These two Roncalli High graduates are typical – and exceptional – teens
Maggie Murphy and Bobby Bogar have much the same desires as any teenager: acceptance, participation, friendship. Their four years at Roncalli Catholic High School in Omaha testify to their success in these pursuits.
Yet their paths to fulfilling these aspirations were a good deal more challenging. You see, while on the inside these two members of Roncalli’s graduating class of 112 students are quite typical, on the outside they’re not.
Maggie and Bobby have muscular dystrophy (MD). They use motorized wheelchairs to get around.
Maggie has a rare but manageable form of MD called Bethlem myopathy. She got her first wheelchair at age 8.
Bobby’s Duchenne MD is more common, but also more serious. He got around with the help of a scooter in first grade. In fourth grade, he switched to a wheelchair.
Whatever the degree of their disabilities, both said they enjoyed a typical high school experience – hanging out with friends at the mall, bantering back and forth with the world on social media, and participating in extracurricular activities.
Don’t think for a minute that Maggie and Bobby got shortchanged. You won’t hear either of them use the word “limitation.”
A WARM WELCOME
Roncalli’s leadership recruited Maggie and Bobby like blue-chip athletes.
Principal T.J. Orr was the high school’s dean of students when Maggie and Bobby were eighth graders at St. James/Seton School. He enthusiastically recommended Roncalli to their parents.
“T.J. said Roncalli was the best place for Bobby. He wanted him there,” said Debbie Bogar, Bobby’s mother and a 1989 Roncalli graduate.
She said Orr made it a priority to make the necessary adjustments to the school building to accommodate Bobby and Maggie, the school’s first students to use wheelchairs.
The main entrance was converted to power doors, making access easier. Ramps were added and custom lockers were installed closer to the floor.
“The school went above and beyond to make sure Bobby had a favorable experience,” Debbie Bogar said. “The administration, staff and teachers took great care of him.”
After “an amazing experience at St. James,” where her classmates and teachers didn’t treat her differently, Maggie wasn’t sure what to expect when she arrived at Roncalli.
“Going to a new school was scary. But I didn’t let that stop me. I tried my hardest to be optimistic, friendly and meet new people,” she said.
“Now, I look back on my four years and consider myself blessed because Roncalli treated me like any other high school student.”
Bobby said he was excited to attend the school, but he knew he was leaving an elementary school that took good care of him.
“Roncalli was great for me,” he said. “I was just another student in their eyes.”
Making adjustments to the school building wasn’t the only way the school made these students feel wanted and valued.
“Roncalli helped me socially,” Bobby said. “I’m more outgoing, and I made a lot of friends.”
Debbie Bogar said Roncalli gave her son a platform to advocate for himself. “I could not have asked for a better high school experience for him.”
“I learned to advocate for myself, and I found my voice at Roncalli,” Maggie said.
A NATURAL LEADER
Being a leader is just part of who Maggie is.
For four years she served on Roncalli’s student government and mentored incoming freshmen as a member of the school’s student ambassador program.
She was named to the National Honor Society and received the school’s I Dare You Award, given to the student who goes beyond his or her comfort zone.
She volunteered for Operation Others, a poverty relief effort sponsored by Omaha’s eight Catholic high schools.
Maggie participated in the school’s canned food drive, and was the organizer behind Roncalli’s first-ever carnival, an event to recruit students to the north Omaha school.
One of her fondest memories was her role in two school productions – “The Addams Family” and “Aladdin.”
“The rehearsals were exhausting,” she said. “But I pushed myself to do something I thought I’d never do. I could not play sports, so I had to think of other ways to have an impact at Roncalli.”
Maggie was a high school representative and intern for Four Sisters Boutique, a trendy and contemporary clothing store for women. The boutique gave her a behind-the-scenes look at the apparel business.
Bobby, too, was an active student. He joined Maggie on student government, produced weekly videos as a member of the school’s broadcast team, and cheered on his team at sports events.
Those activities match his love of movies and playing video games with friends.
Junior Davion Vaillant shakes Bobby Bogar’s hand at Roncalli’s senior farewell to the school. The senior class formed a long line in the gym and had the opportunity to say goodbye to the whole student body. COURTESY PHOTO
NO PASSIVE OBSERVERS
Although both students are self-starters, Roncalli made sure they didn’t spend their high school years as passive observers.
