It was the second to last week of June–4 weeks into my fellowship at Cristo Rey Columbus HS. I was loving my position, the people, the networking opportunities, and I was excited about what I was learning and researching. However I couldn’t help but wish that I could see the students running around the school hallways as I had the first week. It was simply an unavoidable aspect of working during the summer months when students are on break, however it was difficult feeling so disconnected from those who benefit from CRCHS’ mission. But then my opportunity came–on June 25th, CRCHS hosted their orientation event for their incoming freshman class and they extended the invitation for me to lend a hand.
Students enrolling in CRCHS originate from a very diverse range of middle schools so it’s extremely unlikely that any student will begin their freshman year with a buddy from the same middle school class. This is why a fun orientation event is so necessary. The students were invited to the school for food, games, some introduction to extracurricular activities and most importantly, an introduction to their fellow classmates.
Aside from being able to meet and engage with some future CRCHS Cougar students, I had the opportunity to hang out with current students acting as “ambassadors” for the event, helping out with the activities and lunch. Within minutes of beginning my time in the cafeteria alongside a few rising junior students, I realized just how much I missed engaging with people younger than me. I had a blast. If I’m completely honest, it was kinda fun being the “old” one because I was still an accessible peer of sorts. Though I was teased for not having enough Instagram followers or for still having a Facebook app on my phone (apparently having a Facebook is no longer cool????) I was also being peppered with questions about college, campus living, and picking a major.
As soon as they had realized that I was a recent college graduate, they were wide-eyed. They crowded around and began to ask the funniest, most obscure questions. It dawned on me that many of these students probably didn’t have a parent or older sibling to introduce what a typical college experience was like. All they heard was what the college counselor would tell them, which was great, but when it comes to actual dorm roommate experiences or advice regarding studying abroad–they never had the opportunity to truly ask whatever they wanted about those 4 years of college.
THEN, I started asking them about what they wanted to do as well as where they wanted to go to college….
“Loyola of Chicago!”
I mean, it took a few moments for me to realize my mouth was hanging open.
I wasn’t nearly as driven as these students in my experience as an upcoming junior. I had no idea what I wanted to do, I had no clue where I wanted to go, and I sure hadn’t thought about my opening line for my college admissions essay or picked who I wanted to ask to write my LORs. Talking to these 16-year-old(ish) girls was truly inspiring, despite the fact that I had recently completed the very goals they were so energetically envisioning. There is nothing cooler than to see someone their age so excited about education and so motivated to achieve their goals. It was truly a testament to the faculty and staff’s hard work and the culture that the school has built around encouraging their students to enroll in college. It was this experience, talking to a bunch of teenage girls as we handed out Donato’s pizza and they stopped every 10 seconds to take a SnapChat picture, that truly proved the CRCHS mission as a tangible, attainable vision for Columbus youth. It was evidence that what they are doing here is working, and later as I watched the nervous freshman signing up for Volleyball or Mock Trial, I had a new appreciation for how CRCHS was impacting their future trajectory.