Updated: Feb 26
Happy February! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend, and a satisfying end to the first month of the year. For those of us in Charlotte or the RTP, we received the year’s first snow. It didn’t last long and it didn’t stick, but it’s always a thrill to see it coming down, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
Last Friday, I had the privilege of speaking at my alma mater, Immaculata, the place where I spent the most formative years of my life. From kindergarten to 8th grade I attended ICS, and of all the institutions life took me to after graduating, no place would prove to be as special and warm as Immaculata.
Last week was Catholic Schools Week. As a kid, I loved this week because it was the equivalent to a homecoming. There was a day where the teachers wouldn’t give homework, most of the week didn’t require uniforms, and each day was filled with a variety of activities. The week culminates with a morning gathering consisting of a few alumni speakers, and then an alumni basketball game in the evening.
When I was approached to speak to the student body for Catholic Schools Week, I was flattered. Immaculata has produced hundreds of wonderful students who have gone on to be incredibly successful, so I knew that my speech would have to be well thought out and well prepared in order to live up to the institution’s grand spirit.
Truth be told, I owe my writing career to Immaculata. While I was fortunate to have an excellent language arts program at every school I attended, Immaculata’s program was second to none during my time there. The teachers encouraged voracious reading, and even hosted speed-reading camps during the summer, which my dad of course enrolled me in.
Ms. Garrett, who was my teacher for both second and third grade, would immerse us into the world by making sure that our classroom and all of our activities coincided with the book we were reading at the moment. She also had a heavy hand in teaching me not only how to build worlds, but more importantly, how to structure my paragraphs in order to attain fluidity in my story. On top of her creative spirit, Ms. Garrett was a stickler for enunciation, and she never lost a moment to impress upon her students the importance of diction.
My experiences at ICS ignited a passion for reading and writing that created the platform upon which I built my entire career, so it was not only a great honor to be asked to be one of the three speakers for Catholic Schools Week, but it was also imperative that I do the students justice and deliver uplifting, inspiring words that I may have needed to hear when I was their age.
Before speaking, a brief introduction was given, outlining my life after ICS. The following is the transcript of my speech. I share it today, as we begin a new week and a new month, for those of you searching for a reminder, for those of you who are in the midst of a difficult time, and for those of you who feel a bit lost.
Good Morning, Eagles!
My name is Shiara, and as you just heard, I came to Immaculata when I was just 5 years old, many years ago.
It’s funny, listening to the introduction, that outline of my journey seems pretty straightforward. The accomplishments sound impressive and it almost sounds like a simple blueprint for success, but the reality is that my story was anything but simple.
My road to achieving my goals was filled with challenges at every turn. I encountered setbacks every step of the way, but of all the hurdles I had to maneuver, the toughest would prove to be the 4.5-year illness that struck my father.
What started as a “simple” hip fracture turned into another hip fracture, which turned into an ankle fracture, which turned into a lumbar fracture. Before we knew it, his body was riddled with fractures. Every bone in his body was broken. His bones couldn’t heal, and these breaks left him in a constant state of excruciating pain.
Over the course of 4.5 years, my active, athletic father went from running 5k’s and playing in racquetball tournaments, to being in a wheelchair, with barely any strength to lift a pen.
We went to hundreds of doctors. He underwent hundreds of medical tests, but none of it gave us any answers. No one could figure out what was wrong with him. We were at a complete loss.
We had no answers, and time was not on our side. My dad’s health was declining rapidly and we knew we were nearing the end.
And I felt hopeless, and I felt lost, and I felt a profound grief. For most of my life, if I wanted something enough, I just worked for it. Even if I stumbled, I would keep fighting until I accomplished my goal, but in this instance, no amount of ambition could give my dad his health back.
This made me incredibly sad, and it made me feel angry. I felt like had been abandoned, and I fell into a dark place. It was like I was in a room that was pitch-black and I couldn’t even feel my way out. But there was a tiny flicker in that room, a little light that I could cling to. That light was faith, a faith that was first instilled in me right here where we stand today.
It was the same faith that made me pick myself up when I stumbled. The same faith that kept me fighting for my goals even when I felt like a total failure. It was this same faith that helped me climb out of this dark room, and helped me regain my composure.
And finally, after 4.5 long years, we discovered the answer to my dad’s mysterious illness. He was diagnosed with a very rare tumor, and by the grace of God, last April, doctors at Duke were able to remove the tumor successfully and he has been on the mend ever since.
I tell you this story because it was a challenge for me, but we stop encountering challenges just because we defeat one. We will encounter more trials. Life doesn’t get easier, we just become better equipped to handle the challenges that come our way.
That is what is so great about a school like Immaculata. This is a school whose academics revolve around a Catholic ethos, and this ethos mandates discipline. If you notice in our masses, we have to stand, to sit, to kneel, to sing. We have to speak at a certain volume and dress in a certain manner.
It’s ritualistic in nature, but that protocol, whether you know it or not, is creating something inside of you. It’s creating a fire that will linger in your soul far longer than you can imagine. It will light your way when you feel lost. It will spark a strength in you in moments when you need it the most. It will carry you in those difficult moments when you feel like you can’t bear the weight any longer.
As humans, we mess up sometimes. We make mistakes. We grow angry. We lose our faith. But what you learn here at Immaculata doesn’t just go away. You may think it does, you may even want to throw it away at some point, but it will never leave you.
No one can take this experience away from you, and no one can ever take your education away. So, even when you find yourself trying to stray from all that you’ve learned here, at some point this place and this faith will call you back home.
The lessons you learn at this school, those of discipline, sacrifice, perseverance, and kindness, these lessons will serve you well. Even when the world seems cruel, and people mock your beliefs or belittle your dreams, or tell you it can’t be done. Even when it seems like you can’t catch a break no matter how much you try, try harder.
Don’t give up.
As Coach Leo used to tell us:
Believe in yourself,
and remember that you are and always will be an Eagle, and Eagles don’t hide from the storm. Eagles soar above it.