Dear Cathedral High School (CHS) in Springfield, MA:
This may come as no surprise, but I didn't really like you.
Perhaps much of this sentiment comes with the nature of any awkward, pubescent boy in high school -- enduring a slow, four-year term of strange proportionality, a squeaky voice and not totally fitting into the stereotypical jock/nerd/insert late '90s high school clique.
Quick refresher on me, as I know you've graduated thousands: I'm class of 2002, a good student, average athlete and had an underperforming popularity quotient -- punctuated by accidentally making a female classmate cry during our annual Model Senate, dashing any long shot hopes of my dark horse candidacy as her prom date. Ah, now you remember. I doubt my experience is unique in your 131-year history of educating students in Western Massachusetts -- trepidation and timidity seem timeless whether you were a CHS panther in the 1890's or 1990's.
Yet, with hindsight comes clarity and the merits of a quality alma mater shine brightest in young adult retrospect. Looking back, you were profoundly characteristic of the Latin for which alma mater translates: nourishing mother.
You formed me, Cathedral High School. You took an impressionable 13-year old and introduced me to Holden Caulfield, the burning brightness of magnesium, and allowed me to grow wiser in the agony of both AP Calculus and the Book of Job. You reminded me everyday the importance of holistic education, shared in the cacophony of special intentions and prayer before each class and said it was not just acceptable, but pro forma for "Our Lady Queen of Victory" to pray for us before our track meets. You made me want to continue on at a Catholic college. You inspired me to continue to serve the Church. Your stewards were more than faculty, but religious and intellectual role models for how not to just be good but to go out and do good in the world. You instilled in me the importance of using any God-given skills to help all that is sacred and important in this complex world.
Especially today, it is important that you remain sacred in this complex world.
And like a good son, I now elect to do the nourishing for my alma mater who has fallen on hard times -- from badly navigated tornadoes to economic and social trends happening in Catholic communities in urban cities across the Northeast. I will let others write about the minutia of your challenges and your successes; varying efforts in both fundraising and new strategies for enrollment, advances in your International Baccalaureate curriculum and prowess in athletics and community service. There has been enough debate and written content on strategy (and whether) or where you should be rebuilt -- that is not what I offer you in this letter.
Rather, it is that peculiar intangible of love that I would like to bring to the front; that special love one has for a mother. Even more transcendent, it is the love that a mother has for her children and something we all know as CHS grads -- the immutable bond a collective base of alumni brothers and sisters all share with you.
You, my alma mater -- while I certainly did not like you, I unabashedly love you.
I refuse to write your eulogy today. I refuse to give up on all that you were, are, and can be for the Pioneer Valley and beyond -- and you've taught me how one voice, pubescent or post-pubescent, in a grand chorus of your graduates can bend the sentiment of a thoughtful leader towards measuring impact and relevance with levers of virtue and faith in a fervent institutional soul.
This is my love letter to you, Cathedral High School. Thanks for helping me write it.
(Class of 2002)
Matt Weber is a digital strategist at Harvard University and still, somewhat strangely proportioned.