Caroline MacLaren ’19 was selected as the 2019 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.
1. What does it mean to you to be in the 292nd graduating class of Ursuline Academy of New Orleans?
Ursuline to dear old Ursuline…the words sound familiar, but only to a few. The fingers that strike the piano keys signal a song innate to a select number of people - those who have looped the brown strings of their oversized shoes, those who have buttoned up their stark white oxford blouse, those who have trekked up three flights of stairs - heavy bag fastened to their back, those who have strolled the long halls of this castle-like building. Cheers, we pledge our endless love today, bounce off the stone walls of the arching Chapel. The sound that you hear - you, an Ursuline girl - resembles something so unique: a legacy. The faces that surround you, joyful and exuberant, are merely a small amount of a large body of women that make up the astonishing community of Ursuline. Ursuline, forever Ursuline.
292 years. The number is remarkable. Of course, I have understood that my school is the oldest Catholic girls school in America, established in 1727. That information has been born into me since my first day at Ursuline ten years ago. Yet, that number - 292 - is almost inconceivable. 291 classes of women that have come before me. Women who have become the leaders of our city, our state, our nation, our world. Lab researchers, doctors, lawyers, photographers, biologists, teachers, judges, congresswomen, state officials, pharmacists…women who are peacemakers. Women who live the spirit of Ursuline despite graduating - Though life may lead us far away. These are women who have created a legacy - Lamp that lights the flame of all our hopes and dreams - A legacy that I get to be a part of. Beacon bright that guides us onward with its beams. All of which has been produced from the very school I am graduating from. 292 years of women who lived happy hours within your sacred halls. Women who had laughs and learning just as I have. Women living with the cherished memories that I live with.
Ursuline, to dear old Ursuline. It is more than just New Orleans. It is the network of women across the country, across the world - New Rochelle, Dallas, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Paris, Dublin, Wimbledon, Budapest, Athens, Bangkok, Kellyville… All of these women making a change in our world. The song grows louder, We pledge our endless love today. Love. It is all a legacy rooted in love - the courtesy, loyalty, and courage instilled in us. It is cor unum - one heart, one legacy.
Ursuline, forever Ursuline. It is more than just a school. It is the tangible representation of growth and discovery. Though life may lead us far away, we are all still a part of Ursuline by the actions we take. We are still a part of that legacy, no matter how far life may lead us. It is a legacy that draws alumnae back. A legacy that defines who we, collectively and individually, are. A legacy that produces pride in our alma mater. The song you hear is not just the echo of the school, it is the echo of 292 years. Alma Mater beautiful, Starlike ever shine, On our paths To guide our faltering steps, Home at last, Dear Ursuline.
2. In what ways do you feel your Ursuline education has prepared you for the world in which we live?
Fearlessness is a quality once foreign to me. The word has always been familiar, especially when Taylor Swift sang about it, but the quality of it, the possessing of it, has always been something not inherent for me. Although I’ve always had the natural tendency to be friendly and talkative, courage and confidence were never qualities that came naturally to me.
If I were to describe my learning environment it would be this: a cultivation of not just education, but of intellect. The two sound quite similar, but there is a key difference between the two. There is no doubt that academically, Ursuline has challenged and pushed me to work harder than ever before in my life. And from that, I have cultivated my knowledge in more ways than conceivable. But, intellect - it’s quite different.
Imagine a classroom, one in which there are roughly 30 desks, each one filled. Looking around, the faces are unfamiliar. Not because you don’t know them, but because they are almost all boys. My family enjoys a variety of educational interests, ranging from public health to human resources to political science to physics, meaning that I’ve been drawn to many academic interests. Because of such, I’ve never really understood the concept that some academic fields were more favorable to one gender over the other. It’s all just learning, right? And that’s what I love - learning! But this scenario that I’ve drawn out for you, was one that puzzled me. What exactly does a classroom full of boys really have to do with intellect?
Intellect, what I have cultivated at Ursuline, is about wanting to learn and applying reason and knowledge, but more than that, it is about the fearlessness in learning what you want to learn. It includes a sense of confidence. The learning environment at Ursuline pushes students to discover educational interests, and to pursue them outside of class, becoming aware, informed, and well-versed in such knowledge. So, as someone fond of an academic field non-traditional to women, I have never understood that I don’t deserve to study what I love. I’ve known my whole life that women face different disadvantages from men. There are reasons for it. And as unfortunate as it may be at times, it is the reality of the world. But rather than giving in to this reality at Ursuline, I have always been taught to defy this status quo. Ursuline cultivates one’s intellect in fields no matter what others might say. Ursuline challenges one to not just study hard and produce good work, but to break the boundaries of education.
Being a part of a community of strong, independent, and intellectual women has provided the support that I can excel. I have been supported by classmates, the teachers, the administration, the sisters, the parents, and the community of alumnae. Every person a part of our vast Ursuline community has given me this - confidence. It is the quality that builds up my courage to face any challenges in society. It is the quality revealed to me having enriched my intellect at Ursuline. I can pursue my interests regardless of what the world might tell me. Ursuline pursues one’s dream by bolstering intellect and educational confidence in students.
