Catalyst Maria Student Leads to Bring Unity

The Sisters of St. Casimir ran Maria High School for over one hundred years as an all-girls Catholic school before they sought out and entrusted Catalyst to continue their legacy through the Catalyst Maria campus. Today, a donor has established two scholarships each year to be given to Catalyst Maria seniors this year and moving forward in honor of the legacy of the Sisters. This is the second of a two-part blog series about the winners of this scholarship in its inaugural year.

Iyanla Smith is one of the two Catalyst Maria students who are recipients of the Sisters of St. Casimir Legacy Scholarships. She is an impressive student. At Catalyst Maria, she achieved a 3.53 cumulative unweighted GPA and is excited to attend University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the fall. She plans to study both advertising and marketing. Like so many other students, Iyanla struggled to figure out how she would pay for college, so she applied for the Sisters of St. Casimir scholarship. Her hard work and dedication ensured that she got the scholarship.

Here, Iyanla describes her educational journey in her own words:

“Throughout my entire life, I have participated in various volunteering opportunities in areas that I find most important. One of those important programs happens to be children in the foster care system, because I was once one of those children in the foster care system myself but got the chance to be adopted.

I am aware that a lot of children who grew up in the foster care system did not have the same opportunities that I had.  I am forever grateful that I had access to the people I needed, along with essential resources. I aspire to be a person that other children in the foster system have access to and will be able to provide them with inspirational advice, along with whatever else they may be in need of. As I grow older, I hope to be able to give back to my family, community, and schools, as they have always given me the opportunity to thrive and be successful.

During my freshman year, I really struggled. I was getting into a lot of unnecessary trouble, and overall I was portraying somebody in which I knew I was not. By my next year, when I started attending Catalyst Maria, I again kicked off  with a not-so good start,  but I was determined to make a change in myself for the better. That year, I worked hard and dedicated myself. I ended my first semester with a GPA of 4.20 and ranked fifth in my class. Into my second semester, I ended with a GPA of a 4.36 along with ranking third in my class.

As I pushed forward into a successful junior year, I took up the opportunity to be a part of the Dual Enrollment Program offered at my school along with taking all Honors and AP classes, all while still maintaining a spot in the Top 10 and High Honors. During my junior year, I also got accepted into the National Honor Society Chapter, as well as the only Chicago Scholar in my class.

As I come to the end of my senior year, I have still maintained exemplary grades and behavior. I have gotten the opportunity to be a part of Student Government, serving as Secretary, as well as having gotten the opportunity to be the President of the National Honors Society Chapter, as well as still being the only Chicago Scholar in my school.

I am a leader at Catalyst Maria because even though I came from a rough start, I show my fellow Catalyst Maria Scholars to strive for the best and to be the best, and that overall you can achieve ultimately anything you put your mind and effort into. In addition, also helping them grasp this idea of not letting your past define your future.

Right now, leadership is more important than ever. The injustice that we see around our country is not new, but the awareness of it and the anger about it is at a new high level. But what has inspired me to keep going and keep leading is the unity that I see within the community around me.

The last week of protesting, which I proudly have taken part in, was the first time in my lifetime that I’ve seen so much unity from the Black community in Chicago. And it wasn’t just Black community members either – I saw Latinx and white people come out and protest for one cause – to make sure that everyone knows that Black Lives Matter and to fight against police brutality. It’s felt like a unifying moment in Chicago where everyone was out fighting for the right reasons – justice and equality for all.

When times get challenging, like they are right now, I tell myself and those around me to be the light that they want to see in the world. If we all work with that idea in our mind, we will change the world.