Rising Strong: Q&A with Valor Alum Kathryn Armstrong (’15)

What were your favorite activities at Valor?

I played tennis and performed in one play. I loved the sport, but I especially loved being in Beauty and the Beast my senior year.

I have to say I was a little bitter about the play at first because I made final callbacks for the role of Belle, but didn’t get the part. However, it all ended up working out perfectly. My friends and I got the small part of “silly girls” and ran with it. We had the greatest time!

I thoroughly enjoyed theater class with Mr. Kurt Muenstermann (Instructional Faculty—Arts+Media). The community he has created is incredible. Unlike anything, I’ve seen since. Everyone really loves and cares for each other.

Which teachers had the greatest influence on you?

Mrs. Denise Paswaters (Instructional Faculty—Senior Seminar/Student Leadership) is the reason I joined Student Council. You can tell by being with her how much she loves the Lord and wants to pour into you. She is the type of person who empowers you. She makes you believe that you are capable of great things.

I also remember Mr. Loyal Frazier (Instructional Faculty—History). He saw me at a time when I was upset. He invited me to come have a talk with him. He really cared about me even though I wasn’t necessarily one of his students.

Mr. Lars Nielsen (Instructional Faculty—Bible) taught Modern Heroes of the Faith. He was the first teacher that really inspired me to learn. He would give us hard passages to read and tell us to decipher what was going on. I still think about the things he said in that class, which inadvertently made me love philosophy.

In AP Lit class with Dr. Kristine Wolberg (Instructional Faculty—English), I was reading high-level things and thinking for myself for the first time. It was one of the hardest classes I’ve taken yet, and it totally prepared me for college. She’s an excellent teacher.

As you reflect on your class experiences, tell us what the RISE program meant to you.

I am dyslexic and I have an auditory processing disorder because my eardrum tore when I was really young. My parents taught me the value of hard work, so when I came to Valor, I was going to do my absolute best.

Freshman year, my mom tells me I would come home exhausted and crying. I had so much stress with reading and taking tests. Starting sophomore year, she forced me, thank the Lord, to go into RISE—an academic coaching program. RISE stands for Responsibility, Integrity, Self-Awareness, and Engagement. (Editor’s Note: This program has changed; similar options are listed under Academic Support.)

I had to meet with all my teachers and explain to them how I learn differently. I’d say, “I will be the hardest working person in your class, but I have these learning issues, and I may need some accommodations.” I learned not only how to advocate for myself, but also how to talk about my disabilities and not be ashamed of them.

I remember one conversation with the academic dean, Mr. Matt Cartier, that changed my outlook. He told me to think of my learning disabilities as gifts, and he was right! They gave me an unparalleled work ethic and taught me to think differently.

Describe one of your most significant moments at Valor, and tell us why that moment stands out to you.

It’s kind of embarrassing. I think it was my junior year, and I was very insecure. I went to a football game and felt like I didn’t have anyone to sit with. I did have friends, but I think I was self-focused. Insecurity had been holding me back. Socially, it was a little hard for me to find my niche.

But once I got past that insecurity—which I think really plagues high school girls—I was able to accept that I’m different and that’s okay. Even though I didn’t feel great about myself, I started investing in people. Things radically changed for me—so much that a year later I was on homecoming court.

What was your relationship with Christ when you first came to Valor? And how does that compare to your relationship with Christ now?

I’ve gone to Christian schools my whole life, so I knew the right things to say, and Valor reinforced that. But I don’t know if I really understood what it means to be a follower of Christ. When I got into college, that’s when I really came into my own faith.

I spent a college semester abroad in Italy for six months, away from Colorado Christian University where I attend. I had to actively choose to be a follower of Christ and seek connection with other Christians. Going to church was quite a trip. I had to ride two buses for 30 or 45 minutes to get to an English-speaking church in Rome.

Once I was in a place where faith wasn’t assumed, then I chose it. And I not only chose it, I needed it. It was a very growing time for me.

Are there certain lessons or insights from Valor that have stuck with you the most?

Playing tennis at Valor taught how to compete in a Christ-like way. That sounds very cliché, but they really did teach us that. We would pray before our matches. My coach, Linda Shyly, taught us how to excel and give the glory to God. It’s easy to be the private school that beats everyone. But Valor taught us to work hard and be humble.

Valor also enabled me to do a lot of things that I didn’t think I could do—particularly with the RISE program. Because of my learning disabilities, my parents were told that I would never be able to go to college. But they didn’t tell me that until near the end of my senior year at Valor. By then I was already accepted a few colleges and had a few offers to play tennis.

I don’t say that to brag in any way, shape or form. But if I didn’t have the special attention I got at Valor, I don’t know that I would have had the courage to go to college. I had the willpower, but Valor taught me how to succeed in academics.

Now I’m at Colorado Christian University. I have a double major in business and political science. I’m also working on getting my paralegal certificate from the University of Colorado Denver. I think I would like to go on to law school or get my MBA, or both. We’ll see.

This story was originally published on March 2017.