Isabella Reilly '20

Finding A Haven Within TBS

 

February 2022

 

My first step inside was instantly life-changing.

I remember the sound of student voices echoing through the halls and seeing backs leaned against locker doors. I remember teachers walking upstairs, conversing more like lifelong friends than workplace acquaintances. I watched as the student body occupied only a fraction of space within the large gym walls, but the room was still full – with noise, smiling faces, and abundant laughter. My eyes failed to find anyone unaccompanied. Everyone had a place, and everyone had a friend.

It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. That first step inside 428 W. Davis St. took place less than a month after I moved to North Carolina. I was newly 16 and beginning to miss the comforts of my South Florida hometown. I knew the school was small – a space where my classmates had grown up alongside each other. I knew I’d missed a decade of birthday parties, friendships, and memories.

Would I ever have a place at The Burlington School? It was a question that rolled over and over inside my head. A question that made my stomach tense on that first car ride. A question I wish I’d never spent even a moment worrying about.

As soon as I stepped inside, I saw more than a school. I saw a community. I quickly realized the word “community” was often used as a synonym for the school itself. It was a word some joked about – one others may argue is overused. But for me, it was real.

Community was not only preached, but practiced. It was displayed by teachers and students alike, and it’s what makes TBS so unique. We held each other accountable and lifted each other up. We had a responsibility to each other – we were a school only as strong as our weakest link. TBS was the first place I discovered this type of fellowship. Though I was initially an unfamiliar face, I was quickly embraced. My treatment never differed from those who had spent their lives there. I was made to feel like an integral part of their world – because I was, and they were equally an integral part of mine.

Before TBS, I considered myself reserved. But there, I felt comfortable, and the welcoming environment put forth encouraged me to step outside my box. By my second year, I had already achieved a leadership role in Student Government and headed the school’s prom efforts. In my third year, I became not only a member of The National Honors Society, but a leader within it. I was the wearer of many hats – a teammate, a club member, a student, and a friend. It was there I met some of my greatest friends and laid the foundation for some everlasting relationships.

But camaraderie was not the only thing I found – it was there I also discovered my purpose. Or should I say, rediscovered.

My childhood was filled with books. I loved stories – not only reading them, but telling them. Though my early “books” appear more like a collection of pictures than words, I was drawn to the idea of telling stories. As I got older, I began to write more and more. But with every creative writing piece I wrote, I never saw a future in writing. I enjoyed it as a hobby but didn’t believe in my own talent.

In middle school, I developed a particular interest in journalism. But my self-doubt hindered my dream, and eventually, both journalism and creative writing took a mental back seat.

But that was before.

Before my induction into the TBS community. Before my teachers took a genuine interest in my aspirations, career goals. Before they handed me the motivation I needed to pursue what I was meant to all along.

Junior year, my English teacher recognized my writing capabilities and encouraged me to expand on them. He offered me all the necessary tools to grow as a writer, and soon my doubts about my abilities began to fade.

Senior year is when I let go of any remaining doubt. I was blessed with another teacher who continued to uplift my writing and was equally as vehement about aiding me to perfect my skill. In addition, she also took an interest in my love for literature. She introduced me to some of her favorite classics that soon became my own. She gave me the courage to follow both my passions – and become a true storyteller.

 

Presently, I am a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, double majoring in journalism and creative writing. I am currently enrolled in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, one of the top schools for the field. I also work for my school paper, The Daily Tar Heel, where I have excelled as a reporter and now have numerous published works. Additionally, I am currently an Editorial Intern for Triangle Media Partners.

Though my teachers were not the only players in my journey, they serve as an example of the trueness of the TBS community. I wasn’t afraid to be honest about my ambitions because they weren’t afraid to listen. Without their encouragement, I may have never found the confidence to follow my dreams.

The Sunshine State is best known for its multitude of tourists. Though I was once a resident, I never felt like my presence there was permanent. I was the willing accomplice to a myriad of summer camps, schools, and friend groups. But as I packed my things to begin my life anew in the Tar Heel State, I couldn’t help feeling like I wasn’t leaving anything behind.

The Burlington School provided me with the permanence I had been searching for. By the time I graduated and to begin the next chapter of my life, I couldn’t help feeling like I was leaving everything behind.

But I wasn’t – not really. I know I will always have a place at The Burlington School.