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Four Years at the Mount

We all know how hard it can be to give one, and how lucky we feel when we get one, so, for the month of October, we challenged our writers to address this topic and think about a time they gave or received a second chance, and how they feel about them in general.

Second chances

October 2015

A warm welcome

Elizabeth Veronis
MSN Class of 2019

Two hours after my parents dropped me off at the Mount for the start of my freshman year, public safety had to rescue me. I had locked myself out of my room in nothing but my towel… but I am getting ahead of myself. Perhaps I should start with a comment my teacher made on my fourth grade report card: "Elizabeth doesn’t always transition well."

While I would love to argue the point, I am afraid that there is more than a kernel of truth in Mrs. McLean’s observation. I have always struggled with change. Not just the big stuff, but the little stuff, too. I was, for example, practically inconsolable when Zayne Malik exited One Direction. And do not get me started on Shonda Rhimes’ decision to kill off McDreamy. Will Grey’s Anatomy ever be the same? Given my history, I was more than a little nervous about how I would handle the transition from high school to college.

I do have some experience in this arena, having watched my two older siblings venture off to their respective universities. I knew some of the pitfalls that awaited me. There were the 2 a.m. donut runs that had temporarily softened my sister’s lean lines. There was the newfound freedom to hit the snooze button instead of hitting the books. My brother and sister had generally resisted this impulse and were, in fact, excellent students. I, on the other hand, had a less impressive track record in the classroom, where I was content with doing just enough to keep my parents off my back and me on the honor roll.

My main claim to fame during high school was the record-setting number of tardy slips I accumulated senior year. Once, when I had run out of all other explanations, I actually told the attendance office that I was late because I was not much of morning person. They failed to appreciate my honesty.

My aversion to school was not due to a lack of intellectual curiosity. I just got squirrely sitting in a chair for six hours a day. Right from the start, my real passion was recess, for it was on the playground where I truly excelled. I was energetic, quick, and happy to make a sport out of almost anything. I tend to blame my father for my competitive spirit, but he could not help himself either. His mother, my dear 82-year-old grandmother, is a former roller derby queen from Jersey. She hides it well, but the steely determination still burns inside.

It burns inside me, too, and I am proud that I will get to compete at the Mount as a member of the varsity tennis team. Tennis is our family sport. My father played at West Virginia University and my brother played for Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. There are few things that have brought us as much joy – and as much pain—as tennis. Like most athletes, I tend to remember the losses more vividly than the wins. But when it all comes together at just the right moment, everything else pales in comparison.

For the sake of full disclosure, I should note that I come from a lively Greek family. We love fiercely, laugh loudly and believe ourselves endlessly entertaining. We can infuriate quickly, but we also forgive easily. I am intensely proud of my Hellenic heritage. This past summer, I was fortunate to spend three weeks in Greece, visiting cultural landmarks and learning more about my Orthodox faith. I also ate a lot of souvlaki and consumed my weight in olive oil, but mostly, I left with a determination to see more of the world and a commitment to study abroad.

Like many people my age, I have virtually no idea what I want to do professionally in the future. When I was applying to college, I told one school I was interested in forestry, another that I was drawn to social justice, and yet another that I really enjoyed history. The last time I watched Scandal, I pictured myself as a political operative. Perhaps I will gain some direction over the next few years.

Truthfully, I am both terrorized and energized by the endless possibilities afforded to me. At the same time, I worry about student loan debt, a scary job market, and the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. I wish I was better informed on a host of other issues, but I know more about the Kardashians than I do about global warming, ISIS, or the refugee crisis. My indifference may be due, in part, to my disgust with governmental dysfunction. Now that I am finally old enough to vote, I wish there was an emerging leader who gave me hope.

Sometimes, I fear that my generation might be more cynical than optimistic, more anxious than adventurous, and more self-absorbed than empathetic; And yet, many people my own age who seek to make the world a better place often inspire me. I, too, want to do my part and intend to become a contributing member of not just the Mount St. Mary’s community, but of the town of Emmitsburg, as well.

Ultimately, I hope to find my voice as I contribute a monthly column to this publication. That is why I am encouraged by another one of Mrs. McLean’s observations: "Elizabeth seems to be making progress." But, just in case, I am going to keep public safety on speed dial.

Read other articles by Elizabeth Veronis

Okay. Let's start over.

Sarah Muir
MSM Class of 2018

Second chances are a big deal. Some believe that forgiveness is important, that it is best to forgive and forget. Others believe that people are given one chance and if they fall flat, another one is not deserved. My personal belief is that everyone deserves a second opportunity, so long as they attempt to change. If they do not feel obligated to fix past mistakes then what good are the hundreds of chances are given? Second opportunities are special cases in which to take advantage of every chance they get. Even if the person stumbles and falls, so long as they put in the effort to get up and dust themselves off and try again they should be afforded another chance.

