Hometown(s): St. Charles, IL
Current Location: Davenport, IA
Current Role: Fourth Grade Teacher
Nominated By: Ben Bruster
Reason for Nomination: I met Cate, like many of my friends, during my freshman year at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. Due our college’s small size (2,500), it was common to run into the same faces throughout campus. Sometimes faces became lost in a crowd, and other times not. Cate, however, immediately stood out. Quickly, I came to know and appreciate Cate for her sincerity, unbridled cheer, strong character, and kindness towards others. She is the type of person who, with her hearty laugh and listening ears, can immediately make you feel better about yourself and your situation. She cares about others. Deeply.
I regret that Cate and I have lost touch over the past two years, since graduation. Yet, I am eager to catch up with her more soon. At any rate, with all of her good qualities and hard work ethic, I know her students, friends, and family are fortunate to have her!
A Short Bio.
Cate Strahl was born and raised in St. Charles, IL, a far western suburb of Chicago. As a youth, she enjoyed staying busy: dancing, taking music lessons, participating in sports, and trying any activity that seemed interesting. On weekends, Cate loved to hop on the train, with her friends or family, and explore the nearby city. In high school, Cate became a runner. Today, she credits this decision as being one of her greatest, a true turning point for her life.
At 18, Cate packed her bags and headed across Illinois, where she would attend Augustana College. Initially, leaving home felt difficult for her. After all, Cate had never moved outside of St. Charles before. Now, she would be leaving her mom, dad, younger sister (Sara, now 21), and the comforts of home.
Nonetheless, Cate quickly found her footing on Augie’s campus. In fact, she found much more! There, Cate befriended other students, developed a stronger relationship with her extended family [who happened to life nearby], and passionately pursued her dream major—elementary education—at the school she’d always wanted to attend, her mom’s alma mater. Outside of class, she tutored elementary school students, volunteered, exercised, and participated in Relay for Life. Following her mother’s footsteps, Cate also joined a sorority, which allowed her to develop another home-away-from-home in college. And, in whatever free time remained, she even enjoyed teaching art classes to children on weekends.
After graduating from Augustana, Cate accepted a fourth-grade teaching position in the Quad Cities, IA/IL. For her, this was a dream come true. “In [her] humble opinion,” she reflects, “fourth-graders are the best.” Outside of the classroom, Cate has remained committed to young learners as well. This past fall, she started “Girls on the Run,” an active club that teaches young girls about running. Committed to service and creativity, Cate has also continued teaching art to children on weekends at her alma mater, and she could not be happier for it. “I still work at the program and love it,” she writes. “It makes me feel like I am giving back to the institution that gave me so much.”
Today, Cate feels excited about life. For her, each day affords a new opportunity to learn, grow, smile, laugh, and serve others. Despite social distancing, Cate remains active, as she is currently training for upcoming road races. A renaissance person, she also enjoys reading for fun and practicing calligraphy.
Q & A: The [Not So] Serious
BB: Hi Cate! Thank you for taking time with me today. I am super excited to get to know you better and share that knowledge with the world J First, I’m curious: When looking to laugh, what (activities, settings, etc.) or who do you turn to?
CS: I always turn to my friends and family when I need a laugh, absolutely. Some of the most therapeutic times I have that turn my day around would be when I go on walks with my mom. If I am by myself, I will watch “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” It is my “feel better” movie. It always makes me laugh and puts me in a good mood.
BB: Imagine there is a Boeing 747 outside, waiting to take you anywhere in the world right now. Money is not a constraint. Where are you going and why?
CS: I would go back to Athens, Greece. I was there June 2018 for two weeks and would LOVE to go back. There were so many great historical sites and expansive museums. People were every kind, welcoming, and very proud of their history and culture. I like to go to museums and look at every little thing. It was a beautiful place, and the food was spectacular. I have a lot of food allergies, and each place we visited was so accommodating to it.
BB: You are an avid runner. In what ways does being a runner allow you to see the world differently?
CS: I started running when I was in high school- and quite frankly, I hated it. I was going through a tough time and needed something to keep my mind off everything else, so I went for a run one day. I was out of breath by the time I hit the end of my street, but I did it! Since then, running definitely became an escape for me. Whenever I feel overwhelmed or stressed for whatever reason, I think of why I started and how I have been able to push myself and get past tough times.
Last winter, I was having a lot of health problems that were affecting every aspect of my life. I went through a ton of tests and went to a lot of doctors. I was scared and worried because no one could figure out what was wrong. One day, I felt especially awful and ended up going to the ER for an emergency surgery. I had a perforated stomach ulcer. I was in the hospital for about a week, and it felt like the longest week of my life. I had to take a month off of everything once I was released from the hospital. My only “homework” was to rest and get better. I was angry, upset, and irritated at first, but after treating my body with kindness and not being hard on myself for the first time in my life, I did really well and felt a sense of calm that I really had not felt before. I was able to go back to work and start running again about a month after the surgery… My health and my own well-being are something that I will never take for granted after the experiences last year.
BB: Fill in the following sentence. I am oddly obsessed with __________ (type of food). And what makes you feel this way?
CS: Potato bologna (or potato sausage). If you’ve never heard of it, it is potatoes, onions, and pork in a casing. It doesn’t sound appetizing describing it like that, but this has been a food that really brings my extended family together because most of us really like it. It reminds me of going to my grandparents’ house and being a kid.
