Illiana really has changed who I am as a person, and certainly for the better. When I look back to who I was when I came into Illiana and who I am now, several things about myself are unrecognizable. Coming into illiana, I was very self-conscience, confused on who I was and didn’t know where my talents and gifts were. Illiana helped me through each of these areas of my life.
Walking into the halls of Illiana the first real day of school, the one with all the scary upperclassmen, I was terrified. I had no older siblings. I didn’t know a lot of people from the feeder schools and I was terrible at talking to people I didn’t know (still working on this one). Well, here I was, my best friend’s shadow. I felt like everyone else knew people and everyone else was so funny and I was just kinda there. This isn’t how it stayed though. I ended up getting involved with several sports, various clubs and a few singing groups. These helped me find confidence. I no longer needed to be the funniest one there. I didn’t need to talk to every single person in the halls. That just wasn’t me. But through all of the programs Illiana offers, I was able to find what was me. The different coaches and instructors in all of these activities pushed me to realize that I’m not living in someone’s shadow. I can make my own story if I just step out and try.
Illiana also encouraged me to step out of my normal thought process. Now, I know Illiana may not be the most diverse environment, but it does have many different views. I love how the teachers here give you options. They don’t just cram ideas into your head. They want to hear what you have to say. They want you to develop into what you were supposed to be, not a miniature version of themselves. In many of my classes, being presented with options was a pleasant surprise. It caused me to think about what I actually believe and what makes sense to me. It gave me the chance to learn who I really was and what was important to me. This helped me become more secure in myself, leading me to grow and mature.
Somewhat tieing with my first point, Illiana helped me learn where my gifts and talents really were. Illiana is a place that allows you to explore what you were created to do and how you can help others. Through sports, like volleyball, tennis, basketball and soccer, through singing, like Chambers and Fine Arts, and through other groups, like Praise Crowd and Big Brother/Big Sister, I was clearly able to see where my gifts and talents were. Maybe I don’t make people laugh so hard their stomach hurts, but I am a good leader. Maybe I’m not the most outgoing person ever, but I am very organized. I learned that even though I wasn’t some of these things, I was still appreciated and cherished. I still made a difference.
Illiana was the place where I really found myself. I know I know, that sounds so cliche, but really. As a senior looking back, Illiana was the best thing that ever happened to me. I learned so many lessons here, some I had fun learning and some took their toll on me, but they taught me so much. In these halls, I began to stand up for myself. I learned who I was and what I believed. I found my gifts and talents. I’m excited to use the things Illiana has taught me when I leave these halls at the end of this school year.
This is dedicated to the kid sitting in the audience not wanting to go here because he just doesn’t care. I’ll let you in on a secret. I was that kid. When I first came to Illiana I was a fourteen-year-old boy with no friends because he came to a school where he knew no one. Now finishing up my senior I’m a seventeen-year-old boy who’s made a ton of friends. Illiana is a school very different from many other schools. I think me coming from a public school gives me a bit more insight on how different it actually is from other schools. I remember coming to preview my eighth-grade year and dreading every minute of it. I didn’t want to hear anything about Illiana, I didn’t want to give it a chance because the minute I started to cave in and deal with the reality of being in a place where I knew no one. Yes, when I came to Illiana it was very scary. The pressure of your first day of high school, making new friends, not knowing what to expect from a private school, figuring out why exactly we had a break period was very nerve wrecking; but with God’s help very fear I had faded away.
A few months in I managed to make exactly one friend. Yes. Had managed to go all the way to Christmas break making a total of one friend. Not because no one was willing, but I was stubborn but so was the kid trying to get me to be his friend. That kid doesn’t go here anymore, but when I came back from Christmas break of my freshman year something changed. I had no longer wanted to be at a different school, but I decided to give Illiana a true chance. If the murals on the wall weren’t enough to reel me in the fact that the teachers actually cared did. In my entire school career, I have never felt more genuinely from a teacher that they actually cared about how I felt. I’m telling you that’s not something to you’ll find at a public School. I can’t even remember all the times I heard this infamous line in elementary school “I get paid whether you learn or not.” Here it is I come to Illiana and the teachers here get paid less than any of my other teachers, and they actually cared. One of the ways I saw that they cared was the work they give. Illiana is an academically challenging school if I’ve ever seen one. It’s not that the work is undoable it’s just you have to care about it….And actually, do it.
