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The Florida Catholic

Hard work key to top grads’ success

The Diocese of Palm Beach honors its Catholic high school graduates, particularly the valedictorians and salutatorians, with senior spotlights. In the last of three articles shining a light on excellence in Catholic education, the Florida Catholic spoke with the top seniors at St. John Paul II Academy.

BOCA RATON | Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” The top two 2023 graduates at St. John Paul II Academy appear wise beyond their years.

Valedictorian Tiago Crippa, son of Renzo and the late Josune Crippa, sees himself as “pretty motivated and ready to work hard, but also I like to balance a lot of things and have fun and do the things I enjoy. That’s probably the best definition of myself. Just a hard worker who also has fun and balances other things.”

Salutatorian Rafael Barrios, son of Carlos Barrios and Emiliana Palacios, categorizes himself as “serious and quiet. But I’m also pretty motivated in terms of what I want to do for a career and my current activities.”

His college plan includes attending Cornell University in the fall, where he’ll major in information or computer science. Barrios was also accepted at the University of Notre Dame, Georgetown University and Rice University.

“I plan during college to be involved in different internships, work different projects, and hopefully in my future, I really want to work as a software engineer or data scientist,” he said.

Crippa, who was accepted to Notre Dame, the University of Florida and Florida State University, will pursue an accounting degree in the University of Florida’s Honors Program before going to law school.

Their most memorable instructors at the high school also served as mentors to help shape their character and career paths. Both students spoke about the impact made by their math teacher, Michael Simianakis.

“He’s always very outgoing, very willing to teach the subject, especially calculus,” Barrios said. “He’s always hopeful for his students. It’s also just a fun class to be in because, apart from being a good teacher, he’s also a really cool person.”

Crippa added that Mr. S, as Siamianakis is known, is “just a great guy. He’s got a great personality. Very interesting. And he really knows what he’s doing with math. He taught me very well when I took Calculus 1.”

They both also mentioned theology teacher Ryan Longton for his knowledge and willingness to answer students’ questions about religion. “Straight up just one of the best men I know. I really like his example, and I do kind of want to be like him when I grow up, for sure,” Crippa said.

As products of Catholic education in the Diocese of Palm Beach — Crippa attended St. Joan of Arc and Barrios went to St. Jude in their earlier years — the valedictorian and salutatorian credit their moral formation for preparing them for the future.

“I just love the values held in the Catholic school,” Crippa said. “Catholic schools tend to be smaller, tend to have better relationships with the students and teachers. Everyone has that one common religion that kind of helps unite the entire school.”

Barrios added: “Praying before school, every class, that’s something I always liked. Just the overall Catholic atmosphere.”

While they have many highlights from their high school years, Crippa and Barrios talked about being active in campus clubs. Crippa served as president of Mu Alpha Theta, the math honor society, serving as a math tutor, and was elected captain of the cross country team. He also is an accomplished pianist who is certified to teach piano to the next generation.

“I’m pretty proud of how I’ve been able to balance so many things at once, like with the piano, with the school, with the sports. That was not easy,” Crippa said. Any student with a desire to graduate at the top of their class, he said, needs to work hard from Day 1.

Barrios spotlighted his involvement in the National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society and Lasallian Youth. He said, “Being able to graduate with these honors, it’s really nice. Just also being involved in a lot of these activities and clubs. I’d say it’s something I’m pretty proud of.”

He added that it’s also important to have an active prayer life, “because that’s always helpful during high school, especially when classes get hard. You have to balance so much stuff at once. Staying centered in the faith is always good.”

For more information about St. John Paul II Academy, visit, call 561-314-2100 or follow the school on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.