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Four Years at the Mount

This month our writers sat down with the Alumni of Emmitsburg High School at their 93rd annual alumni banquet to reminisce on the value of education they have received at the High School, which closed in 1969.

Reflections on the high school reunions

November 2017

A blossoming gratitude

Kaitlyn Marks
MSM Class of 2021

Each morning as I start my day, bright sunlight beaming over the vibrant autumnal colors surrounding me, I take the quiet time to think about the privilege that it is to be at a place such as this. The Mount, which has rapidly become another home to me, is an environment where education is a priority. However, I have learned more about what education means in the approximately two months I have been here than I had ever thought possible.

In every way, education is about growth. To become educated is to become more; it is to become someone new, better, whole. Spiritually, academically, and emotionally, education is a powerful tool with which one can grasp the world’s opportunities and grow towards success and a bright future.

This month, I had the wonderful opportunity to get to know some of the alumni of Emmitsburg High School by attending the 93rd Annual Emmitsburg High School Alumni Banquet. As I looked over the memorabilia, photographs, and the people themselves attending the banquet, I felt the strongest sense of community. It became clear to me that Emmitsburg High was more than a school; rather, it was a community where a sense of belonging and possibility was fostered in each of its members.

Tasked with interviewing alumni, I will admit I was a bit nervous. I feel so overwhelmed with gratitude to be writing for this paper, and to meet such interesting and inspirational people each day. I spoke to one of the most interesting women I’ve ever met at the banquet, and am beyond happy to have experienced her wisdom and grace. My nerves about doing an interview quickly dissipated as Carolyn Lewis, class of 1967, started by telling me her philosophy of life. "I live by a philosophy. That philosophy is, I don’t want to go through life, I want to grow through life. And you grow through the people you meet. You grow through the books you read, and you grow through travelling, which I do all of."

As I spoke to Carolyn, I could not help the pride and inspiration I felt as she detailed how her education shaped who she is now, so many years later. Explaining how the philosophy by which she lives came about, she mentioned gratitude towards her English teacher, who inspired her to read more. Presently, she reads two books per week and works at the Thurmont Library part time, and her English Literature and English Composition teacher was a big inspiration to her in creating the love of reading that she has today.

An educationally-fostered love of reading is something I am grateful to have experienced throughout my life as well. Since I was little, I could be found curled up with piles of books, and that has not changed as I have gotten older. This passion was nourished by special teachers along the way. In elementary school, my fifth grade English teacher, Ms. Haddaway, dealt with my overenthusiasm for all things literary and did not get frustrated with me (or too frustrated, I should say) when I turned in one reading log per week for fun instead of the small number that were required per quarter. In middle school, I was graced with experiencing many wonderful teachers, especially my caring and lovely sixth grade English teacher, Ms. Calhoun, who I ran into recently and was beyond overjoyed and grateful for. In eighth grade, I had an outstanding English teacher, Ms. Basil, who challenged us and cared for us with equal fierceness, and went above and beyond to ensure my success. Without these fundamental people within my education, I would not be the person or the writer I am today.

Carolyn explained that Emmitsburg High was a school that took many trips, leading her to the current love she has for travelling. In 1964, she attended the World Fair on a bus, and today she travels often. Education involves embracing culture and experiencing new places. Through college, my worldview will develop and grow as I travel and experience courses, peers, and professors that expose me to the brilliance of the world. However, the small, individualized education at Emmitsburg High also made her education valuable. When comparing today’s larger-scale education with the education she received, Carolyn drew one conclusion I agree with completely. "I think that so many children get lost today…I think they’re just overlooked, and in our school, nothing like that could ever happen."

When education is based around smaller classes and caring teachers, students feel like they are valuable and capable of excelling in their education and in life. In high school, some of my classes made me feel like I had the potential and capability to do anything I could dream of. In AP Biology, with Mrs. Riddle, I felt overwhelmed by a challenge so great, and learned that with hard work, sacrifices, and a supportive teacher, I could overcome whatever obstacles I faced in my education and in life.

