If there’s one lesson Ayanna McCarley is taking from Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland, she said it’s “to constantly be genuine, humble and respectful.” 

“It’s not specifically stated in our mission statement, but that’s what we embrace as our community,” she said, adding that the school’s president, Marco Clark, always reminds students that one never knows what a person may be going through, and the impact an encounter could have on another. 

As the current student body president, McCarley said she sees the students of Bishop McNamara as a family.

“A lot of people, when they think of Bishop McNamara, hear about the concept of family,” she said. “It’s so true. We have this close bond with one another… we value what one another thinks, and it’s a big part of what made me go here. I’m different from the person next to me, but I recognize that what we share and what we have is so important, and we all contribute to society.” 

McCarley said she appreciates how at Bishop McNamara, one doesn’t have “set groups of friends,” noting how the St. Joseph program, which is designed to welcome students with learning differences into the classroom, sets the school apart. 

“You don’t need to be a certain type of school to include all people,” she said. “It shows that our teachers want to work with anybody. We take that extra step so that we can accommodate all.” 

Taking a stand with her classmates against gun violence is one of the experiences that McCarley said she will take with her as she heads off to college. 

“Everybody talks about how we want to have leaders in the Gospel who transform the world and who are socially active,” she said. “We have kids here who are willing to stand up for what we believe in… Here we embrace that.” 

In addition, McCarley said one of her favorite school traditions is how the school recognizes African American History Month each year, with different clubs and groups coming together to “embrace the culture of African Americans without ostracizing everyone,” she said. 

Some of her favorite classes were psychology, African American studies and women’s studies, which she said all helped “open up our minds and… see things from another perspective.” 

In the fall, McCarley plans to attend New York University and potentially major in both neuroscience and African American studies. 

“I’ve been very interested from a young age as to why the brain does what it does,” she said. “Not just the behavior, but the biology behind it.” 

Attending a Catholic school, she said, has helped her believe in something greater than herself.

“I’ve become a more positive person,” she said. “I have a greater outlook on life and I’ve started to connect with my faith.” 

And while the end of her senior year looks quite different than she could have ever imagined, McCarley said she has been able to connect with her classmates in a deeper way before they head off to their separate colleges. 

“We’re all going through the same thing at the same time,” she said. “We don’t know who it’s going to effect and when it’s going to happen. We love each other while we can, because life is too short.”