Senior Sentiments: Wham! It’s the Seniors’ ‘Last Christmas’

Seniors are soaking up every second of the 2021 Christmas season. Realizing this is the last Christmas spent living at home, the Class of 2022 is focused on spending time with friends and family. 

Leia Gable ’25, younger brother Elkana Gable, and Sophia Gable ’22 pose in front of their carefully decorated gingerbread house. “I enjoyed using our creativity to make something together. Finding something small to do as a family made it so special,” Sophia reflected.

Whether it’s making gingerbread houses or planning holiday fun for House period at school, seniors are getting in the Christmas spirit. They are finding ways to make the most of this Christmas season because it won’t be the same next year. 

Many Senior House leaders are planning festivities for the last House period before Christmas break. These include organizing Secret Santa gift exchanges, decorating gingerbread houses, enjoying Christmas cookies and hot chocolate, and watching Christmas movies. Through these activities, seniors are bringing all grades together for the Christmas season. 

Members of the Class of 2022 also look forward to Christmas traditions with family. 

Although it may seem unconventional, Elle Wiederholt ‘22 and her family make a birthday cake for Jesus every year on Christmas Day. Then, they gather around the red and green cake to sing “Happy Birthday.” 

“It’s Jesus’s birthday, so why wouldn’t we celebrate like that?” Wiederholt laughed.

Nina Von Dohlen ’22 poses with her gift for Sandra Alb ’24, her Secret Santa, during House period, Wednesday, December 15th. They also enjoy hot chocolate and cookies as they prepare for Christmas.

Sadly, going off to college means the inevitable discontinuation of some Christmas traditions. Seniors have mixed feelings about the end of these customs, but are prepared for the change and excited to make new memories.

Seniors also eagerly anticipate family gatherings. Next year, coming home for Christmas will feel much different, so they appreciate the privilege of spending time with family for all of December. 

Kristin Welch ‘22 confessed, “ I think I’ll appreciate family gatherings more next year since I won’t be seeing my family as often when I’m in college.”

Kylie Onserio ‘22 expressed a similar sentiment. Until her older siblings left for college, her family always went ice skating, made gingerbread houses, and baked cookies throughout the month of December. Although some of these traditions ended when her siblings went off to college, her family has still been able to celebrate the holiday season together in different ways. This gives Onserio reassurance that she’ll be able to stay connected with family while she is in college as well.

Seniors’ parents are also prepared to make the most of this season before their children leave for college. 

Mrs. Megan Wohlwend, parent to Emma Wohlwend ‘22, acknowledges things will be different next year, but she is prepared to overcome the challenge. 

“We’ll share our Christmas preparations and festivities via FaceTime and photos!” exclaimed Wohlwend. 

Despite the fact that it’s the seniors’ ‘Last Christmas’ living at home, they know their hearts won’t be ‘given away the very next day’ just because they’ll be gone at college next year.

Senior Sentiments: The Deplorably Daunting Deadline

“Eye-opening,” commented Jimmy Fafinski ‘22 when asked what word describes the college application process for him.

“It broadens your perspective on things,” he continued. “You really have to know who you are. You need to figure that out first, before you begin applying to colleges.”

November 1st was a day Seniors both dreaded and anticipated for months. While “stress” is an obvious buzzword associated with this momentous day, “relief” is another, as the day brings the completion of college applications for many.

Seniors Emma Kelly, Gretta Martin, Olivia Bissonette, and Peyton Menzel work diligently on college applications during study hall.

Most Providence Academy Seniors felt precisely these things for the majority of October. Seniors endured each school day like stiff, drained versions of themselves. They had one goal: to make it past November 1st with their sanity.  

The hallways were filled with sighs, cries of help, complaints, and frantic conversations. One could truly see the tension in the air, it was all-encompassing.

“It’s extremely nerve-wracking. What if you don’t get into any schools at all? It’s always something in the back of your mind,” confessed Sophia Menzel ‘22.

Luckily, the frightening day has passed. Celebratory cheers have replaced pleas of help and animation has replaced rigidity. If overcoming the mountain of November 1st has taught PA Seniors anything, it’s that they can tackle whatever comes their way. 

