Episode Show Notes

To be seen and known – it’s a longing many of us have desired and can relate with. In this powerful and beautiful alumni story from Sydney Saunders (‘14), she vulnerably shares how she felt truly seen and known at SFC and how that led to true freedom in Christ! Her story, the wisdom she imparts, and her heart for Jesus are so inspiring!

Mike Siciliano, Upper School Dean of Students, has a long history with Sante Fe Christian, sitting in several roles including alumnus, US history teacher, and football coach. As a student, Siciliano felt he had teachers and coaches who personally invested in him and made a huge difference in his life. Now, he tries every day to continue that legacy for current SFC students, live up to the standard his teachers set for him, and have a lot of fun.

Sydney Saunders, Class of 2014 Santa Fe Christian alumna and Eagle Scholar Sydney Saunders attended SFC from ninth to twelfth grade after being homeschooled and attending a public junior high school. Her transformative time attending Santa Fe Christian as an Upper School student encouraged Sydney to grow in her faith which continued on into college, where she studied nursing at the University of Virginia. As a wife and mother of two in San Diego, Sydney reflects on the value of being known and the relationships she forged at SFC.



00:00:00 – Introductions

00:00:30 – What coming back to SFC felt like for Sydney

00:01:19 – What Sydney’s life has been like since graduating from SFC

00:03:53 – How she heard about SFC and ended up attending

00:05:31 – How Sydney adjusted to being an Eagle Scholar

00:08:31 – Some ways she felt seen at SFC

00:15:26 – How chapel and praying before class impacted her faith journey during high school and what portions she has continued since graduating

00:17:25 – Mentors who helped her while attending SFC or who she stayed connected with after leaving

00:19:09 – What about SFC created the desire to send her children there

00:20:43 – What she learned at SFC about being seen and known did she carry forward to UVA and beyond

00:23:28 – Her experience taking a gap year prior to attending college


Mike Siciliano [00:00:00] Welcome back to another episode of our Eagle Perspective Podcast. I’m Mike Siciliano, Dean of Students of the Upper School. I am joined today by another one of our amazing alumni, Sydney Saunders, class of 2014, former Eagle Scholarship recipient, if I may say so. Right?

Sydney Saunders [00:00:24] Yeah.

Mike Siciliano [00:00:24] Okay, and we can talk about what that is. Welcome back. Thank you for being here.

Sydney Saunders [00:00:29] Thank you.

Mike Siciliano [00:00:30] I asked this to a couple other alums we recently interviewed. You’re driving up Academy Drive this morning to come here. What did that feel like?

Sydney Saunders [00:00:39] That’s such a funny question. It’s weird because I don’t have to go to school, and it’s changed a lot in the traffic patterns, which is a weird thing to notice. I think they may have thought I was a senior pulling in the senior lot this morning because they told me to go to the back gate. I thought, “I think I need to get my ID checked.”

Mike Siciliano [00:01:03] Hey, listen. If you can still pull off being a senior, own that. For me, they’d be like, “What are you doing here? Get out of here.”

Sydney Saunders [00:01:11] I think I was a senior in high school this morning.

Mike Siciliano [00:01:14] Okay, awesome.

[crosstalk 00:01:15]

Sydney Saunders [00:01:18] I do. I’m actually late.

Mike Siciliano [00:01:19] Well, it’s all right. I’ll write you a slip. Update us a little bit. You graduated in 2014. What has your life been like since?

Sydney Saunders [00:01:29] Graduated in 2014. I took a gap year and then went to the University of Virginia and graduated there in 2019.

Mike Siciliano [00:01:40] Okay, go Cavs.

Sydney Saunders [00:01:44]  I got my bachelor’s in nursing and a minor in Spanish. I met my husband while I was there. Then we were living in Charlottesville, Virginia the past two years. I was working at the hospital there, and he was in grad school. Then we got pregnant with our daughter and said, “Well, San Diego’s just fabulous. We have to move back, obviously.”

Mike Siciliano [00:02:09] We all come back, don’t we? We all come back.

Sydney Saunders [00:02:11] Yes. Well, I spent our entire dating relationship telling him why we should move here. He visited often enough where he thought, “Well, duh, why would you ever leave?” We moved back May 2021. My daughter was born in September. I’m learning how to be a mom. Still working at a clinic in Oceanside just once a week right now and figuring out the mom life.

Mike Siciliano [00:02:39] How are you enjoying that so far?

