Passion for the work

HARLINGEN — She worked for it, and now she’s got it.

Catherine Duncan isn’t one to rest on her laurels. Yes, she’s president of the National Honor Society at Harlingen High School South. Yes she’s this year’s valedictorian. Isn’t that enough?

Not for this super achiever. After graduation, she plans to study journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. It’s the country’s top journalism school, rated higher than the famed University of Missouri.

“I’m very excited about it,” said Catherine, 18. “It’s something I’ve been working for for about four years now, just my whole high school experience. Everything I’ve done since freshman year has been to help me get into college.”

And she’s been a busy young lady. She played flute for the high school band, she’s captain of the swimming team and she plays water polo. She competed in UIL’s Ready Writing and Spelling categories. She’s also on the Student Advisory Board and serves as student liaison for the Parent, Teacher, Student Association. She writes for the school district magazine, and some of her work has run in the Valley Morning Star.

“It’s a busy schedule,” she said with a laugh.

“It’s just all about time management, pretty much,” she continued. “I have a planner and I just make sure I can make everything and stay committed to everything. I don’t just enter activities to do them, I want to be a part of it and really be involved.”

Such a rigorous regimen of study, leadership, sports and music certainly has laid an important groundwork for the challenges of a demanding college curriculum. Northwestern is a difficult university to get into, but that didn’t stop Catherine from trying.

“I knew it would be a bit of a risk because the acceptance rate’s pretty low,” she said. “I knew it might be a long shot. But I visited and I really fell in love with it.”

She researched more than 50 colleges and universities before choosing Northwestern.

“It had everything I wanted,” she said. “I could see myself going to school there. So I thought, ‘Might as well take a chance.’”

And she did … and stressed about it for weeks, along with the rest of the family. But all that angst came to an end last month when she received a notification on her computer. The notification stated the university had updated her status.

She and her brother John, a 2019 HHSS graduate, sat before the computer. She opened the email and there was the much-anticipated news: she’d been accepted to Northwestern.

“I started screaming and then my whole family was just screaming,” she said. “My mom was really worried about it so she was screaming. My dad was really relieved and I was really relieved. We were all just jumping up and down.”

Catherine realized last summer she wanted to study journalism when she attended a pre-college summer program at Harvard.

“I worked with a Harvard professor and took a journalism course there,” she said. “It was like a semester of journalism courses compressed into two weeks.”

The journalism profession spoke to her on many levels.

“I’ve always liked writing, ever since I was young,” she said. “I’ve always tried to write a book with my best friend since I was like second grade. So I’ve always been interested.”

There’s more to it than a passion for the work. It fits on a practical level as well.

“I feel like journalism is a bit more analytical, and it takes more of a reason and thought process than creative writing or essay writing,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in working with people too so I feel like it’s more of a social job and something where I can converse with people and connect with them.”

What kind of journalism would she like to pursue? Police beat? Health? Sports?

“I’m hoping to figure that out in college,” she said. “I’m just going to try it all and see what I like the best. Even sports, who knows.”

She might even like to be a foreign correspondent. Her bicultural experiences would serve her well in such an activity. It turns out Catherine grew up speaking Mandarin Chinese in the home with her mother, a native of Taiwan.

“I can read it and write it at an elementary level,” she said.

She’d like to work in Taiwan.

“I just have family there so that might help,” she said. “I definitely want to study abroad in China, maybe like an immersion program. I just want to discover what I’m passionate about. That’s what college is about, to explore.”