Welcome to another school year, an historic school year. And seniors, it seems like just yesterday, you were new freshmen entering our building. And by Convocation three days later, we were already wondering what we were going to do with you! But your class has grown, and matured, and developed in ways that to be honest, one could see glimpses of, even then. But as I look at you now, I am so proud of what you have become and what you are becoming! We are excited and poised for an incredible year at CHCA. And you will lead us.
As many of you know, I spent a couple of weeks this summer in Israel and Jordan, on an incredible trip that I will tell you more about at another time. But one evening, sitting at an open air restaurant in Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee, I made reference to this passage. Because as you looked out across the Sea of Galilee, across the black darkness, singular lights shone up on the Golan Heights and on the edges of the sea. On the hills of the Galilee, the lights of a kibbutz could be seen. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to his followers as salt and light. And we are light because He is the Light. No need for bushels or baskets. We are called to shine.
If you would indulge me, I’d like to tell you a story. It’s a story you’re a part of. It’s the story of CHCA. A school which from the very beginning, wanted to be a light to the world. And I want to tell you the story not for simple historical value, but because you, seniors, underclassmen, faculty, staff—we become the custodians of this story.
In 1987 a group of seven families began to think about an educational alternative in Cincinnati, a school that was thoroughly Christ-Centered yet as academically excellent as any other independent school. They began praying regularly and in November of 1988, they broke ground on what is the current Middle School. And on September 6, 1989, one hundred and sixty-five students, PreK through 7th grade, walked through the doors. In 1995 that first graduating class of 29 matriculated outside on the grounds of the Middle School. Their pennant hangs in the Miracle Commons and you can see each of their pictures on the composite photo in the alumni café. And the first graduate, Jon Adams, has children in our school, the oldest in the 7th grade.
In twelve of the first thirteen years of the school, the Head of School was Dr. Bill Balzano. Dr. Balzano had come from Lee College where he’d served as a professor, the head of the Psychology department, and then the Vice President of the college. Many Christian schools say they aspire to academic excellence but in the end fall short of that goal for all kinds of reasons. But with Dr. Balzano, that outcome would be assured. As a scholar, he encouraged us to raise the bar high and to be willing to ask hard questions, to seek out truth wherever the journey might lead. Hiring Christian faculty with strong academic pedigree and teaching excellence was of paramount importance. A good number of our high school faculty remain from that era.
Another key moment in our becoming was when Dr. Balzano asked the head of the English department to become our Academic Dean. Most of you as students do not know Mrs. Karen Smeltzer. She works in the high school office area and doesn’t have interaction with students anymore but taught in the English department for many years. But Mrs. Smeltzer, behind the scenes, has been pushing our school toward academic excellence from the start. She oversaw our accreditation process, our National Blue Ribbon status, our AP program, our curriculum from preK to 12, our professional development for faculty. Our faculty still feel her pushing. But when you are in college next year, and it seems easy, because you feel so well prepared, that is the end result of her work and the work of the teachers sitting here beside you. They are a part of a powerful, unique legacy. And if you talk to Christian schools around the country, we are a light, a city on a hill.
Another key moment in our history, was in 1996 when we moved into the current high school building. The building was smaller then, lacking everything currently from Dr. Everson’s room on, and the hallway with Dr. Lipovsky’s room and the science lab. And the principal in this new building was Dr. Joan Miracle. Dr. Miracle did much for this school, and you will still see her around the building from time to time. A great academic leader, motivator, administrator. But the most powerful mark she made on this institution is loving, caring spirit that fostered a high school community that felt like a family. Dr. Miracle stood out every morning and afternoon and most bell changes greeting by name every student that passed by. And those that got close enough, she hugged. Dr. Miracle hugs were famous. I’ll never forget one year when I took students to Israel as part of a larger delegation of American students for a five week immersion. Toward the end of the time, we were all talking about what we missed from home and what we were looking forward to when we got back. The typical things came up—favorite foods, friends, one’s own bed, etc. Then a CHCA student said, a Dr. Miracle hug! Other CHCA kids chimed in. A charming young lady from New York said, What the *!@#$% is a Dr. Miracle Hug? When the students explained about how much they loved being hugged by their beloved principal, she said if my principal touched me, I’d call the cops. The typical outsider could not understand the essence of this community, the love of an administrator or a teacher for their students, the atmosphere we all still experience around CHCA when we are at our best. A city on a hill.
Athletics was an important part of our school from the very beginning. We didn’t have many sports but Mr. McCollum and soccer go back to the very beginning. Our first baseball coach was Mr. Bob Gardiner, who also became our first Athletic Director and many do not know that our baseball field is named after him. Lynn Nabors-McNally put our tennis program on the map and in many ways our athletic program as well, building a juggernaut tennis program. Many of you don’t know much about that ominous looking hall monitor who hangs out around the cafeteria in the middle of the day, named Mr. Cliff Hern. He was the one who started the CHCA football program and was our longest tenured Athletic Director before retiring five years ago. Many people around the city and state now know of CHCA because of its athletic prowess, and winning twice makes our teams more significant than mere win-loss records. Every season most of you are on some kind of field or arena representing your school, a city on a hill.