Sydney Saunders [00:02:42] It has been a wild ride. I’ve always wanted to be a mom. I have worked with a lot of babies with babysitting. Then I was a mother-baby nurse, as well. But she has thrown in a lot of curveballs from the beginning. Trying to keep up with her has been interesting.

Mike Siciliano [00:03:04] I have two little girls, as well, as you know, seven and four. We’re on that journey, too. Now, I got to meet your daughter this morning. Full of personality already. Right?

Sydney Saunders [00:03:15] Yep. She’s full of personality. She came out screaming at the top of her lungs. If you know anything about how they score babies when they’re born, they get an Apgar score out of 10. Most babies, if they’re healthy, get eight out of nine. It’s based on their color, their lungs, a whole number of things. Cameron got a 10. I knew from the beginning she was an overachiever. She had a lot to tell you. She’s got a lot of personality. She loves people. She is so aware. I think we’re going to have a hard time telling her to slow down.

Mike Siciliano [00:03:53] I think that’s probably true. Let’s talk a little bit about your Santa Fe journey. You came here as a ninth grader. How did you hear about Santa Fe? Did you have any previous affiliation? How did that all come together?

Sydney Saunders [00:04:07] I was homeschooled through fifth grade, went to public middle school. About the time we were thinking of what high schools to go to, I would have gone towards Carlsbad High School, but I didn’t want to. I really didn’t like public school because I felt pretty lost and unnoticed. I’d say something that’s really important to me is to be known and to be seen. I had a couple friends that came to Santa Fe. I tossed it out to my parents as we were talking about where to go to high school and said, “Oh, I’d really love to go to Santa Fe.” My mom laughed in my face.

Mike Siciliano [00:04:44] Your mom, who, by the way—full disclosure—is now our marketing director.

Sydney Saunders [00:04:48] Yes. She works here. She laughed in my face because private school was never really something we thought about or thought would be an option. Then a wonderful friend said, “Hey, there’s an Eagle scholarship thing I think Sydney would be a good fit for.” We looked into that. I applied to that. That was a whole God thing of how I got it. From the beginning, it was super clear that I was supposed to go here. I’m so thankful because—I can talk about it later—I needed to be super known and super seen at the end of my time here. I’m just so glad I was. So that’s how I got to SFC.

Mike Siciliano [00:05:31] It’s interesting. You were seen from the get-go, almost spotlight from the get-go. Eagle Scholarship, which is something that we’ve done where we give one per year… That’s a full-ride, four-year scholarship here to Santa Fe. In fact, I remember… You don’t remember because there were probably 20 people in that room over there behind us when you came in, and it got announced. But I remember a little 14-year-old, 13-year-old. You walk in, and it’s like, “Here’s our Eagle Scholar.” What was that like for you? You show up day one, Santa Fe. You’re this Eagle Scholar. Was the adjustment tough, easy, somewhere between?

Sydney Saunders [00:06:12] I was so thankful to be here because I knew where I would have gone instead. I was excited to try some things I hadn’t done before. Right before I got to Santa Fe, I had just started getting into running a lot. I did all the sports. I did track and field, soccer, and cross country my first year here and decided I really loved cross country and track. That was a really big part of what I did at Santa Fe.

Mike Siciliano [00:06:46] Which you were really good at.

Sydney Saunders [00:06:47] Thank you. I’ll say thank you. I was super grateful to be here because I had a really hard time in middle school and didn’t really have a lot of friends. Had a really hard time adjusting. As a homeschool kid to the public school world, that was just weird. I felt super lost, and my friends ditched me. Then I came to Santa Fe and felt like even if the friends situation and high schoolers are still high schoolers thing was still there, at least I had teachers and coaches that had their eye out for me and really wanted to invest in me and get to know me. I still talk to and see teachers I had back then whenever I come and visit. Mr. Kim, obviously.

Mike Siciliano [00:07:36] Obviously. My former teacher, too.

Sydney Saunders [00:07:39] Oh, my gosh, that’s awesome.

Mike Siciliano [00:07:41] I was in his very first class on his very first day of teaching. He was 22.

Sydney Saunders [00:07:46] He tells us stories about that.

Mike Siciliano [00:07:49] Oh, man. We weren’t great to him. But he’s an amazing guy.

Sydney Saunders [00:07:55] Mr. Kim. I still talk with Coach Miller all the time.

Mike Siciliano [00:08:00] Who was your track coach.

Sydney Saunders [00:08:02] Yep, track coach. Then I see Madame Cattaneo often. Then I still see Mr. Hannan and Miss Oden all the time. I love that I can come back and—How many years was that? Eight years out—and it feels like I still was here.

