Peace, Joy, Love, and Hope: the SLUH community reflects on 2021

While the world hurriedly rushes to hang stockings with care and prepare for Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick, Catholics embark on the journey of Advent, where the Church asks them to reflect on four virtues as they prepare their hearts for the coming of Christ.  As 2021 draws to a close, St. Louis U. High students and faculty have applied those tenets to reflecting on the past year.



2020 brought with it a great amount of uncertainty and stress. Students and faculty were forced to be separated from each other. Teachers were forced to adapt to teaching in an asynchronous format, a synchronous virtual format, a hyflex model, and then a block schedule, all within a matter of months. 

“Last year was filled with a lot of not knowing. You were constantly switching between different sections of students, but never knowing which students are actually going to show up or who's going to be quarantined, or if I'm going to be quarantined,” said math teacher Stephen Deves. “The whole year just left you feeling like you never knew what the next day was going to look like. And that can be an uncomfortable place to be.” 

2021 quickly delivered a great sense of peace to administrators and teachers. Eleven days after the world rang in the new year, SLUH welcomed both of the cohorts back to campus together. This was the first time that all of the students had been on campus together since March of 2020. 

As the 2020-2021 academic year was drawing to a close, the school revised many of its age-old traditions in order to ensure that its students were still celebrated. The school hosted two Masses of Praise and Gratitude, a modified awards ceremony for the upperclassmen, and a Junior Ring ceremony where they effectively pivoted after two separate rain delays. However, the climactic event was graduation, when the members of the Class of 2021 processed onto the football field to receive their diplomas. These significant moments brought administrators great peace as they saw their students join together to celebrate and give thanks for a tough school year. 

 “All those moments where we saw people come together to celebrate each other and to celebrate St. Louis University High School at the end of the school year was really special,” said President Alan Carruthers. “Those were the moments that really brought me a lot of excitement and peace because they helped me to see that, hey, we can still do this.”

Witnessing the school community gather together again in the same place also gave school leaders a great sense of peace, after a year of having to plan multiple events that could usually occur as one function. The first time the whole student body came together occurred was at the Spirit Week pep rally where STUCO gathered the entire student body together to rile them up for the upcoming football game against the Normandy Vikings.
“The pep rally brought me so much peace  because it had been so long since I had seen that many SLUH students in the stands,” said STUCO president AJ Thompson. “I remember worrying beforehand, if people were going to engage in it. And people did engage themselves in it, and it was awesome. It's always nice to see everybody in there having a good time, laughing or talking or whatever, it just gives me so much joy.”



With the news cycle seemingly continuously reporting about one negative event after another, in 2020, many found it hard to find joy in the midst of all that brokenness. 

The new year brought with it many new opportunities to see joy within the world. For a lot of teachers, joy was brought to their lives when they saw their students return back for what they were hoping to be a more normal year.

“I had this overwhelming experience of joy, as all of the students walked into the building on that first day back in August,” said Deves. “By the end of the previous year all the teachers were burnt out. We all just wanted summer.And then having that rest had us hoping that okay, 2021 is going to feel a little bit more normal, so we were all just excited I will get to see all of our students in person.” 

Often the greatest joy does not come in the big events of the year, like BTSM or a football game, but in the mundane, the ordinary. For two Jesuits, they found the most joy in teaching and being able to interact with students on a more personal level.

“I was able to travel with the cross country team out to Colombia for state and just being present and seeing our guys perform to new levels of excellence brought me a great sense of joy,” said principal Ian Gibbons SJ. “The guys had so much joy out there as a team and representing our community. It may be a small event in the course of the year, but it was a very beautiful one to me.” 

“I have found a great deal of joy in teaching this year,” said Director of Campus Ministry Matt Stewart S.J. “I have 24 guys in the class. They all have shown interest in the material at some point and they've kind of dug in. It is an outstanding learning community which is based in love, which just brings so much joy to me.”



An important aspect of SLUH is the camaraderie and brotherhood between Jr. Bills, and with the separation of the student body between cohorts last year, this defining characteristic of the community was limited. Now that the SLUH family is reunited, that love has been fostered and cultivated in a variety of ways.

