4 AQUINAS LANDMARK | SPRING 2023 Focus On Faith . . . 4 AQUINAS LANDMARK | WINTER 2024 Service As a Way Hser Paw ’24 Like graduating seniors everywhere, Aquinas students must complete a specified number of academic credits to earn their diplomas. Unlike graduating seniors everywhere though, Aquinas students must fulfill another requirement to earn their diplomas, which is service to the community. Broken up by semester over their four years of high school, the minimum 64 hours is not difficult to achieve and in fact, most students go above and beyond that. For instance, the Class of 2022 completed 9,690 total hours of service or roughly 79 hours per student, and the Class of 2023 did even more with 11,759 total hours, which is 102 hours per student. “While it’s a requirement, it’s more about the mission and the ministry of who we are. So reaching out to people, connecting with them, not just providing goods to them, but building relationships is what it’s all about,” said Jodi Schott, Aquinas’ Director of Mission and Ministry. She, along with the Theology Department and Aquinas’ Community Service Coordinator, Sister Dora Christian, SSJ, is responsible for the service program. Not only do they help coordinate individual opportunities, but they organize large scale service opportunities that may include an entire class or the entire school. Freshman Service Day, Sophomore Service Day, Middle School Service Day, Book and a Blanket, and Thanksgiving Food Baskets are just a few. Sister Dora, who tracks student hours, says the average number of hours students are completing is going up each year. “I think it’s phenomenal, I’m amazed that over half in every class right now already have their required hours done and we’re still a month out from the due date,” she said. “I keep pushing the St. Joseph the Worker Award. Colleges look at service, it’s a resume builder and I really try to push that starting freshman year.” The St. Joseph the Worker Community Service Award is given to high school students who complete 20+ hours above the minimum required for their grade level. Students who earn this award all four years of high school earn the St. Basil the Great Award their senior year, which is presented at the Academic Awards Night ceremony in the spring. Six seniors from the Class of 2023 earned the St. Basil the Great Award, up from three in 2022 and 2021. “Part of our core Christian message that comes from Christ himself is about serving other people and reaching out to those in need, looking out for the least among us, the poor, the marginalized,” said Schott. “When we have service as a way of life here at Aquinas, we’re instilling that Catholic value in every student and teaching them how to carry this on for the rest of their life. It’s not just something to be done, but something that they’re called to do.” Aquinas senior Hser Paw knows all about this calling and while she has done a lot of service here in the Rochester community, the impact she is making extends much further. Hser, who spent the first four years of her life in Mae La, a Karen (pronounced Kah-Ren) refugee camp in Thailand, thinks often of the life she has now, and the Karen children who, despite suffering the effects of civil war and persecution, are still fighting to receive an education. “The kids affected by civil war are constantly on the move with their families. Most of the schools, there’s no concrete, they’re made out of wood they find and sometimes it’s just a tunnel that they dig out,” said Hser. “I’m very lucky to be here, I’m attending school, I’ve been given opportunities that my parents and my generation back in Mae La don’t have, so what can I do with the opportunities that I’ve been given? I realized there were little things I could do now that would make an impact.” In a reflection she read to the entire school at Mass, Hser said, “My call is to serve God’s children, the children who are suffering and are not heard.” And that’s exactly what she’s doing. In 2020, with the help of her church sister, Bethany Htoo, 9th Grade Service Day