BB: Since you are a fourth-grade teacher, how has being surrounded by children shaped your perspective on the world?
CS: I am always so surprised and proud of my students’ ability to adapt to change and be so positive. I love their stories and the silly things they have to say. My students are so thoughtful and sweet. It’s been difficult being away from them over the past month, but I’ve been trying channel their optimism and use what I’ve learned from them to incorporate into my life.
BB: Could you tell me about a few of your funniest interactions with students?
CS: A few months ago, we needed to do a science experiment using wind-up toys. I borrowed some wind-up toys from another teacher, and they happened to look like real mice. I did the experiment with my students, and then we were getting ready to switch classes (I teach science to two fourth grade classes). I had my students get quiet, stand by the door, and I wound up one of the mice and let it loose in the hallway- scaring the other fourth grade class. It was loud and obnoxious, but very hilarious. I sent an email to all the other teachers in the hallway to apologize for being disruptive, but I was told that it was hilarious by them too. Maybe it was harmless after all!
BB: If you were stuck in a giant vat filled with a particular substance from which you had to escape—either chia seeds, peanut butter, or Jello—which substance would you choose? And how would you escape?
CS: This one will be blank because I still can’t decide lol.
BB: Tell about a recent moment when you felt proud to be you. Why do you think you felt this way? And what does this moment say about you?
CS: Amidst the quarantine that is currently happening, I have been really proud of my ability to stay busy and stay (mostly) optimistic. I’ve been occupying my time playing games with my roommates, video chatting with friends, spending time outdoors by running, walking, and riding my bike, reading books, watching new shows, and the list goes on. If the quarantine were to happen a few years ago, I would have definitely cooped myself up and isolated myself from others, which would have made me feel even worse. Like everyone else, I had things I was looking forward to cancelled, but being able to cope with my disappointment in a positive way has completely changed my outlook.
BB: Who is your favorite author? Favorite book? And why?
CS: This will be a long one! J
My favorite book is Sarah’s Key by Tatiana deRosnay. It was the first book I had ever read that made me cry. I remember reading it back in high school and being so emotionally invested in the characters.
Another favorite book is The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. I love to own my own books, so I had found this one at Salvation Army… a great choice for cheap books! I read it this past summer and I would catch myself laughing out loud many times. Any book that brings out emotion and really makes me invested in the characters is a good book, in my opinion.
My favorite author is probably J.K. Rowling. I was always a big Harry Potter fan as a kid. I would wait to watch the movies before I read each of the books (and now I’ve seen all of the movies and read all the books multiple times).
As a teacher, my favorite author is Carl Hiaasen. I’ve read his book Hoot to my students each year. It is one of my favorite children’s books. It is about a group of friends that stand up for environmental issues that the adults don’t seem to care about. I love talking about the book with my students and showing them that their actions do matter!
BB: If you could time travel, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
CS: I would tell myself that worrying about everything will not change any outcomes. I’ve learned in the past few years to not take myself or life too seriously to the point of being anxious for the future rather than excited. For as long as I can remember, I would be more worried and anxious about the future than excited. I would overanalyze everything, and by the time the event I was stressing about happened, I knew I had overreacted. I know that I am a lot happier and enjoy life a lot more because I am not constantly worried about what is to come next. I have made many more deep connections with friends and family, because I am not letting my worries and anxieties get in the way. Rather than worrying about what is next, I have been enjoying life in the moment and enjoying where I am at now.
BB: If you had to adopt a new accent for the rest of your life, what would it be? Why?
CS: My favorite accent to use in my classroom is the accent of a game show host… maybe that’s not an accent? I still like to act like a game show host when we do games and activities in class. When I pass out the mail to my students at the end of the day, I always say “____ come on down!” as if I am the host of the Price is Right. The kids love it.
BB: Whether through your vocation, your relationships, or your passion projects, how would you like to change the world in the foreseeable future?
CS: I would like to change the world by making a positive impact on the people around me. I am not necessarily out to change the entire world as one person, but I know that by creating caring, helpful relationships with those around me is so needed. For example, my grandma was one of my favorite people, and she was a very impactful person to me. When I am faced with a difficult situation, I usually think about what she would do in that event. If I can be a positive influence in someone’s life and use my own experiences and lessons to help at least one person, I feel like I would have succeeded.
BB: Imagine you and three famous people (dead or alive) are holed up in a Trans-Siberian Express sleeper car for the eight-day journey from Moscow to Vladivostok. What three people would you pick? How would you pass the time?
CS: This is a unique question! I would choose Amelia Earhart, Taylor Swift, and Julie Andrews. I would spend the time listening to stories. I think there is so much value in storytelling. I would listen to their stories of how they became the person they were/are and learn about the impacts they each wanted to have on the world.
BB: With modern technology and social media, it seems really easy to perceive others’ lives differently than they occur. Given this phenomenon, what do wish the world knew about you that they might not already know?
CS: I am a big supporter in the body positivity movement. 100%. Like most people, I used to compare myself to others and think that I wasn’t good enough. As a runner, I always knew that I didn’t have the “runner’s build”. That kind of thinking and comparing myself to others really ate away at my self-esteem. I started following body positivity accounts on social media, and seeing other women going through similar body struggles was a wakeup call and really made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I don’t normally post about the issues that I have had with my own body image because it is still a hard subject to talk about, but I believe that having a healthy relationship with your body and self-talk is huge- and something that no one can take away from you.
Author’s Note: All responses are found as they were written.