by Rus VanWestervelt, dad to Madelyn VW, ’20
A few days ago, I was parked outside the main building waiting for my daughter to emerge from Gym Meet practice. As I waited, I observed a few freshmen girls skip from the school doors to their parents’ cars, playfully tossing their book bags in the back seat and bouncing in the front for the ride home.
I remembered one Saturday three years ago when my daughter Madelyn was a freshman, dropping her off outside of Knott, and her running into hugs with her new friends as they skipped arm-in-arm up the steps, disappearing into the building. I had savored the sight and the experience of the moment, caught in both emotion and encouragement that my young daughter was loved, and was able to love others, in a place where they felt safe to be aspiring, compassionate individuals. I had no idea that this would serve as the foundation for a deeper appreciation and maturity for all.
My goodness, time does fly.
A few minutes after the freshmen girls drove away, Madelyn walked out of the building with a few senior friends, no longer skipping as she had in earlier years but walking with a measured confidence that comes from her experiences at NDP over the last four years.
There was no contrast between the two sets of girls; rather, there was an evolution in character. I know now that it was these early bonds, the security of a school that fostered friendship and sisterhood, that established a foundation for transformation.
So many particular aspects of their experience here at NDP contribute to that transformation in a collective manner, opportunities and traditions that allow growth to happen year after year for NDP graduates. Certainly, Gym Meet, Tree Trim, Penny Queen, Project Greenway, Liturgy, Christmas Celebration, sports, theater, music, academics, and the teachers — they all contribute to the maturity of our daughters. The longstanding legacies aligned with each matter; they are part of something much bigger than themselves and even their complete graduating classes.
Four years ago, when we attended all of the open houses at NDP and other private schools in our area, we were so intent on our decision resting on one thing: how focused are you, as an educational institution, to prepare my daughter for college, and get her there successfully? The concept itself was so large and chunky, as if getting accepted to college was the end goal. NDP came through as the clear choice, offering our daughters the greatest focus in finding the right college.
They did not disappoint.
Yes, college is important, even essential for our daughters to realize their dreams in any field they might pursue. But here I am, four years later, and I couldn’t be further from the mindset of all this being just about college. I’m here to tell you that this need not be a worry; NDP prepares our daughters well for post-secondary education simply because they are invested in their future as much as they are invested in their present experience while at NDP, if not more.
Consider their mantra that has been impressed on us even before we attended the Freshmen Orientation: Educating Young Women to Transform the World. This entire experience transcends the very short four years our daughters attend high school. The preparatory aspect of the education they receive is not narrowly focused on those next four years; I’ve realized that it is so much more than that, even if our daughters have yet to realize that themselves.
Micah 6:8 tells us “…only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Whether our daughters preach this openly or not (“and all the people said Amen…”), they carry with them justice and goodness in ways that we could have never imagined four years ago when choosing a school.
Here’s the thing that you need to know. Yes, your daughter will be prepared for college. And yes, NDP will do everything possible to get her into the school of her choice. But what you’ll never see in their slogans or pitches at open houses and orientations is this:
Tradition drives the school, and uniforms normalize them to see beyond the clothes; they participate in the opening Gateway Ceremony as a collective group comprising wide-eyed girls in below-the-knee blue dresses, but when they prepare to graduate and walk the opposite way for the closing Gateway ceremony in white dresses, the truth is that our daughters are now unique, strong, independent women who are already changing the world with their courage and confidence to speak for social justice, stand up for the marginalized, and continue their journey far and beyond Notre Dame Prep to embrace and offer joy, beauty, kindness, and faith to all.
Yes. They are doing these things in big ways through mission trips and smaller ways right here in Baltimore. But perhaps as important, they are being joy, being beauty, being kindness, and being faith in their daily actions with one another, right here in the 21st century. They will carry this with them beyond the boundaries of NDP and into communities all across the globe; they will view others as equal individuals with rights and opportunities, regardless of how different they might be from their own. They will do justice, love goodness, and transform the world with their actions, just as they have been transformed from the earliest days as freshmen, skipping from the steps of the main building and back into our own, familial, loving arms once more.
Could we really ask for anything greater for our daughters?