Column by Jonathan Nagy
On the last day of school, one of my students walked into my room and handed me this cup. She used her creative skills and her Cricket to decorate and put my name on it. After all of the students had left, I sat down in my chair and breathed a deep sigh, for what felt like the longest school year ever had officially come to an end. I looked up and there was nothing else on my desk except for the cup. I stared at it for a few minutes, appreciative of the gesture and contemplating what to do with this empty cup that has my name on it. There are so many things I could put in this cup, but the more I thought about it, the cup of my life is already full and spilling over!
I do not need to go into details explaining what a challenging year this has been for everyone, but as the great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov once said, “It has been my philosophy of life that difficulties vanish when faced boldly.” Wow, have the difficulties presented to Catholic schools this year have been faced boldly and have been triumphed!
At the beginning of the school year, as the public schools scrambled to create plans for virtual and hybrid education, the schools of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese pressed on full speed ahead with a safe opening. The difficult guidelines presented by various organizations for schools was met with the ingenuity of the schools. And as the guidelines constantly shifted, so did the adaptability of our Catholic schools. As an administrator, I found it very stressful at times to constantly be on top of the situation, but our students took everything in stride.
The students are the bright, shining stars in our classrooms. Ask any Catholic school teacher why they teach, and the answer resoundingly is for the students. This year especially, the students were extremely grateful to not only come to school, but have many normal academic, athletic, and social opportunities presented to them. They constantly amaze me in every scenario, and I draw much of my inspiration from each of them.
So what are the top ten things from this school year that cause my cup to overflow?
1. Gratitude. I have so much gratitude for being able to have a fairly normal school year. I saw most of my students face-to-face all year long, and I am forever thankful for that opportunity. I am grateful that my virtual students stayed on top of their work even though distance kept us apart. I am appreciative of the technology that allowed us to continue educating and learning when other opportunities were exhausted. I am grateful for the support that the students and staff showed each other all year, for that compassion and companionship made the year possible!
2. Hope. This year taught me just as much as I taught my students. One of those lessons I learned was to never give up hope. As I mentioned, there were times that I personally struggled, but the hope that we would get through and press on to the other side kept me going. My daily prayers became those asking for assistance to do what needed to be done for everyone and to hope that everything would turn out as God intended.
3. Confidence. I learned to be more confident in my own abilities, as I am sure my students and colleagues did as well. While I never thought my confidence in Bishop Carroll Catholic High School could grow any stronger than it already was, I was wrong. I am confident that what we are doing is the will of God, and by His design and the good work of others, the school will continue to excel long into the future.
4. Peace. That one may sound odd in the chaos that we call life, but I have found a simple peace in my daily routine. Taking in the simple things each day and spending a few minutes in prayer reflecting on them made all the difference. Jesus’ presence in our school can be felt all day, every day. The day begins with an all-school prayer, and I begin each of my classes with the prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel. Setting the tone with prayer brings peace to the environment.
5. Energy. Each morning of the school year, I sat for 45 minutes at the door, doing wellness and temperature checks for the students that entered. At first, I thought this would be a tedious endeavor, but I grew to love this time every day. I looked forward to greeting each student and conversing for a few seconds, making an even deeper personal connection with each one. The energy that I received from these interactions was a great way to start my day. Seeing my students when I walked into my classroom, ready and eager to learn, brought a smile to my face each day. The endless amount of extra work that goes into making a Catholic school successful even gave me more energy. The bottom line is that I drew my energy from my amazing students.
6. Amazement. I am completely overwhelmed when I take a step back and realize what we as a school were able to accomplish this year. We pulled off many of the usual events and created some new ones. We had new opportunities in and out of the classroom. Our teachers and our students not only met the bar but rose above it. I cannot help but be amazed daily at what occurred daily.
7. Pride. I mean this one in the humblest of ways. I am proud of everyone associated with Bishop Carroll. The school community came together and supported one another. I am proud of the work that my students completed, and I am even prouder of the young people they have become.
8. Humbleness. While that might seem like the complete opposite of the previous point, it actually is not! I am humbled by what everyone was willing to do for each other, and for me personally. Individuals stepped up and I am very appreciative of their giving of their time, talent, and treasure. I am not one to ever ask for help. Call it pride or stubbornness, but it is a quality I have always had. I learned this year to humble oneself to not only become a servant to others but allow them to do the same things for me. As it says in Colossians 3:17, ” And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” God’s work through his people was truly done this year!
9. Acceptance. Full disclosure – I am not one that accepts change very easily. I struggled a lot over the last 16 months dealing with the changes in the world. I have gained a greater sense of acceptance this school year, for as the famous prayer reads, ”God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” There are many things in life that we cannot change, no matter how hard we try. We have to learn to accept and do our best. That does not mean that we do not try when we can. We must pray for the wisdom to know what to do!
10. Optimism. Anyone who knows me may question this one, because I am an eternal optimist, but there is always room for more! I am optimistic about the world in front of us, because I have seen amazing people do great and small things, and all made a difference. I’m optimistic because I see the future in my students, and I know the world will be in good hands with them. I’m optimistic that everyone has learned valuable lessons and will become better people to one another. There is much to be optimistic about!
I could go on with more examples, but I would need that student to make me another cup to hold them all! The Year of Challenge has brought with it many great things. I know that I am a better person because of what I have personally dealt with, and I know our school is stronger for weathering the storm of 2020-2021.
I encourage everyone to take a look at not only Bishop Carroll, but our very successful Catholic grade schools in the Prince Gallitzin Quadrant. There is room for all! If you would like more information about BCCHS, or the grade schools, please contact me. I am always willing to discuss Catholic education with anyone. To me, there is no greater gift that we could give our children than the opportunity to have God infused in their education. Come grow with us. You will not regret it!
Jonathan Nagy, M.Ed., is the Dean of Students and Social Studies teacher at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Ebensburg. He is also the Music Director at the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel in Loretto.