Today is the last day of my 13 years at Wesleyan. Though sometimes it felt as if I had a never-ending string of tests and papers and homework, I can’t imagine graduating from anywhere else.
I grew up here, along with 33 fellow Evergreens in the Class of 2018. Evergreens, students who have gone to Wesleyan since kindergarten or pre-first, are not uncommon here. Once you become part of the community, going anywhere else is hard to imagine.
Wesleyan is such a unique community in its mission of educating both the spiritual and mental aspects of its students. It’s a place where teachers invest their lives into the students, and students have the opportunity to participate in every aspect of the school.
Senior Evergreen Kelsey Rappe said she is “going to miss the incredible community at Wesleyan—how high schoolers spend their free time playing and helping lower schoolers, how teachers desire to not just instruct you academically but want to get to know you personally and pour into you, how the whole school comes together to support each other. No community is like Wesleyan—once a Wolf, always a Wolf.”
As with any community, it is not without faults, but the element that keeps Wesleyan unparalleled in the realm of any other institution is its main focus on the JOY motto. The lifestyle of ordering your priorities Jesus, Others and then Yourself, or JOY, is at the core of everything Wesleyan does. Lower school Bible teacher Pam Smith said the most important life lesson a student can take away from Wesleyan is Micah 6:8, which is “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Nearly every teacher interviewed about the purpose of or hopes for the school mentioned the JOY model, once again proving its all-encompassing role at Wesleyan.
To see how this fundamental belief is instilled in the entirety of the community, I went back to kindergarten to regain my lower school perspective.
I interviewed a few students from Jamie McNearney’s kindergarten class. When asked what he was most grateful for at Wesleyan, kindergartner Ellis Freeman said, “We get to talk about God. Not [many] other schools get to.” The kids love Bible class and seeing faculty like Rebekah Martin-Fong lead chapel, especially the weekly skit. “I like chapel. We get to praise God and sing songs,” said kindergartner Emily Wang.
The lower schoolers I talked with are excited to be able to play team sports, go on mission trips and receive the gradual freedom given throughout middle and high school—all the things my grade was looking forward to 13 years ago.
Wesleyan is a preparatory school for college but mostly for life. Rappe said, “It has created in me a desire to truly find a community where I can feel supported but also passionate enough about that I want to pour myself back into the community.”
Middle school foreign language teacher Pat McCoy said, “This class, overall, has been very accepting of each other’s gifts. The students celebrate athletes, artists, tekkies and performers.”
In the final weeks of school, senior Evergreen Harrison Feininger said in a wave of nostalgia, “The memorable moments I’ve had at Wesleyan have given me some forever friends, and I’m not ready to leave just quite yet.”
Senior Evergreen Grayson Ragsdale said, “I really cherish lasting relationships and personal connections—being an Evergreen has taught me how to form and maintain friendships that last a long time.” McCoy said, “I am amazed at how many have stayed close after middle school. They continue to have study groups and even take some vacations together.”
Past teachers of the Class of 2018 maintain their relationships with their pupils and wished to give the departing class some advice. “Keep in touch with each other; support and love one another. The most important thing is to rely on God’s plan,” said McCoy. “It may not make sense at the moment, but in the greater scheme of things, it will.”
Ragsdale said, “I love that I can see teachers I’ve had throughout the years (even as far back as lower school), and they still know me; and I’m able to talk to them. I also love that it allows me to relate to my little sister because we’ve gone through basically the same experiences even though we’re eight years apart.”
With the close-knit community Wesleyan fosters, classmates and teachers become family. Senior Evergreen Maddie Lloyd advises all future Evergreens to “make as many friends as you can because you are only with these people for 13 years of your life, and you can make some of the best memories with them.”
Wesleyan has changed a lot over the years with modern technological advances, building renovations and additions, new peers, teachers, classes and experiences. Even so, one thing that hasn’t changed is the essence of the community. This school’s main focus has been, and I believe will always be, to guide students in their spiritual journeys—one thing I will forever be grateful for.
Teachers have addressed my questions without judgement, peers have worshiped with me in Student Led Worship and weekly Bible studies and mission trip leaders have listened to my doubts and fears, comforting me in the knowledge they have them, too.
Physical education teacher Eric Damm said, “I think for a lower school teacher, my goal is to try and make an impact on my students by how we interact with them and how we try and build a foundation of beliefs that the students build upon throughout middle school and high school.” He spoke of the “core foundation” of Wesleyan’s JOY motto and the dedication of teachers in applying this to their everyday teachings and actions.
“Back in the day, we always heard it said that a house is only as strong as its foundation. Well, I think the same is true for our Evergreen students,” said Senior Grade Chair Dennis Stromie. “The love for Jesus that these students have learned about since they were in the lower school, the compassion that they have so they can help others whenever possible and the idea of putting themselves after Jesus and others is deeply embedded in these students. Their Christian foundation should be very strong as they move into their college years.”
When asked about her hope for future Evergreens, McCoy said her’s is that “the classes continue to follow the lead of the Class of 2018.” I hope we live up to the high standard this school has set for us and never forget our roots nor our boundless gratitude for this incomparable beginning.