STEPHEN HEMELT — Second chances create life-defining opportunities
Published 12:12 am Saturday, February 18, 2023
Second chances are the reason I’ve been able to grow and find a home professionally in the world of journalism and media publishing.
Honestly, I’ve been the beneficiary of a few third, fourth and fifth chances along my two decade-plus journey in the field.
And, frankly, this is probably a sentiment many in the City of Orange, Orange County and surrounding regions can relate to.
I wouldn’t exactly call this a theme of “love,” but I did find myself reflecting on these “chances” through Valentine’s Week.
Maybe it’s because on Monday I received word that Brother Raymond Bulliard was officially stepping down from his duties as president of St. Paul’s School.
That’s not a common name or school to many in Southeast Texas, but it is where I graduated high school from in 1998. It was Brother Ray who provided my first major second chance.
For background purposes, I grew up in and around New Orleans, shuttling between the city and its many suburbs as my parents navigated their lives post-divorce.
Despite a multi-home upbringing, my parents were extremely present and invested in my growth. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop me from screwing around as I began my teenage years and, thus, threatening my educational path.
I attended Jesuit High School for ninth grade in New Orleans and proceeded to fail four subjects, which put my ability to advance to 10th grade in serious doubt.
Then came mandated academic rehabilitation at Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie over the summer just to meet the state’s minimum requirements for advancement.
By the time that was done, it was August and a new school year would be starting in a matter of weeks. I wasn’t enrolled anywhere.
St. Paul’s School is located in Covington, approximately 25 miles north of New Orleans. Its student count was already locked for the academic year of 1995-96, but numerous family members pulled strings that got me an in-office interview with Brother Ray on the subject of my acceptance.
I’ll never forget that meeting, which also included my cousin Ryan, who was about to start his senior year at St. Paul’s School as the already-elected student body president.
Brother Ray hit me with a bunch of direct and hard questions, wanting to know why I performed so poorly academically in ninth grade but still expected to add value to his campus as a 10th grader.
He was stern, yet willing to listen. In the end, for reasons only he knows, he granted me the opportunity to attend his school.
Little did I know then what a huge break I just received.
In choosing me, he was vouching for me and I wasn’t going to let him down, earning honor roll in three of the four quarters during my 10th grade year on campus.
St. Paul’s, at the time, highlighted its honor roll students with a special breakfast, where Brother Ray would greet each attendee as they made it to the cafeteria.
I still remember the smile on his face as I passed him. I hope he knew I was as serious about graduating from St. Paul’s as he was about accepting me in the first place.
Those memories and emotions flooded back to me this week as school officials shared word that Brother Ray would no longer focus on the day-to-day responsibilities of the high school so he could, instead, concentrate on his own battle with cancer.
Brother Ray began his affiliation with St. Paul’s School in the 1970s and took on the leadership duties in 1987.
He impacted thousands of students in 35 years at the helm. I’m sure over that time he aggravated quite a few teenagers and their parents, but he certainly made up for it exponentially through guidance and diligent assistance to so many more.
I’m lucky enough to be one of the latter.
He taught me one of life’s great lessons in our very first meeting, and that is the special gift that a second chance can be. I’ve tried to honor his intent by not wasting it and have also done my best to provide as many as I could to others.
Forever a student in my heart, I am honored to have learned from Brother Ray.
Stephen Hemelt is the publisher at Orange Newsmedia, which produces the Orange Leader and orangeleader.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.