On Friday, May 11th, Lauren Grahek will don her cap and gown and become a member of the 60th graduating class of Monroe. We have a tendency to think of 60 years as short period of time. It is not. When I think of how much this world has changed over my 47 years, I realize 60 years is something to be in awe over. Imagine Lauren Grahek coming back sixty years from now to enjoy the 120th graduation. The very idea makes me wonder what it will be like for Robert Nelson and Mary Thomason, two of the five surviving members of the very first class to graduate at Monroe, as they return to celebrate graduation.
Sixty years ago, did Mr. Nelson and Mrs. Thomason have any inclination these schools would still be here? Could they ever have imagined we would grow and become who we are today? The question that concerns me most today is, what does Lauren imagine? What does she envision for these schools in sixty years?
Let’s start with a history lesson. ICS opened its doors in 1946 as a partnership between the Sisters of Providence and the Society of Jesus. The Sisters ran the hospital (now Denali State Bank) and the Jesuits staffed Immaculate Conception Church. It’s one thing to have a vision; it is an entirely different matter to see that vision through, to make it a reality. This is what those amazing folks did — they saw a dream through to fruition. Through the struggle of those earlier years and the struggles that would inevitably come and go, the Jesuits and the Sisters always believed they “could.” They believed in each other, in the kids and families they worked with, and in the Community they worked in.
If Lauren imagines a 120th graduation, she is also smart enough to know it will come with challenges and struggle, just as the previous sixty years brought. She will, with great conviction, believe these struggles serve as a means to help us continue to grow stronger as a community. She will see them as necessary and if I know Lauren, she will play a significant role in taking on these challenges as they come, just like her grandma has.
These challenges have included the Sisters of Providence leaving the schools during the 1960s and the Society of Jesus following suit through the ’70s. Many an alum has expressed their shock over financial struggles to me, explaining, “My parents were able to pay, so parents today should be able to do the same.” Yes, but no. Those parents did not have to bear the burden of teacher salaries and benefits in the ’60s and a large portion of the ’70s. Teachers who were provided through lay service and ministry are no longer here. The burden, in its entirety, must be born by us. Today’s challenges include not only having to bear the cost of our staff, but to do so with the growing force of homeschooling and every Tom, Dick and Harry opening a charter school or magnet school. These challenges will be faced head-on and we will prevail. There will be other challenges, and we will yet again, prevail. We will do so through the belief, faith and indomitable spirit that has been pervasive through sixty years and will be stronger in 120 years.
It is this spirit that Skip Johnson brought with him this winter. What is it about these schools that a man in his 70s, who was never more than the “short guy who was on the team so they would have enough players,” would arrange his travel to Fairbanks to see his 98-year-old mother, around our basketball schedule? I recently had the pleasure of talking to Mr. Johnson and this was his explanation: “Monroe creates the opportunity for its students to develop a personal value system which leads to success, at a level better than anyone. I was blessed with nine children and all of them have had success in life. I attribute their success to the Jesuit education I received and was able to instill in them.”
Wow. Those words hit me and truly impacted me. As I spoke to Mr. Johnson, I could envision Tommy Bast traveling back to Fairbanks to see his elderly mother, Suzan (if I am correct, she too would be 98 in sixty years) and planning his trip around the basketball schedule. I believe, with all my heart, the shared history and love for these schools between Mr. Johnson and Tommy is the fabric that binds us all, that makes us one. As I often tell my players, these schools do not need to be here. They are here because of us and most certainly because of those who came before us. Lathrop? West Valley? They HAVE to be here. We do not. Talking with Mr. Johnson gives me hope. I have great confidence my players will become what Mr. Johnson is — a loyal, passionate supporter of who we are and who we will become.
The 60th graduation will serve as an opportunity to honor our past, while celebrating our present and working to ensure our future. On the evening of Friday, May 11, we will watch with pride as our seniors toss their caps and celebrate the completion of just one of their many life journeys.
The following Saturday, we will rub shoulders with our past. We will be afforded an opportunity to share in the memories of Mr. Nelson and Mrs. Thomason and discuss the majesty of all they have seen throughout their lives. We will be able to share in the wisdom of Sister Helen Brennan, SP, who taught 3rd grade at ICS from 1957-1964. We will be able to celebrate Mass with Fr. Steve Sundborg, SJ, the President of Seattle University. In doing so, we can ask him what it was like for him as a sophomore attending the Catholic Schools of Fairbanks in 1958-59. I imagine Lauren Grahek having this discussion with Father Sundborg and comparing her experience with his. How different it must have been . . . or perhaps, it really wasn’t that different at all.
Finally, we will be given an opportunity to help ensure the reality of a 120th graduation through our inaugural spring fundraiser. A spring fundraiser has been long overdue. While our enrollment has grown, the growth, though steady, has been slower than I would like. Through the generous donations of Becky and Bert Bell, Skip and Linda Johnson, Judi and Mike Grahek, Sandra and Jim Haselberger, Barb and Tim Cerny and a "Friend of the School,” we have raised $100K. This $100K is contingent on our raising of another $100K through the generosity of our Community. The link to the fundraiser is: catholic-schools.org/donate.
This fundraiser will grow and become a staple in our schools in the same way HIPOW has. This money will allow our school to not simply survive, but thrive. Our resolve will never waiver and our school will grow. Lauren will return in sixty years and when she does, she will shed tears as the memories of her time here intermingle with the pride of knowing we are still making a difference in the lives of so many. She will know that who she is is because of who we are. I will be long gone, but I will look down on Lauren and the rest and I will smile, because I will remember the weekend of May 11th and 12th, 2018, and I will smile at the memories of seeing Mr. Nelson, Mrs. Thomason and Sister Helen. I will remember the Homily of Fr. Sundborg. I will know I made a difference.
Coach Frank Ostanik
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