Starting at a new school can be daunting. Entering a school the caliber of Saint Thomas Academy can be downright frightening. The academic rigor and all-male student body adds still another layer of adjustment required for most incoming freshmen.
Luke Audette ’23 and his family have felt all that and more. But it’s nothing they haven’t been able to handle, and even if it’s occasionally difficult, going through the experience itself is integral to the character development that an Academy education offers.
Luke’s father, Tom, and mother, Sandy, are lifelong Minnesotans, both products of public schools. Sending Luke to Saint Thomas Academy was not the slam dunk that it is for many legacy families. “We started thinking about where to send our boys when Luke was in fifth grade,” Sandy said. “Tom and I were both impressed with the level of professionalism at the Academy. We believe in a firm handshake and looking people in the eye, and when we came to Saint Thomas Academy, I was greeted at the door with just that.”
Catholicism also is important to the Audettes, so they appreciated the requirement that Luke attend Mass at least twice per month and that “going with his peers made it ‘cool’,” Sandy said. Also, Tom liked the military aspect of the Academy. “My dad was in the military, and I went to the U, thanks to ROTC. It’s important in business and other aspects of life to have a military bearing, and with every kid I met at the Academy, there was that handshake and that looking you in the eye.”
Luke also considered joining many of his friends at Cretin and wondered how he would make friends at the Academy, Sandy said. The Academy’s admission showcases won him over, Luke said. “I went to two of them, and each time, seeing that massive building as we were coming over the freeway and seeing all the banners on the wall at the swimming pool made me want to come here.
“The relationships between the students seemed closer than what I’d seen at other schools. The first time I walked on campus, it felt way more welcoming than the other high schools I was considering. It felt like the students who were there wanted me to enroll.”
The actual transition from middle school to high school and adjusting to the all-boys and military aspects of the Academy “has been interesting,” he said. “I’m getting used to it pretty quickly. It’s been a pretty easy shift, and the teachers have been really helpful in making it even easier.”
Importantly, Luke started his entry into the Academy last summer through a peer mentoring program, “so I knew some people going in,” he said, “and if I had any issues, I felt like I could go to them. I haven’t had to turn to them for any advice, but if I ever faced a serious enough problem, I would. I trust them.”
Joining the cross-country and swimming teams also has helped Luke adjust, along with a culture that encourages upperclassmen to help younger Cadets. “The upperclassmen show us around,” Luke said. “They help us find our classrooms, help us understand how the day goes. The brotherhood here is really strong. I carpool with a couple upperclassmen, and I feel like I could go to them for help or advice.”
Of course, the adjustment also has its bumps, Tom said, such as Luke’s disappointment with some of his own athletic performances, challenge from the academic rigor, and even once being sent to the back of the line by the quartermaster. “But that was good,” Tom said. “Luke learned that he needs to think ahead and speak in succinct sentences.”
Time management also brings its challenges, Tom said. “Being on the swim team, Luke leaves the house at 5:50 a.m., and he’s not home until 6 p.m., and then he has homework until late in the evening. But I’ve seen him grow a lot.”
And, Sandy said, “It took Luke a while to get his footing academically. He took the bull by the horns in the second quarter, and he’s got it now. He just needed to learn that sometimes he might have to go in early and talk to certain teachers if he was struggling.”
She also credits Luke’s coaches for providing great support. “He’s really bonded with Tony Kinzley, the cross country coach, who also will be his advisor, and with his swim coach, John Barnes. They’ve helped him get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Just over halfway through his freshman year, here are Luke’s takes on the four pillars of Saint Thomas Academy.
Military. “It’s really helped me develop as a person. It’s taught me values and skills like how to shine shoes and iron shirts, how to get my hair cut and when to get my haircut. Shooting is really cool, and it’s a skill I think all people should learn how to do. The military part also helps teach us respect.”
Catholic. “Going to Mass twice a month helps us keep our faith prominent. It helps us stay close to God. I also altar-serve so I get to see behind the scenes.”
All-Boys. “Walking into it, it was intimidating, but after about a month I just saw it as a different dynamic than in middle school. We’re all competitive and that really helps me stay on track. I probably participate more now in class discussions because I’m not worried about messing up.”
College Prep. “My favorite classes are math and Spanish. They’re rigorous enough to keep me on my toes. That all-boys aspect really brings out the best in you. It’s made me stronger academically than I’ve been in the past.”
Each of the Audettes summarized their thoughts about Luke’s freshman year, starting with Luke himself. “Everybody seems to want to be here and seems to want to do well,” he said. “The brotherhood helps keep everyone positive. I didn’t realize how strong the brotherhood was going to be.”
Said Sandy: “Most days he can’t wait to get into school. I drop him off, and as he’s walking and gets closer, you see his pace pick up, like he really can’t wait to get into school.”
And Tom: “I’m proud of him and proud to say my son is a Cadet. A lot of parents don’t understand why we would pay for school, but I just see Luke growing and maturing and getting set up for success.”