Benedictine Academy Grads Continue To Excel

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ELIZABETH—There is a common thread woven through the lives of Ariana Taveras, Andrea Mendoza and Dinh Do. All three young women, who recently graduated from Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth, have proven to be exceptional when it comes to academics, giftedness and personal accomplishment. While each has achieved in multiple areas, each is a standout in her own right in specific endeavors. They all plan to reach for the stars, and will do so when they head off to college in late summer.

Do, a resident of Union, was valedictorian of Benedictine Academy’s Class of 2012. She will be attending the University of Notre Dame in the fall. Mendoza, also a Union resident, was class Salutatorian. She will be enrolled at Rutgers University in September. And Taveras, who resides in Newark, is honored to have been accepted into the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts at New York University (NYU). All are members of the National Honor Society thanks to their academic achievements.

Do, who is naturally gifted intellectually, is highly focused academically. She achieved high honors consistently while at Benedictine Academy, the all-female Catholic college prep secondary school, and received significant scholarship awards to attend Notre Dame. She believes the educational opportunities at the university are “outstanding”. That, and the “religious atmosphere”, which she believes will build on her experience at Benedictine Academy, drew her to choose Notre Dame. She plans to have a career in engineering. Do hopes to use any engineering skills acquired in college to help on some level with the development of her parents’ native country, Viet Nam. While at Notre Dame, she is “looking forward to meeting new people and learning new subjects”. She is grateful for two specific experiences during her years at Benedictine Academy, which she feels helped her conquer her shyness. A public speaking course offered during senior year, along with a three-day class trip to Washington, D.C., both helped Do “grow” and build her confidence.

Taveras, also an honors student is an extroverted, aspiring actress who spent years taking classes at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC). She is sure NYU is where she belongs; it has been her “dream school” since her junior year at the Academy. “I applied to and auditioned for other programs, but NYU was my reach, my goal, and my main focus,” Taveras commented. “I am so blessed to have been accepted and to be able to attend. I thank God every day,” she added.

Taveras has “a lot of goals in the arts. I love acting and singing…my goals now are to become the best that I can possibly be in the areas of the arts that I am drawn to. I am an actress and writer and singer…I’ve also got a lot of ideas, and I want to create as much as I interpret. My goal in the arts, in short, is to become the best possible artist that it is in my power to be.”

Taveras also played a key leadership role during her years at Benedictine Academy in human rights work. She led the student effort to fight Human Trafficking and bullying. The school earned several awards for this work, most recently, the Jefferson Award for Best Public Service School in the country. Additionally, Taveras was recognized by Princeton University last year, earning a Certificate of Accomplishment and a prize of $1000 while competing for the Princeton Prize in Race Relations, Northern New Jersey Region. It was noted that she was “involved in volunteer activity that has had significant positive impact on race relations in the school community”. She plans to build on her experiences in this area.

“I also plan to minor in Human Rights and International Law at NYU,” Taveras said. “I am a student and artist, but I am also an activist and woman of service. I feel strongly that every human person has an intrinsic value and dignity that deserves to be protected, but I am aware that not all think in that way or act in ways that reflect that belief,” she added. Part of Taveras’ life mission is “to help in the fight against Human Trafficking and to be involved in youth leadership movements. I’ve learned that young people are the key to changing how the world functions because they’re the ones who will soon be running it!” Taveras stated.

While at Benedictine Academy, Taveras was involved with Student Council, Theater, Ambassadors, Campus Ministry, Students In Action and Globe Changers, among other activities. She also received the prestigious St. Scholastica Award at graduation, given to the student who most exemplifies the virtues of the Benedictine way of life. “My years at BA have been such a special time for me, Taveras said. “I have found God in my life in ways that I didn’t know could be possible,” she noted. “BA’s mantra – ‘Listen, Learn, Love, and Lead’ – has really become the thought I do everything with,” she commented. “BA taught me the importance of being attentive, the importance of a thirst for knowledge, the importance of God and family and gratitude, and the importance of being the initiator – the person who isn’t afraid to stand up for something or to take the lead. I’m going to college with a steady head on my shoulders, with goals in mind, God in my heart, and a team of people I know will love me and support me in all of my endeavors.”

The third member of this high-achieving trio, Andrea Mendoza, also a high honors student, focused on service and leadership while at the Academy. She was Senior Class President, and a leader in both the Globe Changers and Students in Action Clubs, joining with Taveras on many human rights projects, particularly, raising awareness about Human Trafficking violations and meeting with the Mayor of Elizabeth to discuss strategies to fight bullying in city schools. Additionally, Mendoza, along with Taveras, met with government representatives to advocate for changes (which were ultimately implemented) in the state’s Good Samaritan Law. She was deeply involved with the Academy’s “Delivering Happiness” project, which honored students and administrators as “unsung heroes” in their daily lives for acts of kindness and leadership.

