by Valerie Malabonga, CDA parent
1. My sources tell me that you are the student that stayed at Coram Deo Academy (CDA) the longest. In what grade did you start? How long were you there? When did you graduate?
I started attending CDA the very first year it began. I was a third grader at that time and stayed all the way through senior year, graduating as valedictorian in 2018. My parents helped start CDA and played a big role in its development and flourishing.
It was always fun for me to say that I had been there the longest, because I got the excitement of knowing everyone that attended and I got to experience the classical educational flow that CDA was designed to have, since I progressed from Grammar and Writing into Logic and Rhetoric and then into Apologetics and Thesis and learning how to express everything I had learned in all 10 years of being a student.
2. Tell us what you are doing now. What is your major? Is there any influence from CDA that made you focus on your specific major? Also, you had a remarkably interesting CDA thesis topic, could you tell us about that?
I am currently a junior at Taylor University, studying Human Physiology and Preventive Medicine. My goal is to attend an accelerated Nursing program after Taylor and work as either a Pediatric Nurse or a Labor & Delivery Nurse. I have also considered getting my Dietetics degree and educating others on the importance of nutrition, which is something I am very passionate about. Regardless of what career I end up in, I know that God has gifted me to serve others and educate them on how to live a holistic lifestyle in health and wellness. Taking Anatomy at CDA was the first thing that made me consider this career, and since then, I have grown in greater appreciation for overall health and the human body.
I have also always had a passion for kids and grew up doing Safe Families for Children (a non-governmental, faith-based foster care program), so my family always had children from different backgrounds and stories in our home. This grew a passion in me for orphans and vulnerable children affected by systems and things beyond their control. I wrote my thesis on the effects of foster care on a child’s life, with the solution that the church must step up in taking responsibility for helping these children. While my major is not tied to this specific issue, I still want to work with children and possibly help them in a healthcare setting. My fiancé and I also want to be foster parents or Safe Families volunteers, so I think this passion will be more expressed in our own home.
3. You play soccer for Taylor University, what is your position? Is it hard to balance your studies and playing soccer? You met your fiancé through Taylor’s soccer program. Could you tell us about that?
I am a forward for Taylor’s soccer team and have loved every aspect about playing for God’s glory with a group of Christian women who have become my best friends. Being a collegiate athlete has definitely had its challenges and has made my life very busy. Yet it has taught me valuable life lessons, such as balance, hard work, and prioritizing what is most important in my life. It is very hard to balance school and soccer, along with different relationships with the team, girls I live with, and being engaged, but it has definitely gotten easier with time.
I will forever be grateful to be on the soccer team because it is what brought me to my fiancé, Clay. Clay plays for the men’s soccer team at Taylor and we met during Day 2 of preseason during a speed dating tradition that the upperclassmen make the freshmen partake in. We had to sit across from each other and answer zany questions while doing equally ridiculous tasks. It was definitely embarrassing in the moment, but it was also the moment that I knew I would be best friends with this stranger named Clay Vander Kolk!
4. You and your fiancé just started a business; please tell us about that. Do you have any other jobs?
Clay and I started a business in January 2021 called New Beginning Thrifts. Our vision for this business is to promote sustainability by reselling and upcycling thrifted clothing, giving old things a new beginning.
We have both always had a passion for thrifting and it is something that we love to do together, so this allows us to continue our thrift dates, be creative with the clothes we find, and educate others about how many clothes are produced excessively and wasted each year, contributing to landfills, deforestation, and unhealthy consumerism.
We also sponsor a company that plants one tree for every purchase we receive. Since we are both student athletes, we do not have time to hold other jobs on campus, so our little “passion project” business allows us to make some extra cash during the busyness of life.
5. Getting back to CDA, what was your favorite aspect of the school?
There is so much that I loved about CDA, but the biggest by far were the relationships. I found it unique that our school was so small, yet we had so many different people and personalities that we got to know and be friends with. We were in some way forced to be friends with people who were different from us, which I believe actually grew me a ton and helped me see the beauty in everyone and learn from different perspectives.
I also greatly valued CDA’s classical education because it prepared me so well for life and especially college classes. From learning how to reason logically and articulate well through speech and writing, I believe I have been equipped with very good skills that will benefit me for the rest of my life. I also learned so much about my own faith at Coram Deo, and believe that reading challenging Christian books, such as Keller’s Reason for God accounted for that. CDA also pushed me out of my comfort zone, by allowing me to be involved in many things, such as drama club, yearbook, track and field, and music, which gave me expressive and creative outlets that helped me grow in confidence.
6. In your experience, what has been the biggest advantage of your educational background at CDA? How did it prepare you for the challenges of college and work life?
CDA definitely prepared me in the areas of critical thinking, reasoning, and English and Literature. It also gave me a very holistic perspective on life, as it taught me how to integrate my faith into every subject and aspect of life. I believe that I have the ability to critically analyze a situation and assess it with wisdom and reasoning, because CDA taught us how to do that so well. I also learned a lot from my high school science classes, especially Anatomy and Physiology, which was what made me consider going into Nursing in the first place. I am so thankful that I am entering a career that is very centered on holistic health and wellness and helping others, because I think CDA showed me the importance of living holistically and with a mindset to serve.
