Reflections of a Notre Dame Education, Kris Zavoli

Sister Helen Cecelia Miller is one of the most important figures of my entire life.

Kris and Sr. Helen Cecelia share one of many hugs at a 2001 reunion.

When I was a little girl, in the 50s, I thought women could grow up to be teachers, nurses or secretaries. I picked teacher. In the third grade, I started a journal so I could log the techniques of the most effective teachers and copy them when I grew up. My father was a sergeant in the Air Force so I attended 17 elementary schools. That gave me LOTS of opportunity to observe a great variety of teaching styles.

When I got to high school, I realized if I wanted to be a teacher, I would have to go to college. No one in my family had ever been to college. My father didn’t think women needed to go to college…of course he didn’t think men needed to go to college either, so at least he didn’t discriminate! Since I was one of seven children, and I knew we were poor, I just assumed college wasn’t possible.

Then Sr. Helen Cecelia, both a teacher and a counselor at Bishop Armstrong High School in Sacramento, spotted me as college material. The fall of our senior year, she packed up five of us into her car and drove us down to College of Notre Dame in Belmont for “college day.” I thought it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. She gave me an application for admission and an application for financial aid and before I knew it, my life was paid for the next four years at College of Notre Dame in Belmont, California, the only college I applied to.

I chose college admissions as my life’s work because I know there are so many like me who don’t know college is possible. My career as a director of admissions and now in government relations at the College Board gives me a chance to give back and be thankful for all I was given.

When we talk about “people who change lives” Sister Helen Cecelia is at the top of my list. She never ceases to amaze me. I am so thankful she lives right in San Jose so I can stay in touch!