Emma Derr pours her energy into service, while also honoring the sisters who founded the school
WILMINGTON – A few years ago, as the time neared for the Ursuline sisters to leave the convent on the campus of their school in Wilmington, sophomore Emma Derr had a conversation with Sue Heiss, Ursuline’s longtime athletic director.
Derr mentioned how, even though the sisters were very visible to the Ursuline community, some students did not understand their impact. Heiss told Derr she should do something about that since she was so passionate about the topic.
So she did. Now a senior, Derr recently completed work on a nearly 18-minute video chronicling the sisters’ influence on the academy. She interviewed five sisters who either lived in the convent or nearby and who attended school liturgies and other events. Derr also talked to school president Cathie Field Lloyd and faculty members. She will soon present the video to the school community.
“I thought people were going to lose touch with them since they weren’t physically on the campus,” Derr said recently. “(People) don’t understand all of the things that they owe to them, that they’ve done for us.”
The Ursuline sisters have left an indelible mark on Derr. “It’s just the whole foundation of what you should strive to be as an Ursuline girl,” she explained, “but also just as a female in our society. Making sure that you’re spiritually connected to the community, that you’re giving back – ‘serviam’ was a huge portion of the video and how that connects to everything – and education as well.”
“Serviam” — “I will serve” — is the school’s motto. The video is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTCacoYTtnw.
The project serves another purpose. It’s Derr’s final step to earn the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor available in that organization.
Derr, 18, has lived the motto since arriving at Ursuline in ninth grade from being homeschooled in West Grove, Pa. She was president of her sophomore and junior classes, and this year she is the student council president. She believes mediating and organizing are skills she can use in her position, and she likes that the school administration allows the council a lot of leeway to do their own thing.
“There’s a lot of room here to start new things. Student council is very literally about student-run activities. I really enjoy that; how it’s not that we’re just following a pattern every year,” she said.
One of those new things is a flag-football tournament Ursuline established with Salesianum School. It was a fundraiser for SALSthon, the annual charity drive at Salesianum. On a recent Saturday, 14 teams from Salesianum and Ursuline met at Serviam Field, where the boys played on one field and the girls another, then they got together for a mixed game. Derr said it raised more than $2,000; Salesianum’s student council has yet to name this year’s benefactor.
Derr said this event had been in the discussion stages for many years, as many issues had to be considered. Lin Nordmeyer, Ursuline’s director of marketing and communication, said the day was a huge success, and a lot of fun.
“The turnout was incredible,” Nordmeyer said. “It was just amazing, the energy at our Serviam Field. This was all driven by Emma and Katie Hosey, who’s the vice president here.”
Derr continued, “Even the kids who couldn’t play, I saw every single one of them there. It was such a unifying experience, especially with Sallies and having that interaction. I felt so good about that, seeing all that support.”
Derr is a member of the Ursuline tennis team, a member of the National Honor Society and the National Art Honor Society, and “a bunch of clubs.” She coaches tennis for the Special Olympics Delaware; she called the annual Special Olympics event at the University of Delaware her favorite day of the year.
As a youngster, tennis and violin were the two main activities in her life. She still plays violin, but when she entered high school she wanted to focus her energy elsewhere.
“Once I got to high school, I started realizing that I wanted to give back in different ways more because my individual achievements, they weren’t enough for me to do,” she said.
As if that’s not enough, Derr is part of the Delaware Youth Leadership Network as a peer mentor. This past summer, she interned with Teach for America, working as an operations specialist for the organization’s summer learning collaborative. In that position, she organized a supply system for the camps at the downtown YMCA, and she helped design a system to help measure how much the children were getting out of the camps.
At the end of her internship, she wrote an article about her experience for Teach for America. The organization placed the article on the front page of its national website. For Derr, who has always loved writing, it may have been a sign.
“That’s the moment I realized that I can do that. That might be something that might be feasible,” she said.
Derr and Ursuline have been a perfect match. She said it’s not easy to find a place that’s as supportive as it is academically rigorous, and where people root for each other like they do. She also loves the sisterhood.
“I think that’s amazing that you can rely on so many people.”