of the credit. 

“I love baking, it’s kind of how I show my appreciation for people,” she said. Over the past four years, she has baked countless cookies, brownies and cakes — to celebrate birthdays, cheer up a friend or cheer on classmates taking a test. She said her Funfetti sugar cookies are a favorite: “Soft and chewy, with rainbow sprinkles.”

Culinary pursuits aside, she’s had a full four years at John Paul the Great. She’s found continued success in the classroom as a member of five honor societies, including National Honor Society, and she’s a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist. One of her favorite classes this year was Advanced Placement chemistry. 

On the field, she’s played lacrosse and field hockey, and run indoor and outdoor track. She is a student ambassador and has served on the school’s Service Leadership Association all four years, where she said she learned leadership is about humility. This year she is vice president. She’s volunteered with a Bánica mission trip and diocesan WorkCamp. Through an elective course, she was a peer mentor in the school’s Options Program for students with disabilities, where she found the interactions meaningful and rewarding.

“I’m helping them to (integrate) into normal classes,” she said. “But it’s also a learning experience for me.” She said the program helps students learn about people with disabilities and advocate for them. 

“Sometimes they are the one good part of my day,” she said.

This past year, she worked at a nursing home in Fairfax, serving food, being a companion and making sure “they weren’t too lonely,” especially with the pandemic restrictions. In the nursing home, she again felt the importance of treating others with dignity. “Sometimes we totally forget about the elderly in our society,” she said. While Catholics often emphasize the value of new life, “we can’t neglect this stage of life either.”

After graduation, Ralston is headed to the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Ind., with a U.S. Army ROTC scholarship, where she is considering studying chemical engineering. Ultimately, she plans to go to medical school to become a U.S. Army doctor, where she will put to good use the lessons she’s learned about disciplined study and treating others with kindness and dignity.

“I think John Paul has really provided me with a lot of unique opportunities,” she said, noting how the school reinforces virtues in its students. The award she received freshman year “did leave an impression,” she said. “Everything John Paul has taught me has penetrated every area of my life.” 

Bartlett can be reached at Meghan.Bartlett@catholicherald.com


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021