Mike Siciliano [00:08:22] It still feels like home here.

Sydney Saunders [00:08:25] Mm-hmm. Then I love that I can bring my daughter around, and everyone’s like, “Oh, my gosh, she’s so great.”

Mike Siciliano [00:08:31] You talked about the importance of feeling seen. What are some ways in which you felt seen during your journey at Santa Fe?

Sydney Saunders [00:08:39] Probably one of the big ways I felt seen was through my coaches. I am someone who can really get in my head and be really hard on myself. I came into cross country and track with no expectations, not knowing what I could accomplish. Then I started winning races. It totally fed my competitive drive to do really well. I got all worked up in my head and would get super anxious before races. I felt like my coaches knew me really well and would tell me things like, “It’s just a beautiful day to run. Don’t get inside your head. Just go out and have fun,” which is super opposite of what I would expect a coach to tell me, which would be like, “Go out there and win.”

Mike Siciliano [00:09:30] “Win or else you’re cut.”

Sydney Saunders [00:09:33] Exactly. “Win, or you lose.” I think that really helped me as I went into college and ran on the club team. Then even now, as I run, I literally say in my head, “It’s just a beautiful day to run.” I love that they knew me that well to speak into what I needed to hear. Then probably the biggest way I felt known and seen was my senior year of high school I had an eating disorder. I had it since middle school, but it really became apparent my senior year of high school. Sweet Crystal, who was our athletic director, noticed something was wrong and gathered an accountability team of Coach Miller, who was my track coach, my parents, and her and basically said they were really concerned about me. They had a care team that noticed something was wrong and got things in motion to get me the help I needed. Without them knowing and seeing what was going on, I wouldn’t have gotten the help I needed. Then, therefore, that led me going into treatment and taking a gap year, and, honestly, led me into a very different life than I had before. For that reason, I’m so thankful that I was known and seen because that would have gotten just… That would have fallen through if I were at a public school. Not that I didn’t have great friends or anything elsewhere, but you’re just so easily lost, especially the cross-country/track world. It’s so prevalent that it’s really not seen or caught. I’m just so thankful that they knew me well enough to know when something was up.

Mike Siciliano [00:11:24] It sounds like, as well… First of all, thank you for sharing that. I know there are young people and our students who listen. It’s a challenge in the world right now that a lot of young people have. It’s always good for them to see someone who’s been through it and talking about it. But it sounds like they also knew you well enough, not just to see it but how to coach you and help you in a way that didn’t feel ultra-judgmental. You obviously weren’t raising your hand publicly saying, “Help me.” How did you feel at first about them coming around?

Sydney Saunders [00:11:58] That’s a great question. I was really angry because my whole identity was wrapped up in what I did, especially with running. I was doing really well, as well. I was crushing it with the times. They basically said, “You need to stay above this weight. We’re really concerned about you. If you can’t, we’re going to cut you because it’s not healthy.” I was super angry about it, but it was really wise on their part because I loved running so much that if I got to a place where I couldn’t control my eating disorder and yet still fell below that, then I knew… That was my trigger to know something was really wrong. Within a week, I think I fell below the number they had said I needed to stay above, and that triggered in me the realization that something was really wrong. I kept telling myself it wasn’t and making excuses that, “Oh, I’m just training really hard. Oh, I’m just stressed out because I have to make these times to get into a track team in college because that’s the only way I’m going to pay for it.” I had this whole structure of how things were going to happen that I let running fall aside. Was a big wake-up call to me that something was wrong. Then that led into going to get help and learning a whole new way of life.

Mike Siciliano [00:13:39] For the track coach to say, “You’re my best runner, but I’m going to remove you from the team because I care about you long-term more,” was obviously in the long run important but to you at the time was like, “What do you mean you’re going to not let me run?”

Sydney Saunders [00:13:58] I was really mad then, but that’s totally part of it, too. But now I can think, “Oh, my gosh, I’m so thankful people saw what was wrong, and I can’t imagine my life before.” I would say that’s the closest example I have to living out the verse of your old self has died, your new self is raised in Christ. That is my personal experience within that verse of I can’t even remember that old Sydney who had an eating disorder and all these so rigid ways of living. Then I went through treatment. God really grew and shaped my faith, and I learned a whole lot about who I am in Christ, and it’s not attached to what I do. Running faith-wise, whatever I said, Sydney Saunders is this; it’s because I do. I learned Sydney Saunders is this because of Christ. Them knowing who I was and what I needed, seeing something was wrong, then led into me learning how to live and freedom in Christ.