I was born and raised a Roman Catholic, so it would be remiss of me not to mention my faith when discussing second chances. The Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation or confession is based on two core principles: penance and resolution. The first, penance, means that the individual must feel remorse for his or her actions and resolution refers to the individual's will to change. Without these, the sacrament is meaningless. The same reasoning applies to second chances. If one does not see the error of their ways or does not bother to change them, the second chance is wasted.

We, at times, must prove to others (and ourselves) that we are at the very least, attempting improvement. I think many of you reading this have been lucky enough to get another chance in some way or another. Others have probably given them and you know just how tentative one can be when it comes to expecting another person to change.

Now getting a second chance is a gift, but giving them is extremely difficult. The whole concept of "forgive and forget" is hard to reconcile in my mind. I feel as though even if you manage to forgive, you can seldom forget when a person has wronged you. Not only that, but when a person gives another a second chance, they place their faith it that person to change. This, at times is terrifying because there can be those "what ifs" floating in the back of your head— "what if it happens again?" or "what if they take it for granted?" or "What if they do not change?"

However, while these "what ifs" traipse about your mind, there is another thought floating about—the thought that caused you to forgive in the first place. A small, quiet voice that says, "What if this is what they need to rescue themselves?"

Many months ago, way back in January, I wrote a piece about fresh starts and resolutions. In the article, I mentioned that a person is not limited to one new start every year, but rather life is full of endless possibilities for new beginnings, with which second chances go hand in hand. There is never just one chance to start again, but every day is an opportunity to bring about a change in yourself. Also, every day is a chance to bring about change in others whether it is giving them the benefit of the doubt or extending an olive branch to some estranged person in your life.

Personally, I am lucky enough to have not yet needed a monumental second chance in my life. However, that does not mean that I have not needed to change over time. To be honest, I have made mistakes, but who has not? Some I have given me the will to change, while others I continue to make, though I keep trying to fix what I can. Also, I try to not hold grudges against people who I feel have wronged me. I am not always successful, because in the case of forgiveness, it is easier said than done.

Even though I have said that second chances are a matter of choice that does not mean they should be taken lightly. Second chances are an important part of life and taking them for granted is counterproductive. They are not to be wasted like they are extra lives in video games, or something dispensable. They should be treated as what they are...something precious and valued.

There is a quote by Harrison Ford: "We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance." I cannot help but agree with him. Every day we have a shot at another chance, even if those around us have stopped giving them. Even in the face of tragedy or ruin, we can find the chance, the hope, to rebuild a better life. No matter what life throws your way, whether it be ecstasies or miseries, you take what you learn, leave what you can no longer carry, and start over.

Read other articles by Sarah Muir

A spotlight of generosity

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

The other night I was on the phone with one of my closest friends when he jokingly made a comment about my faulty logic. In response, I hung up and quickly called back asking for an apology. This was all in good fun, and neither of us were serious at any point in the exchange, but it hit me when brainstorming for this article. When I called back and offered a second chance, I expected him to accept and try again, and more than that, I wanted him to accept.

Looking into this small-scale example of a second chance, I found that second chances are not only desperately sought after by a person at fault, but there is just as much investment and hope coming from the person doing the offering. This got me seriously thinking about the times I have given or benefitted from second chances in my life and I realized we are constantly giving and searching for these chances in everyday life.

The first time I ever fouled out of a basketball game was in fifth grade and I cried. Looking back now, I realize it probably was not worth my tears, but when I walked off the court to sit on the bench, I waited to look to my coach expecting to be scolded. I was, briefly, but then I was put back into the next game later that day as if I had not done anything wrong. It was almost as if I got another chance the moment a new game started. It didn’t take much discussion and I still fouled out of many games in my career from that moment on, but I understood that on that day, I was given a second chance without any question. This new chance probably came from the good things I had done during the first game and the hard work I had put in at practice, but regardless of where it came, from it was rooted in something.

I noticed that second chances come only when there is a mutual trust between the two parties involved. As freely as this second chance was given to me, it was not given without an unspoken expectation that I would try to not make the same mistakes again.

The unspoken expectations present in second chances seem to dictate the possibility of third and fourth chances. I see this on a larger scale in the current presidential election, world relations, and more. We, as a country, are much less likely to give a second chance to a president who has an affair or a candidate who makes a rash comment than we are to give them to our own friends, families, and even celebrities. It has to do with the expectations present in the leaders of our country and our inability to see these leaders as completely human. Second chances here are not given as freely as they were to me in my short-lived basketball career, but maybe this is the way it should be.

Second chances are given constantly; they are given to children when they forget to take out the trash on time, to little brothers who cut the hair off of your dolls, to friends for not showing up on time, to roommates for being too loud, to significant others for mistakes, to spouses for life-altering mistakes or for putting away wet dishes. We are literally surrounded by them and maybe that is why I have always taken them for granted.

Until very recently, I never thought I could do something so wrong or upset a person so much that I could not have a chance to make it right. I probably thought this because I always have been given second chances, and third, and fourth, and so on. I didn’t always deserve them, but I’ve never been refused one.

