Almost four years ago I graduated from Northern Chautauqua Catholic School, and not a day goes by where I don't reminisce and smile about the time I spent there. I was centered around the teachings of Jesus Christ and learned how to be a disciple of Him. At NCCS, I became proud of my faith, and was able to grow confident in it. I would not be where I am today, a member of Diocesan Youth Board, if it weren't for that little school.
There was a special tradition at NCCS, where the seventh- and eighth-grade students went on a camping trip for three nights. The days were filled with kickball, crafts and adventures, but by far the most memorable night was the last. We all gathered in a circle while our teacher prayed. He prayed for us and our school. He told stories about love and friendship, and every one he told I was able to apply to my life. I am sure my classmates were doing the same. We held hands and smiled at each other, knowing that soon we will all be going to different schools, with different friends and teachers.
As he kept talking, emotions took over me. I put my head down and tried to hide my tears, because it seemed embarrassing to cry. As I peeked up to grab a tissue, I noticed the box was nearly empty. Looking, I saw that every person in that room was crying. The girls, boys, chaperones, and teachers were all moved by these stories and prayers.
It was nights like these that changed my life. Seeing prayer actively move people, even the big basketball boys and the shy classmates that never said a word, was truly amazing to witness. These nights were hard to say goodbye to.
Even though every day at NCCS I knew I belonged to a Catholic family, days like Ash Wednesday enforced this feeling of unity in a visual way. To see the entire school marked with ashes was a powerful moment, and became one of my favorite days.
Moving on to high school, however, it was hard to adjust. On Ash Wednesday, students often saw my ashes and made jokes like, "Nice dirt" or "You have something on your forehead." I would find myself repeating "W.W.J.D.?" over and over as students gave me looks. As hurtful comments would happen, it made me appreciate the teachings of NCCS more. I found that I was prepared for interactions like that, something I didn't know until I was tested.
I knew I would miss my classmates when I graduated from NCCS, but what I never realized was how much I was going to miss the school. The paintings of crosses, walks to church together, even simple things like doing the sign-of-the-cross as a class when ambulances passed the school. I didn't realize how much I loved religion class, or having class debates on whether God was created or always existed. I never knew how much the ribbon I pinned on my shoulder meant to me, until I put it on a shelf. What I always knew, however, was how blessed I was to be a student at NCCS.
I will never forget how proud I was to be a student at Northern Chautauqua Catholic School. You can retire the teachers, move the classrooms and buy new desks, but it wouldn't matter; NCCS has Jesus Christ in its walls. Nothing could change the love and spirit of that wonderful little school.