Jessica Reigh Salutes NDA at TritonFest, Inspires Donors

Jessica Reigh, Guest Writer, Advanced Journalism

Editor’s Note:  Senior Jessica Reigh’s speech to the TritonFest guest/donors is reprinted below.  It is a testimony of what NDA has meant to her–and hopefully to many others.

It is difficult to answer the simple question of what Notre Dame has meant to me. It is as simple as saying that it is a second home but as complex as explaining how I will carry the lessons I’ve learned at Notre Dame Academy with me for the rest of my life.

A little bit about myself, my father was born and raised in Oshkosh, Wisconsin; my mother was born and raised in Concepcion, Paraguay. I grew up speaking both Spanish and English. I learned what it was like to be bold at a young age. When my mother and I would go out in public, I remember translating for my mom since the time I could speak. I’ve always learned to take the initiative in awkward situations, and because of that, it has made me the person I am.  Catholic education has always been a priority for my family. My mom and dad, who are here tonight, have demonstrated how important Catholic school is by sending my brother and me to St. Thomas More School, and then NDA. My brother who is a junior in college is currently studying abroad in Spain.

As I begin to tell you my journey of four years at Notre Dame Academy, I’d like you to keep in mind that I am one student out of 780, and although I may not speak for everyone, I know I speak for the majority of my friends who also feel this way.

My freshman year started with my joining the cross country team. I was shy, nervous, and had no expectations of what it was going to be like. I became friends with another freshman, Brianna, having no idea that she was about to enter the biggest struggle of her life. Within the first week of practice, Brianna was absent, and absent again week after week. It didn’t take long for people to start talking about what had happened. The first month of school, Brianna was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I did not know her that well, but I knew she had a strong supportive family at NDA that was always keeping in touch. As she continued through chemotherapy and began to gain strength back, she started to run again. The determination and perseverance Brianna showed inspired the team to do better.

And our junior year, Brianna and I found ourselves right next to each other at the starting line at the Cross-Country State Meet with high expectations of finishing first.  Two and a half miles later, the results were in, and we took second,  for the second year in a row. Frustration and anger was the attitude around us, but eventually we came to realize that a bigger battle was won–a teammate who had gained back the strength to singlehandedly lead our team to a state meet and to our second-place finish.

As training quickly began for the next CC season, motivation carried over, and we found ourselves at the state meet once again, with the exact same expectations. Any of you here who have ever been to a cross country meet, you know that the beginning is very hectic and out of control. When the gun went off, it was almost as if my mind went blank, knowing it was going to be my last race ever with the teammates I had grown so close to, but then I remembered our goals we had set my sophomore year, and that this was going to be the last chance I had to achieve them. Everything was going as planned until the first turn, when I collided with the girl who was a top favorite to win the entire race. I had never fallen before in a race; I was confused and wondered how this could happen in the last race of my career out of the 50 races I’d run before. I knew there was blood running down my leg from everyone else’s spikes, but I couldn’t let myself look down because it would make the pain even more real. In the split second I had to get up I had already lost my place with my running buddy Kristen, and that was pretty unusual for me. In the moment I decided to get up, I was reminded of a very important life lesson: to never give up and to always get up when life knocks you down. I ran the remainder of the race for my teammates who I knew depended on me, I ran for all the seniors, for my family, for my coaches and for my school. Brianna’s presence throughout the team was still felt, although she was unable to run at the state meet. Her little sister, Maria, was twice as motivated to run, knowing it would be for her older sister, and I for one was even more motivated than ever. Three miles later the results were in, and I’m glad to say this year we are State Champions.  (Loud applause from the crowd)

The four years on NDA’s Cross-Country team have been monumental in shaping me as an athlete–and as a Catholic. Coach Gard, who is also here tonight, starts off our week of practice with a little homily reflection he likes to call three- minute Mondays, and although sometimes they turn into 15-minute Mondays, the reminder that all the glory must go to God is always presented. This sport, which is very unforgiving, has made it easy to succeed because of the ND on our jerseys.  Knowing we run to represent our school has made all the difference.

And although that experience was extremely fun and unforgettable, that is not what Notre Dame prides itself on. It’s not about the state championships, the Mr. NDA pageants, or the best singers at Cabaret night. It’s about the relationships that come from these events.  It’s about the people you would never have imagined you’d become close with. It’s about stepping outside your comfort zone and experiencing everything NDA has to offer because the fact is that NDA educates the entire person. I cannot stress that enough. The relationships with Mr. Pauly, Mrs. Campbell, Madame Geyer, Mrs. Kirschling, Mr. Kriegl, Mrs. Thillman, the relationships with Tracy from Konop, they’re all meaningful and welcoming, because they all truly care about us and our future–and that is something not every school can offer. The camaraderie built within teams or the people at your lunch table are what I value from NDA.

Notre Dame is a special place to me in regards to growing as a person because of the retreats offered at every grade level. Now retreat days are always my favorite days because it is a time when your grade gathers as a community to talk about life and how it is filled with happiness and tragedies. I was lucky enough to be chosen as a retreat leader for the freshman retreat this month. Our group, filled with 12 ambitious freshman girls, had a lot to say about each other. They got to know each other’s fears and worries, and what makes them feel overjoyed. I was lucky enough to have a conversation with one of the girls, Zahyra, who explained to me how much the NDA community has helped her fit into the NDA culture. Zahyra told me that she stands out because she is the only person in the entire school wearing a hijab, a head cover. She is one of the very few Muslims at school, and her confidence wearing it everyday had inspired our entire group.  Zahyra, along with everyone else at NDA, fits into the community.  All God’s children are welcomed here without any fear, and that has made all the difference.

Deuteronomy chapter 15 verse 10 says, “Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” We cannot control many things in our lives, but what we do have control over are our attitudes and the choices that we make. In every situation you are given a choice. Choices that can change us, or choices that can benefit others. Remember who you are and where you came from– something said to us almost daily at NDA. All of you have a story, you all have struggles, you all have happy, joyful times, you’ve all felt what it was like to belong, what it was like to smile for no particular reason, and I guess I’m lucky  to say I get to experience that feeling of belonging everyday as I walk through the halls of  Notre Dame Academy. Please help others feel that way as well.

Thank you for investing in my education these four years. I would not be here today if it wasn’t for your generosity– so please help those who will be here next year experience everything that I’ ve experienced and more.