The Stuarts' involvement deepens connection to family and College
By Laura Freeman '96
"When our oldest daughter, Katie, was deciding on schools," Susan Stuart P10, 09, 06, told a crowd of parents at a Gateways Orientation Program, "I had only two questions: ‘Does Holy Cross deserve my first-born child?' and, ‘Will Holy Cross take just as good care of her as I have these last 18 years?'"
Having invested untold energy and care into raising their family, Susan and Michael Stuart, like so many parents, hoped their children would choose colleges that not only met high academic standards, but also that would cultivate personal growth and reinforce the values they had taken pains to instill.
"We wanted this experience to be more than just classrooms and books," says Michael Stuart. "We didn't want them just to be prepared for a job — we wanted them to be prepared for life."
Five years later, the Stuarts will tell you that Holy Cross has exceeded their expectations. Three of the Stuarts' four children are Crusaders: their daughter Katie received her degree last spring and is spending the year in California with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps; their son Jimmy is a second-year student who serves as a resident assistant and sings in the College Choir; and their youngest daughter Julianna, who entered the First-Year Program this fall, is already hosting her own radio show on WCHC. Their son Alex is also nearby, studying finance and English at Boston College.
The Stuarts, who live in Storrs, Conn., have found that Holy Cross' combination of academic excellence and faith-based mission nurtures students in a way that transcends the curriculum.
"Holy Cross educates the whole person and prepares students for a life spent in service to others," says Michael. "We've seen our kids learn and grow with confidence. The faculty is always accessible to them — that's rare in other institutions. When you put all of that against a backdrop of a faith-based experience, we think our kids have been very well prepared for whatever life throws at them."
The Stuarts have become increasingly involved in the Holy Cross community. As members of the Parents Council, they enjoy talking with faculty and staff about new academic initiatives. They frequently speak to fellow parents at first-year student orientations and at open house events for newly accepted students.
Kristine Cyr Goodwin, associate dean for student life, says the Stuarts' participation has been invaluable.
"Their remarks are always funny and enlightening, and they are an ideal resource for other parents because they understand where parents are coming from — and they also understand the institution," she explains. "Beyond raising some pretty incredible kids, they truly represent what it means for parents to partner with the College."
Michael and Susan have served as co-chairs of the Parents' Fund for the last two years, generating financial support for the College's ambitious goals.
"They have repeatedly been called into service — and have always gone above and beyond what is asked of them," notes Rebecca Ely, director of parent giving. She says the Stuarts' commitment to their children, sense of values and enthusiasm for the College inspires other parents to get involved.
The Stuarts say they appreciate the administration's outreach to parents, inviting them to participate in a way that does not interfere with their children's independence.
"Holy Cross keeps us well informed through the parents' e-mail newsletter and regular updates from Fr. McFarland," says Susan. "Even if you're far away, the College makes you feel very connected."
The Stuarts' service to Holy Cross is a natural outgrowth of a life spent giving back to the community — volunteering on local school committees, coaching baseball and basketball, and serving their parish by running marriage preparation classes, teaching religious education and working on church committees. In turn, the Stuart children are following suit. They are involved in a variety of volunteer activities — participating in SPUD programs, tutoring in Worcester schools and organizing student retreats. Katie, Jimmy and Julianna have each participated in spring break Appalachia service projects as well as immersion programs in Jamaica and Mexico.
Michael and Susan view these kinds of experiences as yet another way for their children to grow and find their life's passion during and after college.
"Our kids are fortunate and, like many of their classmates, have lots of advantages in life," says Michael. "It would be easy to go to a place like Holy Cross and forget about the rest of the world. But what Holy Cross teaches is that to lead is to serve."
Laura Freeman is a freelance writer from Milton, Mass.