Farrah Anderson; Danville, IL—
Fiscally conservative and socially liberal: a popular phrase coined among moderates across the country. If you would have asked me how I identified politically during my freshman year of high school, I would have regurgitated that statement back to you without hesitation. I was pro-life and waiting for marriage, fulfilling the two staples that young Catholics should, without a doubt, aspire to uphold.
With a graduating class of only 25 students, my private Catholic high school was often referred to as “the bubble.” The majority mocked those with contrasting views and projected their own views openly and loudly, especially during Homecoming week, when at least one person would come to school in a MAGA hat, fake tan, and a polyester suit. The boys joked at the girls to “get back to the kitchen” or “go make a sandwich,” and the girls would respond with innocent giggles. For the past five years, girls have earned almost all valedictorian and salutatorian spots, headed honor societies and academic organizations and led a majority of their sports teams to victory. Despite all of these accomplishments, I watched these capable young women subvert themselves to laugh at misogynistic punch-lines for the sake of being a part of the group.
After being baptized and receiving my first communion in second grade, I decided that I wanted to be the first female pope. As silly as that initially sounds, the Catholic Church had always seemed inaccessible to me as a young woman and I yearned to access it. I acknowledged the lack of female leadership and craved to see someone who looked like me at the pulpit. Before I even knew what feminism was, I knew that the Catholic Church did not uplift women and treat them as men’s equals. Every time I mentioned that I wanted to be a part of the clergy, I was met with resistance, laughter, and lectures about the sanctity of the priesthood. Even the bishop of my diocese chuckled when I, an 11-year-old girl, told him that I wanted to be a priest. Although I conceded to his explanation, I could never quite understand why I couldn’t do it. Other Christian churches allowed pastors to marry and have a family. They even accepted female preachers. To me, it was obvious that women, although not part of the original twelve apostles, were more than capable of heading a parish and fulfilling the clerical responsibilities demanded by the Church.
In high school religion classes, the teachers subjected us to daily rants about the sinfulness of abortion and God’s mercy towards transgressors of the fifth commandment (You shall not kill). Before these high school religion classes, I was deeply passionate about the pro-life movement. I dreamed of attending the annual trip to the March for Life in Washington D.C. with my upperclassmen friends while a cross pendant dangled around my neck. As I started to make friends outside of my high school and read debates over abortion on social media, I slowly started to change my mind. I started to understand the complexities of the issue and the way that the pro-life argument continued to restrict the rights of women throughout the world. As I started to voice my changed opinions over the issue, I realized that I was one of the only people in my class that felt that way. But, as the rest of my class started to experiment with drugs, alcohol, and sex, most of them fell silent on the issue of abortion. But, they were still using other forms of birth control, which violate the doctrine of the Church. But when it came to the rights for abortion, they fell silent.
I was the salutatorian of my class, and I gave an address at my socially distanced graduation ceremony alongside the valedictorian, my friend Isabelle Peters. In our addresses, each of us advocated for social change and called on our classmates to think for themselves and shape their lives around their own merits and dreams. In her address, Isabelle told our class, “I can’t tell you what to be passionate about, but whatever it is, do it with your whole chest. Every single one of us has a fire and a passion that I have seen little glimpses of, and it is our responsibility to now go forth and be a generation of change.”
As our class goes their separate ways, my hope for them is to escape “the bubble.” Despite my ideological differences with many of the administration, staff, and my classmates, experiencing the feeling of being a political minority while coming of age was a formative experience that not everyone is able to have. Learning to express my opinions when they weren’t accepted and standing up for what I believed in has made me a stronger person. These experiences, however frustrating and disheartening they were in the moment, have formed me into a person who can better understand any stance, opinion, and ruling despite my personal feelings. I am proud to say that I have come of age as a part of a generation that won’t let anything, even a high school, silence how they feel, even if they’re the only ones saying anything at all.