Sunday, May 6, 2007

Alma Mater

For some, high school is not a fond memory. It is a place they want to forget, a time they pretend never happened. And who can blame them? High school, for most people, was awkward. It was the time of braces, funky "fashion" trends, and cliques. It was a place where popularity was more important than being smart and competition wasn't just about who ran faster. For me, it was all those things and much more. And, unlike some who don't want to remember, I treasure the good (and bad) moments and experiences I had. I think an important factor in making or breaking a high school experience is the high school itself. When my high school friends and I get together, we almost always visit our old stomping grounds and reminisce about the good times. To us, school was a home away from home; it was a community that was our second family.

Sitting atop a hill in Burlingame and spanning approximately 40 acres is Mercy High School. It is a private, Catholic, all-girls school run by the Sisters of Mercy. Aside from the usual high school facilities, Mercy also has a care home for retired nuns, a chapel inside a retreat apartment, a labyrinth, scenic walking paths, a fish pond, and a forest. One of the major things that sets this high school apart from others is the fact that it's on an estate and the main school building was previously a mansion. Katrina Sevilla, a 2001 alum, said, "It was interesting going to school in a was a rare experience. It was cool hearing rumors about ghosts and places that were off limits to students; it gave the school its own character and mysterious feel."

The rose red bricked tudor mansion was completed in 1914, after two years of construction, for a wealthy shipping heir named Frederick Kohl and his bride, Elisabeth. The grand estate included 63 rooms, a tennis court, a green house, a rose garden, a large carriage house, and a 150,000 gallon reservoir. In the short two years the couple lived in the mansion, they threw lavish parties exclusive to the elite. In 1916, they left the estate, leaving their servants to maintain the property.

Three years after Frederick's death, in 1924, the Kohl Estate was sold to the Sisters of Mercy for $230,000. It became a convent for 7 years until 1931, when it became Mercy High School. During this time, the Sisters of Mercy added a wing of four classrooms to the mansion and later, another wing with 13 classrooms. While most classes are held in the main building, math and science classes are taught in Russell Hall, a building located a 5-minute walk down the hill.

The college preparatory school's maximum enrollment is 500, although currently they have 470 students. Their student/teacher ratio is 12:1; because of this, faculty and students are better able to communicate and meet one-on-one. I remember the faculty and staff at Mercy as being warm and welcoming; they nurtured us to grow and learn while also becoming a part of our extended family. "Because my year only started out with about 100 students, I felt like I was more in a sisterhood than just another high school student. The teachers all knew the students and vice versa, that created a feeling of being part of a community," Sevilla said.

Upon my recent visit to Mercy, I couldn't help but remember the four wonderful (sometimes grueling) years I spent there. Many years have passed since then and though a lot has changed, everything is still familiar. Walking among the fragrant multicolored roses in the rose garden, I saw myself sitting on the hot brick paths and sharing my dreams and aspirations with a classmate. Passing by the empty front steps of the mansion, I remembered how I met one of my closest friends. For four years of my life, this place was where I shared laughter, tears, ambitions, and frustration. It was a second home and family that helped me through the awkwardness of being a teen and taught me to embrace myself. It is a place and time I will never forget and will always treasure.

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