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Nicolas Rugo and Gabrielle Conklin Win 2019 Msgr. Heller/Sister Helen Maureen Award

Nicolas Rugo and Gabrielle Conklin Win 2019 Msgr. Heller/Sister Helen Maureen Award

At graduation, two students are recognized for all-around excellence. This year, the Msgr. Heller/Sister Helen Maureen Award, formerly known as the Fr. Mullarkey/Sister Calista Award, honors Nicolas Rugo and Gabrielle Conklin. Both are accomplished students; but more importantly both are service-oriented, compassionate and dedicated individuals.

Gabrielle and her older sister, Kate, attended St. James since Kindergarten. In addition to Kate, Gabrielle has four other siblings among her blended families. More love to give and to receive! Active in CYO basketball, National Junior Honor Society, Student Council and band, Gabrielle beams when describing her time in CYO: “We had great coaches and all the girls played. We had so much fun getting to know girls from other parishes. I feel like I’ll know folks at O’Connell (where she is headed this fall) right away.” She makes an honest confession about band, “I played clarinet – badly.” However, she made up for that by excelling in the middle school plays; so much so that she hopes to participate in high school. It might be hard to find time since Gabrielle is also an all-around athlete. “I want to play soccer, swim and do track.” Service is also very important to her: “I wanted to get involved with Best Buddies, but you need to be a sophomore.” This inclusive program pairs students with peers who have cognitive or intellectual disabilities. Trained mentors spend their free period with their fellow classmates in a supportive environment.

Gabrielle loves Math and credits the Middle School program with fostering her enthusiasm. She hopes to one day become a trauma surgeon, “it seems like a really exciting thing to do; and I don’t mind blood!” After a summer of making college visits with her sister, she’ll get to relax a bit before August. Her favorite memory is that of Spirit Day, “[T]here was a lot of bonding in our class; it was a great experience. I think if I were to tell a Kindergartner about time here, I would say to take advantage of opportunities to learn, to be a better person and develop who you were meant to be.” She is well on her way!

Nicolas was also involved in the band, National Junior Honor Society, Student Council and as the lead in the Middle School plays. He enjoyed playing the baritone horn but took a year off “to concentrate more on my studies.” Nicolas is attending Gonzaga where he hopes to pick up that horn again! You may recognize him from the parish’s Advent Reflection series. “I enjoyed it, reflecting on the season, being on film.” Nicolas has a deep voice well-suited to a debater, which is good as he was the Spokesperson for our Debate team. “I learned what to say, to [think quickly] and think ahead. You have to be mentally on your feet.” Gabrielle added that “he’s really good at that!” While he confesses that he’s not partial to Math, “Mrs. Soliven helped me become better prepared; and Mrs. Gartner made science interesting!”

At Gonzaga, Nicolas wants to continue in debate as well as the Model United Nations. “I especially want to get involved with service at the Fr. McKenna Center.” He describes how students take their lunch period to serve and eat with the homeless who seek assistance there.

After a summer of family trips and Boy Scout camp, Nicolas will prepare for his new start; and maybe tinker on his brother’s car. “I love cars, love fixing them, learning about them. That’s what I would like to do someday.” Hopefully his brother will be aware of this before he leaves for Virginia Tech in the fall; if not, you do now!

“Even though graduation was bittersweet, everyone was “real” with each other. I’ll miss it. My advice to a Kindergartner would be don’t quit and don’t set limits. My success stemmed from perseverance.” Wise advice! Congratulations to both Nicolas and Gabrielle!