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Class of 2020

Sioux City's U.S. Presidential Scholar tries to stay upbeat amid pandemic upheaval

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Presidential scholar Liz Meyer

Liz Meyer, a 2020 Bishop Heelan Catholic High School graduate, is shown at her Sioux City home. Meyer was named as one of the state's three U.S. Presidential Scholars. She will be attending Wheaton College in Illinois and intends to become an orthopedic surgeon.

SIOUX CITY -- "Accept the things we cannot change."

This has been the credo Liz Meyer decided to live by during her senior year at Bishop Heelan Catholic High School.

However, the 18-year-old Sioux Cityan couldn't have imagined ending her high school career without a senior prom nor a definitive date for a graduation ceremony or living through a worldwide pandemic.

Still, Meyer considered herself blessed.

"We all experience challenges in life," she explained. "We become stronger because of those challenges."

The salutatorian of Heelan's Class of 2020, Meyer was one of three Iowa high school seniors to become part of the 56th class of U.S. Presidential Scholars.

Established in 1964, the U.S. Presidential Scholars program recognized up to 161 seniors from across the country for their accomplishments in academics, the arts, and career and technical educational fields.

"Being named a U.S. Presidential Scholar is one of the nation's highest honors for high school students," Iowa Department of Education director Ann Lebo said. "I am proud to join the family, friends and school communities of each of our scholars in congratulating them on their accomplishments, community service and leadership that this recognition represents."

Blake R. Van Der Kamp, of PCM High School, in Monroe, Iowa, became a U.S. Presidential Scholar based upon his ability and accomplishments in career and technical education, while Matthew Ding, of Johnston High School in Johnston, Iowa, and Meyer became scholars based upon their academics, community service and leadership abilities.

Student body president for her high school class, Meyer also raised funds for Heelan's Miracle Makers while championing cultural and faith-based causes as a member of the school's AWARE organization.

If that wasn't enough, she also tutored younger students, and played on Heelan's Crusaders softball team.  

Even more significant to Meyer are the seven missionary trips she's made to the eastern African country of Tanzania, through the nonprofit Siouxland Tanzania Educational Medical Ministries (STEMM), which was founded by her parents Steve and Dana Meyers in 1996.

Bishop Heelan Catholic High School principal Christian Bork talks about an informal graduation ceremony held Tuesday for three seniors who will be entering the military. The school intends to hold an in-person graduation event for its 134 seniors in late July as traditional graduations in the city have been upended by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"I started going to Tanzania with my family when I was 10 years old," she explained. "I wasn't able to do much when I was younger. Over the years, my role has expanded and I've been able to meet many amazing people."

Indeed, Meyer would like to, some day, follow in the footsteps of her dad, a Dakota Dunes-based pediatric orthopedic surgeon, who travels to Tanzania to train and work with the country's general and orthopedic surgeons.

Meyer plans to study biology and pre-med at Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Illinois, in the fall. After that, she wants to go to medical school and pursue a career in orthopedic surgery.

Being exposed to a poverty-stricken nation like Tanzania has given Meyer a uniquely global point-of-view.

"Young people think Africa is what they see in the media," she said. "They think it's all about lions and tigers. Instead, the countries are all about poverty, hunger and disease."

That's why Meyer wants missionary work in Tanzania to continue, even though she knows it will be very different due to COVID-19.   

It is one of the many adjustments the novel coronavirus has made in her life and in the lives of everybody else.

This is why Meyer knew she had to accept the things she could not change.

"It would've been nice to have a more normal senior year," she said. "After all, it does represent the end to that part of my life."

Presidential scholar Liz Meyer

Liz Meyer, a 2020 Bishop Heelan Catholic High School graduate, laughs while talking about her plans for the future during an interview at her Sioux City home. Meyer was named as one of the state's three U.S. Presidential Scholars. She will be attending Wheaton College in Illinois and intends to become a medical doctor.

"But I made the point of focusing on academics at the start of the school year, while staying close to my friends who share a similar educational and moral values," Meyer explained. "Even when it was hard to keep motivated, I always kept moving forward."

So, what will keep Meyer moving forward this summer? Softball, for one thing.

"Most school sports were canceled due to COVID," she said."They made an exception with softball and I'll be on the Crusaders team one last time."

Meyer also wants to do a bit of gardening at her family's home.

"My dad grows tomatoes but I'm not a big tomato eater," she said. "I enjoy growing zucchini because my mom makes awesome zucchini bread."

In addition, Meyer wants to spend quality time with her friends.

"This year has been challenging for so many of us," she said. "If I could give anyone advice, it would be to concentrate on your studies because that is really what matters the most."

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