By Cathi Douglas     5/24/2016

Outstanding 2016 graduates from Orange County’s six Catholic high schools are diverse, impressive and compelling. OC Catholic was fortunate to speak with several of them prior to the commencement exercises that symbolically launch them into the world.


Academic Powerhouse

David Bao of Ladera Ranch is one of just 160 seniors nationwide to be named a 2016 U.S. Presidential Scholar by U.S. Secretary of Education John King.

The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars, appointed by President Obama, selects the students annually. Bao was selected for outstanding academic achievement on the SAT, AP and IB tests, as well as community service as a member of Lions Heart and the Teen Leadership Council of Ladera Ranch. He is also a National Merit Finalist.

Bao says his most influential teacher at Santa Margarita Catholic High School is Principal Ray Dunne, who doubles as Bao’s AP Government & Politics teacher, and apparently the feeling is mutual.

“David is one of the most intelligent and driven students I have had in my class over the years,” Dunne says. “His being honored with this prestigious award is a great recognition of the outstanding young man he is.”


Scholar in the Service

Kathryn MacPherson of Yorba Linda is a member of the Honor Society and the California Scholarship Federation, is involved on the Rosary Academy campus as president of the Peer Assistance and Leadership club, a leader for four years for the Red & Gold event, and excels as a water polo player and competitive swimmer.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, MacPherson will pursue a college degree at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., following her graduation. She credits Rosary Academy for having the self-confidence to commit to mandatory military service for five years following her college commencement.

“Rosary has been a great place for me to grow and develop,” MacPherson says. “It’s really given me confidence. The sports teams have been a big part of my Rosary experience. I feel like it’s been a good run.”

After visiting several East Coast universities, MacPherson is happy to face the challenges of a military institution. “It will jump-start my career,” she says. “I’ll be surrounded by people who share a mentality of hard work and dedication. There are many internships, opportunities for travel and study abroad, and it pulls people from every area of the country – I’m excited about that.”


Brotherhood of Heroes

Jack Arendt of Coto de Caza grew up listening as his father reminisced about his early days as a firefighter and the camaraderie the men shared. He took his dad’s old fire helmet to school for show-and-tell. For as long as he can remember, Jack wanted to be a firefighter, too.

The Santa Margarita Catholic High School senior will take another step toward that goal when he enters the University of Arizona this fall.

He is already a veteran of the Orange County Fire Authority Explorer program, where for four years he’s reported to fire stations in Santa Ana for training and career preparation, including responding with the team to emergency calls.

“It’s hard to put into words, I have so much love for it,” Arendt says of the fire service. “The main thing that attracts me is the bond the colleagues share. There isn’t really any other job where you work alongside people in crazy situations, trying to solve problems. When people are in trouble, firefighters are the ones they call. They are the ones that the community relies on.”


Triple Threat

The Coker triplets are each exemplary students who are involved in the community and on the SMCHS campus. They’ve also studied music seriously since they were toddlers. But they will go their separate ways for the first time when they enter college in the fall several states from their home base in Ladera Ranch.

James Coker, an Eagle Scout, classical pianist and veteran of the marching band as a tuba player and drum major, will pursue a degree in nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. “I was inspired to study nursing through the Boy Scouts,” James says. “I like working with people and I like working with medicine and first aid.”

He admits that being one of three inseparable siblings is all he’s ever known, but he looks forward to striking out independently. “It’s definitely going to be a change to get used to, but I think it’s good we’re branching out to be individuals.”

His sisters Mia and Jillian – both percussionists in the SMCHS marching band and pianists in their own right – are both headed to Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., but have agreed to board separately so that they, too, can become more independent.

“I was looking for schools that are specifically Jesuit and have social justice programs,” Jillian says. She plans to double major in social justice and theology and says her interests were sparked on a mission trip to L.A., where she witnessed the homeless crisis firsthand. “It’s an actual problem and I wanted to help.”

Mia plans to study psychology and admits that it will feel unnatural to be away from her two closest siblings. “We always see each other every day,” she says, “but I think it will be a good mix for us to go to the same college but each meeting new people.”

She says she fell in love with the campus, which feels like part of the larger city but less urban than her other college choice, Seattle University. She plans to take her cello with her and hopes to join the university orchestra.