3. Name the most significant value you learned from Ursuline Academy; please use concrete examples to support it.
Swinging out the squeaky car door, my feet hit a rocky pavement. I follow along a path to big brown doors revealed through a stone archway. The door slides open and there’s a warmth in the building. I know exactly two people: my sisters, both of whom are older than me. I am completely alone within a few seconds, but as soon as I enter what I would soon learn is called “Lion’s Den,” I am unafraid. As a timid third grader, this room, full of buoyant kids chatting amongst one another, is overwhelming. It is a room of unfamiliar faces. Yet, there is something in that room other than a bunch of elementary students eager to start their day. What is it? This presence would be a mere mystery to me for most of my Ursuline education, but it is first revealed to me on this very day as a fellow third-grader came up to me and said one simple word: “morning!”
To a stranger, it might be confusing as to why I find so much comfort in a large building. More than that, a school. There have been many rough mornings for me, where I woke up and went to school miserable, unhappy, tired, and just dreading the day. But there has never once been a day that I ever left feeling that same way. Only those a part of this community understand it. It is what I felt on my first day of school and have felt every other day since. It is what you feel when you encounter someone in the hall and instinctively think to smile and say hello, even though you might have no idea who they are. It is what you feel when you serve others. It is something that has not necessarily been taught to me. Of course, I have always been reminded of courtesy, loyalty, and courage at my time at Ursuline. But this quality, one of kindness, understanding, empathy, and support, is inherent in every Ursuline girl. Because Ursuline is not a physical space or “just a school.” It is neither a building, nor a person. It is compassion.
Compassion. It is a value that isn’t directly taught to us. Rather, it is taught to every girl as a result of the people here. In a classroom, teachers establish an environment where students can listen to other’s opinions, debate them respectfully, and share in perspectives. In the halls, the faculty and students care about who you are, asking about your day, making you feel understood, and inspiring you to understand others. The Masses at school provide for a unity, where, despite whatever one is encountering in their personal life, everyone feels loved and cherished. In the fast-moving world today, where we see a lack of understanding, it is important that Ursuline is teaching girls to show compassion - leading lives of empathy to work harmoniously. A world needs people to love one another, but more than that, it needs people to care about others’ experiences and perspectives. This value of compassion is something I am so grateful for that at many times I am overcome with emotion. The person I have become - the young Ursuline woman I am proud to be - has been shaped by the value of compassion.
4. What one word describes Ursuline and why?
Only one word fits the character of Ursuline: dynamic. Ursuline in all its beauty and intricacy is perfectly dynamic. On all of my worst days, my attitude is transformed by the dynamic life at school.
There is a dynamic spirit that exists in the teachers at Ursuline, one in which students strive for greatness inside and outside the class, in which students desire to excel, in which students are inspired by the energy. As a strong follower of national and global politics, history has always been a home of passion for me, where teachers speak zealously, fiercely invested in constitutional amendments, New Deal Expansions, Andrew Jackson, Supreme Court decisions, fallen empires in the earliest centuries of global expansion. Class is an invigorating experience of debate, discussion, and expression, full of life and energy. The teacher’s devotion to the study of history and politics animates the classroom. The math department is a beam of youthfulness. Math class is an ocean of light, classmates giggling and racing to complete active math warm-ups. Solving the derivatives and integrals is an adrenaline rush, and the success of the problem is greeted with delight and joy from the teacher. And then the next problem begins with an eager thrill. There has never been a second of dull energy in the cheerful rooms of the math wing.
But it’s more than a dynamic spirit in the teachers, it’s within the whole academy. Sitting in the auditorium or the chapel, where vibrant faces gleam of big smiles of all ages, there is a bright and brilliant glow in the whole school. There is enthusiasm that radiates the room, and I feel at peace. No greater comfort exists than within the exuberant personality of the entire school. The loud laughter and gleaming smiles of students and faculty are a reflection of the dynamic environment of Ursuline, full of knowledge, courage, and vibrance.
Dynamic encompasses another vital aspect as well. Ursuline is dynamic in that it adapts to our changing world. It is no doubt that at my time at Ursuline I’ve been encouraged to be bold. Bold in the sense that I can do all things I love, and if I see an injustice or unfairness in this world, I challenge it. I do such with youthfulness, pursuing the issue with kindness, but, more importantly, with persistence. At Ursuline, I’ve always been encouraged to challenge myself and change those around me, doing so with the spirit I’ve developed at school. St. Angela put it perfectly in her legacy to us, Ursuline: “And if, according to times and circumstances, the need arises to make new rules or do something differently, do it prudently and with good advice.” Ursuline has always proven to encourage students to be the difference in the world. Graduating is a bittersweet experience, leaving the dynamic environment at Ursuline, yet there is comfort in that same spirit that I will “do something” and “get moving.” There is no greater reward than to say that I’ve had the pleasure of learning and living at such a dynamic place.