The scene at St. Louis U. High was somewhat like a circus on Tuesday, May 5 when faculty and staff welcomed seniors and their families back onto campus for a farewell “Driving of the Bills” parade. Crowds flocked to the Backer Memorial in cars decorated with paint and posters, Social Studies Department chair Kevin Foy and math teacher Craig Hinders juggled for the passing cars, snacks and merchandise were provided to attendees, and announcers livened up the event. The spectacle was surely a memorable one for the 238 attending seniors making one of their last trips to campus before starting college in the fall, and it was one of a few special end of year events that took place over the seniors’ final days.
With the seniors’ last day of classes on May 4, Assistant Principal for Student Life Brock Kesterson and head of security Dan Schulte wanted to plan something special for the outgoing seniors to gain some version of closure in the current once-in-a-century circumstances. The main office amigos tasked themselves with creating a uniquely SLUH event, and once Kesterson came up with the name, they knew they had an event worthy of celebrating the class of 2020.
“We were trying to think of a way to honor (the seniors) in a SLUH way,” said Schulte. “A lot of people are doing the drive through, parade things, and they’re great, but we had to find a way to make it SLUH. With Driving of the Bills, it was the same gate (the seniors) ran into as freshmen, and that’s the gate they would drive out of. It was perfect.”
After teachers were on board, it took the community’s help to get everything in order, but the SLUH faculty and staff threw themselves at the whole idea. iLab director Jeff Schaefer made the professional-looking signs lining the circle, Food Service Consultant Kathy Hylla cooked up the bosco sticks, and Director of Admissions Ann Murphy brought along her alumnus son Andrew, ’16, to emcee the livestream.
When the night finally came, Schulte and Kesterson were in awe of the turnout.
“Dr. K and I went to the Science Center lot, and just saw cars and cars, and we didn’t know what to do,” said Schulte. “We were just like ‘gosh, how are we going to control this mob.’ It couldn't have made Dr. K and I prouder to be a part of it.”
Once the festivities were underway, the excitement of the event was so high that when Chinese teacher Yude Huang saw the turnout of the event on the livestream at home, he immediately drove to SLUH to join the SLUH family in its celebration.
“Once he saw all the faculty members and all the students he drove there to be with everybody,” said Schulte. “It was awesome.”
Seniors also reacted well to the bittersweet celebration with the general consensus being that the event was the best possible gesture given the unfortunate circumstances.
“It was so great to have been with all my classmates and teachers and to feel like a community again,” said senior Fitz Cain. “Obviously this isn’t the send-off anyone wanted or expected, but it felt good to be surrounded by that energy. Driving through that stadium and being cheered on by the SLUH faculty was honestly overwhelming, but I’m still happy we got the chance to feel that community even just for a bit.”
In addition to the Driving of the Bills, teachers and other members of the community posted remarks to sluh.org/classof2020 to wish the graduating students well in the future and to specifically shout out groups of seniors that made a lasting impact on their time being in and around SLUH.
English teacher Jamie Cordia turned her words of gratitude into action on May 4, delivering personalized messages and gift bags to her Senior English Capstone course students at their homes.
“The whole reason I got into teaching was working with students, so the transition to Distance Learning was challenging for me because it took away all the fun parts of teaching,” said Cordia. “So I guess in a way this was a selfish motivation. I wanted to do something engaging with the kids again.”
After working with campus minister Julie Anderson to bake cookies and prepare gift bags and letters, Cordia trekked in her car across the city from morning until dark.
“I just hopped in my car with a full cup of coffee, and I was just smiling all day,” said Cordia. “It was just really good for my soul in a lot of ways to be able to do something to show some care and compassion for my students again.”
Peers and students of Cordia’s expressed gratitude for her hard work to keep the sense of community alive by fully embracing SLUH’s values in her first year at the U-High.
“Ms. Cordia is the best,” said Cain. “I feel like she’s just gone above and beyond in every way this year. … It was such a nice surprise to get to see her in person on the last day of school. I could tell how much thought she put into our little goodie bags, and the fact that she drove all around St. Louis to deliver them in person shows how dedicated she is to her students.”
“Jamie Cordia couldn't be more of a rockstar teacher. I mean, what a rookie of the year far and away in my eyes,” said Schulte.”
While the Class of 2020 couldn’t finish out their year in a traditional way, it was nice for both faculty and students alike to get some sense of closure to finish off the year. Prom, the Baccalaureate Dinner and Mass, and Graduation have been rescheduled for July 23, 24, and 25 respectively, but for the time being, last week’s festivities will serve as a sense of closure for the outgoing class.
“It made us so happy to see all of (the seniors),” said Schulte. “As much as I said I can’t stand you kids, I love you guys. When I got to see (the seniors) again, it was so hard not to hug every single one of (them). It was great; I loved it.”