Saturday, June 7, 2003

Graduating from tradition

Now co-ed, Oldenburg Academy grants diplomas to last all-girl class

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] The final all-girls class of the Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception in Oldenburg, Ind., shown here last August, will graduate today.
(Michael E. Keating photos)
| ZOOM |
OLDENBURG, Ind. - When the 33 members of the Class of 2003 get their diplomas today it will mark the end of a 150-year tradition at Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception.

It is the last all-girls class to graduate from Southeast Indiana's only Catholic high school - because it's gone co-ed.

"The planning was very appropriate to end the all-girl tradition during the 150th anniversary. It's a celebrational ending," said Mary Beth Hortemiller Dickman of Batesville, who graduated in 1978 when the school was known as Immaculate Conception Academy.

"(The boys) will add to the next 150 years of tradition.''

Dickman has two daughters at the school - oldest daughter, Natalie, graduates today and Megan just finished her freshman year.

Following an Archdiocese of Indianapolis study, Oldenburg opened its doors to boys in 1999, accepting the school's first boys to the freshman class. Next spring that class will be the college preparatory school's first co-ed graduating class.

"I think it's kind of sad for the girls that it's co-ed. You feel a lot closer to each other (in a single sex school),'' said graduating senior Abby Alford, 18, of Harrison. "You're more open than you would be in a co-ed school."

Because her class was a small, close-knit group of girls, senior Stephanie Kohlsdorf, 18, of Brookville believes she has more confidence in herself.

"I think we are extra close. Our whole class is a clique. We all get along. We do everything together,'' Stephanie said. "We've gone through the change. We're the only class in the school (this year) that's all girls."

School President Sister Therese Gillman said the gradual addition of boys - about 40 percent of the school's 175 students are male - is allowing curriculum to expand. It also gives boys from the 27 feeder parishes in five Southeast Indiana counties an alternative to enrolling in Cincinnati's west side Catholic high schools.

"It's been gradually phased in and it's been a successful integration,'' said Gillman, a 1969 graduate. "We've expanded our curriculum and increased our advanced placement classes.''

A chemistry AP class will be added for the upcoming school year and a fund raising campaign will begin. Donations will be used to build a multi-purpose building on nearly two acres adjacent to the school. It will have a regulation size gymnasium with seating for 1,500 that can double for school and community events.

"Our goal is to grow and expand to a school of 400 over several years. We want our students to continue to get individual attention and keep the closeness.''

This year 78 percent of the seniors earned scholarships with a total value of $1.5 million.

About the school

What: Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception.

Where: Oldenburg, Ind.

Founded: 1852 by the Oldenburg Community of Sisters of St. Francis with 12 student boarders. Boarders were eliminated in 1999, the same year that boys were admitted to the freshman class.

Enrollment: 175 in grades 9-12.

Graduation: The last all-girls class will graduate 1 p.m. today (2 p.m. EDT), in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, will speak to the 33 graduates.


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