In Our Hearts Forever: Reflecting on How Saint Scholastica Academy Changed Me

by: Jessica Neria, ’09 

“Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King

There’s a distinct kind of warmth about St. Scholastica Academy that’s evident upon entering the building. It’s not the lack of central air or the heat that’s kept on through part of May. The halls emanate a kind of love that I’ve never felt from a building before, let alone a school. What is often overlooked from those unfamiliar with the Scholastica community is that SSA is not just a school- it’s a home. It’s a home to the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago. It’s a home to the faculty and staff that have worked in the building for years. It’s a home to the girls who walk the halls five days a week. It’s a home to me.

I never expected to grow so attached to St. Scholastica Academy. It was high school, and I’d always been told that high school would be four of the worst years of my life. Still, I had hope. There was something different about this school that I noticed when I shadowed a student before taking the entrance exam. My time at SSA ended up being some of the best four years of my life. Yes, there were difficult times—it was still high school, I was still a teenager, and sucked at math—but the good times truly outweighed the bad.

When I mention my high school experience or my involvement in the school community post graduation, I’m often met with confusion. People who are unfamiliar with SSA are unable to truly understand the magnitude of what the school could mean to anyone. St. Scholastica Academy made me the person I am today, and given the chance, I would do anything to give back to school community. St. Scholastica gave me too much for me to not want to give back. In an attempt to even begin to explain all that SSA gave to me, I’ll break down these gifts by the five Benedictine tenets of education, which served as the core values used to guide my education:

Love of Learning

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the greatest student in the world. Any former instructors reading this can attest to that. I’m not good at test taking, and sometimes don’t do all of my readings. Still, I’m always eager to learn. Before entering high school, I only did the work that was required of me and left it at that. I did very little reading, and just accepted what knowledge was thrown at me without any effort to look for information myself. Classes at SSA set fire to this curiosity that won’t seem to burn out, and I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m more than okay with that. I want to learn more about art and philosophy. I want to learn more about politics. I want to learn more about the world I live in, and the diverse population of people that live in it. I want and plan to always be a lifelong learner.

Stewardship of Gifts

It is very rare to find anyone that is a one-trick pony. We are all equipped with many talents and skills that we can use to our community’s benefit. The flexibility and small size of my high school community allowed for the room to test my various interests. By the time I graduated, I had been part of Student Council, the Art Guild, Morning Chorus, and Standing Stage Crew at some point during my four years at the school. I had even played soccer and bowled for the school. Though I had never been the best singer, bowler, or soccer player, I discovered my strengths, and know how I can use them efficiently.

Sense of Balance

When initially learning about maintaining a sense of balance, we would mostly discuss balancing school work with our home lives and after school activities. A sense of balance is much more than balancing a decent GPA and a busy stage crew schedule. Yes, I learned how to do those things, but more importantly, I learned how to take care of my responsibilities and myself. As a helper, I often put other responsibilities and other people’s problems before my physical, and mental health. High school taught me to check in on myself, and know when I needed to take a break.

Importance of Community

As an all-girl school, SSA gave me the room to grow in a way that a co-ed school couldn’t. Nowhere else in my short life had community ever been a guarantee until St. Scholastica came into my life. I realize now that nothing is really guaranteed, and that being a member of the SSA community was a choice. Choosing to be part of the SSA community definitely came with its benefits. For one, I was involved in minimal high school drama, and the conflict I did experience was less severe than most would expect. As far as I remember it, for my graduating class, the height of our drama was during freshman year, and gradually declined as we grew to know each other over the years. In place of all the serious drama, a strong bond was built among the school. There wasn’t even a strong divide among the classes. We were all one Scholastican community.

By being part of this strong community, both consisting of current students as well as years of alumnae, I found my voice. From the one known story about St. Scholastica, I learned to never take “no” as answer when it came to my goals. I knew that as a woman of color, I was less privileged and would have to fight to succeed. My community fostered the skills I had and gave me the support to do what I was interested in. Scholastica also taught me about feminism, and about the beauty and power within myself as a woman.

Respect for the Individual

Possibly the most important tenet of them all, Respect for the Individual calls students to “approach every member of the community with respect.” [1] It calls for “listen[ing] with the ear of your heart.” [2] No one’s voice is more valuable than another’s. We are all equal in this world, and deserve to be treated equally, with equal rights and respect. As members of the world community, we should fight for equality.

It breaks my heart every time I think about the closing of St. Scholastica Academy. On March 14th, the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago announced their decision to close the school at the end of the current school year. Although it is closing after over a century of educating young women, this is not the end of St. Scholastica. Years worth of Benedictine tradition and education will be carried on by alumnae.  St. Scholastica Academy will remain in my heart and the hearts of many others forever more.

Through thick and thin, we’ll stick and win.
We’ll cheer our team until the end, and high our voices send.
With our banners flying, we are striving.
One together, friends forever,
Scholasticans all the way.

1. Anne Matz, Saint Scholastica Academy Student Handbook 2008-2009

2. St. Benedict, The Rule of St. Benedict

Jessica Neria is the Technology and Social Media Coordinator for In Our Words, and a third year undergraduate student in DePaul University’s Psychology program. Neria is a co-president of the DePaul A.V. Club and the Social Media Chair for Spectrum DePaul. She is also currently a freelance photographer, an enthusiastic dog-walker and an avid lover of mustaches. Follow Jessica on Twitter @yehika15 or on tumblr at


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