By Jeff Miller
Special to The Texas Catholic
Jesuit College Prep senior Will Nickols initially conceded that coincidence might be the primary reason why he, John Paul II senior Delinah Hailey and Cistercian senior Alex Banul were named valedictorians this year after they all previously attended All Saints Catholic School in north Dallas. Then, he thought of something more.
Will noted having only about 45 students per elementary grade allowed All Saints teachers to individually assign pupils extra projects for expanded learning. Self-advocacy was encouraged, he said, which further broadened students’ thinking.
“All Saints provided a really solid educational foundation,” he said.
Delinah identified another connection.
“Our families behind us are very supportive families,” she said. “Having faith in a good private school was very important to my parents.”
Will and Delinah live in Garland, and Alex lives in Richardson. All three are 18 years old.
Alex entered All Saints in kindergarten, following two siblings. Will arrived in the first grade and Delinah in the second grade, a year behind her older brother. Alex left for Cistercian’s lower school, which begins in fifth grade.
“I’ve known their families for years, so I share their joy,” said Shana Druffner, All Saints’ principal for the past two years and a teacher there for 15 years. “It’s always fun to see the great things they’re going to do going forward.”
Speaking of, Will is headed to Harvard to focus on cellular and molecular biology, Delinah plans to study ethics, politics and economics with a minor in African-American Studies at Yale and Alex will major in biology at Emory.
When Will and Delinah were the top students in the eighth grade, All Saints’ pastor, Father Alfonso Nazzaro, asked Will what he’d learned most there. Druffner recalled Will saying that attending a small school allowed him to learn leadership skills.
Alex, one of four valedictorians this year at Cistercian, laughed when recalling his time at All Saints.
“I was constantly in the principal’s office,” he said. “I couldn’t control myself.”
“He definitely had a lot of energy,” Delinah said, also laughing.
Alex and Will remained connected through their music studies; Will played the violin and Alex the cello in the combined orchestra for students from Jesuit and Ursuline with Alex being the group’s only member from Cistercian.
Delinah played cello at All Saints and JPII, was high school class president all four years and, as a senior, was captain of the basketball team.
She said being one of All Saints’ few black students provided an opportunity for personal growth.
“It made me very resilient,” said Delinah, whose parents immigrated from Ethiopia. “It taught me navigating the world because that was the world I’d be going to in high school as well. It contributes a lot to who I am today.”
Alex was involved in theater, art and sports at Cistercian. He said he most enjoyed playing linebacker on the football team and was named the Hawks’ defensive player of the year as a senior.
Will was on Jesuit’s student council for four years, serving as student body vice president as a senior. He also was president of the school’s medical society and was on the power-lifting team.
The trio’s collective academic success in secondary education continues a trend for All Saints. Druffner said the school has produced five high school valedictorians and two salutatorians during the past six school years.
“Three people from All Saints being valedictorians this year – that’s awesome,” Alex said.
Find more coverage celebrating the Class of 2020 in the Aug. 7 print edition of The Texas Catholic.