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The Same & Also Different

I attended Hamilton District Christian High School in September of 1988. Almost 30 years ago – which, is, of course, impossible.

My time at HD stands in my memory as a time of high anxiety, with thrilling highs, and deep, deep lows. Even though it may sound like it, I was not a typical teenager, and my experience of high school was not the norm. I experienced high school as a bizarre, incomprehensible dream. And when I look back on it, I am often torn between whether I loved it, or loathed it. Perhaps I was a regular teenager after all.

Now, my children are part of HDCH – one is in grade 10, and one just graduated grade 12. Their experience has been both completely different, and the same as mine.

Interesting facts about my time at HD:
I was part of the last grade nine class that attended the Athens Street campus. Lunch hours were 70 minutes long to accommodate five periods of classes and still fit into the small building – barely. The french fry truck was already on the corner of Mohawk and Upper James, and we went for fries at lunchtime way too often.

When I was in grade 9, Costco did not exist. Golflinks Road was a dirt road with huge hills on it, and it connected to Upper Horning. I biked it often on my way to Benita Wolters house. All around Golflinks Road were fields and farms – no Meadowlands. Or, actually, only meadowlands.

In September of 1989 (my grade 10), we moved to the new school building. They were still working out some building things, so water and electricity were sometimes available.

That year we went on a choir tour to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was quite impactful – such a huge urban centre. We sang in a big open park, where there were many homeless people, and they applauded and wept.

When I was in grade 10, my friends all went on a SERVE trip to Mexico, which I should have gone on. Seize your opportunities! Do not fail to do things. Live and do stuff and stop worrying about money. People will help you. Go and serve the Lord and grow closer to him and grow closer to your friends. Stop thinking you can’t because you probably can.

In grade 11, there was a play. I can’t place all the productions at HD, but I remember Why do We Laugh?, Cheaper by the Dozen, Oliver, and I Never Saw Another Butterfly. Also, the Christian High School Choral Festival happened every year which was a major highlight for me. I am sure sporty things also happened while I was at HD, but I never noticed.

When I was in grade 12, we went on the ski trip; the school musical production was Oliver, and the choir went on tour to Washington DC – it was a big and rich year. But what I remember most were the teachers I had that year.

Mr. Jake Plantinga taught me OAC Biology (now 4U). Mr. Plantinga talked about “stuff” a lot. The stuff that flows through roots. The stuff inside the little fetal pig that we dissected. The stuff that oozed from basically all living things. Mr. Plantinga nurtured my love of creation with his enthusiasm for the stuff of God’s endless imagination. He also was kind enough to let me pass his class and graduate. Thank you, Mr. Plantinga.

Mrs. Jane Roxborough taught me creative writing. My independent study for that course was published in a couple of different places, and she helped me structure it in such a way that it was publishable. She also gave me the kind of encouragement that later would come to mind when I was writing – to believe not in myself, but in God. To believe that he would use my gifts to his glory, if I was only willing. Thank you, Mrs. Roxborough.

Mrs. Susan MacLarkey still stands in my mind as my favourite and most influential teacher. I did go off to university after high school, but I went there in confidence and with a sense of peace because of Mrs. MacLarkey. She let me be a total weirdo, while she herself was no nonsense. She wept when we read Hamlet. She accepted my ISU two weeks late, and sincerely grieved that my mark fell just under 90% because of late penalties. Mrs. MacLarkey taught me how to write an essay, how to make a killer topic sentence, how to make a title (subject: attitude). She taught me to stand quietly until things quieted down. A skill that took me a long, long time to learn. But I still practice it. Thank you, Mrs. MacLarkey.

Strikingly, every year while I was at HD, a student in our school died. These events were by far the most life-altering and impactful thing that touched our lives.

When I was in grade 9, Ron Winter passed away from an illness that simply wasted him away. My classmate, Harold, and his family grieved the loss of Ron deeply, and so did the greater community of HDCH. When I was in grade 10, Dave Smit passed away. He took his own life. I remember that we were called into an assembly in the gym, and were skipping down the hall as usual when we saw Miss H. in tears. And then we knew that something terrible had happened. Our entire school went to Dave’s funeral.

When I was in grade 12, there was a terrible accident that left Marlisse Hoffman dead and James Glasbergen as a quadriplegic. This traumatic event was felt across the Hamilton and Brantford communities. Shortly after we graduated from grade 12, while many of us were in “fifth year,” Bernie Slump died in a skiing accident. It was impossible to imagine that this bright young man that had just crossed the stage with us was gone.

Over a 60 year history, many former students of HDCH have passed away. Some died in later years, and others while they were still in high school. But these years were unusual and affected our small community in massive, immeasurable ways. We lost our classmates, and we changed. I have not forgotten. We have not forgotten.

I am profoundly grateful for the thousands of people who worked and dreamed and prayed and sacrificed for me. Sixty years ago, there was a dream, and that dream turned into my opportunities. The Christian community is the greatest gift of God. At home, at church, at school, the Christian community has surrounded me and now surrounds my children. It loved me and taught me to love. It formed me, and empowered me to use my gifts for others. It taught me to discern, to think, to work, to be who I am.

As we celebrate 60 years of HDCH, we would be nothing without the support, prayers and tireless efforts of the greater Christian community. So, thank you. And thanks be to God.

By Marja (Harsevoort) Fledderus ’92
This excerpt is from Marja’s reflection at our 60th Anniversary Celebration in May 2017.