I started high school in a massive co-ed public school where everyone had their friend group and no one really knew anyone else outside of it. The overwhelming aspects of a highly populated public school tore me apart. I'll admit it, I couldn't handle it. My brother was a senior when I was a freshman, so once he graduated, my mom finally made the decision to pack up and move away from our hometown to the buzzing city of Miami. Of course, I was destined to go to another overpopulated, overwhelming public school that our new house would be zoned for.
So, I prepared myself; I tried to train myself to be more outgoing, to be able to handle the hustle and bustle because I had no choice.
Then my mom got a phone call from her alma mater, Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, or shortened to just “Lourdes" for all you Miamians. They told her they had a couple of open spots for the next academic year and that she should bring me in for an interview. But, of course, 15-year-old me would rather die than go to an all-girls Catholic high school. "I wouldn't have a life," I thought, "I'd become such a weirdo." So, I purposefully bombed my interview. I told the principal (who was a nun, by the way) the worst possible things about me while my mom nudged me under the table, signaling for me to stop. But low and behold, three days later, my mom got an email saying I had been accepted, and I was stuck.
My first day of school was hell. I had to wear this uncomfortable polyester uniform that we only had to wear on special occasions, like days we would celebrate mass and such, but that didn't mean I could get out of my uniform on the other days. So, of course, we had to celebrate a beginning-of-the-school-year mass that day and the entire school was supposed to attend. Since we didn't have an on-campus church, we celebrated mass in the gym, which wasn't huge, by the way. But the entire school, all 800 of us, could sit in there comfortably, separated by grade. Unfortunately for me, it was our sophomore year, and everyone already knew each other, so I ended up sitting in the sea of friend groups, alone. I remember looking around the gym and thinking, "This is it? This is the whole school?"
I soon made friends through the theatre department, which is what I ultimately decided to pour my entire soul into for the next three years. I had taken theatre my freshman year back in my old school, so of course, they scheduled me in for it my sophomore year. Little did I know, I would make the closest friends I ever had and make the best memories with them, all in that classroom.
Here's a pic of all the seniors in our last musical, Newsies, including our director, Mrs. G.Mary Gonzalez
We have traditions, we have masses, we have a senior chant that only the seniors can do (it's a big deal), but I never quite understood the all-girls aspect until my senior year. We have this huge retreat called Encounter, and everyone either goes on it in their junior or senior year- I ended up going my senior year. Now, I'm not allowed to talk about what goes on at the retreat, it's like a huge spoiler for potential “encounterites," as we call them, but what I can tell you is that I truly learned what love was on that retreat. I learned what sisterhood was. Girls I had never talked to before, you know, the popular girls, comforted me when I cried. Girls that had only been my slight acquaintances told me that my smile to them in the hallway brightened their entire day. I heard life story after life story, realizing that we've all got our issues but we've also got each other to lean back on.
My graduating class at our last pep rally ever as students.@lourdesacademy on Instagram
When I got back to school the day after Encounter, I finally understood. Lourdes was a sisterhood, it wasn't to keep us focused on our work, or away from boys, it was to build a support system, a family, a bond that lasts forever. I've seen it with my mom and I see it with me. You can go to any Lourdes alumna and ask her for help and just because you both went to Lourdes, no matter what year you graduated, you will receive love, guidance, and support. Everyone goes off to be doctors, lawyers, accountants, journalists, or whatever it may be, but when you need a pediatrician 10 years down the road for your kids, you know you can trust a Lourdes girl, or say you get into some legal trouble and need the best lawyer money can buy, you know you can call up an alumna and they'll have your back.
This is me, on graduation day, with my mom (right) and my godmother (left), who were best friends when they went to Lourdes, and 29 years later, are still inseparable.Mary Gonzalez
The best way to describe Lourdes is to say that it's like a giant sorority. We do fundraisers, we have bonding activities, we do service work, legacy is a huge aspect, and we even have bigs and littles! I never had a big since I transferred, but my little is one of the closest friends I have. I couldn't imagine my life today without her. And it's not like we were secluded from all male interaction whatsoever, too. There were two all-boys Catholic schools that we would have mixers with and everybody knew everybody from house parties and whatnot.
This was taken the day I met my little. Her name is Star, and she's the best little I could ever have.Mary Gonzalez
Saying goodbye to these girls at graduation was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I didn't want it to end, it felt like it had just started. I had just understood the sisterhood and now it was all ending. I'll probably never see half of the girls in my graduating class again, which really breaks my heart because I truly do love every single one of the 203 girls I had the honor of graduating with, but that's life and it's inevitable.
My graduation day aka the most bittersweet day of my life.@lourdesacademy on Instagram
Am I scared to go to college, where I know my small, intimate, all-girl support system won't be? I'm terrified. But I know that even though my sisters won't be there physically, I can take them with me in my heart. I can take every memory, every lesson, every bit of courage they taught me, and with that, I can remember the person Our Lady of Lourdes Academy — those girls, my sisters — molded me to be. I can take that and run into my new life, because though my time as a student there is over, my time as a sister there is eternal.