When Paola Serrano, St. Francis de Sales (SFDS) Class of 2019, walked across the auditorium stage last month to accept her diploma, she was still awaiting one of her most important learning experiences. In this case, though, the “classroom” for her final SFDS lesson was an entire country, in the form of a nine-day tour of Greece with the SFDS Travelers Club. “It was an important trip for me because I got to experience another culture firsthand,” said Paola. “Seeing things—especially world problems—through the eyes of people from a different country, really makes you expand your own way of thinking.”
While her summer has included adventure, it won’t include much of a break. Earlier this year, Paola was awarded one of the City of Hammond, Indiana’s College Bound scholarships, a renewable scholarship based on academic achievement that requires recipients to complete 40 hours of community service for the city each summer. Paola says she’s looking forward to it: “Doing these community service projects is a way for me to give back to the community I’ve lived in my entire life,” she explained. “It also gives me a sense of pride, knowing that I’ve worked hard to earn this scholarship and that I plan to make the most of it.”
Next month, Paola will begin her undergraduate studies at Indiana University Bloomington with a specific long-term goal in mind: starting her own dermatology practice. Paola said that she became interested in dermatology after seeing the effect skin problems had on other young people she knew, and after becoming aware of the prohibitive expense of most prescription treatments. “I want to help everyone afford to be comfortable in their own skin,” she explained. “I also want to de-stigmatize acne, because it’s something everyone experiences to some degree.”
Helping others is something that seems to come naturally to Paola. When she was a freshman at SFDS and a senior she knew wanted to play softball but there weren’t enough players to form a team, Paola stepped up to the plate. “I didn’t know anything about softball, so it was a little rough,” she laughed, “but it was also a lot more fun than I was expecting it to be.” The experience taught Paola much more than just how to field and hit a ball: “I’m a nervous person, especially when I have to do anything in front of a crowd, but by the end of the year, that experience had definitely improved my confidence overall.”
Although she may have not enjoyed being in the spotlight, Paola was never one to sit on the sidelines during her years at SFDS. A member of the school’s podcasting club, she and other students researched, wrote about, directed, produced, edited, and reported on current events. She participated in chess club, yearbook, newspaper club, art club, the National Honor Society, and the student ambassador program, and was a member and three-year president of student council. This past spring, Paola’s many contributions were recognized in the form of the De Sales Award. Determined by peer nomination and faculty vote, the award is given to a senior who best exemplifies the ideals of the school, demonstrating leadership, service, academic integrity. and moral character.
Paola credits many of her SFDS teachers with fostering those qualities in her, including Associate Dean Stephen Sanchez, who taught her government and history classes. “Mr. Sanchez definitely brings real-life situations into the classroom, especially ones that relate to the students,” explained Paola. “He talks about current events—issues like immigration and police brutality—and helps students voice their frustration and know they’re being heard. He also makes it known that students can come to him if there’s anything they need to talk about.”
When asked what words of wisdom she would share with incoming SFDS freshmen, Paola drew upon her own experience: “The biggest thing I would say is, don’t worry about what other people are doing or what they think or about fitting in,” advised the new graduate. “I didn’t have a whole lot of fun in the beginning because I was too worried about those things. I started letting go of that after a couple of years and I had a lot more fun, and connected a lot better with people.”
With such an important life lesson already under her belt, and a true appreciation for her local and global communities, Paola will undoubtedly connect well with her future classmates and patients—and show them by example that beauty is much more than skin deep.