By Isabella Daley
The Archbishop McNicholas High School Rockets welcomed the Cleveland Heights High School Tigers on Tuesday, Nov. 7, for an evening of making connections, playing games, doing service, eating food, and embracing differences.
The visiting Cleveland students were all part of the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN) group from the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District (CHUH). They were visiting Cincinnati for two days to tour the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, The University of Cincinnati, and the Holocaust and Humanities Center. The CHUH students needed a local high school to host them for dinner, and the McNicholas Theology Department and Service Club embraced the opportunity with an evening of student engagement.
“After a long day of museums, they need[ed] to cut lose and have some fun,” theology teacher Teresa Davis said. Davis referenced the Bible verse Hebrews 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” as one of many reasons McNicholas chose to embrace their CHUH visitors. “Hospitality is a fundamental theological virtue,” Davis said.
The student engagement event served as a chance for the McNicholas and CHUH students to make connections and embrace differences in each other in order to see “the goodness of God in all people,” according to Davis. The MSAN group in which the CHUH students are involved is a national organization that seeks to remove racial barriers and aid students in their personal, social, and academic growth and success.
Students from both schools came together and tied no-sew blankets that were donated to Pregnancy Center East and the Inter-Faith Food Pantry, talked over snacks and dinner, shared their perspectives on their experiences from the day, wrote poems about their dreams for the world, and sang in a spontaneous karaoke session. Many concluded the evening feeling bonded to their neighbors from another city. The students appreciated the chance to enjoy themselves through the activities and to meet others who were deeply impacted by what they had learned.
CHUH junior Ryan Penson was moved to share her experience from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in front of the entire group. “It [was] a really powerful and eye-opening experience,” she said. She described an art piece she had seen that depicted a patched up black woman within a watermelon surrounded by racist images and added, “we should be thankful that this stuff doesn’t happen today.”
Some students enjoyed the more lighthearted parts of the evening as another way to connect to others on a deep level. “My favorite part was impromptu karaoke because everyone was getting into it, and that’s when we bonded,” said McNicholas senior Maria Randolph. CHUH Senior Morgan Lewis also said her favorite part was participating in the karaoke. She sang “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus in front of everyone, and she was inspired to do so by her love of Miley Cyrus and her desire to meet new people. “Miley Cyrus is my queen… I love her,” Lewis said. “I get nervous in front of people, but I knew I’d be okay.”
After the event, many students were left with a sense of awe in the connections they had been able to make so quickly. “They [CHUH students] were so awesome,” McNicholas junior Georgia Cheek said. She said she learned that “it’s not that hard to connect with random people.”
McNicholas freshman Aimee Gauger was also affected positively by the connections she made. “I was really surprised by how open everyone was, and we all instantly bonded. We all enjoyed being here,” Gauger said.
To Davis’ knowledge, McNicholas has never before participated in any kind of event like the student engagement evening on Nov. 7. However, she was hopeful before the event when she said “the excitement of the students who want to engage excites me and gives me hope. It is way crazy, and I love it.” Davis wanted to thank all who helped to make the event a success including the teachers, students, and sponsors: Mount Washington LaRosa’s, Anderson Jersey Mike’s, Xavier University Edward B. Brueggeman Center for Dialogue, and the Mayerson Foundation.
Although this was the first time Davis could remember that McNicholas hosted a group of students from another high school for an evening, she said that “this whole [theology] department is really excited this might become an annual event.” She said she hopes McNicholas will continue to be a welcoming community to visitors.
“A lot of times we don’t get to hang out with people from different schools. We should do it again,” Randolph said.
“You never know where Jesus is,” Davis added.
CHUH seniors Anyssa Hanna and Shamar Rhodes share their group’s poem with the students and teachers gathered in the McNicholas cafe. McNicholas senior Haley Adkins directed students from both schools to work together with everyone at their tables to write poems about their dreams for the world.