by Rus VanWestervelt, dad to Maddy, ’20
An Open Letter to NDP, its faculty and staff, and to all present and future families and students:
I have been pondering for some time how to capture what the end of this school year has meant for me as a parent of an NDP senior. Certainly, as we all navigated through the various stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, its effects on our educational and familial communities, and its grip on us as individuals experiencing this global crisis in unique ways, we did our best from day to day, sometimes minute by minute, to handle the roller-coaster ride of emotions, heartbreaks, and hopes.
For some of us, the virus hit home more directly as we witnessed loved ones battle through the illness and, in some cases, watched them lose that battle at a heart-wrenching distance. These last few months have touched us deeply on a very personal level. While we will never be able to understand the individual stories that our students, families, and NDP faculty and staff members have gone through, we do know that we have a community of faith here at Notre Dame Prep that has served our daughters and families in ways that cannot go unmentioned.
It is one thing to focus on what is right to do for the education of our students during this pandemic, which I believe NDP did extraordinarily well; it is another thing entirely, however, to have continued faith in what is possible, and to demonstrate an understanding and commitment to the value of tradition and legacy.
Academically, NDP struck a healthy balance in providing for the well-being for our daughters while not compromising the level of academic excellence provided through the first three quarters when they were attending school on campus. The teachers provided great care to our daughters that put their wellness first while still conducting meaningful online academic sessions.
As well, the faculty and staff adjusted admirably in making several in-person visits to deliver yearbooks, signs, and end-of-year gifts and awards. In every way imaginable, you stepped up and made our daughters feel “close” to the NDP experience, especially in their senior year. As a parent, I could not be more appreciative of your focus and determination to give our daughters the closest contact possible in a contact-free manner.
As important as that was to each member of the class of 2020, I believe it is what you continued to do after the last exams were taken and our daughters logged off for their final sessions with their teachers.
NDP is rich in tradition, beginning with the Gateway Ceremony for freshmen and ending with a return to the Gateway four years later following graduation. As the days passed in April and the early days in May, it seemed clear to so many that the traditions would be changed just as necessarily as the way instruction was delivered. It would have been easy for the NDP administration to proceed with the virtual celebrations, which were so touching and done beautifully, and be resigned to the grip that the Covid-19 virus has had on all of us. Certainly, we know you did your best, and we were grateful for the way you honored our daughters.
But resignation is not a part of the NDP legacy. Through faith, a lot of prayer, and creative thinking, you did not give up on our school, its traditions, or our daughters. You continued to consider all possible scenarios to give the class of 2020 the opportunity to end their senior year the way their freshmen year began.
On June 24, 2020, in our on-campus Baccalaureate and graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020, you upheld much more than a commitment to 131 young women already transforming the world; you demonstrated an unwavering faith in the principles and pillars of Notre Dame Preparatory School, strengthened every year since its founding in 1873.
In all ways, you modeled for us exactly what it means to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with God. And, as each senior strode across that stage and then through the Gateway, we were humbled with gratitude and love for our daughters and for the faculty and staff at NDP who made any of this possible.
Perhaps, as well, that love was felt in the final sendoff that teachers and staff gave all of us as we headed to our cars. To the very last moment of our NDP experience, you made it special; you offered care, compassion, and love to our individual families, comprising the greater NDP familial community that transcends individual graduating classes.
Each of us, as parents, carries that most special moment when our daughters made that walk across stage and through the Gateway in their white dresses, with roses in hand. All of us, as well, will remember the spirit and energy in Sister Patricia’s voice when she congratulated the Class of 2020. Sister Patricia, if ever there was a moment when you have been the voice of the traditions and legacy of NDP, that was it.
So, to present students and families, and to upcoming members of the NDP family, I leave you with this: Notre Dame Preparatory School is an outstanding academic institution, empowering girls to become women who transform the world. In this unprecedented year, however, we have seen just exactly how strong we can be, how faithfully we can act, in understanding that a high school experience means much more than getting into that school of choice. In a time of great crisis, we have been reminded that anything is possible in our walk with God, and most especially on the grounds of Notre Dame Prep.
In gratitude and blessings for the faculty and staff of NDP, as well as for its present and future students and families,