This speech was given by Emily Wilson, 11, who transferred to Saint Thomas Aquinas before her junior year. She was chosen by our Administration to give this speech to the entire student body and our senior class parents during our Senior Mass on May 12, 2011.
So I’m pretty sure we all remember our first day of high school. I remember I woke up extra early to braid my hair and worked far too long on the “I just rolled out of bed” look I was trying to adopt. Finally the clock read 7:20 and I grabbed my backpack and piled into my sisters car. We talked about how nervous I was and she assured me that I was going to love high school. A short time later she dropped me off and I walked into the doors of a school that was, well, not Saint Thomas Aquinas.
My first two years of high school I was downright miserable. I didn’t feel like I was part of anything. I couldn’t find my niche. I wandered around from class to class, practice to practice, never really finding that connection—the feeling that I was accepted by my peers. At the end of my sophomore year I couldn’t take it anymore, and decided to transfer to Aquinas. So lucky me I got to live the terror of the first day of high school again.
I woke up the first day of junior year wanting to curl up into a ball from nerves. Eventually I got up, and as I was getting ready I began to second guess my decision to transfer. I mean, there was no guarantee that I would find my niche by switching schools. All the Saint Thomas Aquinas stereotypes ran through my head as I drove to school that morning. We hear them all the time, “Oh they don’t care about academics, all they care about are state championships.” Or “Faith isn’t really important there, it’s all about sports” or the classic “the only people that like it there are jocks, you won’t fit in if you aren’t one.” I began to worry that maybe all these stereotypes really were true and I was going to be just as miserable here as I was before.
It didn’t take long for my worries to disappear—particularly my worry about academics. The very first class of my first day at Saint Thomas Aquinas was Miss Vrabac’s Honors American History. After 45 minutes in her classroom that day I was no longer worried about being challenged academically. The rest of my classes followed suit, promising to be just as challenging. I can honestly tell you that there are nights I am burning the midnight oil and wondering why I was ever scared that there wouldn’t be enough focus on academics.
When it comes to faith, I don’t think I could have grown as much as I have in my faith at any other school. Faith is encouraged, not looked down upon here. I encountered peers who wanted to sit and discuss the deep aspects of their faith. We may not always see eye to eye, but so many of these people have challenged me to grow in my faith more than I ever thought I could. And where else can you find people who will wake up early over winter break to go to 8:15 Mass everyday? Or somebody who will sit at Barnes and Noble and discuss the pros and cons of the Novus Ordem Mass?
But the stereotype that I find myself outright laughing at when I here it these days, is the idea that its hard to be accepted at Aquinas if you aren’t a sports superstar. This idea terrified me my first day, especially while I sat in Miss Bailey’s 6th hour Sacraments class, dreading the upcoming lunch hour. Where would I sit? What if nobody wanted me at their table? In the middle of my mini panic attack, two girls came up to me saying, “You’re Emily Wilson right? We’ve heard all about you! You have to come sit with us!” I was welcomed with open arms here at Saint Thomas Aquinas. Everywhere I turned my teachers and classmates were more than willing to help me feel at home.
I don’t just feel accepted here, I feel like I’m an important part of multiple families—most of them having no connection to sports. The first place I found a family though, did happen to be on the volleyball court. I’ll never forget my memories from being part of the Saints volleyball program. From our team sleepovers, to bus rides singing at the top of our lungs. From hilarious practices complete with a few tumbles, to our inspiring state week. But more than just on the court, I found families in the classroom. I can’t begin to tell you how close the four of us who take Honors Spanish 5 are, or how my 6th hour Pre-Calc with Coach Schenck dominates in STAR period dodgeball. And I’ll never forget my state championship “We the People” family or my Theater family. I never expected to be part of either of them, but both have been some of my favorite, and most stressful, times of high school. And then there is the way that I feel like the whole school has taken me in as part of the Saint Thomas Aquinas family. How we come together for events like the canned food drive and penny drive. And I can’t think of another school that would be as generous as you all were to my family recently by donating all the “Wigs Out” funds to the foundation my family started in memory of my sister.
The way this community accepts everyone is inspiring, and my biggest regret of high school is that I didn’t spend all four years being a Saint. Seniors, each and every one of you has touched my life in some way in the two years I have been here. Whether it was a simple smile in the hallway, or a deep conversation over cupcakes, you guys have changed my life. Underclassman, I hope that we have been good examples to you of what community means here at Saint Thomas Aquinas. I want all of you to know that because of you, I found more than just my niche, and I am blessed to be part of something amazing—a Communion of Saints.
A Parent Testimony
After 4 years of not connecting with you, it was absolutely wonderful talking with you today. It was like a rewind of 4 years. Our conversation happened to spontaneously spark my memory as to just how wonderful STA really is as a high school and I feel like I need to share that with you.
When we lived in Kansas City, we absolutely loved STA, appreciated STA and were quite blessed that our daughter was so happy in high school. (Not an accomplishment we take for granted in the challenging high school years.)
When we decided to relocate to Dallas, our direction/criteria for my son's high school experience was to find the Aquinas of Dallas Fort Worth. We found Nolan Catholic High School which is about the same distance from our house in Colleyville as STA was from Leawood. We are very happy at the school.
However, our family believes STA is the gold standard for a high school experience. My daughter still talks about STA as the best years of her life. She has said on numerous occasions that she would repeat those 4 years exactly the same if she could. Wow, what an endorsement from a very happy child.
You have one incredible school and unfortunately, we sometimes appreciate things even more when you don't have them. Such is the case with STA.
I could go on and on as to the specifics, but I wanted you to take a moment to reflect on just how wonderful STA is as a high school. From Dr. Ford, the all school masses, school spirit, faculty, volunteers, Extravaganza, first class standards, Father Mitchell, sports program, students, faith, culture, quality of education, value of the education, class T-Shirts, pep rallies, retreats, etc. etc. You have one great school.
I'm sure you realize what you have, but I just had to take a minute to let you know. You should feel so proud to work for such a wonderful school that has such a lasting impression on many, many people for their entire life. I will never forget those 4 wonderful years and remain thankful for the impact STA has made on my family.