7. How do you think your classical Christian education at CDA helped prepare you to be successful in your field?
With regards to Nursing specifically, I think CDA shaped my character and helped me become a more passionate, thoughtful, and empathetic person. Whether through the relationships with students and teachers or the curriculum, I felt like I was constantly being challenged to pursue excellence and become passionate about what I was learning or discussing with people. CDA also gave me my best friends, who I think played a huge role in developing my character and pushing me to be more like Christ every day.
8. You are engaged and getting married in June 2021. Did the people at CDA influence or helped you in developing healthy romantic relationships? In what ways?
The people at CDA definitely helped me understand what healthy, deep, loyal relationships look like. I believe that this contributed to how I was able to form other genuine, committed relationships in college, specifically my romantic relationship with Clay. When I was a student at CDA, I wrestled a lot with what my future would hold or if God would bring around the right person for me to marry, since I never dated anyone throughout my time there. Growing in singleness at CDA taught me to grow first and foremost in my relationship with God. As I relied more and more heavily on the Lord for strength and guidance, I felt more assured that He had amazing plans and an amazing relationship for me in the future. Being single also allowed me to invest heavily in the friendships I had at CDA, many of whom are still a huge part of my life.
9. What stands out about the relationships you developed at CDA? Are you still connected with the people you met at CDA? In what ways? How did your relationships make you the person you are today?
My relationships at CDA were definitely unique, in that I became friends with some people who were very different from me, yet with whom I shared core beliefs and a love for the Lord. These relationships were also the deepest friend relationships I had ever had, because we shared so much of life together and knew each other’s families, life experiences, and hearts so well. We also spent pretty much all day everyday of high school together, which was an added bonus of having a small school.
My best friends from CDA are still a huge part of my life today, and in fact, four of them (Maddy Camara, Kaitlin Gutwein, Alyssa Herne, and Riley Henry) will be standing beside me as bridesmaids on my wedding day. Maddy also went to Taylor with me and graduated in January 2021, but we lived in dorm rooms next to each other and grew even closer as best friends through college. While I have made many other valuable friendships in college, I have always felt that CDA friends are family – they are the ones that know me on the deepest level and with whom I share the most history and inside jokes (which are most likely from Mr. Andrew Fetters’ classes).
10. CDA’s current “Portrait of a Graduate” highlights the phrases: Contagious Christian, Lifelong Learner, Creative and Critical Thinker, Compelling Communicator, and Legacy Leader. How did CDA help you become any or all of these? In what ways?
My time at CDA definitely helped me develop many of the characteristics that describe the “Portrait of a Graduate”, but I think that many of these traits are a lifelong pursuit. CDA helped me become a Contagious Christian by teaching me aspects of apologetics and how to express my faith. I also grew a lot in confidence and extroversion in my time at CDA, which also allowed me to become more friendly and “contagious” in my conversations about Christ with others. The classes at CDA peaked my interest as a learner and showed me that learning can be fun, challenging, and exhilarating, but it also humbled me to realize that there is much I still don’t know and will strive my whole life to learn.
CDA also taught me to think creatively and critically, by equipping me with logical thinking skills while still giving me freedom for self-expression. I was free to think deeply while still being goofy around my teachers and friends, which I think is a beautiful dynamic. I also grew in the trait of compellingly communicating, specifically through the practices of Thesis and Rhetoric. Mrs. Weirich was also greatly influential in helping me communicate things in a clear and graceful manner, while also helping me dig into my emotions and learn from the emotions of others.
Lastly, CDA equipped me as a leader, but I think this is something I am still working on. In a small school like CDA, it is easy to step up and take responsibility and authority, so I am very grateful that I got that opportunity. However, I am still learning to grow in confidence and leadership but like to think that I am learning well and taking responsibility on my soccer team, in school, and in my relationships.
11. What is next for you or what plans do you have for serving Christ in the world with your gifts?
I am getting married in June, 2021 and will have one more semester at Taylor as a student and athlete. After graduation, I will take classes to become a Registered Nurse or Dietician while Clay works as a high school Math teacher and coaches soccer. We then hope to move to Hawaii for a few years and possibly travel more if the Lord allows. We also want a big family and hopefully lots of future soccer players! There are many uncertainties about our future, but we have lots of big dreams and will both have flexible jobs that are needed anywhere.
I hope to use whatever healthcare career I end up in to show others the love of Christ through my words and actions and educate others on how to be good stewards of the body. Whatever we do in life, being good stewards is what God made us for – He calls us to care for the earth, our bodies, and each other. I hope to share this with others and love people like Christ has loved – sacrificially and powerfully. And I hope to keep growing in the characteristics that mark a CDA graduate, because there is always room to grow.
Other alumni interviews from 1st Era CDA High School:
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Are you overwhelmed with the demands of parenting due to COVID-19? In this webinar, DeeDee Feeney, a long-time educator and a mother of five flourishing adults, shares the four parenting secrets she used during her children's' formative years.
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When it comes to picking a school option for their child, you may have realized that the status quo is not working out. This webinar will present you with the essential knowledge you need to make the right choice for your family.
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More parents are seeing that not all schooling options are effective in helping kids reach their full potential. Perhaps you are one of those parents. This webinar will introduce you to Coram Deo Academy as a partner in your student’s educational journey.