Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Mother’s Deployment Tested Monsignor Donovan Senior

By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published May 26, 2011

Lannon Gustafson felt she had something to prove during her high school years.

Her mother, Jenifer, serves in the U.S. Army Reserves and was deployed to Afghanistan for six months in 2010. Lannon knew she could hold her own and wanted to prove to herself she could make it through.

“It was obviously very hard while my mom was away,” Lannon said. “I had to prove to her, my school, and myself that I could survive in the real world.”

Lannon’s mother first joined the Army after graduating from college with a degree in geology and served on active duty for three years in the Army Corps of Engineers in Virginia. In the 1990s her mother completed studies to become a veterinarian and opened the Hope Animal Medical Center in Athens in 1999.

In 2008, Jenifer returned to the Army as a reservist and since then has served at Parris Island, S.C., in 2009, and in Afghanistan last year, where she earned a Bronze Star for her service.

Living with a family friend while her mother was deployed, Lannon continued to shine at Monsignor Donovan High School in Athens.

“While it was hard, it gave me a glimpse of what the future would be like without parents,” Lannon said.

She thrived in the small Catholic high school community and, even though she claims she suffered from a case of “senioritis” this year, she still remained serious about her studies.

“To her credit, without daily parental oversight, Lannon never missed a beat during her senior year of high school,” said Pats Laniak, counselor at Monsignor Donovan. “She participated in two varsity sports, held a leadership position in student council, and took advanced placement literature and composition and advanced placement calculus AB. On top of all of that, Lannon is an honor graduate of Monsignor Donovan Catholic High School.”

The youngest of three, and a member of St. Joseph Church, Athens, Lannon recently made the decision to attend Furman University in Greenville, S.C., this fall, after going back and forth between that choice and Agnes Scott College in Decatur. During her most recent visit to the school, she knew Furman was where she belonged.

“One day I’d be Agnes Scott, one day I’d be Furman,” she said smiling. “But I just visited Furman and it felt right, like another home.”

The positive experiences she had at Monsignor Donovan have helped steer her toward a career in education. Having quality teachers and serving as a local camp counselor for the last few years, she said education has always been something she’s considered as a profession.

Lannon was active during her years at the Athens school, competing in volleyball, basketball, soccer and swimming. She looks back at the last four years as a blessing, and, while she is excited about her upcoming collegiate adventure, she feels a certain sadness as she realizes she is leaving an important part of her life behind.

“We are a close-knit community, and we will do anything for each other,” Lannon said about the Monsignor Donovan students, faculty and staff.

“I know that I’m definitely ready to leave, I’m prepared to leave, but I’m still scared to leave,” she said about saying goodbye to the independent Catholic high school and moving on to college.

When asked what tips she would give upcoming freshman, Lannon gave some sage advice that could be applied to just about everyone, no matter the age or situation.

“You just have to relax and be yourself,” she said. “You’ll find that when you are yourself, you are at your best.”

She will be remembered at the school for the way she handled her challenges.

“Lannon’s high school experience has been unconventional, but her maturity and independence during her senior year proved that she’s exceptional, across the board,” said Laniak.