Karen Stiegler '21 was selected as the 2021 Cor Unum Award Recipient by the Ursuline Alumnae Association. The award is given to one senior each year. Candidates are judged solely on their love for Ursuline Academy and their honest expression of what the Academy means to them.
What does it mean to you to be in the 294th graduating class of Ursuline Academy of New Orleans?
If I’m being honest, I don’t have a lot of very strong feelings about Sir Isaac Newton. I don’t imagine that many people do — I think we are all quite content with acknowledging his position as an infamous physicist and moving along with our individual lives. Although Sir Isaac Newton hasn’t exactly touched me personally, he is credited with a popular English metaphor, that is, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
I think about the giants that used to roam around Ursuline all the time, clumsily stumbling through girlhood and into womanhood. There is physical evidence covering every square inch of campus of all the giants that came before me, and if you decide to start looking for it, you will notice that it is impossible to miss.
What does it mean to me, then, to have the privilege of being the 294th graduating class? It means that I have had the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of all of the giants who came before me; by them (the Ursuline sisters, students, teachers, and more), I am connected to Ursuline from now until the end of my life — and hopefully beyond that through my legacy. I have seen farther because of all 293 classes before me, and every class that follows in my footsteps will see farther as well. I hope that they see this, and
everything I have done at Ursuline, as my expression of love, and express their love as well.
In what ways do you feel your Ursuline education has prepared you for the world in which we live?
I am not immune to the downward spiral of doubt that most people fall victim to on occasion. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I have spent more time this year winding down the drain and asking myself if I am “good enough” than I ever have before. This was, and still is, very new to me! Ursuline’s educatory process goes so far beyond the classroom: it is present from the moment you enroll in the academy until the rest of your life. The lessons you learn from day one, whether they are in the classroom or not, continue to impact you throughout the entirety of your existence. My Ursuline education has taught me to be independent, and a trailblazer, and to not let my doubts cloud my vision. I am persistently reminded through the examples of the women around me to be strong yet gentle, firm yet kind — and supported in my endeavors by the faculty around me. Yet when I started to venture past my life here and took the tiniest steps into my college planning, I was instantly overwhelmed. I caught myself constantly pondering on the questions, “Am I good enough for this school? Am I bold enough for that one? Am I smart enough to do any of this?”
I was too anxious to tell anyone about my newfound self-doubt because it felt so unbecoming of me as a student who tries tirelessly to embody the spirit of Ursuline. It’s not that I didn’t think my community would support me — I was simply too nervous to make myself vulnerable to the answer to my questions, should it be negative...until all of a sudden, I wasn’t. In a moment of rash decision-making, I confided my doubts in a teacher, who reassured me, soothing my doubt by saying that “other people haven’t the faintest idea how smart [I am].” All at once, the self-doubt left my body, and I was left with the simple solution to all of my questions. I am enough, and I always have been.
Ursuline has taught me an infinite amount of lessons in self-confidence — from how to hold myself with pride during Open House to how to remove myself from my downward spiral of doubt. However, no Ursuline lesson has prepared me for the world as well as my lesson in vulnerability some months ago. I had never realized before that vulnerability was always the first step: before I could do anything, I had to make myself vulnerable by reaching out, taking my first steps, and knowing through my classroom instruction and practical experience that I would still be a trailblazer if I fell.
Name the most significant value you learned from Ursuline Academy.
Senior Lounge always seemed like an untouchable place to me. As an eighth grader, I wouldn’t dare even look into the doorway. As a freshman, I would meekly linger by the doorway, patiently waiting for the seniors I was on sports teams with to notice me so I could ask for a ride to practice. As a sophomore, I would hear stories of my friends who went in, and be shocked by their boldness. As a junior, I felt more secure; I recall hesitantly asking a senior if I could come in to ask her a question. She immediately said “Of course!” like it was nothing. Needless to say, I was shocked. In a place where I so clearly did not fit in, clearly marked by my status as a junior and the absence of a red sweater, I was welcomed and treated as though I belonged. As a senior now, I am almost too generous. When sophomores linger by the door, I invite them to follow me in as I enter.
The most significant value that I have learned at Ursuline is that I always belong here — and everyone does. Pass it along. Something that seems so inconsequential as letting an underclassman into Senior Lounge has the magnificent impact of fostering a loving, welcoming environment where nobody is ever displaced. In a world where we do not always feel welcome, we are oftentimes subject to creating that environment for the wellbeing of everyone. It would be pitiful of me to not bring that lesson into my world beyond these sacred halls!
What one word describes Ursuline and why?
Ursuline, in so many ways, is ever-changing. I feel like I have been a student at Ursuline during a period of rapid growth, change, and new beginnings. For example, I walk down a long hallway full of photographed alumnae, and into a classroom that is undergoing metamorphosis, where students are learning to think critically and weave ideas in new, state-of-the-art ways. As the outside world evolves at a pace so quick that it is sometimes hard to keep up, Ursuline observes and gradually evolves with it, trying to stay on the same track while still elevating and producing dignified young women. Here, we are constantly moving forward so as not to be left behind. Ursuline graduates are not prepared for the world as it was five or ten years ago — we are prepared for the world of the future. Although Ursuline is developing swiftly, it is not hasty to abandon important tradition. Though Ursuline is ever-changing — truly a good thing — it is cautious, and understands when heritage should not be compromised for innovation. Because of this, we continue to cultivate a unique environment where we stand, feet planted firmly on a line: on our left, we look back and see a rich history; on our right, we look forward and see an equally as rich, opportunity-filled future.