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St. Paul VI senior exemplifies a spirit of community involvement

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Frank Paquette is an artist and an athlete, as well as a hiker and a history buff. He’s an Eagle Scout, an AP Scholar and he’s been an altar server since the fourth grade. 

His senior year at St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax had been proceeding as planned — until the coronavirus hit, throwing the world into a tailspin. 

It’s been “a crazy few weeks,” Paquette acknowledged, and his life looks like a big question mark right now — will the Class of 2020 be able to celebrate their graduation? Where will he go to college? Will campuses even be open by this fall?

But he’s trying to stay upbeat and appreciate the remainder of his senior year — the school’s last in Fairfax before it moves to a new campus in Chantilly in August. 

“Nobody was prepared for this,” he said. “But I think the way our school has reacted has been the best we could have wished for. The administration is staying very much in contact with students, they didn’t just forget about us. Nobody has ever done this, and I think everyone is learning as they go.”

He’s been accepted to college at Georgetown University in Washington, where his older brother is a student, and he also just heard he got off the waiting list at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. He’s attracted to the school’s strong Catholic culture but had never even visited. In normal times, “a lot of people would be going and touring colleges to make a decision,” but the pandemic has “flipped the whole college admissions thing on its head. I’ve been finding it difficult to truly decide what I’m going to do.”

His family — he’s the second oldest of five kids — has been supportive. His dad, a urologist at Inova Fairfax Hospital, surprised him by jumping in the car with him and his older brother to make the 10-hour drive to Indiana to at least look at the shuttered Notre Dame campus so it would feel a little more real. “We walked around and didn’t touch anything, then drove back that day,” he said. “It’s not often your schedule allows a random weekend road trip.” 

Last year, Paquette was voted the student to most exemplify a spirit of community involvement and service. He thinks of Paul VI as “not just a place where we learn or do sports. We are a community, a family of welcoming people,” he said. “We come to grow.”

He’s tried to do that by exploring a lot of different interests and service opportunities. He’s finally taking classes in art, a longtime interest. He’s been involved in traditional sports including track, swimming and soccer, but also is president of the hiking club, where he’s made new friends who “might feel sporting events are just not their scene.” He’s president of the history club, whose Columbus Day party “game” was a debate on whether the holiday should become Indigenous People’s Day, as some have proposed. 

For an Eagle Scout project a couple of years ago, he planned and supervised construction of outdoor Stations of the Cross at his parish, Our Lady of Good Counsel in Vienna —  a huge project that taught him “I can do what I actually put my mind to,” he said. Being an Eagle Scout is important to him because it tells people about his character: “They can trust me to be a person of integrity that they can rely on.” 

The people he trusts and looks up to are “cheerful and genuine, authentic in their faith and in their lives,” Paquette said. “You meet someone like that and think ‘I want to be like that person.’ ”

He’s not exactly sure what his college major or career path will look like — “that’s the big question I get a lot at this point in my life,” he said. But he is “involved and in touch with my faith” and is considering “some sort of theology-philosophy route eventually,” or perhaps missionary work, which he experienced last year on a mission trip to Bánica in the Dominican Republic, where he used his art skills to design and paint a mural on a chapel wall.

For now, he’s trying to count his blessings and be grateful for those senior year memories the pandemic can’t take away —  like when he stopped by school the other day to pick up his cap and gown, and decided to put them on and take one last lap around the track.

“I was just playing around, but it was the last time I was probably ever going to be on that track,” Paquette said. “It was a beautiful moment.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020