Look at Naperville Christian's first graduating class, of 2, now
Stevie Melter remembers a battle of one-upmanship early in his college career at Taylor University, a small Christian school in Indiana.
His peers were trying to lay claim to the smallest high school graduating class. One guy who was part of a class of 200 thought he had it made. Then another beat him, coming in closer to 75 or 100.
Melter, who hails from Illinois' fifth-largest city of Naperville, just laughed.
"I had a graduating class of two," says Melter, who graduated from Taylor with a degree in social studies education and a minor in political science. "A lot of my friends were instantly interested in what my school experience was because it was so different than theirs."
Melter graduated with Kaitlyn MacIntyre as the only other member of the Naperville Christian Academy Class of 2013 -- the first graduating class since the school was established with three kindergartners in 2000.
MacIntyre was his classmate in every high school course -- often his only classmate -- so they both had to come prepared and be engaged. They didn't have the option of not getting along; there were too few other people to call friends.
They both say the unusual beginning was a deep learning experience, making them well-prepared for more education ahead.
In Melter's words: "NCA challenged us a lot and forced us to think effectively at a fairly early age. I was able to definitely use that to my advantage."
And in MacIntyre's: "I really, really loved my high school," she said. Especially "a lot of the critical thinking training we went through. Like taking logic classes, learning how to reason things, learning rhetoric, how do you present your opinions and how do you speak well. It's something we've seen have a very positive impact."
Those words are music to the ears of current Naperville Christian Academy parents, says MacIntyre's mom, Kim MacIntyre, who happens to be the academy's grammar school principal. These parents are making an investment in their children's education at a place that teaches Latin beginning in third grade, spends the middle school years developing logic, and requires a 30-page capstone project before graduation.
Parents might be wary of sending their kids to such a small, private institution when the world after high school won't be so insular, so the school wanted to comfort them with a new event: a graduates night.
Nearly all of the school's 12 total graduates returned for the mid-December gathering, donning spirit wear from their new school and sharing their college adjustment experiences.
MacIntyre says she remembers feeling "pretty lost" at Northwestern University in Evanston for her first few weeks. The school has about 21,000 students, roughly 8,300 of them undergraduates, and some of MacIntyre's classes had 200 people.
She chose a rigorous academic school on purpose, to study engineering. But it was a challenge at first to stay attentive when the professor wasn't calling on her constantly. She found she craved the close relationship she had with her high school teachers.
At Naperville Christian, "there was definitely a lot of trust between students and teachers and a great ability to interact," she says.
So she re-created it, finding the courage to ask questions and seek out professors who seemed invested in her learning, especially one with whom she is now conducting research on artificial intelligence.
Melter's adjustment to college was less severe. His average class size at Taylor was 15 to 25 people and his smallest classes had between five and seven. The research skills he acquired in high school made college-level work seem natural.
"I knew exactly how much I could handle and how much time it would take to get things done," Melter said.
Returning to speak to students among Naperville Christian's 85 current pupils was a fun flashback and a cause for reflection for the academy's first two graduates, who both parted with some words of wisdom.
From Melter: Keep an open mind.
"Be open to what God has for you and try not to get bogged down in just examining your grades," he told current academy students. "You're going to come in contact with a lot of people. They can have a huge impact on you and you can have a huge impact on them."
From MacIntyre: Don't feel pressured just to get a great job and make a lot of money, and don't let personal faith formation wait until high school Bible classes are a thing of the past.
"Explore what it means for your faith to be your own," she said.