I became grateful for curiosity, for the ability to make discoveries, and the chance to see dedication pay off. In AP Language and Composition, Mr. Bouselli pushed me to become the best writer I could be and made personal connections to help her students become better students, writers, and people. I learned to appreciate the gift of being able to understand other’s stories through reading, of being able to craft my own works of writing, of expressing my thoughts with a pen and changing someone’s mind through that power.

Carolyn ended our interview by proclaiming her love for life as a whole. "I just find life interesting. It’s so exciting, there’s so much out there!"

As life evolves, grows, and blossoms around me, education allows me to grow right along with it. Meeting such wonderful alumni at the banquet provided me with the insights I needed to be more humble and grateful for my own education, both to this point and in the future. In talking to Carolyn, I found that she was able to verbalize a gratitude for the way education fits into our lives in a way I adore. I feel so grateful for each person I meet, book I read, paper I write and professor I listen to. Without education, I could not be the person I am now, or the person I am destined to become. I am so appreciative to the teachers I have had along the way, to my parents and family for supporting me in every educational and life goal I dreamed up, to the education I am receiving for shaping me and allowing me the chance to shape the world myself.

Read other articles by Kaitlyn Marks


The Emmitsburg High School

The Emmitsburg High School on South Seton Avenue which was built in 1922 and is now known as the Emmitsburg Community Center. The three-story building once housed first through 11th grades. The basement consisted of the cafeteria, where dishes were washed by hand and upper grade students helped serve meals and did clean up each day in exchange for a free lunch; a music room; the furnace room, which had a coal bin, steam-producing furnace and the janitor's quarters occupied by 'Pappy' Kugler, who cleaned the whole school by himself; the Industrial Arts room, which was a shop where only the men could learn about woodworking, etc.; and a room that served as the biology/lab and physics area.

There was one bathroom for the boys and one for the girls and two storage areas. On the first floor, where the main entrances were located, a library was to the left of the front door and the principal's office and storage area for the teachers' supplies were to the right.

There were classrooms for first, second, third, fourth and sixth grades with stairwells at either end. On the second floor was the fifth grade, the algebra/math, Latin/English, and History classrooms plus the gym/ auditorium and the Home Economics room with two storage rooms. One Storage room served as a Sick Room sometimes.

Kids arrived at school on one of the many buses or walked the streets and alleys through Emmitsburg to our daily destination in the rain, snow, sleet, wind and boiling hot sun. There were no parents driving the children to school. The children who lived on Waynesboro Road had no bus service and therefore walked the greatest distance to school.

At recess time in the spring students would be given us paper grocery bags and we would go out on the lawn and pick dandelion blossoms. The blossoms were used to make wine.

Seventh grade was the first year that students changed classrooms for various subjects, which meant those ringing bells become a major item in their daily lives and not just a signal to board the bus for home. Seventh grade curriculum included or Latin, Industrial Arts [Shop] for the boys, and Home Economics for the girls.

In 1949 the high school realm faced a big change. The school grades were first through 11, but the Board of Education decided another grade should be added to make the school period first through 12 years to earn a diploma.

The first of May was a very special day of activities for the entire school to participate in. There was the crowning of the May Queen and her court (all senior girls) usually escorted by the boys; the May Pole with all elementary classes dancing around the pole. Then the Home Economics’ girls put on a fashion show wearing their creations sewn over the year. The shop boys displayed of their woodworking projects. The school orchestra and Glee Club performed.

In 1951 rumors were flying about that an addition was in the process for our school.

The addition would consist of an auditorium-gymnasium, one classroom, a kitchen and cafeteria, showers and dressing rooms for each gender, and storage rooms for the sum of $185.740. This addition was added to the south end of the existing building. The original 1922 cornerstone of the high school was not removed and was covered by the new construction.

At Christmas it was a custom of the high school to place a large tree in the main hallway facing the front entrance. It was the responsibility of the juniors and seniors to get the tree and decorate and care for the tree during the holiday season. Every morning a different class would gather around the tree and sing one or two carols, which was the beginning of the day's activities. The tree had to be dismantled the day before holiday vacation.


