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  • Writer's pictureVeronica Tadross

How a Nonconformist Can Thrive in Catholic High School

I had the unique experience of attending the same school for seven years. During middle school and high school I experienced unusual conventions ranging from birds in the lobby to praying before every class. In many ways these seemingly strange conventions and contradictions have intersected to uncover insights and values that will guide me far beyond high school.

These are the top five unusual and even controversial lessons I've learned from Kellenberg.

5. Compliance with the crowd may sometimes be essential to deal with emotional insecurity

Almost every day since sixth grade I attended something called "Midday Prayer" during the school day. This is a ten-minute optional prayer service before lunch where students pray the Liturgy of the Hours - a brief call and response prayer. For a reason unbeknownst to me at the time, I was eager to be a part of this service on the first day of sixth grade, and when a teacher began holding a Rosary Prayer Circle afterward, I eagerly attended that as well.

I often prayed for my sister who was at the time struggling with severe OCD. When she received treatment and began recovering, it seemed easier to skip prayer and walk straight to lunch. My mind space was free to ponder hypocrisy in the Church, and I became resistant to thinking about God. Praying felt like compliance with a flawed status quo. I had been eager to be there in sixth grade because I was still in search of an identity - something of which I had very little at age ten. My sister's struggle gave me another reason to ground myself and seek stability.

Compliance eases an uneasy mind, and rebellion is sought when everything else is satisfactory.

When my sister recovered I submitted myself to false security, ignoring my problems and abandoning spirituality. Although self-confidence is important and I tend to prefer challenging authority over conformity, Kellenberg showed me that it is important to not become so confident that you abandon

security that may be essential in the long-run.

4. Understanding the organic origins of partisan hatred is the first step to establishing unity

In junior year, all Kellenberg students learn about the Enneagram, a system classifying nine personality types. The Enneagram has always been one of my favorite parts of the Kellenberg curricula - I love discovering more thorough explanations of the world around me. I had yet to find an intersection of the Enneagram with my interest in feminism until I was preparing for the Bipartisan Feminist Project's Bipartisan Advocacy Program, a workshop on how to advocate for bipartisan pro-women legislation.

Attempting to find evidence of how a conservative's mind could be swayed to support women's rights laws, I began reading about the organic origins of political affiliation. Psychology Professor John Bargh attributes partisan differences to the right amygdala: the part of the brain which produces fear. How do you sway a stagnant mind toward change? I thought. The Enneagram holds an answer. 5s, 6s, and 7s strive to escape fear. With active right amygdalas, they may prioritize short-term consequences like taxes over issues which threaten to disrupt stability.

Using this understanding, I developed a three-part approach to achieve bipartisan feminism which I taught to over 100 students: [1] communicating that conservatism entails equality, [2] securing discussion spaces, and [3] embracing argumentation to rectify biased perspectives.

3. We are often blind as to who we can and can not trust Middle school and high school bring with them the beginnings of new friendships and the ends of old ones. The difficult part is telling which should begin and which should end. In school, even once we think we are beyond it, we feel tremendous pressure to be "cool." "Cool" not only consists of stereotypically popular groups, but other social and non-social goals that seem attractive because they may be within reach. These goals replace our value systems. Maybe you want to be friends with the theater kids, or get the best grades, or get invited to your friend's house in Key West. As we seek relational security, our goals blind us as to whom we truly enjoy our time with. Early in high school I was caught between friends, some of whom told me the others were weird or not worth my time. Kellenberg generally encourages reflection and pursuit of diverse interests - from football to theater. Despite my resistance to prayer, reflection helped me pursue my own interests and find friends who seem genuine and intriguing. But who knows? I may still be a little blind. 2. Ask and You Shall Receive, Seek and you Shall Find, Knock and the Door will be Opened to You (Matthew, 7:7) I'm definitely not the type to quote Bible passages, but this one has a lot of truth in it. Throughout high school, the various activities in which I was involved gave me opportunities to take initiative and raise questions that improved the lives of those around me. In eighth grade I asked to start a political column in the school newspaper, in freshman year I proposed a student council to the Vice Principal, and in tenth grade I asked to take two math classes in preparation for the ACT. The administration may have not listened to me all of the time, but the breadth of opportunities offered, from Phoenix Newspaper to Speech & Debate, overruled laziness and provided infinite surface area for me to challenge norms and determine my life goals. Further, a surprising number of teachers were willing to support students who step out of order. When I proposed a student council several teachers signed my petition, and many laughed with me when I received detention for an act which probably did not deserve punishment. My resultant questioning spirit is something I will maintain for the rest of my life. 1. The value of a belief system is evidenced by the lives of its followers This is an idea that we frequently ignore or misapply in our lives. In senior year Christian Existence class I read "Meeting the Living God," by William O'Malley. O'Malley is a pastor who uses inductive reasoning to explore the question of the existence of God. I see O'Malley as a metaphor for the Church: easy to reject due to the many sexual assault allegations against him, but, if you listen, he kind of has a point. O'Malley's thesis is that morality is found in the nature of objective reality. Evaluating objective reality reveals human nature and in turn the origin of (or lack thereof) our creation. Our nature is revealed by the reality of what makes us happy and what makes us sad. For instance, punching someone is wrong because it causes pain, proving that life is valuable. Likewise, we discover the value of a belief system by how it makes us feel. Celebrities who have limitless bank accounts but ignore spirituality and relationships often end up extremely unhappy. O'Malley's argument is that because Christianity (or faith of any kind) brings relative happiness, worship of a God must be integral to our human nature. Although I agree that this philosophy at least somewhat proves the value of faith, it also may disprove some aspects of Catholicism. Consider priests who attempt to live a life of chastity but end up lonely and sexually abusing children. Perhaps that life is not consistent with our human nature. Perhaps that is not what God wants. Through this class I found that imperfections are not a reason to abandon a community that has potential to bring one happiness. Over seven years, Kellenberg has done much more than provide me Sour Patch Kids at lunch and limitless opportunities to pet dogs in the hallways. The school's values have contrasted with my innate worldview, balancing my life for the better. As we forge on to new stages of life, exchanging reproach for appreciation of lessons learned may contentedly and efficiently drive us into the next chapter.

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