The chatter in Murphy Gym rose to a hum as students gathered during the 30-minute lunch period that splits the Gonzaga and Xavier halves of the school day. It’s the only time when students from A to Z can meet as a student organization, and the intramural gymnasium is one of few relatively quiet places where a group of more than 40 students can safely gather.
On this September Tuesday, Student Senate President Peter Turk ’20 raised his voice to try and get the group’s attention so he could start his first meeting. His mask muffled his voice and so he tried a second time, a little louder.
“Hey guys! We’re going to get started!” he said.
Then the buzz faded away. Turk asked for intentions before leading the Senate in the Prayer for Generosity. Hands popped up, each sharing a different person to pray for, before the group began: “Lord, teach me to be generous…”
And they were underway.
For Turk and Student Senate Vice President Henry Raynor ’20 the opportunity to lead the student body is exciting—arguably one of the biggest student leadership roles at Saint Ignatius High School. That they must lead during one of the most unusual school years in over 130 years means they will face unexpected challenges, new opportunities and added pressure.
“It makes our role more important than ever,” Turk says. “Our role in student life is larger than ever. It’s exciting, but also a little bit nerve-wracking.”
The seniors are no strangers to hard work and perseverance; both are four-year varsity athletes. Turk, a graduate of Assumption Academy, is on Varsity Crew and was a member of the National Champion Junior 8+ in 2019. Raynor, who came to Saint Ignatius from Lakewood Catholic Academy, is a starting forward for Varsity Basketball and was named to the 2020 Northeast Lakes All-District Team. Their passion for sports means they’re also committed to providing ways for their peers to watch fall sporting events, even if they can’t be there in-person.
In his pitch to the Seniors, Juniors and Sophomores during their orientation days—a speech Turk gave six times over the course of two days—the preservation of key student events throughout the year was important.
“I basically talked about our ideas and some of our bigger ideas were making sure to try and get Homecoming to happen towards the spring, to set up Spikeball nets or ping pong tables around campus…
“One of our last ideas was to have watch parties” he adds. “Like on Wasmer or something for football games, soccer games, hockey games…”
Their first one became a reality for the rivalry football game on Saturday, September 19. Students filled the Rade Dining Hall and Senior Lounge to cheer the Wildcats on against the Eagles.
Raynor says that keeping their finger on the pulse of the student body is important. To that end, he and Turk plan to poll their peers on their needs or wants for the year.
“We were elected to represent the school, so we just have to get the opinions of our classmates,” he says.
Their other ideas include a career day where parents of students come to campus to share about their professional life, as well as an initiative focused on diversity and inclusion.
Before they could get to work on those ideas, they had to get their own house in order. They even had to figure out where and when to hold their meetings, who would be the Senate committee members, and so forth.
Both student leaders are products of Science teacher Mr. Joe Popelka’s freshman biology homeroom. That class is where they met and where the seeds of their involvement in Senate were planted.
“He encouraged me to get involved along with my brother who was a senior at the time. He told me to just go for it,” Turk says.
The same was true for Raynor: “I was looking for something just to try out and see what I like because everyone always emphasizes here that you’ve gotta get involved with the extracurriculars. Because if you’re just going home at three, you’re not really living life at Ignatius.”
Popelka is notorious for reminding students that the Senate is actually a service organization; members have a responsibility to work for the betterment of the greater Saint Ignatius community—students, faculty, staff, Ohio City neighbors and beyond. That mission remains firm even through a pandemic.
“COVID has given us time off to think about and reflect about the activities that we can do because now we have a lot more time than we expected to have,” Turk says. “I’m more anxious about setting up the restrictions, the specifics of being able to run events or activities because I know we might not be able to have Halloween on Campus, or the toy drive’s going to be different. It’s just going to be a different experience. I’ve always been used to doing it one way the past three years.”
But that anxiety is eclipsed by the enthusiasm the pair shares for putting their hopes and dreams into action.
“I’m excited that once we’re able to get things going and our ideas, we start to get them flowing through the school…just hearing the feedback from students,” Raynor says. “After our speech I walked through the Senior Lounge and everyone would be like, ‘When you said Virtual Watch Parties and try to push Homecoming for spring’ and other different activities to do on campus, it was a deal-breaker for them, so they really liked that.”
Leading will require flexibility, creative thinking, courage and good listening, but Turk and Raynor are ready for the task at hand. The work is already underway.
More about Peter Turk and Henry Raynor
Turk: Broadview Heights
Turk: Crew, Pre-Med Society, National Honor Society, Mission Collection Team
Raynor: Basketball, National Honor Society, Saint Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearer Ministry
Favorite Student Senate Activity:
Turk: Halloween on Campus (party for Ohio City children)
Raynor: Patel Family Christmas Toy Drive / Christmas in Our Community
Turk: Mr. Popelka ’84 (“He’s always been close with the Turk family and led us in the right direction.”)
Raynor: Mr. Turner ’81 (“French class is small. He gets real with us.”)
Favorite Class You’ve Taken:
Turk: Public Speaking with Mr. Buzzelli
Raynor: AP U.S. History with Mr. Pecot
Favorite Cafeteria Food:
Turk: Chicken patties
Raynor: Tie between Ohio City Burrito and wings
Prospective College Choice and Major:
Turk: Notre Dame, Pre-med/Biology
Raynor: Hillsdale College (basketball), Business/Economics
What you love most about Saint Ignatius:
Turk: The opportunity to meet new people
Raynor: The brotherhood
Blue or Gold?