Mike Siciliano [00:15:20] That is amazing. Thank you for sharing that. I’m inspired.

Sydney Saunders [00:15:24] I’m really passionate about it.

Mike Siciliano [00:15:26] I’m sitting here like, “How do I put my old self aside?” It’s a good transition into maybe some more directed faith area of focus. You had been homeschooled. You had gone to public school. You came to Santa Fe. There’s chapel and praying before class. How did all of that impact your faith journey through high school, and then what are the pieces of that that maybe you’ve held on to moving forward?

Sydney Saunders [00:15:53] I’d say I knew a lot in my head as I grew up. I am so thankful I grew up in a family where they loved the Lord, they loved us, and they wanted us to know Him. In middle school felt some tension with that as I interacted with people who did not know the Lord and had some really different backgrounds. I got to learn how to not be judgmental. My parents would say they kicked me into public middle school so that I can learn compassion because I had a way things should be. Yes, I learned compassion in middle school. Then I came into high school, and I felt like I was so grateful to see how God can be brought into everyday moments. I think that’s something I’m really learning now as a mom is how to bring in the Gospel into everyday moments. I love that it was just such a practice to pray before class, to have chapel, just to have certain points throughout the day to be reminded God is with us in that. There’s no this is my Jesus time, this is my school time, this is my bedtime, whatever. God is with us in all of that. I love that that’s just ingrained at SFC.

Mike Siciliano [00:17:25] Do you have any particular mentors that were here that you stayed connected with or that helped you in that journey?

Sydney Saunders [00:17:34] Most every teacher I had I could talk to at some point about anything. I most naturally talked with Mr. Kim a lot. I took philosophy from Madame Cattaneo my senior year, and I really loved that. I think that helped me put words to what I believed and why. Then definitely my coaches, because that was all about glorifying the Lord in whatever you do regardless of your outcome, how you do what you do is what matters. That, I think, really stuck with me and still does as I think about… Most recently, I think about the Steven Curtis Chapman song that says picking up Cheerios for the 15th time today, but it’s talking about do everything you do for the glory of the one who made you. I think that was really… I learned that a lot through SFC…or set up the foundation to then continue that on as you go into college, and work, and child.

Mike Siciliano [00:18:40] We mix in a Lucky Charms or a Froot Loops in there in our house. I don’t know if that’s frowned upon, but I can’t do Cheerios 15 times. I got to have a little variety.

Sydney Saunders [00:18:48] Technically, right now, it’s more sweet potato, but…

Mike Siciliano [00:18:51] Hey, that’s great. Enjoy that phase. That went quick for us. Speaking of kids, you now have a seven-month-old.

Sydney Saunders [00:19:01] I do.

Mike Siciliano [00:19:01] I heard that you’ve already made an inquiry for—What would it be?—the class of ’40-something?

Sydney Saunders [00:19:07] I don’t know. Way long.

Mike Siciliano [00:19:09] What is it about Santa Fe that, if you were to consider…? Would you be interested in having your kids come here after coming through? Has that entered the discussion yet in your home?

Sydney Saunders [00:19:22] Oh, yes. I would love it if our kids came here. Part of the reason we moved back here was because we both love and desire a community where we feel really known. That just wasn’t happening in our small town of Charlottesville. It’s a university town. People come and go all the time. That’s a big reason why we moved back here. I would really love that for Cameron to have the opportunity, wherever she is, to be super known and to know that she’s super loved by a lot of people other than us. I’d love her to come to Santa Fe. I’ll be cheering in those bleachers.

Mike Siciliano [00:20:06] Well, we can get you an application on the way out. You might be the first one in. We’ve talked a lot about you, the importance of being known and seen here at Santa Fe. You experienced that here at Santa Fe for four years. Then you took a gap year, and you ultimately went to UVA, big, huge public school. They’ve had some good years recently: basketball national championship.

Sydney Saunders [00:20:32] Yeah, national championship 2019 and 2020 because there was no March Madness in 2020.

Mike Siciliano [00:20:37] That’s right. You’re just claiming it.

Sydney Saunders [00:20:39] Yeah, we are. Two years.

Mike Siciliano [00:20:40] I’m not sure if that one’s official.

Sydney Saunders [00:20:41] It’s 100% official.

Mike Siciliano [00:20:43] How did you go there? What did you learn here about how to be seen and known that when you were there and in your life since Santa Fe, you’ve been able to still create that for yourself?

