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Setting the World on Fire: What’s Next for the Class of 2012

“If you are what you should be,” begins the quotation from St. Catherine of Siena that the Thomas Aquinas College Class of 2012 has chosen as its own, “you will set the whole world on fire.”

This is the spirited ideal to which the Class of 2012 aspires as its members leave the campus to embrace the vocations, occupations, and apostolates to which Our Lord is calling them. The graduates are determined to set the world ablaze spiritually, as further evidenced by their choice of a valiant class patron, St. Michael the Archangel.

This determination is all the more apparent in the plans and goals that these new alumni have set for themselves in the months, years, and even decades ahead. Whether as lay people or as religious, as surgeons, scholars, or servicemen — with plans firmly in place or still in the early stages of formation — members of the Class of 2012 are determined to be what they should be, according to God’s unique calling, so as to “set the whole world on fire.”


“My time at the College has taught me how to think for myself and not necessarily be persuaded by what other people are telling me to be true,” reflects Anne Fisher, who is taking prerequisite courses for medical school at San Francisco State University. “I think that is valuable in medicine, especially in the current medical climate.” Gabriel Duda is likewise completing his prerequisites, with plans to enter medical school within the next year. Seeking to care for the human psyche, Shannon Williams will pursue a doctorate in psychology. Other members of the Class of 2012 — including Kelly Bulger, Julianne (Dailey) Flathers, David Freer, Augusta Grimm, Rebecca Kretschmer, and Marie Marotti — have set their sights on nursing.

Mary Wise has also decided to go into nursing, with an emphasis on critical care, for reasons that are both personal and inspiring. This past year her brother Matt (’06) died after a lengthy hospitalization resulting from pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome. For Miss Wise, spending time at her brother’s bedside opened her eyes to nursing. “I enjoy being busy, on my feet, in an active environment where the number-one priority is serving and aiding people,” she says. “I suppose you could say that realizing nursing as my lifelong career path was my brother’s gift to me.”

National Service

Three members of the Class of 2012 have opted for careers of a civic nature. On Commencement Day Noel Bulger received his commission as an officer in the United States Marine Corps. Colin O’Keefe has accepted a position with the Lucy Burns Institute, a non-profit organization in Madison, Wisc., devoted to disseminating information to help citizens in making their voting decisions. Finally, inspired by reading The Federalist Papers, the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, and Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America in his senior seminar class, Luke Seeley will be studying for a master’s degree in political science at the Hillsdale Graduate School of Statesmanship, with the long-term goal of teaching the discipline at the college level.

Foreign Language

All students at Thomas Aquinas College study two years of Latin, not only to master the language, but also to understand the very nature of language itself, thereby preparing them to more readily learn any language in the future. For example, this fall Marie Donovan will be studying Farsi as part of a master’s program in Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Arizona. Ian Joliat is heading to Japan, where he will learn Japanese while teaching English to middle-school children; he intends to become an interpreter for international corporations. Louisa Scamperle will be drawing more directly on her Latin, studying Italian at the Universita per Stranieri in Perugia, Italy.


Among those who are pursuing careers in business is Kayla Kermode, who has been hired as a process consultant for insurance giant WellPoint in its procurement department in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Thomas Malone is entering the Master of Science in Business Analysis program at the Catholic University of America. Jack Thomas will learn the art and economics of winemaking by working for David O’Reilly (’87), owner of the Owen Roe Winery in St. Paul, Ore. Thomas Guynan will return to his home state of Nebraska to join the family’s grain, corn, and soybean business.


Every year the career path that draws the most Thomas Aquinas College graduates is education, and 2012 is no exception. Echoing the sentiments of many of his classmates, James Thompson notes, “During my time here I have discovered that I really enjoy the process of learning. Because I love learning so much, it is something I would like to give to others as well.” Next fall Mr. Thompson will be teaching algebra to middle school students at Glendale Preparatory High School, part of Arizona’s Great Hearts Academies, a network of charter schools offering a classical curriculum. His classmate Madison Cox will be joining him in the Great Hearts system as a fifth-grade teacher at North Phoenix Archway Classical Academy.

In total, 12 of this year’s 66 graduates have formal plans to teach or work in the field of education, and at all levels. Grace Kelly will pursue certification as a Montessori teacher for younger children, and Stephanie (Simia) O’Keefe will be tutoring home-schooled students in her native Wisconsin. Anna (Dunlap) O’Reilly and Kellie Schramm will be teaching for Mother of Divine Grace, an online distance-learning program founded by Laura Berquist (’75). Fiona Pudewa will offer writing instruction to middle schoolers via the Internet. Philip Knuffke and Joshua Lo are heading down to Argentina, where they will join the faculty of a Catholic school with a classical curriculum founded by Roberto Helguera (’91). Finally two members of the Class of 2012 will stay in Santa Paula as employees of their alma mater: Christopher Ellefson is joining the College’s Admissions Department as a counselor, and Rachel Mathie will serve as the resident assistant.


Two members of the Class of 2012 have immediate plans to study law, albeit different kinds. Sean O’Neal will study the laws of the State at William and Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Va. Clare Smillie will be studying the laws of the Church in the Catholic University of America’s Canon Law Program, which includes a two-year master’s degree in theology followed by three years of training to acquire a license in canon law.

Arts & Entertainment

“The purpose of the artist is to convey a message, to try to speak to the truth and the dignity of the human person,” says Kathryn Claahsen. “That is something I’ve been able to see in a very holistic, integral way here through the program.” Miss Claahsen hopes to refine her talent for painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago this fall. Nathan Dunlap is taking a job as an animator for a video-game company, with hopes of one day making films. A violinist since the age of seven, Michaella Pape intends to obtain a master’s degree in music.

Philosophy and Theology

Given the emphasis on philosophy and theology in the College’s curriculum, it is no surprise that at least a few graduates each year go on to study these disciplines at the graduate level. Edward Langley has received a full scholarship and stipend to pursue doctoral studies in philosophy at the Catholic University of America, and Mark Forrester will be studying moral and Thomistic theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. As of publication, Joshua Altic was still entertaining offers to study philosophy at the University of Dallas — or physics at Baylor University — while also contemplating law school.


Building on his four years of mathematics at the College, Robert Pfeiffer will enter the electrical-engineering program at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. “Having investigated the principles of math and science at the College will be really helpful in studying the more advanced, modern math and science,” he says, “as will having a good philosophical foundation.”


During their time at the College several members of the Class of 2012 were blessed to discern vocations to the marital state. “The College prepared us very well for marriage,” observes Colin O’Keefe, who wed Stephanie (Simia) the weekend after Commencement in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel. “Here we had the opportunity to meet each other in a very spiritual environment and to grow together in the Faith as we came to know each other better in love.”

That same weekend three other couples were also married in the Chapel: Bernadette (Teichert) and Edward Langley, Madeline (Flanders) and David Freer, and Anna (Dunlap) and Dominic O’Reilly (’10). Four weeks later Julianne (Dailey) married her high school sweetheart, Steven Flathers, in Orange, Calif. Three more weddings involving this year’s graduates are planned for later in the summer.

Priesthood and Religious Life

It is always a special joy at the College when a graduate answers God’s call to a priestly or religious vocation. Some 10 percent of the College’s alumni are priests and/or religious, including 55 men who have received the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Often these vocations are discerned a few years after graduation, but not always. Among this year’s graduates Mason Peddemors is the first to answer the call. On August 14 he will enter the Western Province of the Dominican Order to prepare for the priesthood.


Posted: July 12, 2012. This article first appeared in the Commencement 2012 edition of the Thomas Aquinas College Newsletter.