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Alumni Spotlight

The Cardinal Mooney Alumni Spotlight showcases and recognizes outstanding Cardinal Mooney Alumni for their academic and professional achievements, service to their community, and their continuation of Cardinal Mooney’s tradition of “Sanctity, Scholarship, and Discipline.” With the Alumni Spotlight, we will explore and regularly share the diverse accomplishments of our graduates.

Ava Szalay attended Holy Family School and is a 2021 graduate of Cardinal Mooney High School.

From an early age, Ava was fascinated with the US military, inspired by a family member’s service in the U.S. Air Force. Though she decided to study biology and is on the pre-med track at the University of Pittsburgh, the thoughts of a career in the military have not faded. The summer after her freshman year at Pitt, Ava began investigating the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. After weeks of research, she completed her formal application and was soon accepted into the Air Force ROTC program as a sophomore. 

“I have never made a better decision in my life,” said Szalay.

Starting the rigorous program a year later than most is not easy. Ava had to spend her sophomore year on the fast track to catch up on everything she was required to know. There were high expectations, and Ava met the challenge head-on. She quickly learned everything from marching in formation to daily reporting requirements, and while it was stressful, she enjoyed every minute of it.

In April of 2023, Ava earned an enrollment allocation. This means that she earned her spot to commission into the United States Air Force upon graduation from Pitt. This is a spot that only half of all Air Force ROTC cadets across the nation earn each year.

In June 2023, Ava was sent to Maxwell Air Force Base where she completed basic training. Ava became a contracted cadet in September and officially made her four-year service commitment to the Air Force upon college graduation.

Ava will tell you, ROTC has changed her life. She has had the opportunity to interact with key military leaders, and she has gained a firsthand look into technological advancements that our country has made for both the Air and Space Force. 

Ava says ROTC has provided her the chance “to meet some of the most authentic and hardworking people, from around the world.”

As a result of her early ROTC performance, Ava earned scholarships for her own leadership efforts as well as academic accomplishments.

Ava plans to attend medical school and become a doctor for the United States Air Force. She will work in either a military hospital, on military bases around the world, or onboard military aircraft.


Mooney Reflection:

Ava always knew she would attend CMHS. She is very grateful for her four-year high school experience.

Cardinal Mooney taught her how to be resilient, adaptable, and open-minded. Most importantly, she carries the aspect of family and tradition with her everywhere she goes. She believes that her values are built upon what the Mooney family gave her strong moral code, discipline, genuine care for others and desire to pay it forward.


Fond CMHS Memories:

Ava remembers Mr. Pete Smith’s AP Calculus class, the delicious cafeteria cookies, and every Victory Bell celebration. She is grateful that she had the opportunity to attend Mooney for one year with her younger sister Ella (class of 2024) and share the 2021 lacrosse season with not only Ella but also her closest friends.

Personal Life:

Research has been a big part of Ava’s undergrad years. She has been conducting neuroscience research at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh to find medications helpful for traumatic brain injury and PTSD.

She previously conducted research with the Emergency Medicine department at Pitt, studying heart-rate variability.

Ava also enjoys participating in intramural sports, attending all Pitt athletic games, visiting friends, and coming back to Youngstown when she can.

Congratulations Ava, your Mooney Family is so proud and wishes all the best as you pursue your career in both the U.S. military and medicine. You are an amazing role model to younger Cardinals!


This article was written by Kim Simons Cox, Cardinal Mooney Enrichment Coordinator, Class of ‘89


Winter 2023: Laz Frisone