Currently, there are 739 girls at NDP. That’s 739 Works in Progress. 739 Unique Individuals. 739 Stories to Tell. There aren’t enough days in the year to tell them all. So…where to begin? Rather randomly, as it turns out. Which is not to say objectively.
I spent a lot of time at NDP last year filming their admissions video. The truth is, during a project like that, certain kids just settle on your radar. Middle-schooler, Meghan Stromberg, was one of them. Wherever we went, there she was. Not because she was seeking us out. To be perfectly honest, Meghan, like most of the NDP girls, was rather oblivious to our camera and crew. It’s just that, as we moved throughout the school, looking for images and faces that could tell the NDP story in a single captured moment…if Meghan was there, we’d inevitably focus the camera on her.
Why? Well, for starters, she’s adorable. She’s got a face full of freckles, eyes full of twinkle, and a perpetual smile. But it was something else. Something intangible yet visible that made Meghan so attractive. She just seemed so darn cheerful and happy to be where she was, doing what she was doing, at any particular moment. She just made us smile. Once, we stumbled upon Meghan in the cafeteria, celebrating a cross-country victory with her 7th grade teammates and a pile of pink cupcakes. They all wore t-shirts and shorts, but in addition, Meghan sported a spiffy athletic headband around her forehead and icing around her mouth. We also encountered Meghan in Spanish class cheerily singing along with her classmates to Feliz Navidad. And on more than one occasion, we passed her scurrying up and down the hallways carrying a pile of books that weighed twice what she did. In every case, Meghan wore a smile. And when we reviewed footage of Meghan, we noticed that – regardless of the situation – she had this really endearing way of looking at the other girls around her as if to say, “This is fun…isn’t it?” Vulnerable yet open. Not entirely certain but most certainly game. Just the right balance of “I’m not completely sure of who I am or where I’m going yet, but I can’t wait to find out!” And isn’t she in a great place to do just that?
I caught up with Meghan in the cafeteria recently and over drinks (water for her, Diet Coke for me) she told me a little bit about herself and what she likes about Notre Dame. During the interview she was forthcoming but not full of herself; punctuating her conversation with nervous giggles, a combination that I found utterly charming.
Now in 8th grade, Meghan transferred to NDP from a local parochial school as a 6th grader. Back then, she and her parents very methodically made a pro and con list to help them make their decision. In the NDP pro column: good class size, new friends, more opportunity, sports, performing arts, first rate education, on track for high school, important values, and more. In the con column: More homework. Harder homework. I asked Meghan if, in hindsight, those two things might technically be considered one and the same? Is it possible they could have counted as just one strike in the con column? Meghan carefully considered the question, twirling her water bottle while she thought, before delivering her verdict.
“Harder homework and More of It are two completely different things!” Meghan politely asserted. And then she tugged at the cuffs of her sweater and pulled them down over her hands, holding them in place with curled fingers pressed against palms, in the same self-conscious, self-protective way all girls her age do, and waited for my challenge.
“I see your point,” I conceded. Meghan nodded knowingly and relaxed the cuffs a little.
“Nevertheless,” I continued, “The pros clearly won out, right? ‘Cause…here you are!
“Right!” Meghan giggled at the obvious, happy to see the conversation back on track.
“So, do you like it?” I asked.
“I love it!”
“Any mean girls?” A trend I’ve read and worry about.
“No.” Meghan said without hesitation.
“Honestly?” I asked skeptically, giving her an out.
“Honestly,” Meghan re-affirmed. “I have a really great class,” she explained, giving all the credit to her classmates.
“And all those opportunities you spoke of…have you had a chance to explore them all?”
“Pretty much!” Meghan giggled (again), and then ticked off a list of clubs she’s joined, teams she’s tried out for, and efforts she’s been involved with to date:
“Band, dance, cross country, soccer, badminton….”
Currently, Meghan is Vice President of the Spirit Club and co-chair (with pal and fellow 8th-grader, Halle Regan) of the upcoming “Dodgeball for Love” event. She still “stresses” about homework but concedes that the stress may be worse than the work. In point of fact, Meghan seems to have made an easy transition from her old school to NDP and appears to be a happy, well-adjusted, successful 8th grader.
During the course of our conversation, Meghan occasionally glanced over at Halle who was busy recruiting girls for the Dodgeball event. Meghan was far too polite to cut our conversation short but I knew she really needed to get back to work, so I wrapped up the interview with one last question:
“Do you think you’ll continue at NDP for high school?” I asked Meghan. Meghan just giggled, as if it were a silly and rhetorical question. When she realized I was waiting for an answer, she nodded confidently.
“Yes. Definitely!” she said, stating what she thought by now would be obvious. Meghan is happy right where she is. NDP has nurtured and brought out the best in her and given her opportunities to explore and grow and challenge herself. Why would she go anywhere else?