The World in my Backyard

Shea Rowell
Class of 2019

As a college student at the Mount, education surrounds me. My weekly schedule consists of many hours spent in classes, co-curriculars, and work study. The rest are spent doing homework at various locations on campus, reading, studying, or writing essays (and newspaper articles!) and praying in one of the many campus chapels that the end of the semester will bring decent grades and preferably cancelled final exams! Education saturates my life so much that I fear it dulls my own sense of how valuable it truly is, and how fortunate I am to have such an opportunity. Amid the whirlwind of due dates, late nights and other academic anxieties, it rarely crosses my mind at all.

I’ve always had a passion for learning. I owe this passion largely to my parents, who instilled in me the true importance of education. Learning, they always told me, would open doors in my future that were closed to them. If I worked hard enough, education could give me the gift of choosing my own path in life. I have always taken this advice very seriously. However, it never occurred to me before my arrival at the Mount that the most valuable experience of education may not be the book learning at all.

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the Emmitsburg High School alumni Reunion. This event is highly anticipated and well-attended. For many, this event is a solemn and sentimental one, as the school closed in 1969, when it merged with Cacoctin High School. The closing had a particularly sad impact on the students, as what they universally valued the most about their Emmitsburg High School years was their sense of community identity. Most of the graduating classes had between twelve and twenty students. Each class was small and intimate, and their relationships made their community strong. Wanda Meadows Valentine, C’68, said that her favorite part about EHS was its small size. She said, "I liked being part of a small school… You knew everybody and who they were related to." The family mentality at EHS is one that very few schools today can replicate, but it gave the EHS graduates a sense of belonging and community obligation which influenced their post-graduation careers.

However, EHS also gave its students the education they needed to spread their wings and leave the community after graduation. When asked why he was thankful for his EHS education, Gene Toms, C’50, jokingly replied, "Well, it got me off the farm for a few years." He then reflected on one of the most influential figures at EHS, principal Jones. He said that Mr. Jones was very strict but had a good heart. Mr. Toms knew he was a good man when Shirley Jones, Mr. Jones’ daughter, was hosting a dance. Mr. Toms was the only person in the class without the transportation to attend the dance after school. However, Mr. Jones would not allow Gene to be left out. Mr. Toms said that Mr. Jones "came clear up the mountain and said, ‘you’re going to the dance!’" Mr. Jones’ combination of integrity and discipline would become a powerful example for Mr. Toms, as he went on to serve four years in the navy immediately after graduation.

For both alumni, it was the community that truly inspired them to excel. This community identity is an element that they fear is missing from schools today. Of course, there are positive elements to expanding the community of education. Today’s public schools strive to offer people from different areas, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds access to the same opportunities. This is an achievement of the public education system that should be celebrated. However, as 100-student lecture halls replace 20-student classrooms, what is lost is interpersonal education. There is little class discussion, if any, and the professor does not know the names of his or her students. Misunderstandings between teacher and student are rarely addressed. The communication is one-sided. The professor speaks and the class listens, hopefully memorizing his or her words. This is an efficient way to absorb the maximum amount of knowledge in the least amount of time. But is this all education is about?

As a Mount student, I am spoiled with the best of both words. Our undergraduate class of 1,500 students is large enough to be inclusive, but small enough to maintain a family-like atmosphere. My classes rarely exceed 20 students, and lecture and discussion are used in tandem. My professors are always available to answer questions after class, or to provide helpful feedback and advice specific to my work. Seniors attend "Ott’s nights" with professors in their department. The campus chaplain, Fr. Brian, will stop you on your way to class to ask how you’re doing, always meeting you with a smile. Students maintain a supportive community of their own, and due to the core curriculum, can discuss this morning’s philosophy class, or yesterday’s theology paper with solidarity.

There are a lot of reasons to be grateful for education. It is a springboard toward a successful career. It has given me a different and constantly widening view of the world around me. It has introduced me to people who inspire me to work passionately toward my goals. It is an opportunity that I cannot take for granted, for the generosity and kindness of others has made it possible. Most importantly, it has given me the community experience and values that Ms. Valentine and Mr. Toms valued so much in their own education. I am grateful for the professors who take time out of their lives to get to know their students. I am grateful for the administrators who ensure the welfare of all students and faculty, and allow everyone a chance to be heard. I am thankful for the students who have made themselves part of the Mount family, and who have welcomed me into it with open arms. Like the EHS alumni, I am thankful for the book learning and for the opportunities education provides, but in the end, I owe it all to the support of the Mount community.

