Maria Popson ‘20 and Brynna Walthers ‘20 have done a lot together since they first started kindergarten at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School. It’s only fitting, then, that the two friends graduate first and second in their class, with Maria leading as valedictorian and Brynna as salutatorian. When separate photo sessions were set up for this story, the friends asked to have their photos taken together to mark their joint achievements.
In the fall, the two will be going to separate schools for the first time, with Maria heading to the University of Louisville’s Speed School to study industrial engineering and Brynna to Purdue University in West Lafayette to study business as well as law and society, followed by law school. Maria will have much of her schooling paid for thanks to the $20,000 Jamie Parsley Family Foundation Scholarship as well as other scholarships, and Brynna will have her schooling completely paid for as a recipient of the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana Lilly Foundation Scholarship. Read more for a Q&A with them:
Question: What is one thing you learned or gained from this school year — outside of the classroom?
Maria: During eLearning and the shutdown, many events, plans, seasons, etc. were canceled. However, although all of those doors closed, COVID-19 opened the door for spending more time with family, praying more, learning a thing or two, or trying something new. What I learned from this school year was to take advantage of opportunities granted to you.
Brynna: I learned that hard work eventually pays off and you can do anything you set your mind to if you have resilience.
Q: What is one cancelled tradition that you really missed?
Maria: One thing that I missed that was canceled was my spring tennis season with my teammates. One “tradition” I missed from this was weekend tournaments with the team because the tennis community is very close knit, and we always had a great time before, in-between, and after our matches.
Brynna: I was really looking forward to senior farewell and my last day of in-person high school. It is such a mark of progression, and a lot of fun seeing the juniors become seniors with their new blue shirts. I missed out on that closure seniors usually experience on their final days of high school.
Q: Is there something that a teacher or staff member did this spring that really meant a lot to you?
Maria: The entire faculty and staff did an exceptional job reaching out to each individual to check in on them and offer their assistance. I even had some former faculty and staff reach out to me during this time, and that meant a lot to me as well.
Brynna: Mr. Makowsky went above and beyond doing nightly Instagram livestreams just to interact with us. He was a wall of support for everyone through the worst times. It cheered me up and let all of the student body come together during such a difficult time.
Q: How did being a Providence senior help you cope with the shutdown and extended eLearning?
Maria: The Providence community aided the seniors each step of the way through the shutdown and extended eLearning. They never ceased to make efforts to keep with tradition and make the end of the year just as special for the seniors despite the unorthodox circumstances.
Brynna: By being a senior, I’ve gained a lot of experience in managing my time and staying current with assignments for classes. This really helped me with eLearning, as we had so much free time and my time management skills kept me on track.
Q: How do you feel Providence prepared you for next year?
Maria: Providence offered me countless opportunities spiritually, socially, academically, athletically, and artistically. For example, the chapel near the student entrance was available all day every day throughout my days at Providence with certain days being reserved for adoration or daily mass. While I was at Providence, I tried to take advantage of these opportunities and made a habit of attending and participating in daily Mass. I hope to continue these efforts next year at the University of Louisville and in their Catholic community.
Brynna: PHS has helped me prepare for next year with all of the AP coursework offered that I’ve taken advantage of over the last years. The amazing staff pushes us and challenges us to do our best.
Q: Which teacher will you miss the most, and what did he/she teach you that will stick with you?
Maria: I don’t know if I will miss a particular teacher most as each teacher played an integral part in my experience at Providence whether I had them for class or not. However, one teacher I did really click with the last couple years was Mrs. Swessel, who taught my Honors and ACP Physics classes. During these classes, we discovered we have a lot in common. We share a mutual love for Maryland and its snazzy-looking state flag — you can’t convince me another state flag tops it. We both enjoy mathematics, which is very important to physics. We both love to hike, especially at Mount Saint Francis and Charlestown State Park’s Full Moon Hike. Additionally, this past winter she convinced me to join the Bowling Team. I’m really glad she did because I enjoyed the season: bowling napkins, second ball strikes, and all. In fact, the last day of school before break we discovered we had a similar taste in music. I will definitely miss having Mrs. Swessel as a teacher and coach, but I’m sure we will keep in touch.
Brynna: I will miss all of my teachers, but I will especially miss Ms. Aebersold and Mrs. Harritt. I have had Mrs. Harritt as a volleyball coach and teacher, so we have a special connection. I have had Ms. A for several different classes since sophomore year, and she has taught me how to be a diligent student in the classroom.
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