This content is from recent Minnehaha graduate Evelyn's baccalaureate speech.
When I first received the email asking me to speak I honestly had the gut reaction, “No!” I had no clue what I would say, but then I thought: I have to. It's like that thing you dread doing the most, but once it is done you feel successful, like cleaning or doing homework. But here I am today with a speech written and hopefully some words that impact one person, even if that is just my mom, because sometimes that is what matters the most.
To share a part of my faith journey is hard for me. There are many areas I could touch on, but one that has been a consistent struggle for me is place. The different transitions throughout high school have been greater and more challenging than I initially thought and during this time at my fourth school building of high school (my house) I’ve had some time to reflect on how place has changed and challenged my faith.
The Normal Year
Looking back, freshman year was maybe the most normal high school experience I had and perhaps was the easiest transition as well. Different school building, longer class periods, and taking physics was difficult, but fun. (Mr. Terfa, sorry, but honestly I don’t think I can still name Newton’s Laws). Even though we came in as new ninth graders, the actual building felt like home.
I remember on nice days when people would go into the courtyard and just sit during activity period relaxing under a big oak tree or “studying” while talking to friends. But personally my favorite place was the library. I would arrive early every morning and go up the three flights of stairs to a bench right near the big bird book. Sometimes I had homework and other days I would sit there and read a book, loving the sun shining in through the windows. Ms. Morris often would come over and say good morning and check in on me. I just knew I was in a location that was safe and it was a place that made me want me to grow in knowledge and in spirituality. The old Upper School Campus was my place. The library was my place.
"Minnehaha Academy Strange"
The next two years of high school were weird in what I am now categorizing as “Minnehaha Academy strange." Very few people I meet going forward in my life will be able to say they spent two years of Upper School in a business park due to their building getting destroyed in an explosion. Going from a pretty big campus with a gym and a chapel to a place that was pretty much one hallway was quite an adjustment. I struggled with feeling at peace with where I was physically which then affected me inwardly. I felt more anxious and unsure about what my future held after knowing anything can happen, both bad and good.
One place I could calm myself was in choir. I didn’t see it necessarily at the time, but having the opportunity to express my feelings and thoughts was freeing. During the crazy polar vortex of junior year, we were preparing for the Madrigal review and even when school was closed Ms. Lutgen had us gather and sing. I clearly remember how anxious everyone was, but during those moments of singing the feelings of uncertainty, worry, and stress were pushed aside and replaced with laughter, joy and peace. In that moment, I realized that gathering together and supporting one another was my place. Making music was my place.
Walking Through Grief
Senior year arrived and that is where a new MA strange was forming. It was exciting and hopeful to be in our new building, but I was surprised about the mixed emotions I felt. The first time I walked into the new building I clearly thought “This smells like a new car and there are so many lights." I also was not prepared to have stairs again. Walking up to advisory or English on the third floor was a struggle some days, and I honestly wish we could walk across the roof to move more efficiently. After the first three days of school though, a wave of loss hit me. I hadn’t thought about how much felt wrong being in a brand new building because it also felt right to be back at the Upper School campus.
That Friday I had a guttural feeling that I could not be in the new part of the building anymore. I decided to go to the chapel before I had to go to soccer practice to be alone. Entering through the dark stage was calming, but it was also the first moment that I began to reflect on my journey to get to that moment, and I broke down. The loss of the old Upper School campus felt strong as did the loss of Mendota Campus, which to be frank, felt unexpected. Yes, I spent the majority of my Upper School career there, so I should have expected more grief, but somehow I had just blocked it from my mind until that moment.
I could have stayed in that room for the rest of the day, but Mr. Freeman walked in looking for Shannon, and instead found a wet faced Evelyn of whom he asked what was wrong and allowed me to stay there without getting a detention (even if he did mention it being a possibility).
Finding My Place
After I left, I attempted to continue on to a normal afternoon, but something new occurred to me: it is okay to feel loss and renewal at the same time. The chapel and the stage are my place. Being reflective helps me find my place.
Coming up with a conclusion to my Upper School career is hard, but two Bible verses come to mind. Our freshman year theme verse was Hebrews 10:23, which reads “ Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.” This year’s Bible verse, Isaiah 43:11, says “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” These verses remind me that no matter the wilderness we are in, the truth is that God is making a way that is greater and bigger than any of us can imagine. God knows our place and he can be trusted to keep his promises.
We can hold tightly to a place, knowing place is not always a location. It could be a library, or a stage, or making music with others. It may even be a wilderness. God knows our place. He will meet us there through people, experiences, and physical locations.
Minnehaha Academy is my place. Class of 2020, Minnehaha Academy is our place. Amen