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On May 14th, 2007...
On May 14th, 2007, my world came crashing down on me for the second time in my young life. I was a junior in high school, sixteen, thirteen days from my seventeenth birthday. It was a joyful time in the 150th year of the school. But this particular day, kids had been getting texts all morning from their parents asking if the age-old rumor was really true this time. By noon half of the student body was buzzing.
Mr. Stimler, our principal, called an all school assembly. Every faculty member who walked into St. Angela's Hall was in tears. We knew then that the news we were about to receive was serious. Stimmy (as we fondly called him) walked to the microphone; it was around two o'clock. I remember him trying to hold back tears while he spoke. "The Board of Directors made the decision over the weekend that Ursuline will close for good at the end of this school year." It felt like the actual building gasped; surprised that it would soon be gutted of the students and faculty that made it come alive. Sobs erupted from students immediately. Mr. Stimler went on to explain that the board had decided that Ursuline was too much of a financial burden to continue. Then he informed us that the media was outside waiting to come in and interview us and gawk at our crying spells. I remember many of us, including myself, yelling. We wanted to tell them to go away; we did not want to talk. But Stimmy reminded us that they were here in sympathy and we needed to show that we were different from the board, that we know how to correctly conduct business. It was so incredibly hard to watch the media come in. We were all huddled in a mass as a sort of protection.
Ursuline was a family. It was built of strong values. The last few days of the real Ursuline were bittersweet. We had a grandfather day where we could wear uniforms from any year. Some boys even wore skirts. I cried more during those five days than I have cried in my whole life. Ursuline was not the perfect school; the roof leaked, the ceiling fell, it was hot in the summer and spring and freezing cold in the winter, but it was a family, a home. Ursline has 150 years of memories in its walls. It lived through the Civil War, World War I and II, and the depression. Part of Springfield, Illinois died the day Ursuline closed.
And Ursuline did not just close, it died. In those last days we held a mass and a vigil. Our award winning concert choir sang "This Little Light of Mine" at both events. That song will be engrained in me forever. As we sang, tears flowed like Niagara Falls from my eyes. My school was one of my best friends. I realized as we sang that song that my best friend had just died. But I know that memories live, spirit lives. Even though I knew that I would not be going to Ursuline the next year because it was gone, I knew that it could never be forgotten. I realized as I sang with all I had that it was only Ursuline's beautiful shell that died because Ursuline pride and Ursuline spirit will live forever.
I cried myself to sleep every one of those five nights. I dwelled on the facts that my senior year had just been ripped away from me and that it all happened so suddenly and without warning. What hurt me the most, however, was that I was not going to graduate from Ursuline Academy. I chose Ursuline for a reason. I did not choose any other school, I chose Ursuline and I am not graduating from my choice high school. It will always kill me that my diploma will not be red and white and will not say Ursuline Academy. It is heartbreaking to even think about it, I make myself sick sometimes from crying. But the decision the board made makes me sick to my stomach everyday.
Ursuline was a place where everyone had somewhere to belong. We accepted anybody and everybody. We were a community of giving. A moment never passed where we were not raising money for charity, putting together gift baskets, or collecting food for the homeless. Ursuline was truly unique. It was a "financial burden" because the money we raised was put to better use. When someone you can serve is presented to you, they come first. Our bills could wait. We used our money to feed thousands, buy gifts for underprivileged children, and help a family get back on their feet after a tragedy. This did not deserve to happen to a school that used God's word to the fullest extent. We ran with the Bible by our side and supplied it to everything we did.
A verse that was used many times during those last days that will stick in my mind forever is Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:
"There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every affair under the heavens.
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to tear down and a time to build.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
A time to rend, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace."
For us, it was a time for many things. It was time for an excellent institution to die, even though we all know Ursuline will always live. It was our time to weep and mourn, and yet at the same time to celebrate our Ursuline accomplishments. This was our time to embrace each other and hold each other up, our time to lose something dear to use all. It was our time to choose between the hate we wanted to feel for William Carroll and the rest of the Board of Directors and the love that we should feel for them as good followers of God. It was our time.
I will take many things with me from Ursuline. I will take my sense of family and what I learned. But the thing I will always remember is to not take anything for granted. Make the most of everything you do because it can be taken away. I learned to live life to the fullest, because you never knew what you have until it is gone.
It is hard for me to think about the situation even now. It has been quite a few months since May 14th, 2007. I am at a different school now and as difficult as it is for me to root for blue and white instead of red and white, I am making the most of it. I have made meaningful friendships and I am as happy as I can be with that. Our spirit week is coming up and I signed up for as many events as I could, including the traditional powder puff football and chariot races.
I am making the most of my last months of high school. I want this year to mean as much to me as it would have if I were still at Ursuline. I take school day by day now. I want to remember why I laughed at my best friend Kirstin, today when I am old and stooping. Even though I have not totally moved on from Ursuline's closing, I love my new school, not quite to the extent that I did Ursuline, but I do love it.
I know it is going to take me quite a while to get over everything I've mentioned here. It is as if someone murdered your best friend. It will be a long time before you want to forgive them. But a time to mourn will always present itself to you. My time to forgive has not come yet. My time to keep my memories but move forward, however, is definitely now. And I am ready.