Maria Francesca Garcia, Valedictorian, Class of 2022

Class valedictorian, the highest honor a St. John’s School graduate can receive, was awarded to Maria Francesca Garcia. Francesca’s remarkable academic achievement is the result of her hard work and determination, which allowed her to flourish through St. John’s rigorous program. 

Maria Francesca Garcia, Valedictorian, Class of 2022

What colleges were you accepted into?

UC Irvine, UC Davis, Purdue University, Santa Clara University, Penn State University

Which college will you choose and why?

UC Irvine because it offers a great path for my major and has a lot of fun course offerings that cater to my other interests outside of STEM (especially in the political science/criminology area). After seeing the campus tours, I liked that the campus is quiet and conducive for learning, but it also has a fun and close knit social scene. Though Irvine itself is not heavily urban, it’s in the middle of San Diego and LA, so it is perfectly balanced and suburban. UCI is also very close to my family, so it makes the transition easier!

What is your planned college major? minor?

  • B.S. Biomedical Engineering (Pre-Med)
  • Undecided about minor but debating between:
    • Criminology, Law, and Society; Political Science; Psychological Science

Why do you wish to pursue this major or career? How does this align with what you would like to achieve in your life after college?

After seeing various news reports on the lack of efficient health care in underdeveloped countries, most especially in the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, I realized that despite all the advancements that have been made in medical technology there is so much more that has to be done to make sure others gain access to proper healthcare facilities. I was born in the Philippines, and I’ve seen the medical struggles of the lower class Filipinos. In a country like the Philippines, which experiences significant economic inequality, it felt unfair to me that the most vulnerable populations were given last priority, and sometimes left untreated, while the few privileged individuals were carefully treated with advanced medical technology. I knew that pursuing a career in biomedical engineering would allow me to offer assistance to those who need it while cultivating my interests in the STEM field, particularly in technology and engineering.

What about college life are you most excited for?

Definitely the clubs/organizations/classes and the social life! With social media I’ve been able to connect with a lot of people going to UCI and even formed friendships with some of them. Being able to surround myself with diverse groups of people is something I definitely look forward to. I’m also looking forward to the chance to develop my interests through the clubs and organizations. Going to a large public university definitely helps with this because I can find a club for so many different things I can think of. UCI also offers so many different and unique courses I never thought would exist. For example, there’s a class about the Beatles and 60s music which are two of my greatest interests.

What advice would you give to a high school student starting college applications?

As cliche as it is, be yourself and don’t try to construct a different individual in your essays. Colleges look for the authentic you, and it’s also a way for admissions counselors to understand if you fit into their college. Rejection is redirection. It may take a rejection to fully understand that you might not thrive in a specific college and that’s okay! As tempting as it is, try not to stress out or overwhelm yourself too much.

What advice would you give to a new St. John’s freshman?

Make the most out of your high school experience. As much as possible, don’t skip out on class bonding opportunities or school events. They take the stress out of the academic side of high school. Come graduation or the end of your senior year, you’ll definitely want to look back on these experiences. Learn to breathe through your mistakes, it’s not the end of the world.

What will your lasting memories of St. John’s be?

Sophomore lock-in, class potlucks, our senior walk, senior year lunches at Mr. B’s room with my friends, and Service Club activities

How well has St. John’s prepared you for a successful college future? 

SJS prepared me very well for college. I was able to choose classes and create a rigorous schedule that catered to the majors I was looking at and would prepare me for the difficulty of college classes. The teachers are there to guide you, but they also give you room for practicing independent study which is definitely something crucial to know in college. I learned how to manage my time with extracurriculars and also learned to go beyond what’s written on paper and dig deeper to explore my areas of interest.

Who has been the most influential person in your time at St. John’s School?

  • I would say Mrs. Salas and Mr. Babia.
    • Mrs. Salas, through IBH English, taught me the value of hardwork. English is definitely not my strongest subject, but I was able to do well and see myself grow in the class as a reader and writer, even if it meant having to spend a couple of hours on assignments and readings.
    • Mr. B has always been one of my greatest support systems since I came to SJS in freshman year and took band class. He encouraged me to push myself to explore ways I can develop my love for music. I went from not being able to play a single note in the flute in freshman year to playing in the orchestra in the next 3 years of high school because of his support.

What clubs/activities/organizations were you involved with on/off campus?

  • At SJS, I was very involved with the Service Club since sophomore year where I served as president in both my junior and senior year. I helped organize donation drives as well as other community service projects that catered both to our school and the island community.
  • I was also very involved with the music-related activities/organizations on campus which allowed me to perform in school concerts and outside competitions (such as the Tumon Bay Music Festival) as part of these groups:
    • I was part of the Glee Club throughout high school and was secretary in my sophomore year.
    • I was part of the flute section of the school’s orchestra since sophomore year and became the flute section leader in my senior year.
  • I was also a member of the SJS Tri-M Music Honor Society and the National Honor Society since sophomore year.
  • I was also part of the Model United Nations Club since my freshman year and participated in a virtual conference held last April.
  • Other organizations I was involved in include the SJS Environmental Club (where I participated in beach clean ups as well as other recycling projects of the club), the SJS Chemistry Club (where I served as secretary in my junior and senior year), and the Spanish Club which was re-established just this school year.
  • Outside of school, I have been a member of the Cecilia’s Youth Choir at the Santa Barbara Catholic Church for almost 6 years now since middle school. I sing at the 8 AM mass every Sunday. As the oldest member and assistant choir director, I help our choir director with any concerns, including having to conduct the choir at mass or voicing out any necessary improvements the choir must consider.

How were you able to balance your extracurricular activities and academic life so well?

I like to do just enough and not push myself to my limits, especially when it comes to extracurricular activities. I made sure my extracurriculars were centered around things I enjoyed dedicating my time to outside of academics, allowing me to breathe and avoid burnout. As for academics, it definitely took some time for me to figure out how to best manage my time. Ultimately, I found out that doing my homework once I get settled right after school and avoiding naps helped me stress less. Additionally, if I had extra time or if my workload wasn’t too heavy on a certain day, I’d try to do assignments in advance to lessen the work throughout the week.

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