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  • Writer's pictureLUCI HITTLE '22

Our SUA Happy Places

Hello, SUA! A few weeks ago, I sent out a survey asking about your favorite places within our school. I was absolutely blown away by the almost 50 responses I received! You told me silly stories about good times with friends, sweet stories about places and people that are no longer at SUA, and nostalgic stories about the time before COVID-19, when our beautiful campus was fully open. I’m excited to share them! I see these stories as little pieces of a love letter to our beautiful school, and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

When I took a tour of SUA as an eighth-grader, the first place I saw was the front circle. I’m sure you remember something similar if you’ve taken a tour - Bulldogs with baskets of cookies, the administration team waiting to welcome you, and dozens of other nervous grade-schoolers. For some of you, this was the first memory you have of SUA. A member of the class of ‘22 wrote that the front circle "is so pretty, even year-round! I love watching the seasons change and watching how the space just gets prettier and prettier as the seasons go on.” A sophomore described this area as a place where she can see her friends and get a breath of fresh air during break or after school, and a freshman said it was a meeting place where she can always find somebody to talk to.

Many students said similar things about the Senior Patio behind South! A junior wrote, “My friends and I always eat out there if it is warm enough and we have made the best memories there and had the best laughs. It has always been my favorite spot to hang out at Saint Ursula.” Several other juniors and seniors spoke fondly about lunchtime in this space. Freshmen and sophomores, if you’ve never been to the Senior Patio, I highly recommend poking around behind South. Despite what the name suggests, it’s open to all students! Ms. Ragland normally has marigolds and tomatoes growing there before it gets cold, and last year there were these weird tiny watermelons growing in the plant boxes. There are little tables back there, too! One of my favorite SUA memories is of one of my friends getting her lunch bag stuck on the roof of the patio hallway last year; we had to ask a custodian to grab a ladder and get it down!

Ms. Probst pointed out a heart-shaped patch of (mock marble), which can be found in the bathroom near the tech office.

Speaking of the beautiful nature here at SUA, one of the most popular responses was the gardens! A staff member said that they “love the pollinator garden because it is tucked behind the East building, making it more private. I also love that it is doing something good for our environment by feeding the bees and the butterflies. It was a labor of love created with many students’ help planting seeds and cleaning out weeds!” I really like this story because it’s a great example of the teamwork that makes our school a beautiful and welcoming place! Ms. Probst said that she specifically loves the butterfly bushes in this garden, which smell beautiful and attract lovely pollinators.

When the weather is colder, many students choose to spend their free time in the Keller Center! A sophomore wrote about her old lunch table in the freshman section: “It’s where I found my friend group and had a lot of bonding moments with them.” I can absolutely relate to that; I have so many fond memories of freshman year. It’s crazy how much I’ve changed, along with the rest of my grade! One freshman wrote about how special Keller is to her as a place to meet up with teammates before volleyball practice. Reflecting on her own freshman year, one junior said simply: “I've learned who I want to be friends with, and I have learned how to be myself.”

Another junior recalled eating lunch in the library: “When I was a freshman, one junior took me under her wing and we became very close. Through her, I was able to find confidence within myself and she also helped my best friend and me through some very hard times. Last year she drove my best friend and me to school every day even though we both had our licenses. We would get to school 30 mins early and every day we would go to the library and sit at a table with all of her friends. It became a routine so when she graduated last year and I arrived on the first day of school this year, I walked past the table in the library with a sad feeling, knowing that the table group was gone. They had all graduated. I will forever be grateful to that upperclassman for making me who I am today. I walk past that table almost daily and I am always reminded of those amazing mornings. I really miss her.” First of all, I’d like to thank you for sharing. Often, COVID seems so all-encompassing that it’s hard to take stock of everything else going on. Even though the school year has been so consumed by the pandemic, the “normal” worries, like our friends graduating, are so important. Those feelings need to be felt and I’m sure many other people can relate to them - I know I do!

An SUA teacher had similar feelings of nostalgia as the new year began. They wrote, “I very distinctly remember being overwhelmed by emotion the first time I came back in during Summer 2020 after being unexpectedly gone for months. Coming back that day felt the same way that you feel when you return home after a long vacation x1000. The eeriest thing was seeing the to-do list written in my desk with un-checked tasks to be completed the week of March 16th... I remember sitting at my desk and just staring into space for at least 20 minutes, reflecting on how important this room, and everyone who has passed through it, has become to me.”

Other teachers agreed, saying that anywhere their students are makes SUA feel like a home to them, or speaking fondly about the controlled chaos outside their doors after dismissal. “I always (used to, before this year) have students in my room in between classes and during breaks. I love those times because that is when I get to learn the most about my students. What they are excited about, how their lives are going, their hopes and fears. It is where I get to see my students as their authentic selves,” wrote another teacher.

