Earlier in December, our principal let me know that our AP English Literature class would be using the new stage instead of their normal classroom because they planned to read aloud and act out scenes from Hamlet. So, a few minutes into seventh period, I wandered over to the gym and was floored! The gym space was dark with only red backlighting on the stage. As I opened the door to slip in, there were two students up on stage reading and acting out the “get thee to a nunnery” scene between Hamlet and Ophelia. As my eyes adjusted, I saw the rest of the class sitting cross-legged on the floor watching intently – quiet, respectful, and completely engrossed in their classmates’ performance. I doubt they even knew I was there.
I’m an English Major from way back and my initial impression when I saw our students up there was to marvel at just how competent they were with Elizabethan English. Do you know how many times I would need to read a scene before my voice, inflections, and mannerisms reached the point where the scripted words would sound both sensible and effortless? Not sure I could ever rise to their level. Unpacking Shakespeare is tough enough for someone whose first language is English. Many of our students grew up in homes where Spanish was primary. Yet, here they were, giving exceptionally credible renditions of several scenes. Something may be rotten in Denmark, but these small bits of drama bore witness to wholesome accomplishments – so obviously the result of much hard work and attention by our students. It made me giddy.
I was transported back to our old campus where we had nothing… or at least, very little. It would have been impossible for a teacher to consider an alternative space to hold class. Nothing was available other than the one old, tired classroom to which she was allotted. Our new campus and new spaces open greater possibilities and it is incredibly gratifying, humbling even, to see faculty and students exploring the new potential.
Another afternoon in mid-December, I was working late. Understand that, in a school, most activities and athletic practices are over by 5:00 pm or 5:30 pm. The building is usually quiet but this weeknight I heard lively Ranchero music. Was someone streaming to a Bluetooth speaker? I started in the new Student Union, but it was dark and empty. Music and singing were coming from the cafeteria. Walking down the main hallway, the volume increased until I turned the corner. There, in the cafeteria, were students with instruments and more students and faculty accompanying them as a choir. They were practicing for our upcoming mass for the feast of La Virgen de Guadalupe. The song was “La Guadalupana,” a traditional song celebrating the miracle of Mary’s appearance as an indigenous Mexicana:
Desde el cielo una hermosa mañana
La Guadalupana bajó al Tepeyac.
Su llegada llenó de alegría
de luz y armonía
de luz y armonía y de libertad…
(From heaven, one beautiful morning
the Virgin of Guadalupe
the Virgin of Guadalupe descended to Tepeyac.
Her arrival brought happiness,
light and harmony
light and harmony and freedom…)
Despite COVID, CRSM is working on expanding our fine arts offerings this year. Our new art teacher and head of the art club mentioned that he thought we now had enough musically trained students to form our own mariachi. I had no idea they had come so far in so short a time. What a revelation to stand in our cafeteria and witness such joy!
The story of Guadalupe culminates with a double miracle: 1) roses grow on Tepeyac hill in the middle of winter, and 2) Mary appears on Juan Diego’s tilma or cloak and speaks to the Archbishop, humbling him who doubted the Mother of God would choose to speak through a powerless and marginalized campesino.
Despite the wintery challenges of this pandemic layered upon the ongoing economic challenges of living in a depressed community, our students are flourishing – developing and sharing their talents, preparing to become agents for positive change in our world. It is awesome and celebratory and inspiring. Thanks to so many donors and supporters like you, our new campus affords our students even more opportunities to discover more and more about themselves and their potential. We are witnessing so many moments of grace that were never dreamed of in our old facilities.
Our school Christmas card this year featured some graphic arts by one of our students who found inspiration in this quote: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you…” Ezekiel 36:26. Every day at CRSM feels like something new is happening. Creativity, community, possibility, and hope are alive here – walking through our halls, reciting Shakespeare, playing music and singing.
In a cold, desperate world roses are blooming at CRSM. May this Christmas season bring you light and happiness and freedom and may 2022 fill you and those you love with new hope and possibility. Peace and joy!