The students gathered around the petri dishes, examining the bacteria that had been growing.
Stephanie Asdell and her classmates were completing a bacterial transformation lab in biology class. They put a certain gene into a bacterial culture and watched over multiple generations as it took on luminescent properties, glowing in the dark.
“It seemed so much more advanced than what you could do in high school — creating something and doing something new,” she said. “I thought it was so cool we could do that in our little classroom here.”
That lesson stands out to Asdell, for the power of science has been the focus of her high school career.
As valedictorian of this year’s graduating class at Roncalli High School, Asdell plans to use the concepts, study habits and life lessons learned in high school to help her reach her career goal of working in the medical field.
“I just love learning how things work,” she said. “Not just why they work, but if there’s a problem, how you can find the answer to it. That ability to fix things and not be passive.”
In the classroom, Asdell excelled. She finished with a 4.52 grade-point average, finding success in everything from advanced science to calculus to history courses.
She was co-president of service in the student council for all four years. During the winter, she was on the dance team and danced competitively at the Dance Company. She participated in Promise To Keep, an abstinence mentoring program for younger students.
Asdell has plenty of memories from high school, but one of the highlights was the annual senior retreat.
Over three nights, she and about 40 other students worked together in small groups, with the idea of pairing students who otherwise didn’t interact much at school.
They discussed their faith and how it influences their lives. In such an intimate setting, the students could be open and honest about their feelings. Those lessons and the spiritual awakening that accompanies each one are meant to be carried for the rest of the students’ lives.
After completing the retreat, each participant is given a cross as a memento.
“It gave me a new set of people I can turn to for the most personal problems,” she said. “I still wear my retreat cross every day because it’s a tangible reminder of those three days.”
Asdell will attend Duke University in the fall, studying biology with an eye on medical school. Both of her parents, Steven and Tessa Asdell, are doctors.
She would love to be a surgeon but understands that decision can be made once she’s settled into her studies.
“That’s a long ways away,” she said. “I have some time to think about it.”