Ms. Woodall keeps pictures of previous classes in her room, as well as her more personal SUA memories. One such photo is of her in the front circle with her sister at the 1988 Senior Tea. Underneath, another picture shows the pair in the SUA Chapel, with Ms. Woodall serving as matron of honor for her sister’s wedding. Looking back on these memories, she wrote, “All that before I ever dreamed I would be here every day in what is now my favorite place, room C130!”

Students also mentioned their favorite classrooms as places where they feel comfortable and supported! Several students mentioned the Latin classroom, while others expressed their love for the chorus and orchestra rooms, along with our beautiful theater! About the design room, a senior wrote, “I always feel comfortable to be myself in this area! I never feel judged and I feel I work my hardest when in this class!”

As much as students admire their teachers, many members of our faculty have a close bond with each other as well. One teacher said, “In the ‘before times,’ many of the South Building faculty would gather in the building's faculty lounge for lunch. We had the regulars, semi-regulars, and rarer birds, but there would always be at least a couple of people eating there and usually many more. It was a great place to unwind and chat. The lounge itself is pretty small, which meant that on many days we'd end up pretty crammed in, but we all came because of the community. Obviously, this year has not been friendly to anything requiring close quarters, but I hope it will return once we get past this moment.”

Another teacher, who graduated in 1987, talked about the old senior lounge! “Back in the ‘80s, the rooms that are now the nurse's office and Dr. Dean's office were a single room known as the senior lounge. Seniors painted the walls over the summer to personalize it and we got to spend our study halls in there watching TV. During my junior year, I happened to be passing by the lounge at the exact moment the Space Shuttle Challenger was lifting off - and so I hung in the doorway and witnessed the disaster via the senior lounge TV. My senior year was full of happy memories in the senior lounge, most notably watching Days of Our Lives with my friends. It was a place filled with love and camaraderie.” SUA history is so fascinating to me and I’m always excited to learn more about our wonderful school - I had no idea that a senior lounge ever existed!

This rich history of our school is perhaps best highlighted in the Chapel and parlors. A freshman wrote, “The Chapel and the parlors are just so unique to SUA and really made the school feel like home to me. I felt that old-time charm to the school on my open house day, which really led me to choose SUA being the only one from my grade school.” The word “charm” sums up this part of our school so well. I remember being absolutely blown away when I first walked into the Chapel! Even though I’m not Catholic, that whole area exudes peace and I feel so lucky to have it as a place of rest and reassurance. Many students and faculty members agree - in fact, the Chapel was tied with Keller for the most responses on my survey! Ms. Caito wrote, “I know it's cliche for the campus minister to say "the Chapel," but it's just so quiet and peaceful. My days are filled with welcomed chaos at school and at home. The Chapel provides a space to slow down and just be. I remember having class masses in there as a student and now get the opportunity to do that again as a staff member! It's really special to me!” Several staff members agreed, writing that the Chapel is a lovely place to collect their thoughts and always provides a space that is safe, welcoming, and peaceful.

Moving across the street to the field and gym, many athletes value routine. One senior wrote about the gym lobby: “This means something for me because for the last 3 years (but not this year) I’ve done cross country. This is where we have team meetings and socialize before and after practice.” Another senior recalled the skybox, where her soccer team used to eat a meal together before every home game. Traditions and rituals like these are what make SUA sports so important to our students - as one freshman wrote, soccer practice is a certainty. She knows that she will be able to see her friends and do something she loves after school almost every day. One junior wrote, “The gym reminds me of the best friendships which are some of the most important things to me!”

Lastly, I’d appreciate it if you’d indulge me as I share my own story, which is about the first time I visited SUA. I was quite young and I had no idea that I would later attend as a student! On the day in question, my dad had to pick up some things and took the time to show me and my brother the Chapel and parlors before we made the trek up to his room at the top floor of East. I remember being incredibly delicate about it, so careful not to touch anything. I was fascinated by the smallest details, especially the old books in the parlors! The space felt so sacred, like it was so much bigger than us - like me and my brother were somehow just a tiny part of the timeline of people who had walked through these rooms, and the others who someday would. Now that I’m a student here, I treasure that feeling. Even on the hardest days, I’m able to reconjure it as I walk the foggy path from East to South on a crisp autumn day. I relive this moment in the smallest exchanges - waves or nods in the hallway and thank yous to teachers - and yes, even in the hike to the top floor of East. After school, I see my friends sprawled laughing on the Front Lawn and I can’t help but feel so lucky. Our school has this spark, a feeling of connection, or of recognition, maybe... I see that in each and every response to the survey. Thank you so much for helping me explain the magic; your stories made me smile and I hope they make readers of The Light smile as well. I’d like to end the article with a quote from Ms. Utecht, which I think sums up what makes Saint Ursula Academy so special.

“I love our hallways in the early morning hours before most people arrive on campus. There is so much promise in an empty, quiet hallway. I love the stillness and the potential that fill the space. I love to walk where so many other amazing women have walked over the last 100+ years. It warms my heart with pride.”

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