Dr. Erin Barisano, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Orange, and Auxiliary Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen, who oversees our Catholic Schools, recently hosted an online Zoom with this year’s school valedictorians and salutatorians.

Born out of COVID, the Zoom calls first started three years ago back in 2020, during the pandemic lockdown.

“We were trying to think of a way to honor our graduates in a special way, so we started this Zoom for our valedictorians and salutatorians,” she said.

Dr. Barisano expressed how much she and Bishop Nguyen enjoy meeting with graduates in this personal way and also inviting special guests to join in on the call.

“I love this every year,” echoed Bishop Nguyen.

This year, Dr. Barisano invited past school valedictorians and salutatorians to be panelists and talk about their transitions from high school to college.

This year’s panelists included: Tiffany Le, a 2021 graduate of Mater Dei who currently attends Chapman University; Nathan James, a 2022 graduate of JSerra who currently attends Biola University; Kit Loughran, 2012 graduate of Rosary Academy who attended the University of Notre Dame and is a recent graduate of the Wharton College of Business (MBA).

The panelists discussed everything from moving out of state to attend college to choosing classes once there.

The 2023 graduates included the following valedictorians and salutatorians:

High School: JSerra
College: UCLA School of Nursing
Reflection: “Your faith is what you make of it.”

High School: Santa Margarita
College/Major: UC Irvine/Economics
Reflection: “SM was a good balance of everything I wanted in high school.”

High School: Santa Margarita

College/Major: UCLA/Microbiology
Reflection: “It’s (SM) taught me to branch out of my shell.”

High School: Santa Margarita
College/Major: USC/Computer Science
and Business Administration
Reflection: “Knowing that everybody else is in the same boat has as really helped me get through these four years.”

High School: Servite
College/Major: UCLA/Neuroscience
Reflection: “It’s been really nice to have four years of supportive relationships and the kindness and genuineness of them.”

High School: Mater Dei
College: Fordham University
Reflection: “I know that all the friendships I made (at Mater Dei), I will keep.”

High School: JSerra
College/Major: UCLA/Electrical
Reflection: “The highlight for me was winning the CIF for water polo.”

High School: Santa Margarita

College/Major: USC/Biomedical
Reflection: “It’s okay to have fun.”

High School: Santa Margarita
College/Major: UPenn/Political
Reflection: “High school’s been filled with ups and downs but so many memories.”


High School: Servite

College/Major: UCSD/Biology

Reflection: “A special memory for me is our two post season volleyball runs and having that experience with my teammates.”

As the Zoom call drew to a close, Dr. Barisano shared some of her thoughts on the future:

“As you move from your Catholic high school, and what is a very small pod into the larger pod, continue to carry a sense of hope with you. I think sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down with some of the challenges that we face and the challenges that surround us in our world. We hear tragedies and struggles in the news every day and as people of faith and coming from Catholic high schools, I think we’re really called to be people of hope.”

She recalled how, while on retreat a couple of years ago, she came across a prayer card that read:

‘Hope is the memory of the future.’

“As we face challenges in our lives and we all have challenges and we will continue to face challenges, that we can regain our courage, we can regain our strength and our peace through the memories of the good times. And a lot of you shared those good times in high school.”

Bishop Nguyen then closed the discussion with a few words. “God created you in His own image,” he said. “Remember, you are loved by God.”

He added, “On behalf of Bishop Vann and Bishop Freyer, I want to congratulate all of you. We are proud of your achievements and we pray as you embark on a new life, remember your roots.”