When I arrived in Atlanta in July 2021, I prepared myself for a culture shock. After four years at the University of Notre Dame, a place that ultimately became my second home, I headed to the South to live with five random strangers in a place I had never even visited. To say that I was nervous would be an understatement.
Although I had various sources of support as I transitioned into my life as an ACE teacher at Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School, it was my students, many of whom who had lived in the area for a long time, who educated me about life in Atlanta. Because of them, I know that real Atlantans don’t pronounce the “t’s” in the city’s name, I am quite familiar with the menu at Waffle House (“It’s just different down here,” they often say), and I know that Pepsi is a waste of a drink that pales in comparison to Coke.
Now, at the end of two years, I claim Atlanta as my third home. It’s a large reason why I am staying for a third year at Cristo Rey Atlanta. Yet I enter my third year with some reservations, just as I had two years ago. I will be teaching for the first time without the consistent support of faculty in the ACE program, without a beautiful living space handled largely by the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and without the consistent care of my incredible ACE housemates. As I grapple with these nerves, I am reminded of what I have been telling my first students, the current seniors at Cristo Rey, as they approach their next steps: there’s always good people ready to help.
On this note, I have the privilege of having five of my students enter Notre Dame in the fall. I am close with these five students and have enjoyed my conversations with them about their future home. As we talk, I find myself relaying advice I learned in South Bend: go to North Dining Hall because it’s the better one; hockey games are awesome and worth attending; it’s OK if you don’t find your best friend right away. More than that, I find myself wanting these students to find the helpers on campus, the people who turned that foreign place into my home. The people who did the same thing a few years ago that my students did for me two years ago. I think of people like Professor Maria McKenna, Fr. Chris Brennan, Alec Torigian, and my friends at the dining hall who supported me at different points throughout my time at ND. There are lots of good people there, and I pray that my students find those good people who will guide them through life in South Bend.
As my students and I grapple with our next steps, and prepare for a time of significant change, I pray that we will have the grace to see the helpers in our new places.