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196 seniors to participate in service after graduation

Tess Civantos | Thursday, May 14, 2009

While most seniors head for grad school or careers after graduation, 196 have other plans. They’re traveling everywhere from Peru to Pascagoula, Miss., with one shared goal – serving others.

Matt Gelchion, who holds a double major in political science and sociology, is a new member of the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE). He will teach high school history in Pascagoula for two years.

“I’m a really big fan of the line in the Bible that ‘to whom much is given, much is expected,'” Gelchion said. “I see how blessed I’ve been to be at a place like this, and I wanted to give back.”

Gelchion specifically chose ACE for its commitment to Catholic schooling. As a lifelong attendee of Catholic schools himself, Gelchion wanted to share the value of a Catholic education with others.

“Education is extremely important,” he said. “Catholic schools are a great source of good in today’s society.”

Pascagoula is a city of only about 26,000, yet Gelchion looks forward to his stay there.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to live in community,” he said. “This will be a very formative experience, and it’ll be better with the community of six other ACE teachers in my house.”

A benefit of the high school’s small size is that Gelchion will be able to take on more roles than just that of history teacher. He also plans to coach sports and help with other extracurricular activities.

As he prepares to graduate, Gelchion recalled the role that Notre Dame has played in his desire to serve others.

“What makes Notre Dame unique is that charge to go forth and do good,” Gelchion said. “I’m like to think that in some small way, I’m living up to that.”

Amanda Ryan, who holds a major in anthropology and a minor in peace studies, also has service plans after graduation.

Through the Good Shepherd volunteer program, Amanda will work in New York City at a fair trade store, Handcrafting Justice, for one year. She then plans to spend two years in the international branch of the program.

“I’ve been wanting to do service since I got to Notre Dame, to create a more just world,” Ryan said.

Ryan said a Summer Service Learning Program (SSLP) through the Center for Social Concerns confirmed her desire to serve, and the social justice groups she became involved in on campus – Ryan was co-president of the Children’s Defense Fund through the Center for the Homeless this past year – helped her determine where she wanted to serve.

“Notre Dame’s been a really great place to come and learn what true service is,” Ryan said. “I’ve seen what solidarity means, and what it means to live a truly Christian life.”

Seniors Kate Mattoon and Francesca Pennino are both moving to Peru next year.

They will work for 27 months at the Farm of the Child, an orphanage run by Franciscan sisters and a staff of volunteers.

Pennino planned for some time to do service after graduation, and an SSLP at the orphanage last summer convinced her that it was her calling – despite the difficulties she faced.

“It was one of the most challenging experiences. I was totally out of my comfort zone, adjusting to a different language, different food, a whole different culture,” Pennino said. “But in the same breath, it was one of the most fulfilling and God-filled experiences imaginable.”

Mattoon also said she is excited about the experience because she identifies strongly with the program’s mission of helping children.

“It’s where my heart is,” Mattoon said.

Pennino and Mattoon both credit Notre Dame with strengthening their commitment to working for social justice.

“The environment at Notre Dame was the biggest thing,” Mattoon said. “It really oriented me to social justice and charity.”

Pennino, who holds a sociology major and education minor, recalled specific professors and classes who encouraged her to engage with issues of social justice.

“Notre Dame had a huge, huge impact in shaping where I end up next year,” she said. “Notre Dame has given me the heart and the mind to devote myself to serving others.”

Pennino, Mattoon, Ryan, Gelchion and the other seniors will be honored at the annual Senior Service Send-Off ceremony at 1 p.m. Saturday in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center’s Leighton Concert Hall

University President Fr. John Jenkins will address the seniors and their families on the University’s commitment to service in education at Notre Dame and beyond.