Mendoza, who will pursue a major in Nutrition Sciences while at Rutgers, hopes to have a career as a dietician. Her journey with a family member who has battled cancer has taught her that “eating healthy can greatly reduce the chances of developing and even prevent” the disease. Her experience “inspired” her to want to bring awareness to people to help them maintain healthy lives. Like fellow classmates Do and Taveras, Mendoza’s life’s work will be connected to service. She dreams of eventually having a practice with a fellow BA graduate who is planning a career as a physician, and taking their expertise to a third world country to “help people with their nutritional needs”. She would like to “run a charity” of her own to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. “Everything we did at Benedictine Academy actually changed people’s circumstances,” Mendoza pointed out. “I felt I made a difference, felt empowered, to know that everything I do matters,” Mendoza commented. “At BA, every action counts,” Mendoza stated.

A natural leader, Mendoza is “super-excited” to be studying at Rutgers, where she will be part of the Douglass residential college. “It is a close-knit family of girls; much like Benedictine Academy”, Mendoza said. She has chosen to participate in an externship on “Women’s Leadership” at Rutgers, and is very enthusiastic about becoming a vital part of the Rutgers Douglass community.

Reflecting on the achievements of Taveras, Mendoza and Do, Academy President Sister Germaine Fritz, OSB commented, “Each is a student who worked to her potential- very, very, hard. They didn’t take an easy path, they were gifted and they put their best foot forward and achieved.”

Sister Germaine is delighted that “they will take our school’s name wherever they go.” And, she is “thrilled” that they will be attending such excellent colleges, noting “Tisch is so difficult to get into”, “Rutgers is a great, great school”, and Notre Dame is “just such an excellent place”. “They were not only excellent students,” she offered, “they were deeply involved in school; they contributed so much,” she pointed out.

Benedictine Academy (Elizabeth) Students in Action Leaders Andrea Mendoza (left) and Ariana Taveras (right) with U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg of NJ, at National Ceremonies for the Jefferson Awards held in the nation’s capital in 2011. Benedictine Academy was invited to attend the prestigious event because of the students’ exceptional hard work and award-winning programs on Anti-Bullying and Human Trafficking.

Ariana Taveras (far right), then a senior at Benedictine Academy, makes a point with NJ Assemblyman Joseph Cryan during a meeting in December of 2011. Student leaders Taveras and Andrea Mendoza (center) met with Cryan to gain his support for a bill that would enable untrained “good Samaritans” to use a defibrillator in an emergency situation. The bill was eventually passed.

Dinh Do helped lead one of the seminars on Asian Culture during International Day at Benedictine Academy in April 2011. Do’s academic and leadership skills developed during her high school years will serve her well as she continues her studies at the University of Notre Dame in the fall.

Students in Action leaders Andrea Mendoza (center) and Ariana Taveras (right) were present when Benedictine Academy won the prestigious Jefferson Award “National Gold Medal for Public Service” on June 19, 2012 in Washington, D.C. Students from the all-female Catholic college prep high school in Elizabeth received top recognition in the nation, capturing the “Greatest Public Service by a High School” award. Mendoza and Taveras are pictured at a Gala ceremony in the nation’s capital with Karen Hatcher, Jefferson Awards SIA Regional NJ Director. “Being a part of and leading the Jefferson Awards Clubs – Students In Action and Globe Changers- has probably been one of the most life changing things about high school,” says Taveras. “It was through service that I realized how much I cared about the human condition and that there were actually steps I could take to help better it.”

Dinh Do (left), Valedictorian of the Benedictine Academy Class of 2012, and Andrea Mendoza, Salutatorian, are both residents of Union. Do is headed for the University of Notre Dame while Mendoza will study at Rutgers.

Ariana Taveras, winner of the Benedictine Academy St. Scholastica Award, given to the student who most exemplifies the virtues of the Benedictine way of life. Taveras has been accepted to the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. “There are a lot of people who go to college without a clue about life or what they want to do – not that that’s a bad thing, because college is a time to explore,” says Taveras. “But I’m lucky because I’ve got an advantage – BA (Benedictine Academy) has been helping me find my place in the world and cultivate my interests and dreams for four years now. I feel ready for college like I didn’t know I’d be.”

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