Stephanie Forrest '00
The Gift of Education
As I reflect on my childhood, I look back with utter happiness. I was blessed with wonderful parents, lifelong friends, and a relatively worry-free life. My mother and father worked hard to give me a strong foundation; one that would not only serve me well as a child, but one that would allow me to lead the life as an adult I would one day discover I had always wanted. I went to ballet, piano lessons, playdates – but the strongest foundation of all was my education. For that gift – and it is a gift – I am truly grateful.
I remember clearly my first day of Kindergarten at Monte Cassino. I carried an empty backpack and hoped to fill it with the fun school supplies I had seen my older brother toss around the house. That first morning, he gave me a pencil to put inside, and together with my pressed blue jumper and saddle shoes, I felt ready to conquer the world. I was a relatively shy child, but quickly opened up to anyone upon our first conversation. I soon made friends and felt comfortable as the school is very much a welcoming, warm, and nourishing environment.
In addition to the encouragement given to all students, we learned how to work hard - and work hard we did. We were taught how to study and how to retain. If an adult walked into the room, we stood up and greeted them. If the lights went out, we stopped talking. We understood discipline and respect, all while being treated with kindness and having fun. We were told to believe in ourselves and to dream. I know that not only set me up for success in high school and college, but my professional life as well. After college, I packed my bags and moved to New York, where I lived and worked for almost ten years. You need nothing short of discipline and motivation to succeed there, and Monte Cassino no doubt played a role in giving me just that.
Naturally every childhood has its ups and downs, but while I am generally optimistic, I do think it’s rare to look back with sheer fondness as I do. Many of the friends I made at an early age there are still in my life, and some I have reconnected with in recent years after living away for much of my adulthood. I have visited with friends from those days in places all over the world, and we’ve kept that special connection which we all acknowledge. I feel that is very rare.
A few years ago, I was volunteering with Dress For Success by counseling clients on their upcoming job interviews. The clients were hard-working people who were ready to make a change in their life – for many of them, this was the first step in starting a career after years of various roadblocks, the likes of which I had never experienced. It dawned on me that I had my parents to thank for the opportunities that my education allowed. While I definitely knew this, it became as clear as day what that truly meant. That afternoon, I texted my mom and simply said “I am not sure if I’ve ever said this, but thank you for the gift of my education.” She texted me back simply “You are welcome.”
Monte Cassino is a special place and I will always look back with gratitude and nostalgia.