Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Georgia Bulletin

Class of 2015: Illness built resilience in Monsignor Donovan star pitcher

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published April 30, 2015

Following an annual tradition, The Georgia Bulletin has taken the opportunity to shine the spotlight on some of the extraordinary high school seniors who grace our Catholic schools in the area.

Leaders at the seven Catholic high schools in the Atlanta Archdiocese were asked to nominate a graduating student they believe represents a role model for their students—a student who symbolizes the drive and faith and compassion of the student body—someone that the faculty watched grow from a wide-eyed freshman to a confident leader.

Among these profiles are a senior who teaches a special needs student to ice skate, a teen who started a charity for children struggling with cancer, and a French-speaking immigrant who began her school career answering all questions with a yes or a no without understanding the question. These profiles and all of the others illuminate an attribute of perseverance.

As these young people and all their classmates step toward the future in the next weeks, we wish them well. We are proud to share their stories.

Will Keen, a senior at Monsignor Donovan High School, Athens, is a starting pitcher on the school’s baseball team. Keen plans to attend Georgia College in Milledgeville. Photo By Michael Alexander

ATHENS—Will Keen is inspired by the kindness shown him to pursue a career as a nurse.

The lanky, standout pitcher for Monsignor Donovan High School suffered from Crohn’s disease, pancreatitis and other stomach ailments. Through the pain and the hospitalization that followed, Keen remembers the gentleness and the care he received at the hands of the nursing staff at St. Mary’s Hospital, Athens.

Too ill to eat, he relied on nutrients supplied through an IV. As a sophomore, Keen shrunk to 120 pounds. (Now, he weighs in at 165 pounds.) He remembered through the haze of morphine how a nurse he only knows as “Nurse Betty” stayed at his bedside.

“She just held my hand. She was very nurturing,” he said.

The 18-year-old now plans on majoring in nursing at Georgia College in Milledgeville. He said, “I learned how important they are just by being in the hospital. They are a vital part.”

More men than ever work in that field but still make up only about 10 percent of registered nurses, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Keen likes the fact that he is blazing a trail.

“That’s really cool, going out of your comfort zone, breaking the stereotype,” he said.

Three-sport athlete learned toughness in hospital

The youngest son of Maritza and Stephen Keen, the family attends St. Joseph Church, Athens. Away from school, Keen likes to relax with friends by casting a fishing line. (He once hauled in a 9-pound bass.)

Keen attended St. Joseph School in Athens and then moved on to the independent Catholic high school. He said the school’s academics are very challenging and its small size makes it special.

“It’s fun to say you know everybody in school,” he said. The school is “worth every penny.”

Getting handed his diploma at graduation means all the hard work has paid off, he said.

Keen has been a school athlete in three sports, playing baseball, basketball and football. In addition to his stomach ailments, he broke his leg playing football and needed surgery and screws to patch his leg and ankle together.

Baseball is his passion. He hopes to try out for his college team.

The team’s MVP in his junior year, Keen said he’s learned a lesson about “toughness,” not just from the baseball diamond but his hospital bed. “I don’t think things in your life are worth complaining about. You just deal with it.”

‘Get back on your horse’

He hopes his leadership on the team inspires others to have confidence.

“I could care less if I’m the best player on the team. I want to show you shouldn’t back down from anyone or anything,” he said.

And it’s a lesson he hopes underclassmen hear. He encouraged students to surround themselves with friends who share the same goals. “Don’t settle for anything. If you curl into a ball and say, ‘I’m done,’ that’s not the way to handle things. Get back on your horse.”

School leaders use the word resilient to describe Keen. He didn’t waver from his school commitments, despite pancreatitis and then Crohn’s disease and the surgery to repair athletic injuries.

“Despite these adversities, Will continued to work hard, persevered, and maintained a good GPA,” said Ed Rock, the school’s academic advisor. “Will’s abilities to overcome setbacks and be an outstanding student are exemplary.”