The school requires students to join at least one club or extracurricular activity. Maggie and Bobby didn’t need much prodding.
For their part, school leaders made sure to remove the barriers preventing them from participating in activities.
During musical rehearsals, the cast noticed part of the stage floor had deteriorated, creating unsafe conditions for Maggie’s motorized chair.
The musical’s assistant director and a number of students spent a Saturday replacing and painting the floor to ensure her safe participation in the production.
“The school made sure Maggie could participate as much as she wanted,” said Marshall Keough, director of music.
“Maggie brought a lot of energy to the production,” he said. “I think it was the highlight of her senior year.”
COMMUNITY, FRIENDSHIP AND FAITH
Both students said they had a great support system of friends at Roncalli.
Maggie needed that support when her dad died of cancer at age 64 during her sophomore year.
“My dad’s death was a hard time for me,” she said. “It strengthened my faith in God. I know I can get through the tough times.”
Maggie and Bobby both admit they have bad days. However, they share an innate resolve to find the positive in their disability.
“I have my moments when the chair gets to me,” Maggie said. “I push to look for the positive. People have it worse than I do.
“My parents always told me that my disability does not define me. My dad’s illness taught me never to take anything for granted and to cherish all of life’s moments.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my disability. I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet so many inspiring people. I truly believe God wants me to use my disability to help and advocate for others,” she said.
Bobby, who makes time for daily prayer and who said his faith is important to him, has poignant advice for people: “We should all be happy. Get past the bad stuff and focus on the good stuff.”
The voice the students found at Roncalli is being put to good use. They aren’t reticent about sharing advice to incoming students and next year’s senior class.
“Lead by example, and show others what it’s all about to be a Roncalli student,” Bobby said. “Roncalli is about community, friendship and faith.
“We’re a tight-knit group. If something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us. We take care of each other.”
Maggie would like to see Roncalli students adopt her favorite phrase – “Carpe diem,” which is Latin for “Seize the day.”
“I hope all students live in the moment and not take their high school years for granted,” she said. “They should try something they thought they would never do. Cherish high school. Stop and smell the roses. Don’t be in a hurry. It goes by in a blink of an eye.”
Maggie’s summer plans include working for Four Sisters Boutique and preparing for her freshman year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she’ll study fashion design. She dreams of owning a clothing store for people with disabilities.
“Clothes fit differently for people in wheelchairs,” she said. “I want to make sure the disabled look their best.”
The boutique is looking forward to having her as an employee.
“Maggie is a delightful young woman,” said Mackenzie Moore, the boutique’s online operations manager. “She doesn’t let her disability hold her back.”
Bobby is looking for summer employment at an area movie theater. He doesn’t have college plans and said he’ll spend the summer hanging out with his many friends.
These students are the beneficiaries of Roncalli’s well-respected learning environment. But in many ways, they’ve also passed along valuable lessons to the people in their lives.
“Maggie and Bobby taught Roncalli more than we taught them,” Orr said. “We grew as a school because of them. They’ll do great things.”
“He’s the strongest person I know,” said Debbie Bogar of her son. “He has a great attitude about everything. He always wants to do the next thing and learn the next thing.”
“Maggie taught us at the boutique to never judge a book by its cover,” Moore said.
“Because of Maggie and Bobby, all of us have great examples of perseverance. I’ve learned from them that I need to slow down and appreciate life, the ups and the downs,” Keough said.
Graduation day was bittersweet for both of these graduates.
During the ceremony, Maggie found herself thinking a lot about her dad. “I know he would be so proud of everything I’ve had to overcome and what I’ve achieved.”
Maggie said her mom, Theresa, is her role model. “I admire her strength, love and kindness. I couldn’t wait to hug and thank her after the ceremony.”
Bobby also experienced conflicting emotions on graduation day. However, he said one feeling ended up dominating the experience: “I felt accomplished.”
Maggie and Bobby said they’ll be forever grateful for their Roncalli experience. Both will miss the school, but know they can always visit.
“This is not the end,” Maggie said. “I’m proud to have attended a school where students love and support each other. I’ll always be a part of Roncalli.”
Deacon Tim McNeil is chancellor and director of communications for the Archdiocese of Omaha.