“I’m amazed at how well-prepared, thoughtful, focused, ambitious, and purposeful the seniors are this year,” reflected Mrs. Paige Von Bank, PA’s new College Counselor.

However, the journey isn’t over yet. While some seniors feel relieved, others say the stress is just beginning.

Chungu Mulenga ‘22 openly admitted, “For me, the application process wasn’t that stressful.  I think waiting to be accepted is much worse.”

All 12th graders are at different points in the process. A small number had no November 1st deadlines and have yet to submit any applications. Most seniors are waiting to hear from colleges; however, some have already been accepted and a few have even committed by now.

Emma Kelly ’22 eagerly places her pin in Illinois on the seniors’ map in the atrium after committing to University of Chicago.

Committing to college comes with many rewards, one of which is placing a pin on the map in the Upper School Atrium. Every year, members of the National Honors Society at PA hang a map so seniors can place a pin where they will be next year. By the end of the year, the map is a beautiful illustration of the Class of 2022’s future plans. 

“It’s such a cool tradition. It feels like you’re taking a step toward your future and cementing your decision for the next four years. Pinning it on the board makes it real,” reflected Emma Kelly ‘22, who placed her pin last Friday.

As of Monday, November 8th, the map already displayed four out of the sixty-nine necessary pins. Minnesota, Illinois, California, and Virginia are the four proclaimed destinations.

Whether they felt stressed, relieved, or overwhelmed by the November 1st deadline, the Class of 2022 endured the college application process together. It was a period of growth as well as an opportunity to help one another. They overcame the obstacle together, which made it much easier to swallow.

“More than any previous class of seniors, I see so many students working together,” Upper School Math teacher Mrs. Karen Ostaffe noted after writing recommendation letters for nineteen Seniors. 

“This will serve them very well in college because they’ll need to collaborate in order to succeed,” Ostaffe continued. “And I believe they are up for the challenge.”

Senior Sentiments: A Splendid Start for Seniors

“I still kind of feel like I’m a freshman,” commented Maria Counts ‘22.

Although this may be a sentiment among many in the Class of 2022, they truly were Seniors as of September 1st, and are determined to make this year memorable. 

From planning out of school activities to making the most of regular school days, the first month of their senior year has already been special. 

Seniors Paige Meadows, Eleanor Young, Kylie Onserio, Liz Trubeck, and Ava Wasserman smile with their juice and coffee at the “Senior Sunrise” on September 1st.

12th graders kicked off the first day of school with a “Senior Sunrise” on Wednesday, September 1st. The Class of 2022 met at Hamel Hill at 6:15am to catch the sunrise. They wanted to be at one place as a class for the first moments of their final year together. Organized solely by members of the Senior class, students brought bagels, juice, coffee, balloons, and blankets. 

“I loved it. It was so fun to have an activity for just the seniors outside of school.” reflected Sophie Koch ‘22, who initiated the event. 

There is even talk among seniors of watching the sunset on the last day of school as well, in order to start and end the year together as a grade. 

Seniors Alex Rynders, Matthew Narog, Lucas Priemueller, Mac Clark, Sam Trombley, Joseph Uzelac, and Jack Lindberg take advantage of the new Senior Keurig between most classes and call themselves “The Brew Crew.”

Not only are Seniors enjoying outside of school activities, they are also relishing the many merits that come with being a Senior at Providence Academy. They love spending study halls on the couches in the Atrium, having a Senior snack locker, Senior sweatshirts, a Senior Keurig, and leaving for and from lunch 5 minutes early. 

These merits give Seniors a sense of accomplishment. They put in all the hard work to now be able to enjoy the privileges that come with being closer to adulthood. 

Matthew Narog ‘22 proudly commented, “It feels good to be a Senior. You get to enjoy Providence for being Providence and reap the benefits of the past 3 years.” 

Seniors Maria Counts, Anna Heaney, Nathan Hemmesch, Sidney Borland, and Elle Wiederholt enjoy studying and drinking coffee during their pink period study hall. “It’s so relaxing to have the opportunity to just have a coffee during study hall,” remarked Counts.