From the beginning, CHCA had music. It was like most high school music that I remember. It was. And if your kid was in it, you went to the concerts. A CHCA parent and an important patron of the arts at CHCA, Mr. Bill Blessing wanted private lessons for his trumpet playing daughter, Wren. So he brought in a graduate student from CCM to give her lessons. Mr. Grantham coming to teach lessons at CHCA began a new era, not just for the instrumental program but for all fine arts at our school. EJO tours the world. Pep band makes every game it’s at a better experience. Encore regularly dazzles audiences, whether an impromptu concert in the Miracle Commons or at the Great American Christmas party in Music Hall. Every theatrical performance is stunning and last year’s Cappies are concrete proof. What school has an electric strings orchestra like Cintered or holds art shows at a gallery like Drawn? The power and beauty expressed through the arts shines forth from CHCA like nowhere else. A city on a hill.
In 1996-7 school year CHCA wanted to flesh out more fully it’s motto to Learn and Serve. So they hired Mrs. Karen Hordinski to play a role in coordinating service for our school. That is not a unique position necessarily for a Christian school, but what Mrs. Hordinski did changed the ethos of CHCA. While most schools create opportunities for children to serve, Mrs. Hordinski created Student Organized Service. SOS not only creates opportunities for students to serve, but it creates opportunities for students to lead. We don’t tell students how to serve. Students learn to engage people, see needs, and then create opportunities to serve those in need, leading classmates in the venture. I’m not telling you anything you don’t experience every day as a CHCA student. Our 120 service hour requirement is obliterated every year by student averages of 200/ 300+ hours per graduate. Our students continue to serve. And they lead in profound ways. They see needs and they move our community forward to meet the needs, reflecting the love of Christ as they do. Schools from around the city and country come to see what we do here, a city on a hill.
Our school continues to grow and innovate and take on new ways to shine in our community and world. Since 2001 we have been sending students around the city and world in JTerms and now we will be heading this year into our second May Term. Every year I get emails after intersession from agencies and tour guides and travel companies, telling me how you all surpassed any expectations they had for high school students. Building on the academic foundation set before, Dr. Schaefer, Mrs. Petersen, and Dr. Savage are creating opportunities for students to understand independent research and then take on their own projects with professionals and experts in their related fields. Building on the sense of community set before, Mrs. Parcell created the Peer Mentor program, building not only leadership in juniors and seniors but a helpful link and touch point for freshmen entering a new environment. Building on the experiential hands on learning of Intersession, teachers have been creating new opportunities. Mr. Ciarniello and Mr. Cool have created a Robotics Team that has not only stretched students to learn and grown and built a powerful sense of community, but they have had amazing success with a very new team. Mr. Oden has led students and parents in an exciting business venture, the Leaning Eagle which has spawned an Entrepreneurship class. Our school has grown and developed in ways those first seven families could never have imagined. As one final point to that end, when those first 165 students showed up for class that first day 25 years ago, could they have imagined us sitting here today, with students not just from the Cincinnati suburbs but with 36 students from six different countries? The city on a hill. And through us, His light is shining around the world. And this year, one of our students will be representing us as she studies in Shanghai.
Why do I tell you all of this? For a number of reasons. First, I want us to know our history. You are part of a great tradition, a great story. What you might take for granted is something many people worked and prayed and struggled to bring to fruition. Some of those people are sitting in this very room. I also tell you this story because you all—seniors and underclassmen—are the ones who write it forward. What our school will be depends on you. Carrying on its excellence academically, spiritually, athletically, artistically, in service, depends on us. How the light of Christ will shine in the world through this place depends on not only what you do in our building but what you do when you are outside of it. Not only when you are a student here but for all the years you continue on in the world as an alumni. As God’s people, we do God’s kingdom work. And no matter what we study or what vocation you will one day do, it is an opportunity to shine forth His light. There is a great Martin Luther quote. “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” And what we do here at CHCA is training you to engage the world in a way that you can see and proclaim that Gospel story written and encoded everywhere. As we theologically integrate our curriculum, we come to see how Christ is in all, through all, and holding all things together. If you remember our reading that Mr. Gansle shared from Job, that Ode to Wisdom, the writer says, We know how to mine iron, and silver and gold, but who can find wisdom? Where is it found? I would humbly suggest that as you all gain knowledge and insight in a Christ-centered place and process, wisdom can be the end result. As you take on the mind of Christ, we grapple with mysteries and God willing, we learn that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And then as beacons of light, you shine the way forward for those in our world who are still asking that same question as the ancient writer of Job.
We celebrate 25 years this year. And we have a lot to celebrate. But even more importantly, Wednesday began our next 25 years. And today officially commemorates it. And it will be those who are sitting in this sanctuary who will begin to write the story of what comes next. What will they be remembering in an Opening Convocation that celebrates our fiftieth year? Literally, God only knows the answer to that question. But what I feel quite confident in, is that some of you will be part of the story. May this year be a blessing as a remembrance, but more importantly as a beginning of what comes next.
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.