Fast forward about a year later, I was settled in Illiana. I had quite a few friends by the end of my freshman year and I was even starting to show my true self. Funny thing that chapel theme my freshman year was “Take off the mask” and the whole time I’m just like “nope I’ll keep it on.” Getting back to the subject, I joined the drama department. That was something I cared about. I went from “Johnathan Lightfoot as Townsperson” to “Johnathan Lightfoot as Snoopy.” At Illiana, there’s a family of people who care so much more about you than you even realize. Teachers will stay after hours to help you understand the lesson you were struggling with. Students here will pray with you and stay up till twelve o’clock at night with you just so you feel like you’re cared about. I know what my problem was the first semester of freshman year. I was so used to people not caring, it was so hard to accept the fact that people do care about me. I’m not saying Illiana is the perfect school because if we were we’d probably be filled up to capacity. What I am saying is that here you’ll find people who care about you and I know from experience that’s something you’ll find in many places.
Hello, my name is Austin Ohm. As a senior, I’ve been reflecting on my four years at Illiana and I’ve come to realize that Illiana has been a great high school for me and has given me many opportunities. I have been greatly influenced by the business classes Illiana has to offer. This is important to me because I will be majoring in business when I move on to IUPUI. I feel that it has given me an extra boost and has put me an extra step ahead of others.
The teachers at Illiana have been great. They are great people and set a great example for the students. They are always there to help you if you are struggling with school work or a personal problem. The biggest influence I have experienced at Illiana is the Cross Country and Track and Field programs. I have participated in Cross Country all four years at Illiana and this spring I will have competed in Track and Field for all four years. While running at Illiana I have obtained friendships that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I have found a talent that God has given me, and I have learned how to use it in order to give him all the glory. I would recommend running at Illiana to anyone. The Illiana Cross Country and Track teams push you to realize that it's more than just running and the recognition you can receive for it - It's about getting involved and building relationships. Illiana is more than just a school with classes. Illiana is a place that shapes you into the person God intended you to be.
Well, this week has been a blast. I was hoping to write you an email half-way through the trip to update you on how it went. It feels like I haven't sat down since 2:30am last Saturday! I hope your kids tell you all about the trip and what we did, and I don't want to ruin their stories, but I wanted to give you some highlights.
On our arrival Saturday, I took them to a little-known spot in DC known as the Capitol Quarry. It was a hike (quite literally) getting there and Julia's feet are probably still hurting from it, but it was a pretty cool experience seeing the original stones of the Capitol building that were removed during a renovation. I've attached a picture below.
Sunday, we went to Grace Reformed Church in DC which is a URCNA church. The church itself is a historic landmark and is over 100 years old. Theodore Roosevelt attended there and actually laid the cornerstone during its construction and commemoration (We may have had an accidental run in with the Park Police- I'll let the students fill you in on that! It's a funny story)Sunday night our program started, and I handed your kids over to the program. Monday and Tuesday I saw very little with them as they were doing workshops and visiting landmarks, monuments, and memorials that taught/reinforced the topics discussed in their workshops about scope of government, relationship between rights and oversight, etc. Wednesday was our "Capitol Hill Day". We had a schedule to meet with the offices of Dick Durban (IL Senator), Tammy Duckworth (IL Senator), and Robin Kelly (IL Rep.). We were not able to meet with them personally (save 5 minutes with Tammy Duckworth which was pretty neat), but we did get to meet some of their staff members and even a Chief of Staff. We discussed what they did, how they got into that job, likes/dislikes, how they communicate with their constituents, etc. Each session was between 45 minutes to over an hour. Wednesday night, we drove down to Williamsburg and Thursday morning and afternoon were spent there. One of my favorite places. After that, we drove back to DC and the students were able to see "A Christmas Carol" in Ford's Theatre where Lincoln was assassinated. Today, we were on our own as a school and were able to explore DC on our own. I had scheduled another meeting with Pete Visclosky's office and his staffer, Sameer, gave us a tour of the Capitol Building. One of the best parts of the trip was actually prior to that when Pete Visclosky walked with us from the office building to the Capitol. We entered the House side through the VIP section where only staffers, Congressmen, or anyone with a really important badge is able to enter! Congressmen Visclosky spoke with our kids for 5 minutes or so before he went to the House floor to vote. We went to the public viewing area up top and watch people like Speaker Paul Ryan, John Lewis, and Nancy Pilosi walk the floors before they were called into session. We also went to the Senate side and just caught the tail-end of the Senate vote. We saw Bernie Sanders from 50 ft. That was pretty awesome. Tomorrow, we will go to the Frederick Douglass house, have lunch and depart for the airport at 3:00pm for our 5:45 flight.
This email only scratches the surface of what your kids did on this trip. I hope they tell you more. I did want to share with you a little of what we did. I also wanted to let you know that your kids were so well behaved. I was very proud of the way they handled themselves and represented our school and our God. We even had a chance to celebrate Ashley's birthday on Thursday night. I also just enjoyed being with them and getting to know them better.
Darren De Boer