Read other articles by Shea Rowell


These precious few

Sarah Muir
MSM Class of 2018

This past month, alumni of Emmitsburg High School met for the 93rd Annual Alumni Banquet. In honor of the event, I sat down with Mary-Catherine Shields who was part of the class of 1954 and spent 37 years as secretary for the alumni committee, to discuss not only the history of the school, but the impact it has had on herself and others who had the pleasure of being a part of the school.

The school, built in 1922 is now the Emmitsburg Town Offices and Community Center. It remained a fixture of the community for forty-seven years before it merged with Thurmont Catoctin High School in 1969. The elementary school followed suit in 1982. Between the opening of the school and its closing, it brought together the lives of so many individuals into a patchwork family that stretches through the generations.

The graduating class of 1954 contained thirteen people. Twelve of them were together since 1942 when they started first grade at Emmitsburg Elementary and the thirteenth was a German exchange student who was quickly welcomed into their little family. The public school had grades first through eighth and fed into the High School. During this time, World War II was in full swing and Emmitsburg Elementary along with schools in the surrounding area experienced a teacher shortage and frequent air raid drills: "One thing I do remember about first grade," recalled Shields, "we used to have to practice air raids…everybody was assigned a spot. You either had to crawl under a desk or crawl under a table…or have to go to the back of the cloak room. You had a corner assigned to you…They had this drill siren and that meant everyone would take cover till the all clear…". For some reason, this was one of the stories that stuck out to me. It is an experience shared by those in that generation that no other generation has had to experience and one that, I hope, no future generation will have to live through. These shared experiences, even though they were filled with fear and uncertainty, are highlighted by the unity those that live through them will have forever. In the case of the class of 1954 the stories they have to share take place in many highs and lows of our country’s history. Mary-Catherine Shields wrote a letter for the 50th reunion highlighting what the class lived through:

"…We heard and lived through World War II and saw our family members go off to war; some returned, some did not and some came back wounded. All were heroes. As we advanced through the grades, we learned what friends mean and how to survive as a close-knit group. I guess, ‘All for one and one for all,’ would describe our brood. We lived through the years of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only president to be elected to three full terms in office. Then we saw Harry S. Truman and the first A-bomb. There was the first Catholic president elected [who is] was the youngest man elected to date. We experienced the Korean Conflict, the Bay of Pigs and the brutal slaying of J.F.K. We saw a great general serve our country in the White House, Dwight D. Eisenhower. [We] experienced the political corruption through Richard M. Nixon and Watergate. [We saw] the first space craft to leave U.S. soil and an American take the first step on the moon. There was the Vietnam War, the economic downslide and the election of a movie star to the White House, Ronald Regan. [We lived to see] the Berlin Wall [cone] down and Germany was reunited…We have seen the Middle East conflicts, the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York, terror striking the U.S.A and many points of the world…"

Having been a part of small schools most of my life, I can attest that to go to a small school is to have a family that exists outside of blood. You grow up with people and have years of shared memories and experiences that you can find nowhere else in life. The alumni of Emmitsburg High School vary in age from mid-sixties to nineties. Even though generations of people exist within that range, they all have the open point of contact that is the memories of their school and the family pride that came with it. When a school closes, it affects more than just the people that attend it. It also affects the people who have been marked by it; the lives that were touched and changed during the time when its doors were open.

"What do you think was lost when the two schools merged?" I asked her. Her response was touching and filled me with a sense of nostalgia, "The family feeling, the closeness, the comradeship—You know it was one for all. I mean when one got in trouble we all got in trouble. It was how it was all through school…What pain one family felt, another family felt, because we were so close…we knew everybody’s history, really. It was like if a family needed help, everybody was there to help. It was the same way in the classes we were in. If we knew one student was failing we’d all step in and drill those kids and do everything in our power to make sure they would pass, so that we wouldn’t be separated. And I don’t think you have that today...and you cannot break that feeling because it has come down through families."

The memory of any great thing lives on in the stories that live after it. A school like Emmitsburg Public High School will continue to survive in the multitude of histories that live on in the minds and voices of those that were blessed to have walked its halls.

Read other articles by Sarah Muir

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