“Having things taken away for a little bit makes you realize how nice it is to have them,” said Assistant Principal for Academics Dr. Kevin Foy. “So then when they come back, and even when they come back in increments, it does make it a little bit sweeter. It makes us understand what we took for granted. The whole community, certainly from the student side but also from the adult community side, has been able to reclaim some of the great things that perhaps we took for granted before.”

Since the reunion of cohorts at the beginning of the calendar year, all types of events—academic, athletic, musical, and artistic—have slowly begun to resume.

“I loved the Mass of the Holy Spirit kicking of the year,” said Stewart. “I really enjoyed seeing a lot of the sports, and it’s been awesome. A lot of soccer, a lot of football. I love teaching my class. I love getting to work with these people in this office and all the cool programming we do. It’s been hard work, but it’s been awesome.”

It’s not just the planned, scheduled events on the calendar or in the classroom that have brought the community back together. For some, it’s the smaller, more intimate moments that characterize the brotherhood and love of SLUH.

“I see students interacting outside of class when they're in social scenarios, and for all intents and purposes, there's nobody who's going to yell at them for misbehaving,” explained Foy. “And they're generous and they're happy to be with each other. So I think students are a little bit more natural, because I'm not their Econ teacher anymore, you know. So, I think when I see people interacting, it is probably a little bit more genuine and it's wonderful. Everyone is as generous and kind and open to one another as I could hope.”

The loss of these connections in 2020 didn’t sever the bond between Jr. Bills, but rather in the brief absence of connection, the brotherhood was strengthened.

“Just as the year has gone on, just being reminded of the grace that is in front of us every single day, we were kind of blind to last year because of how much we were just trying to get by,” said Deves. “But now that we have a little bit more stability, and a little bit more consistency in our days, I think we are much more aware of all those moments of grace or God's presence where God speaks to other people, where someone brings you a smile, or a class just makes you feel happy, or you're just excited to be with your students.”

In the face of difficulty and hardship, Jr. Bills across the board have stayed resilient in their loving relationships with each other, upholding the unshakable community of St. Louis U. High.

“All the guys I've talked to say they are right at the end. That's what it comes down to,” said Carruthers. “It comes down to ‘Are they learning?’ and ‘Are they enjoying it while they're here?’ And I think generally the answer is yes. So that's why I do what I do. When I see the boys in the morning and I'm standing in the hallway and they're excited to be at school. They're laughing with each other. Happy to see the teachers. That's the whole point, and the fact that we're moving forward as a school to make that experience better and better, incrementally better.”



While the relationships that students have strengthened after the pandemic have brought a great deal of joy and love to students and faculty, there is still more to be done. One action that SLUH must take to truly build up its famous brotherhood is to build better relationships between students from different grades. 

“One thing that I really hope and work for currently is inter-class interaction. I think that's something that we, as a school, have struggled with in the past,” said Thompson. “The freshmen stick with the freshmen, sophomore stick with the sophomores, and etc. What I hope to see is more activities and care for more interaction between the classes.”

As the SLUH community has successfully begun to move away from the uncertainties and chaos associated with 2020, it will continue to progress forward in 2022. The further construction of strengthened community bonds and relationships, improved academic strategies, and updated campus facilities are all at the forefront.

“If we could all say that we were better friends in real life, then that would be a victory to come out of something that honestly doesn't have a ton of victories to it,” said Foy. “We're going to look back at this and it's not going to be easy to find victories. So if we can do a good job and find some of those victories that'll be pretty great.”

Looking toward the future, administrators feel that they have created a model that will help the school to thrive and move out of the tunnel of darkness of the pandemic and into a new era. 

“Evaluation, reflection, action, and you’ve got to keep going around that cycle,” said Carruthers. “Using your imagination and constantly improving and constantly trying to build the kingdom of God on earth. It's not a moment. It's a process. And I think St. Louis University High School is in a great position which gives me a lot of hope.”

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