Just the other week I found myself in a situation where I was genuinely afraid that I couldn’t make up for a mistake I made with one of my closest friends. It wasn’t until I was in this spot and feeling this incredible sadness that I truly appreciated all the times I have been give "one more try." This started a circle of thinking that I almost couldn’t stop – as you can most likely tell by the way I am currently writing. I cannot imagine a world without second chances, and I often take them for granted, but they require understanding, they exist on both small and large scales of different magnitudes, and sometimes you just can’t give or get one.

I know that second chances are rewarding to give and even more rewarding to receive, but the one thing that I have learned for certain about them is that they should not be taken for granted. They allow our world and our relationships to thrive and continue existing, even when mistakes are made, and mistakes are inevitable. They make us realize the forgiving nature of humanity and how beautiful that tendency is. They give us hope when we do seriously mess up, and they put a spotlight on the generosity of those offering the chance. They prove that both parties are searching for another chance, and most importantly, they allow me to hang up on my friends and then call right back.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary

Do you believe in miracles?

Katie Powell
MSM Class of 2015

Second chances are miracles. I sincerely believe that to be true. Perhaps you are asking yourself, what in the world I could possibly be talking about, viewing second chances as miracles. It is probably because we are looking at second chances from different angles.

Well, allow me to explain.

I am approaching this topic in a much more philosophical way on purpose. Generally, we think of second chances as something that we grant or receive from other people, and that is fine and completely correct. However, I am thinking about this more from a supernatural point of view, more of a second chance at something major, even a second chance at life.

Whether you believe in God, ghosts, the cosmos, guardian angels or whatever, I can almost guarantee you, that you have had moments of some kind of supernatural intervention. These are moments where you think, "I don’t know how I survived that," "I don’t know how I did that," or even, "that was a miracle." I think someone is looking over you and decides, not yet, or, not like this.

I guess there is the possibility that I have lost you and we are no longer on the same page, and I get that. I will tell you a little story to get the point across:

I was the most typical 17-year-old over-achieving (more like over-reaching) student ever. Five AP classes, swimming 21 hours a week, up until midnight, doing homework and up at 4:30 for practice. No, I would sneer at others, I am not in too deep, and I don’t need your help. Thanks, though. I was determined to succeed, and I might have actually been successful if I had simply asked for help.

January 2012 brought me the wakeup call that I, for one, did not want, and two, did not think I needed. That morning, I woke up at 4:30 for a 5 AM swim, stumbled into my car and sped down the road. It was dark, rainy, and I was late. I was mad at myself for over sleeping, knowing there would be repercussions from my coach, the embodiment of Not-a-morning-person.

So, I flew around corners, hydroplaned, and wrapped my car around a tree. Oops. I wacked my head on the window and spent the next month recovering from a concussion and a fear of rain.

You are probably thinking that I had it coming, that I learned my lesson, and that the story ends here. Well, if you knew 17-year-old Katie, you know that is not how it went down. The insurance company representative told my mom I should have died while inspecting my car. All that told me was that I was lucky. What it really meant was that someone was looking out for me, and it would take a few months to set in what this second chance really meant.

April 2012 brought a similar tale with a much different ending. I recovered from my accident having learned nothing and harvesting anger at those in my life that this car accident ever happened, naturally blaming everyone except myself. Enter Nikki, a beautiful, talented, friendly girl in my senior class. She had everything going for her. We were not friends, we had a class together, but I did not know it until it was too late. Nikki was in a car accident involving reckless driving. Nikki was crushed in the back seat and did not survive.

The connection was unclear to me until the day after her accident, as my best friend sobbed over Nikki and dug her nails into my arm, leaving deep red marks, repeating over and over, it could have been you.

Nikki had been in my seventh period math class. I had no idea. This beautiful, intelligent, sweet young girl lost her life. I sat there in class feeling ignorant to the point of nausea as it finally did occur to me that it easily could have been me that my seventh period math class mourned over, four months earlier. Would I have deserved it? Looking around the room, I recognized very few tear-streaked faces as people I had liked, and even fewer that I had been nice to. Would they cry for me? Would they know who I was?

Something out there had decided that January 2012 was not my time. Something out there had decided that April 2012 was Nikki’s time. And it made me sick to my stomach to realize that I had been given a second chance and it took me four months and the death of a classmate to figure that out. How messed up is that? How consumed with my situation and myself had I been, harvesting anger over a car accident that I had survived? This was my second chance. And so far I had spent it being resentful.

Not a week goes by now that I do not think of Nikki. In my high school, we have long associated the dead with butterflies. I see one, and her name flits through my head as the butterfly’s beautiful wings carry it higher into the sky, and I remember how truly precious second chances are.

I recognize my story is a dramatic example, however, I think as a culture we often feel entitled to second chances. How dare my professor not let me retake that test, we think, or Come on, I lied one time! What we all need to do is look inside ourselves and determine if we really do deserve a second chance. Almost always we think we do. Almost always we are wrong. We blame our mistakes on those around us. Second chances are an opportunity to do better, to be better, and as a culture we need to recognize that those we are given are miracles, and that even those we are not given are lessons.

Read other articles by Katie Powell

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