Kailey Barthel (Submitted photo courtesy of Barthel family)

Last fall, my husband Mark and I drove our daughter Kailey to Madison to begin her college career at the University of Wisconsin. On our journey, I recalled a similar time four years ago, when I drove Kailey to Divine Savior Holy Angels to start her high school career.

Like many students making the transition from elementary to high school, Kailey left the familiar environment she’d known since kindergarten. While excited to attend high school in general and DSHA in particular, as that first day grew closer, reality sunk in for Kailey. She would be immersed in new experiences, with new people, in new surroundings. Her familiar sense of belonging would be gone.

Those first few days at DSHA made me sad for Kailey. I could tell she was struggling with her place in her new school – or at least with what she thought her place would be. Many times we’d get to school too early for her comfort. So we’d sit in a nearby parkway for a short while, me trying to make conversation so as to put Kailey at ease. Many mornings after dropping her off, I’d say a silent prayer that Kailey would soon feel comfortable in her new environment.

I didn’t have to wait long for my prayers to be answered. Within a few weeks, Kailey was forging her own path through her new world. She began to tell us about her new friends and favorite teachers. She came out of her tendency to remain in the background and joined activities, such as Latin Club and track.

The evolution continued that first year and throughout her time at DSHA. She experienced success as a runner, artist and student and her confidence grew with each success and the support of her teachers and fellow students. By senior year, the problem we faced was not getting to school too early each day, but not getting her there fast enough for her to reconnect with her life as a Dasher!

Over the summer between high school and college, Kailey and I looked back at her high school years. I wondered if she felt as good about them as a student as Mark and I did as her parents. “DSHA helped me to build confidence in myself,” she said. “You know, I’m a pretty quiet person but I feel more confident now than I did before I went to DSHA. I’m not afraid to try new things and I am not as shy about meeting new people. And I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of my faith. That kind of goes along with the confidence thing; I feel comfortable talking about my faith with others.”

This fall, when we drove her to Madison to embark on another four years of new beginnings, we felt the same emotions we felt four years ago: Excitement, but also concern for how Kailey would adjust. I had warned her countless times through the summer that she may feel very overwhelmed in the first few days and weeks at college, but she needed to resist the temptation to build walls of self-protection, and, worse, decide to chuck it all and come home.

To our great happiness, Kailey felt none of those emotions. She’s made a lot of new friends and has remained true to her values, despite plenty of opportunities to go along with the tide. She’s joined a few student groups and surprised us all – including herself, by becoming a novice on the rowing team.

As parents, we looked for a school that would be academically rigorous and would support our daughter’s Catholic upbringing. With DSHA we got this and so much more. DSHA has given Kailey the freedom to imagine her possibilities, to challenge assumptions she may have had about herself, and the confidence to advocate for herself and defend her values. They’ve helped her to find her voice, and, more importantly, encouraged her in not being afraid to use it.

As we pulled out of the parking lot of Kailey’s dorm and waved goodbye to our college freshman, I said another silent prayer, as I did so many times that fall, four years ago. Only this time, they were prayers of thanks for this confident young woman DSHA helped to develop.