Written by Teresa Ritterhoff
Mother of Leo (Musical Theatre ‘19)
Many Academy students take a circuitous route and often travel long roads to get to school — some daily. Leo’s commute these days is only a ten-minute train ride, but his path started a world away.
Leo grew up in Germany and Switzerland with an American mother (me) and a German father. He spoke both family languages at home and with his little brother. Although we spent many summers visiting the midwest, Leo had not attended an English-speaking school since kindergarten when we decided to send him to the U.S. for a semester.
If Leo had ended up in Valparaiso, Indiana, as originally planned, his stay probably would have been limited to a few months; Leo had good friends and family waiting for him back home in Germany, too. Instead, in his own words, Leo “fell in love” with The Academy. At first, Leo treasured above all the opportunity to spend so much of his day immersed in all aspects of musical theatre, which he had been passionate about since grade school. But the academics and above all the community Leo found at The Academy were equally important in deciding that leaving home two years early was worth it.
We, his family, missed him terribly of course. Fortunately, we found a way to for me and his brother to join Leo in Chicago in the middle of his junior year, while continuing to “commute” back-and-forth between Germany and the U.S. as often as our schedules allow. In this way, our family has managed to participate in the Academy community too — and all of our lives are the richer for it. It has been one of the great joys and privileges of my life to watch, from near and afar, as Leo has blossomed at The Academy. The shy but quietly confident 15-year-old who auditioned in the summer of 2016 has matured into a young man who has truly come into his own.
Placing art at the center of Leo’s high school education has been a gift beyond measure. It has given him focus and allowed him to branch out; given him confidence but challenged him at every turn; and granted him both an emerging identity (as an artist) and a community (primarily but not exclusively of other artists). Wherever Leo goes from here, we know that he will be drawing for many years to come on both the relationships and the sense of self he has forged at The Academy.