Oh the Places You’ll Go!

As we enjoy the sunny summer days, today I am reflecting back on how our summer kicked off with Bridget’s High School Graduation. For 17 years the Heppes have been a part of the Bishop Dennis J. O’Connell High School family. Since that first fall in 1999 as I started my freshman year, there has not been a season of life that did not include this school. Whether it be Danny’s coaching, CF fundraising, time with friends from O’Connell, or even a wedding between alumni, this special school has been a big part of all of our lives.


Heppes DJO Graduates Grant ’07, Danny ’02, Jackie ’03, Katy’10, Bridget ’16, Sawyer ’07
All 6 of us – including Danny – siblings had a unique experience at DJO. Some loved every minute of it while others despised large chunks of it. There were some that took advantage of the offerings and participated in every activity they could squeeze in – while others made the extra circular items centered on being as far away as possible. No matter the feelings about the school while there, all of us have benefitted from our years as O’Connell Knights. I can say for certain that every single one of us still has good friends that we met walking those hallways! No matter where life may take us all – the education, the faith, the experiences, the relationships, the memories -brought to us by O’Connell High School will forever be a mark on our hearts so this June saying goodbye to our time of Heppes kids being actual students was a big deal.


Happy Graduation Bridget!
Throughout 2015-2016 we had many moments to commemorate this goodbye….
Our last Homecoming ….
Fall Weekend
Homecoming Weekend Fall 2015
Our last Senior Night …..
Bridget’s Senior Night February 2016
SUPERDANCE Assembly 2016
Our last Prom….
Prom 2016
Our last Baccalaureate….
Baccalaureate Mass 2016
And then we made it to graduation week. During that week we celebrated this final chapter with a few special moments, starting with dinner at our favorite DJO local restaurant – Joe’s Pizza and Pasta. You see, we lived anywhere from 30-45 minutes away from the school, pending traffic. It is a Catholic school so you choose to attend, you aren’t sent there based on location (and the whole paying thing…. thank you, Dad & Mom!!), so it was VERY common for us to kick off or conclude an O’Connell event with a meal…. and I can promise you most of those were centered around big bowls of Joe’s pasta.


Following dinner that night we all headed back to the auditorium, a place that my parents have logged the hours with my Student Government events, Sawyer’s plays, Grant’s musical performances, Katy’s fashion show, and Bridget’s academic achievements…. for the final award sermon. It was rather fitting that our final hours as an O’Connell family included being crammed into a row of creaky chairs whose cushions represent years of student, shall we say abuse errrr I mean “use” – to watch Bridget receive a special surprise award: the Marine Corp Athlete of the Year.


Spring Awards 2016 Marine Corp Athlete of the Year
As a dancer on the varsity team for all four years and Captain for 2 she was honored for her hard work and dedication. Although quite an impressive moment, and a memory that will certainly follow her for years to come….. I have to say watching her learn how to manage a team, motivate her peers, determine her coaches expectations, be a liaison between the team and the school, inspire hard work, and demand dedication was the best part. These lessons have provided her the tools to succeed in future opportunities at work, when building relationships, while chasing her dreams – and we all were happy to celebrate these achievements on the eve of graduation.


Final DJO
Bridget O’Connell Royalette
Afterward, we all headed back to my parents for a few photo ops and to help set up for the big graduation party. Although not an official graduation activity, these are the moments that you laugh with your loved ones, reminisce about earlier memories, and wonder about the ones to come. You really appreciate what it means to have people in your life who love you enough to start the celebration with a massive to do list. We all came together to celebrate the treasured graduate – but it was also important to  help my mom feel she had help for the big day and my dad to see the appreciation we have for the family life he has built by being around for the set up, not just the party. Plus spending time with my extended family in between chores and cleaning has its own sentimental value, because when all of life melts away…. when all the fanfare and fun quiets, when the sun sets on a season of life – its about who is still there to cut the watermelon, take out the trash, prep the desserts, water the flowers: we are just a family, doing life together.


Aunt Sharon, Ganmommy, and Aunt Tama
Mom Got a Gift
Happy Graduation Bridget!
Happy Graduation Bridget!
Happy Graduation Bridget!
Happy Graduation Bridget!
Happy Graduation Bridget!
Happy Graduation Bridget!
Happy Graduation Bridget!
Happy Graduation Bridget!
And just like that the big day was here – graduation. Most of the local Catholic High Schools – due to pranks or size (or I like to think they just aren’t as good as us Knights –  {PVI STINKS!!}) etc – no longer graduate at the National Basilica, but at O’Connell we still do!! This impressive symbol of our Catholic faith offers a breathtaking setting for such a special day and we 8 Heppes – just our immediate family – gathered together to watch Bridget step directly into her future and say good bye to this chapter of the story.