Sydney Saunders [00:20:56] I would say I had really great tools in my tool belt from Santa Fe, and then my gap year, I really solidified my identity in Christ. By the time I left for college, I was real sure of what I believed, and no one could tell me differently. I also knew that I needed to continue to foster a healthy faith, continue to be healthy for myself. I came into college knowing I need to get plugged into a Christian Fellowship, I need to get plugged into a church, and I need to find a way to run competitively. Those were great things I knew about myself. Then UVA is so big, it had all those. I ended up getting involved in Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship, which is where I met my husband. I joined the club track team. That really helped give me community. There was a lot I learned in that. I will say when I first got to UVA, it felt really overwhelming because I got there sight unseen, I’d never left California, and here I was, 3,000 miles away from home in a state I’d never been. Knowing those three things that I needed to find really helped start somewhere. I joined Chi Alpha for Christian fellowship. That automatically gave me some girls who are in my same boat that we could just talk about and do life with. I had core group leaders who are a little bit older who came alongside me and were just there if I needed them. I felt super connected, known in San Diego, but I knew nobody in Virginia.

Mike Siciliano [00:22:51] But you knew you needed to have that connection, so you went out and found it using the tools that helped you build community here.

Sydney Saunders [00:22:57] Yeah. I knew that finding a church was really important to me. That was somewhat of a struggle. But I had Chi Alpha, and then through being in Chi Alpha, I found my peeps. I found the people that I knew I could talk to about anything, who would hold me accountable. I lived with one of my best friends for two years. We were both engaged at the same time. That was also really cool to go through similar seasons together.

Mike Siciliano [00:23:28] Sidebar to the bulk of our conversation. We’ve talked about the gap year a couple times. I feel in my role here, there are a lot of kids that are becoming more interested in a gap year and a lot of parents that are a little nervous about it because it feels nontraditional, and it feels like, “Well, wait a second. We just sent you to a college prep high school. You should go right away. If you take a gap year, you won’t go.” But what was it like for you? It sounds like it was a pretty positive year.

Sydney Saunders [00:23:56] Well, it did not start that way, but it ended up being a really good thing. I was forced into it. However, if I were to go back, I think it’s a really good idea if you have a good plan for it. I spent that whole year relearning a lot, getting the help I needed. Then the tail end was working and really learning how to take the things I learned in treatment and apply them in life so that by the time I left for college, I felt pretty confident that I would be okay. Especially with eating disorders, they can come back. If you’re not prepared and haven’t practiced in a safe environment, it’s really easy to just go right back to what you were doing. The gap year was a good thing for me. I think I had a really hard time initially because I was of that mindset: you go to high school, you get in, you go to college, and if you don’t, I don’t know, I don’t have an “if.”

Mike Siciliano [00:25:01] Kids express sometimes it feels like a failure if you don’t go right away.

Sydney Saunders [00:25:04] I definitely felt that. I think that was something I really had to learn and trust the Lord in was part of my identity was well, obviously, I’m going to go to college, and I’m going to go on a scholarship for running. Then running got taken away, and then college temporarily got taken away. I got to learn in that that God had a plan for my life that looks different than what I had. I got an opportunity to let that go and to trust that he had something better for me. I’m so thankful that I had that gap year and then went when I did. I don’t think my first year or the years after UVA would have been as good or as successful as they were because I had the time and the safety to figure out what I wanted. I really solidified in that time that I wanted to do nursing. I wasn’t wasting my time paying for college trying to figure out what I wanted to do.

Mike Siciliano [00:26:06] You started with much more purpose.

Sydney Saunders [00:26:08] I did. I started with purpose. I had had some real-world experience so that if I had a lot of homework, it wasn’t the end of the world. I had done harder things before. It was going to be okay.

Mike Siciliano [00:26:20] That’s good. Obviously, we’re not saying the gap year’s for everyone, but it can be a useful tool in a lot of cases.

Sydney Saunders [00:26:27] For me it was. For anyone thinking about it, I just say make sure you have a plan and a why.

Mike Siciliano [00:26:37] This has been a ton of fun. That means a lot that you’d come back and share a little bit about your journey since. Thank you.

Sydney Saunders [00:26:43] Thank you.

Mike Siciliano [00:26:44] If this is your first time joining us, thank you so much for listening to our Eagle Perspective Podcast. We have more alumni coming. We have other episodes that we’ve got posted to Apple Podcast, Spotify, and elsewhere where podcasts are available. Check us out. We look forward to seeing you next time.