Salt Lake Tribune – Keep a distance: Seminary, school should be in separate buildings

Salt Lake Tribune – Keep a distance: Seminary, school should be in separate buildings

In Lindon, a new charter school – a public school that operates with taxpayer money – and a seminary operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are occupying the same building.
That doesn’t technically violate the constitutional mandate that government not support or endorse any religion, since each organization separately leases its space. The Karl G. Maeser Preparatory Academy and the seminary don’t even share an entrance. But the perception is there that the public school is simply too cozy with the LDS Church. And that makes a significant number of people, already sensitive to the church’s influence in Utah, uncomfortable.

Given that precisely that perception is reality to so many, either the school or the church should look for other quarters.

I was a public school student in Utah about 30-40 years ago, but it didn’t matter one bit then that the LDS seminary buildings in junior high and high school were not in the same building – I still had to listen to what everybody else was hearing about. Every day in more than one class, I’d overhear what the other kids had seen or heard in their “sem” classes – gossipy stuff about the videotaped soap opera that was the big thing in junior high, and whispered stuff about what the high school seminary classes were covering about more adult topics like dating within vs. without the faith.

People talked around me as if I had been there, or more significantly, as if I wasn’t there at all. I was invisible.

It was not a comfortable place to be a “not.” It was not a friendly and fun place to be a “non.” I spent my entire school career feeling ever-so-slightly unwelcome all the time, and sometimes I felt like there was nowhere to hide from enemies who wanted to hunt me down for being “differnt”, and nowhere to find friends who might accept me without asking what church my family attended, before deciding if it was okay to be seen with me.

Before we actually attended any church, of course, I was almost completely on my own… once we started attending a Protestant church regularly and I joined a Masonic girls’ group, I had friends, but not at school. With one exception – Mark, who went to my church, also went to my grade school. We were buddies the last couple of years there, but he went to a different junior high although we still were in youth group together. And then when we got to high school, his family had moved, and we ended up graduating together.

My 30th high school reunion was supposed to be last year, but it was cancelled or postponed due to the very sad death of Steve Tempest, who had been student body president and was one of the organizers. He was a good guy, who did good things in his life. I ran into him unexpectedly on a trip to Salt Lake years ago, and was totally surprised find out that he knew who I was in school – actually knew my name.

You could have knocked me over with a feather, as it was a revelation to me to realize that I hadn’t been as invisible as I thought I was in high school. You’d think that a big, tall, red-headed girl with a goofy laugh would find it hard to be invisible, but I was, at least as far as I could tell. So to be greeted by name by somebody who was “somebody,” after so many years, was really odd.

I did attend one reunion at about the 10-year mark and amused myself by covering up my nametag and going up to former jocks and saying “You don’t know who the hell I am, do you?” That was a fun time, but the fact that there was alcohol probably made it easier.  Utah does things like that to you, or did then, anyway. If you drink socially, you drink as conspicuously as possible in order to show everyone else you’re “not” like them. It can make for some rather colorful stories afterwords (and worse hangovers than necessary).  If you use bad language, you use it as conspicuously as possible, too. I always start swearing more when on trips to Utah – it kind of creeps my husband David out, especially if I get together with my salty oldest niece, Holly (she’s David’s age). Then: look out.

During the time I was staying at Mom’s house trying to sort stuff out after she died in 2006, somebody called me to get my mailing address and email address so that I could be contacted for whenever the reunion happened. It was supposed to have been this August, but I never heard a word. I checked with Mark, and he never got a response to his emails, either.

Oh well. I expect there was some kind of event, probably locally organized and arranged, and someone dropped the ball on contacting the “unsocial” types such as myself and Mark, who were kind of non-entities in school because of our “differnts” and didn’t stay in touch with many other people after graduation. As a hopelessly disorganized person myself, I can understand if the information didn’t get collected and organized and used effectively, but it would have been nice to be invited, even if there was no way in Hell that I’d bother to attend. I don’t know anybody anymore, Mom’s not there anymore, I don’t want to see what’s become of our old house since it was sold, and I’m not skinny and gorgeous and well-preserved enough to show up with a glint in my eye at the classic reunion dance, in a kind of “wallflower’s revenge fantasy.”

As far as I know, seminary classes are still conducted across the street from my old high school; Salt Lake has gotten more culturally diverse since my school days, but I bet the “nons” and “nots” still have a pretty good idea of what’s being taught and discussed in the building across the street. It’s probably still inescapable.

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2 thoughts on “Salt Lake Tribune – Keep a distance: Seminary, school should be in separate buildings

  1. It doesn’t mean you weren’t invited to the reunion because you weren’t a Mormon. I didn’t get any invites to my high school reunions either, although I saw on a website that the popular people were all talking about when it was a good time for “everybody” (aka them) to have it. I couldn’t have gone anyway, and I don’t really care.

    And I went to school in Oregon where I attended seminary across the street. Other students burned down our building and tried to do it again and shot out the windows. So I know a thing or two about being an “other” from the other side of the coin.

  2. Very sorry to hear about your experience in Oregon – I went to college in Eugene and was really surprised to fine that nobody cared what church I went to… unless I said I was from Utah, and then I was a curiousity. But in your case, kids will be cruel to the “Other” no matter what their background or faith is. It sounds like a scary time. I just had to deal with social isolation, once I ended up in a different school from my former grade-school bullies.

    At the time of the original post, Mom hadn’t been gone much more than a year and a half. The thought of going there doesn’t make me flinch (as much) and it might turn out to be a pleasant surprise. But I doubt I’d make a special trip for a reunion, since aside from my childhood friend Mark (who lives in Milwaukee) I’m not in touch with anyone.

    I saw references recently to a 35th year reunion at my old high school online, and could have gone had I bothered to contact the organizers. By then, I didn’t have the motivation to attend that I might have had if my mom were still alive. I’ve kind of been avoiding Salt Lake since her passing; I’d love to see my sister and nieces and cousins, but the thought of being in Salt Lake (and risking the inevitable sinus infection if there’s an inversion) fills me with “meh.”

    I’d like to see the mountains and the family cabin, hang out with family, but don’t have any other reason to visit now.

    Oh – and seminaries and schools should NOT share the same building. That opinion won’t change. There’s too much “bleedover” as it is – the attitudes taught in the seminary were everywhere in the school, anyway.

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