The National Basilica Happy Graduation Bridget!
The Basilica Happy Graduation Bridget!
Happy Graduation Bridget!
Happy Graduation Bridget!
19 years earlier, when my parents announced a new baby was joining our family I was not very happy (and that was an understatement). Being the oldest, I was looking so forward to the day that our family would need to go somewhere and we could all get on our own shoes and coats to gather at the door. No “can you help her?” or “Can you get that?” or “we gotta wait so and so isn’t ready!”.  We would be like one of those other families that decided to venture out by saying “let’s go do XYZ” and we would literally just go out the front door. For the first time we were FINALLY at the point and then a new baby was coming.


Final Family
Heppes Welcome Little Brig!
As I got more used to the idea we learned it was going to be a girl. Well this certainly helped…. I had liked having a little sister so maybe another one wouldn’t be so bad. If I am going to have to help put shoes on and gather coats and hats – at least they could be pink with ribbons.


Next came the choosing of the name. When my mom learned she was expecting, she had been praying Saint Bridget of Sweden’s Secret to Happiness prayers – so the first name seemed pretty obvious…. but then it came to the middle name. That happened to be my 7th grade year – the Confirmation preparation year and the time when I was to choose my saint. As Catholics we select a Saint who we see as our guide in the next phase of our faith – becoming an adult in the church. Thanks to a special priest who was a family friend, I had discovered Saint Maria Goretti and spent that year learning all I could of her story, praying to her, and ultimatly selecting her as my Confirmation saint. That year of exploration had incorporated a lot of family discussion and from there – a middle name was selected, Maria.


We sat under St. Maria Goretti at the Church
Well it took hardly anytime and little Bridget Maria was the favorite of all her siblings. My wishes for a faster exodus to dinner or chance at being on time for school drop off were very quickly replaced with this special person who was 13.5 years behind me…. and yet we were best pals.


Bridget and Jackie Baltimore 2001
Brig joins me at DJO Football Game Fall 2002
Bridget – you were all of our favorite. You are so very much the glue that holds together us siblings and I think God knew exactly what he was doing when he picked you to complete our family. It is so amazing that you reflect little pieces of all of us in your personality… You have Dad’s smile – it is always ready to shine, makes your whole face light up, and you offer it to perfect strangers giving anyone you meet a sense of belonging. Mom’s determination and perfectionism have been a part of everything you do and your patience to have it done right reminds us all of our favorite night owl! I like to think you have my affinity for happiness …. it is not always our go to – but we tend to default to it and would much prefer that to be our outlook on life. You most certainly have Sawyer’s staying power….. you both have had the longest running hobbies compared to a few of us who have started and subsequently stopped quite a few extra circulars…. but not you guys, you have passion and it is inspiring. Grant is up for it all…. and lucky for him so are you! Rarely do you say no to a new experience and don’t think for second about how you might look trying it or what others think – you just want to live life! Finally both your and Katy’s ability to be silly and quick with a joke has made for some awesome comedy routines and certainly made life in our family a whole heck of a lot more fun! You are the one we all select as our partner in crime first – and for a family of 7 that is pretty impressive.


She wrote a letter for all of us for graduation
And then there is your bond with Danny. Coming from not quite as large a family he is not one to always understand the constant chatter, loud stories, continues phone calls and need to rehash scenarios over and over again. His joining our family and finding his place has been one of the greatest blessings in my life… but there is no doubt who was the one to open that door! At 7 you met Danny and were always really friendly, happy to listen, and up for an adventure. As you have grown older, you were one of the first siblings he would call directly for a favor, or one he would sit next to at a big family event. You have remembered his birthdays, sent gifts to this hospital room, exchanged birthday gifts to request donations to CF, and been the first sibling that called him your brother…. helping to make my dream of marrying someone that wants to be part of family come true.


Happy Graduation Bridget!
The theme of your graduation at school and at home continued to come back to “Oh the places you will go”…. and the obvious reference has been to the accomplishments we have honored from your high school years, or the goal you met with being accepted to UVA … but the real meaning that I think we all have come to recognize is that the life of such a kind hearted, loving, determined person who seeks to share their blessings and use their talents to better the world will be so very full and exciting with so very many places to go….. but not without your family following along too. I love you so very much sweet Bridget and I am grateful to be your sister, honored to be your friend, and blessed to be able to cheer you on this journey of life. Happy Graduation!


Bridget and friends Happy Graduation Bridget!
One of my Fav O’Connell Knights (And a UVAer) joined us! Happy Graduation Bridget!
Good Family Friend Lynne Happy Graduation Bridget!

3 thoughts on “Oh the Places You’ll Go!

  1. AMAZING- I FEEL SO BLESSED TO BE PART OF THIS FAMILY- GOD IS REALLY GOOD AND SO GENEROUS. Thank you for chronicling our family and Bridget’s impact!
    Love Dad


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