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Thinking big at a small school: 11 questions with JPII's valedictorian


Her artwork decorates the hallways. Her sports bag—which she uses for volleyball, basketball and soccer—sits in the locker room. And the case around her tablet is sporting a sticker of the school—Pope John Paul II—she loves.

For four years, Estefania Mora-Miranda has attended the diocesan high school in Greenville, and this spring she will be its valedictorian. She was also its class president. NC Catholics recently caught up with Estefania, known to her friends as Stefani, and asked her about faith, academic achievements and life challenges.

Name: Stefani Mora-Miranda

Age: 18

School: Pope John Paul II High School, Greenville

Parents: Ana, Juan Carlos

Siblings: Nicolas (22), Ana (21) and Lucas (5)

Parish: St. Gabriel, Greenville

Birthplace: Guayquil, Ecquador

Current city: Winterville, NC

NC Catholics: When did you move to North Carolina?

Stefani Mora-Miranda: We came here for a visit to my grandparents in Charlotte and liked it … we moved there in 2001. We lived in Kinston. And we moved to Winterville when I was 6.

NCC: Where did you attend school before JPII?

SM: I was in public school up until 7th grade, when I started at St. Peter School. I transitioned to JPII because my sister was here … she was part of the first graduating class. I saw the experience my sister had at JPII … and I always imagined myself coming here.

NCC: What has been your favorite course?

SM: This might sound strange, or rehearsed … but, definitely theology. I can’t pick my favorite year. But we studied [Pope] John Paul II’s Theology of the Body [about human sexuality, marriage and family life], and it was an eye-opening course. We talked about what typical high school students wonder. It clarified a lot. It wasn’t just a teacher telling us, ‘This is what the Church thinks and deal with it.’ It was more like, ‘What are the questions you have?’ We could talk about real life events and our faith.  

NCC: Did you earn all As during your high school career? Did you ever get a B as a quarter or semester grade?

SM: I aimed for As, and once I started reaching the goals for As, I aimed for A+. My freshman year, I got one B … it was a 92. And also for civics, I got a 92 as well … that was when we were on the seven-point system, and I was one point away from an A.

NCC: What are the habits you practice that led to the As?

SM: I write down all my coursework … assignments. My dad is the one who showed me my system. For me, it doesn’t work if I just put it in my phone. I am more of a paper and pen [person]. Sticky notes are my best friends. Also, I have a calendar of everything I have to do. If I see I have a game Wednesday, and a paper due by midnight that day and the next day I have to study for a test, I make sure Monday night I start getting going so I don’t have to pull an all-nighter.

NCC: What are things people, especially adults, ask or say that are tough to hear or answer?

SM: Definitely, ‘Where are you going [to college]?’ Especially when you are in the application process. You don’t want to mention rejections or deferments. It’s a lot of pressure. And people ask, ‘Which one are you aiming for?’ and you don’t want to say it. That’s definitely one of the hardest things that high school seniors have to go through. And the whole boyfriend thing. If you do have a boyfriend, people always say, ‘Make sure you don’t follow him’ to his college. And we are like, we know.  

NCC: What’s your advice to students who are preparing to enter high school?

SM: It can be overwhelming. Take a breather. The most important thing is sleep. Do not cut back on sleep. I had to learn that the hard way. Try to find your system early … especially if you want to do sports. There is always going to be that time when the game ran late, and you get home later than you planned. On the social side, make friends but don’t base your life on them. Avoid cliques, and talk with everybody. It goes a lot better if you are friendly.

NCC: What’s your advice to people who are thinking about attending JPII?

SM: I am ready for this question! [The school] is growing. You can see the changes that are happening. And the people … our teachers dedicate so much time and effort into our education and being there for us as people. It’s such a nice environment. I know I can rely on any of my teachers. It’s lovely to be around these people every morning at assembly or in class.

NCC: After graduation, you are joining your older sister, who was your confirmation sponsor, at N.C. State University. What’s your relationship like with her?

SM: We both have a goal of connecting with God. She has always helped me with that. I try to be there for her. And she reminds me to stay on task and pray. There’s a big difference when you are under your parents’ roof, and they make you go to church, and they remind you of the holy days. But, as you go on, you have to set a plan to not stray away from your faith. As you’re going into college, you have to realize there may be bumps on the way, and you always need that connection with God.

NCC: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve experienced in your life?

SM: My brother’s car accident. He was 10. I was six. He had damage to the left part of his brain; they had to take out part of his skull to relieve the pressure. He’s handicapped … mentally and physically. We always thought: ‘Why?’ That was a very strong thing in our family. I don’t know if we still ask ‘why,’ but we see … well, it’s difficult to say we see ‘the good’ when it’s so close to your heart, but it’s kept some of us closer to God. I remember in middle school I had really big ‘why’ moments. But in the end I have realized God is still here for us, my brother is still here, and my family is connected. After the accident, prayer became more of a thing with us. Our family’s collective time and attention … a lot of it went to my brother. I think it strengthened our family bond because we were all there for each other.

NCC: What do you want to study in college?

SM: I like architecture … and I enjoy math.

NCC: What do you want to do after graduation?

SM: I have no idea. And I am not afraid to say that because I am just being introduced to a ton of new things. I am leaning toward engineering, but business has caught my attention. I am open minded. I am not going to close anything off, because I don’t know where I am supposed to be yet.