Fiona Neilon '24 on Family, Friendship, and Community

Fiona Neilon '24 on Family, Friendship, and Community

The Govs community gathers every Wednesday in Moseley Chapel for quiet reflection and a Chapel Talk by a community member about something important to them. In her talk, senior Fiona Neilon ‘24 said, “Family are people who love you for what you have not yet become but have the potential to be,” reminding us of the importance of family, friendship, community, and commitment. At Govs, Fiona is a proctor in our ninth-grade girls dorm, senior co-captain of our girls varsity basketball team, and a member of the girls varsity volleyball team. 

Chapel Talk by Fiona Neilon '24

My parents have lived in Lawrence their whole lives, one in South Lawrence and the other in North, but it wasn’t until high school that they met each other. Once married, they settled down in a little yellow house in South Lawrence, having no idea this would be the place where they would start and expand their family beyond the four Neilons. 

You see, my dad has worked in Lawrence public schools since before I was born. A long-time baseball coach and teacher, he was not only a father to my brother and me but also took on that role for many kids who came through his program or classroom. 

My mom was also a teacher and basketball coach at the technical high school near our house, and like my dad, she has welcomed so many people into our home and family. Although family is the most important thing to my parents, community comes at a very close second, and the way they folded the community into our family is a huge part of what makes my parents special. They often sacrificed time together and with us for what they knew was best for less fortunate kids.

As a kid, during basketball season, I wouldn’t see my mom during the week unless my dad brought us to her games. This was a rare occurrence, though, because my mom enrolled my brother and me into a karate class, and whoever thought that was a good idea just wasted their time, money, and energy because my dad, brother, and I spent more time trying to skip karate than actually going. While my mom thought we were at karate, she was coaching, and her team would have practices and games that ended past my bedtime. My mom often stayed after practice just to make sure every player on her team had warm clothes to wear home or a ride. And if anyone needed to talk or help with schoolwork, she would stay and give her time. 

Baseball season presented a similar situation with my dad, except we went to every game, and we would often surprise him during practice after my mom got us a frosty from Wendy’s. My brother and I bonded with players on both their teams, who quickly became extensions of our family. My brother and I were always around their teams, from car rides to selling candy to team dinners. 

On holidays, my parents opened our home to players and kids at their schools who had no plans so that they wouldn’t be alone. My parents not only loved their biological children, but they loved their other “children” as well. Although I only have one blood sibling, many more have filled that role over the years. Although, admittedly, there were times when I was jealous or frustrated that I had to share my parents, I know that I have been so lucky to experience the people they brought into my life. 

One player who played on my dad's team has truly become a brother to me. I honestly can’t remember life without him; I don’t know if that’s because I was so young when we first met Mikey or because of his impact. 

In high school, Mikey drove my dad insane. He was always around, and Mikey was always getting yelled at. That’s how we knew my dad really cared about him.  At age seven, I never knew Mikey would play such a huge role in my life. Mikey and I were a dynamic duo, so dynamic that during a baseball tournament my dad was hosting, Mikey and I were in charge of one gate. When I tell you we would argue like siblings, I was always threatening to tell my dad on him. On one occasion, he was flirting and admitted some girls free of charge. I told them, “My dad said you have to pay,” and we argued for about five minutes in front of the girls, and in the end, he gave up and made them pay. Years later, we now laugh about this. 

When Mikey graduated, he went on to play baseball at Marshall University, and we were all so proud of him! Normally, when players go off to college, they only keep in contact with my parents, but Mikey was different; he always reached out to my brother and me to check-in. Despite being busy with college, work, and baseball, Mikey would still find time to attend our games. 

Although he was no longer a member of my dad’s team, their relationship developed in other ways. When Mikey couldn’t pay his electric bill, my dad was the first person he asked for help. He carried his connection from high school until the present day. Mikey now coaches baseball at Lawrence High, where my dad is the athletic director, and they work together as colleagues. However, to be honest, my dad still yells at Mikey a lot. How is that for full circle?

Mikey is still very much a part of our family. Since I was very young, he often told me, “Be grateful for your parents; they change lives.” 

I only understood what that meant once I reached high school. My parents have shaped and changed many lives and set high standards for me and my brother. But there is one thing I am always grateful for: the extended family they have given me. I learned that family is people who love you for what you have not yet become but have the potential to be, people who can laugh until you cry with or even cry until you laugh with, people you can share your heart with, knowing there is safety there. Family will be the people who show up for you regardless of distance or time. 

My parents took a huge risk sending me to Govs, hoping I would find comfort and family within this community. Maybe it’s because of how high they set the bar—or maybe I’m just stubborn—but it took a while for me to find my people. 

Now, many in this room have become part of my family and have helped me grow and become better, just as my parents hoped. I am grateful to you [Govs community] because of the time we have spent together.