Running cross country and competing in distance races for Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington taught senior Michaela Kirvan the importance of setting goals. And her religion, math and science classes there helped her and classmates strive for the goal of finding solutions for real-life domestic and global problems.

Kirvan, a member of Visitation’s class of 2018 who earlier graduated from St. Jane de Chantal School in Bethesda, began running track in middle school, and competed in cross country for all four years in high school. She likes exercising outdoors and running cross country courses that wind through the woods, across fields, and over streams and muddy ground.

“Running is always about setting goals for yourself… That has translated, without knowing it, into all areas of my life,” she said.

At Visitation, she also ran distance races, including 800-, 1600- and 3200-meters, and relays for the school’s track team that competed in the Penn Relays. In this past season’s DC State Championships for cross country, she finished in fifth place and helped her team earn fifth place in that meet and fourth place at the Independent School League championships.

And at the all-girls’ Catholic high school sponsored by the Sisters of the Visitation, Kirvan and fellow students also worked together in facing difficult social problems. She helped lead Visitation students’ response in the recent March for Our Lives against gun violence that was spurred by the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Kirvan was quoted in the New York Times about the students’ effort, which included students gathering in the gym, reading the names and ringing bells at the school for the 17 Parkland student and teacher victims, and then processing onto 35th Street for 17 minutes.

She said Visitation students spoke to each other about how in Catholic teaching, “pro-life means protecting life in all its forms and stages,” and that discussion demonstrated the importance of open, respectful dialogue on challenging issues.

At Visitation, Kirvan’s favorite classes included chemistry and Advanced Placement biology and physics. She participated in the World Smarts STEM Challenge with seven other fellow students there, along with eight boys from an academy in Ghana. Their task was to partner together and find a solution to the energy problems in both countries – for the United States’ over-reliance on fossil fuels, and for the unreliable and expensive energy sources in that African nation. Their team, communicating across different time zones through Skype and text messages, came up with the solution of designing mats for high foot traffic areas that could capture kinetic energy and convert it into electricity.

Kirvan and senior classmate and friend Livi Hally partnered to combine concepts they were learning in their honors pre-calculus class for a religion project that required research-based solutions to a social injustice. They analyzed conditions faced by Syrian refugees in camps, and they devised a possible solution to make sewage systems safer, to reduce the risk of the water supply being contaminated and spreading diseases.

This fall, Kirvan will attend Vanderbilt University in Nashville through the Ingram Scholarship Program, which provides students with full-tuition scholarships while challenging them to create and implement service projects – experience that she knows well from her projects at Georgetown Visitation, where she said “it was comforting to me to live out the values of Catholic social justice teaching.”

Kirvan said that at Vanderbilt, she may study business and engineering.

Reflecting on her education at Georgetown Visitation, Kirvan said she especially appreciated the school’s Salesian spirituality. “It has a big impact on the way you live your life. My favorite (Salesian) virtue is gentleness,” she said.

As she prepares to continue her education at Vanderbilt, Kirvan will take with her lessons learned at Visitation, where she combined her religious training with academic concepts to devise solutions to social problems.

Her education there, she said, has “taught me to have an awareness of everyone surrounding you, and how your actions will impact others.”