As much as seniors enjoying new merits, they are also ramping up participation in school activities, creating a more connected and exciting atmosphere among 12th graders. 

For example, the Class of 2022 has been giving their all on out of uniform days. During homecoming week, many Senior guys went so far as to wear capes, sashes, and tights for the pink themed out of uniform day.

Jack Lindberg ‘22 enthused, “I love pink! Plus, we thought it would be funny. It’s senior year, why not go all out?”.

Seniors Mary Rillens Lee, Kristin Welch, Ellie Millerbernd, Olivia Eck, Elle Wiederholt, Ava Wasserman, Liz Trubeck, Emma Wohlwend, Sophie Koch, and Grace Wikenheiser pose in their gold and white to capture the excitement at the Homecoming game on Friday, October 24th.

Additionally, Seniors have been pulling out all the stops when dressing in theme for Football games this season. From Hawaiian leis at the beginning of the season to covering themselves from head to toe in gold glitter for the Homecoming game, Seniors are making their last year one to remember. 

Although Senior year can be stressful and many may be ready to leave for college, PA Seniors are still determined to enjoy the school year. It’s an exciting time when students are on the edge of closing one chapter and beginning the next.

“There’s a certain excitement about Senior year. Not only because of what’s in Senior year, but also what’s beyond Senior year,” reflected Senior History teacher Mr. Ian Skemp.

Teachers Tell the Truth about High School: Mrs. Claypool Takes a Trip Down Memory Lane

“Idyllic,” said PA Middle School Dean of Students and Literature teacher Mrs. Teresa Claypool when asked what word comes to mind when she thinks of high school.

“Pretty much what you picture when you think of high school,” Claypool added candidly.

PA Middle School Dean and Literature Teacher Mrs. Teresa Claypool poses confidently in 1995. She recalls this time in high school saying, “I was a little quirky.”

In keeping with her straightforward nature, Claypool confessed that she skipped study hall one day to get breakfast with friends. Who would’ve thought a future Dean of Students would have to be escorted back to school by her police officer father dressed in full uniform?

This candidness is characteristic of Claypool. Anyone can attest to her frank, but lighthearted approach to life, so it’s not surprising she’d have this perspective when speaking of high school as well. 

Similar to other much-loved PA teachers, Claypool wanted to teach by the time she graduated high school. Her instructors instilled her with confidence which motivated her to make the same impact on others.

Mrs. Teresa Claypool smiles for senior pictures in 1995. “Be your authentic self,” she advises students, based on her own experience in high school.

Claypool expressed that teaching Middle School perfectly aligns with her personality. She admittedly didn’t enjoy Middle School much herself, so she values having the ability to help students through these years that many consider awkward. 

“It’s a time when you’re caught between blending in and being true to yourself, which is difficult to navigate,” she expressed compassionately. 

Throughout high school, however, Claypool became more comfortable in her skin, leading her to pursue a career that allowed her to help others achieve the same. With this understanding, Claypool believes building relationships with students is of the utmost importance, and that as a result, teaching becomes more compelling and effective. 

“All my students–former and current–know my door is always open. And I mean that,” Claypool shared.

While she feels at home in the Middle School wing, she loves maintaining connections as students move through the Upper School.  

Mrs. Teresa Claypool cheers for her high school as their mascot, the coyote, during her junior year in 1995.

“That’s why I love teaching here. I get to see everyone transition into beautiful adults,” reflected Claypool. 

Her humor and candor draw Upper Schoolers back to the Middle School to visit their beloved former teacher. Who would’ve thought students could be so eager to “head to the Dean’s office”? 

“The fact that she’s still invested in my life even though I haven’t had her as a teacher for four years is so meaningful. You don’t find that with many teachers,” reflected Adriana Azarian ‘22, one of Claypool’s former students. 

Mrs. Teresa Claypool shows off her cap and gown after graduating from Williston High School in North Dakota in 1996.

Claypool has impacted the lives of so many by simply being herself. 

Ms. Bridget Taylor, Claypool’s friend of eleven years and Middle School Assistant fondly remembers her first encounter with Claypool: “She was running across the field to save a student who had just fallen during a softball game…while [Claypool] was eight months pregnant! I remember thinking to myself, ‘Who is this teacher?!’ It was a die hard moment.”

