So we had heard good things about Faith Lutheran.
I grew up in the Las Vegas school system, the child of educators and in retrospect, mostly negotiating the conditions at underfunded and overcrowded public schools with wonderful, struggling teachers doing the very best they could. I like to say my high school mascot was a “Survivor” and for many of my classmates that was true given the harsh realities of our environment. Gang violence, rampant drugs, and other dangerous distractions were common. Once I became a father, I knew that our family’s priority would be to give our kids the best education we could alongside a peer group of safe, happy, well-parented kids who wanted to make the most of the high school experience and use it as a spring board for college.
But we had our doubts.
First, my wife Tami had grown up in the Presbyterian Church but had not been active since moving to Las Vegas. I had gone to the Serbian Orthodox Christian church in town plenty with my parents as a kid and was comfortable around people of faith. But we were hardly Lutheran. And these Lutherans…they seemed so confident, connected, a club almost. This wasn’t our speed. We wouldn’t fit in. My kids would be spiritual outsiders.
Nonetheless, t-charting the opportunity of public and private school we decided to send our oldest, Riley, Class of 2021, to a Faith feeder hoping to increase our understanding and her acceptance later at Faith Lutheran. Around that time, my lifetime friend was going through a terrifying ordeal with his Faith High School enrolled daughter related to a life threatening brain condition and while we spoke and prayed together, he shared with me how supportive Faith and its leadership had been where she was a student. He wasn’t Lutheran either. And while a person of the strongest faith, he was deeply appreciative of the support from Faith Lutheran. Proactive, compassionate, relentless support.
At her middle school entrance interview Riley was interviewed by Dr. Steven Buuck, a name that meant nothing to me at the time other than I was impressed that he gave her his CEO business card after their meeting and soon realized that he ran the place…or at least he ran the very top of the place. The CEO does middle school entrance interviews? She told us after we anxiously grilled her as to how it went that he said, “If by some disaster you don’t get in here, you call me personally.” As the son of an educator who was as hands-on as it gets and now has an elementary school that bears his name for that effort, we were impressed.
Then the school year started. We worried about Chapel service on Wednesdays. Would my kid be the one who didn’t know what was going on? Would she be faking the lyrics while others in the fold sang with earnest enthusiasm? Nope. Loved it. Connected, inspired, guided toward the good… and happier when she left.
Soon, my second oldest, Trystyn, would arrive on campus. Like her sister, a student athlete but interested in following her retired dancer/acrobat mother into the arts. Briefly put, her time on the boards for “A Christmas Carol” will likely be one of the highlights of her Faith career, this opportunity to be a part of something extraordinary, performing in this amazing theatre with elite instruction and performers. Never did she feel like an outsider when the show’s star performer welcomed her to join the full cast at Red Robin for a post-show meal. We sat outside, envious of endless fries and Trystyn’s inclusion in such an awesome group.
Soon, we realized we weren’t outsiders or uninitiated. When we had a problem--- see the new Math program freshman year —we were able to ring a bell with Faith staff and say “need a little help over here.” And we got results. No organization is perfect. No good ones are built to be. But the best ones are indeed structured to change as needed, to pivot to what makes sense and what is practical. And that’s what we got. Never did we feel as if we weren’t inside The Club, that our email wasn’t read or appreciated because we didn’t end it with scripture.
This past May we were honored to watch our oldest graduate at of all places, Allegiant Stadium. Here we were in the midst of a generational pandemic, but nonetheless the beneficiaries of a school that simply tries to do everything right, watching our baby girl accept her diploma in front of our family and extended family in one of the finest venues on the planet. It was a magical moment for all of us, but really, a metaphor for this school which aspires for nothing less than the best for the kids who swarm its halls, Lutheran or not. We watched Dr. Buuck, Mr. Fogo and team preside over the graduation, beaming with this sense of glee and pride that must be the rare privilege of those who endeavor to do their best for so many and through so much and who are given the gift of its manifestation right in front of them.
As I write this today, my wife is on the road to San Diego State where Riley will begin her college experience. We are thrilled that she has been admitted to the Fowler College of Business and while a smart, hard-working kid we are sure this does not happen without her journey through Faith; the education, accumulated values, peer group, and all that was this wonderful experience.
Soon, Trystyn (Class of ‘23), Kyra (Class of ‘28) and Quinn (Class of ‘30) will follow in big sis’s footsteps in this special place full of special people. And no matter the individual journey for each; the ups and downs of high school life, the challenges of making the grade, or these things that are so difficult in the moment that inevitably make us better in our lives, my takeaway will be quite clear.
Like many of you, most of you perhaps, I dropped my child off at a place where I knew next to no one, where I had heard good things and hoped for the very best. Along the way, we discovered that we too were Faith family… accepted, nurtured, and loved.
If we started out as outsiders at Faith Lutheran it sure doesn’t feel like it now.
This piece was originally published in the Fall 2021 Living Faith Quarterly Magazine. Kurt Divich is a lifelong Las Vegas resident and the author of “A Dream in the Desert, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts,” and the novel “Lords of Las Vegas.” He is also a proud Faith Lutheran parent.