BY LIZZIE DONDLINGER, DSHA '22 + BUCKNELL UNIVERSITY '26
Note: This piece appeared in the 2021-2022 DSHA Annual Report, which hit mailboxes mid-December.
Lizzie Dondlinger, DSHA ’22, embodies this part of the DSHA mission:
Divine Savior Holy Angels High School is a Catholic, college-preparatory high school for young women that excels at developing the whole person. Sponsored by the Sisters of the Divine Savior and grounded in their mission to make known the goodness and kindness of Jesus Christ, we develop our students into capable young women of faith, heart, and intellect who accept the gospel call to live lives that will make a difference.
Throughout her time at DSHA, Dondlinger strove to develop in her academic, spiritual, and co-curricular pursuits. By her senior year, she was a DSHA Campus Ministry Officer, one of the leads in DSHA's fall musical Freaky Friday, and the DSHA Class of 2022 Salutatorian. Perhaps her biggest accomplishment was her ability to weave faith, heart, and intellect together to discover a passion and calling for her future.
A process that 175 new students begin each year — some enthused, some anxious, some paralyzed by transition, some ready to reinvent, some prepared, and some more lost than they ever expected. The common denominator for each Dasher: inevitable change and inevitable growth. As much as I’d like to say that I went into high school ready to embrace these inevitabilities, dreaming of all the things I could achieve and the person I could become by the end of my experience, I instead entered DSHA assured of my 14-year-old self and all of her convictions. Sure, making new friends and learning new things was always an intention, but DSHA primarily functioned as a steppingstone to the final product — becoming a biomedical engineer at MIT. Definitely not an unworthy goal, but certainly a goal that failed to encapsulate my truest self.
Freshman and sophomore year, I remained on the path to my lofty engineering goal. Earning high grades despite the increased intensity of classes assured me that I would achieve it. With confidence that I could maintain academic stability, I started participating in activities and groups that interested me: fall musicals, campus ministry, track and field, choir, and student council. Some fit, and some exhausted me more than I anticipated. I discarded those I found unpleasant and resolved to continue those I enjoyed during my time at DSHA.
I’ve always struggled to keep with things I didn’t excel at. I feared instability; I despised failure; and I hated disappointing myself. I held myself to such high standards and expectations that I held myself back. After all, who excels at something they’ve never tried? Until I could ease these expectations and learn to accept the failure and the confusion as essential rather than just blocks to an end goal, I couldn't really experience change and development. I was happy, but there was no upward trajectory.
JUMPING INTO JOY
Something changed my junior year. I don’t know if it was the drastic changes in the world or how humans had to operate — perhaps it was increased freedom in choosing classes and building my schedule, perhaps it was new people in my life, but something changed. Something in me bulldozed this MIT-sized wall and realized that joy was essential. That trauma and change and confusion and struggle and failure and fear were necessary. That a process could bring more success and growth and excitement than the end goal. That an end goal could shift and the process would not be for naught. That there could and should be a lot I don’t know about the future. For example, some of my favorite teachers shared that their goals and passions changed while they were students. They explained that they thought one thing was for them and stumbled upon something else that brought them so much happiness. And so I realized that my goals, too, could shift and that doesn’t mean they were for nothing or they didn’t fit me, but simply that something else would fit better. The purest development occurs on the path to these new goals. I found joy in the novelty, comfort in redirection, care in people who supported the change, and maturation in realizing that scrapping a goal is not a failure but growth.
FAITH. HEART. INTELLECT.
Faith, heart, and intellect are not three different entities but a skillfully intertwined trio. When all are satisfied, life is all the more fulfilling. But it took me a while to make this connection. Being dead set on my inner nerd, I clung to engineering. I was so stuck on the intellectual that I dreaded leaning on the nurturing and compassionate parts within me. I neglected any desire of my heart as a viable goal. After all, mad science was the height of academic and female prowess. In the name of girl power, I mistook academic validation for personal validation and resisted change. But eventually, without even seeking guidance, I found redirection and support from some incredible faculty members.
THE SUPPORT OF TEACHERS
“Those who can’t, teach.” Certainly a message thrown around. A preemptive expectation that demoralizes the whole for the sake of explaining the few. I was blessed at DSHA with countless teachers who proved that teaching is for those who can, because a phenomenal teacher can change the whole course of your life and help you realize the breadth of your potential. It was these teachers that demonstrated that I could only find fulfillment when my faith, heart, and intellect were woven together. It took a lot of introspection for me to conclude that even though biomedical engineering would certainly flex my mind, I was neglecting my faith and my heart. Accordingly, I longed for a new calling that embraced my desire to share knowledge with others, enabled me to act with empathy and compassion, and included my passion for music. This new calling was answered through experiences like the Angelaires and DSHA theatre. These experiences propelled me through tough academics. And just as essentially, I needed to understand that opting to satisfy both my heart and intellect would not compromise a secure future. I needed faith that I would be held and supported by God and others when making the right choice for me. And some extraordinary teachers helped me settle into this new calling — by one teacher’s story and example, another’s unending support, two more teachers’ willingness to let me experience teaching, and one’s consistent and compassionate prodding, I embraced the goal of music education. These people helped me invalidate and overcome a childhood teacher’s unprompted declaration that I would “be a terrible teacher” and transformed my life-long idle musing of being a teacher into a feasible goal.
A NEW GOAL FOR A NEW JOURNEY
As I set off to begin college at Bucknell University, I am emboldened by my new goal that encapsulates my faith, my heart, and my intellect. And if I end up anything like these remarkable people who guided and supported me, and can offer that guidance and support to even one person on my path, all the change was worth it.