As a PA parent herself, Taylor also remembers her first parent-teacher conference with Claypool. She recalled thinking, “This is why my child goes to Providence. This teacher makes my daughter feel like she’s the only student in the building.”

It took only minutes in a room with Claypool for Taylor to know exactly why her daughter loved her so much.

Mr. Daniel Hickel, PA Science Teacher and Claypool’s friend of five years, was also touched by Claypool’s magic upon joining the staff himself in 2016.

“When I started working at PA, she was one of the first people to reach out and get to know me,” Hickel enthused. 

Whether it’s a student, parent, softball player, or colleague, Claypool has a way of making everyone feel valued, and that rare gift encapsulates part of what makes Providence Academy “a school like no other.

Teachers Tell the Truth about High School: Dr. Biebs Takes a Trip Down Memory Lane

“Smug,” said PA Upper School Literature and Latin teacher Dr. Jeff Olsen Biebighauser when asked what word comes to mind when he thinks of high school.

For anyone who has encountered Biebighauser, this may come as a surprise. One would not suspect this passionate and devoted teacher to have previously portrayed a “too cool for everything” attitude.

Dr. Jeff Olsen Biebighauser proudly smiles in his high school graduation photo in 2001.

Biebighauser, more commonly known to students as Biebs, felt somewhat insecure as a high schooler. As a result of transferring halfway through high school, Biebs’ life was abruptly transformed. This interruption of his high school career and uprooting of friendships caused him to feel misunderstood. 

However, in the midst of this tumult, Biebs’ teachers were able to make a positive impact on his life. 

“I saw the value of my smart and funny teachers who reached into the awkwardness of my adolescence to connect with me,” Biebs warmly reflected.

By the time graduation arrived, Biebs knew he wanted to be a teacher. The teachers with whom he connected gave him an indication of who he wanted to be as a teacher. Even teachers whom he found unappealing impacted him positively because he was determined to be better than them.

Although the insecure undertone of his high school career was difficult to overcome at the time, it offers Biebs the opportunity to relate to students in ways that many teachers cannot. This “insider information” gives him a unique view into the lives of students. 

“My own high school experience makes me try to look out for kids whose talents haven’t been discovered yet,” Biebs wholeheartedly expressed .

Dr. Biebighauser sits contemplatively in his teenage home in St. Louis, MO, circa 2000. Although he does not recall the context of the picture, he is confident that he was “most likely thinking about a ska band.”

As the only PA instructor teaching all 9th grade students, Biebs is in an ideal position to guide teenagers on the path to who they want to become. 

For example, “knowing yourself” is a fundamental theme the insightful literature teacher emphasizes to 9th graders. He pushes students to think critically about themselves in relation to the works they are reading. 

Val Fish ‘21 recalled a conversation with Biebs in which he commented that he tries to emulate Abby Cadabby, a popular “Sesame Street” character. 

“‘I don’t actually think I sprinkle magic through the air and make other people magical by recognizing the magic that’s already in them,’”  Fish recalled Biebs candidly admitting. “‘But,’ he went on, ‘I find Abby inspirational in precisely those ways.’” 

Although Biebs cannot shower PA’s yellow halls with magic in a literal sense, he does something even more remarkable. Similar to Abby Cadabby, he has the exceptional ability to empower students by helping them recognize the talents they already possess.

Biebs recalled a powerful moment in his career in which, through tears, a student’s mother thanked him for connecting with her son. She expressed that Biebs had transformed her son’s perspective of high school from one of disorientation and exclusion to one of accomplishment and self-confidence.

Mrs. Amelia Hejna, Biebs’ friend and colleague in the literature department of 5 years echoed this sentiment, “He embraces teaching as his vocation, not simply his job. He sees teaching as mentoring and wants to walk with students on their personal journeys.

The dented water bottle Biebs’ carries daily exemplifies key aspects of his teaching style and outlook on life: we’re all a little bruised, but that doesn’t mean we should be discarded. The dents simply show that we’re broken in, which is beautiful.