The Class of 2020: Our Personal Statement(s)
May 1, 2020
Today, May 1, marks the last day of high school for the class of 2020, and, as untraditional as its closing is, I could not think of a stronger class to endure this. Throughout our four years, I have seen this class blossom and grow into some of the most incredible young women I have ever met and, although this ending might not have been what we wanted, every one of us should be proud of what we have achieved. With our prom canceled, silver coffee postponed, and graduation summer-bound, we are all in need of some positivity. In light of this, I decided that I did not want to write an article about the unconventional end to the class of 2020, but rather let the class speak for itself. The following are a collection of college essays submitted – some anonymously, some not – from our class. These pieces were written in the fall, and encompass our year with the words that were with us from the beginning. They earned us our paths to college and to the rest of our lives. Given the recent events I thought, why not revisit them and remember where we started?
Reading and reflecting on these while writing this article has reminded me of how grateful I am of who I shared my high school years with and, I hope, it reminds you of how far you have come.
The Art of Being You
While closing the door to my dad’s navy blue, Nissan SUV, I kept thinking about the short phrase he tells me every morning, “Be You.” After close to three years of high school, these two words have become a staple to the end of my morning rides to school with my dad. At first, I would brush off his words as “parent-talk,” however, as graduation grows closer, this phrase has formed into a new meaning, especially when I delve into my passion for art.
As soon as I learned about the principles of art and the formal qualities that are used to create an art piece, I began to see it everywhere I looked. For instance, when looking at an advertisement I would find the artistic decisions the designer made to catch the viewers attention or when passing a building I would observe the work of the architects that allow a visitor to have a pleasing experience. This is the beauty of art, it is used in endless amounts of form and medium to give people the freedom to express themselves, and find their true identities. For me, art has mirrored its unique characteristics and helped me to find my true identity in the world. It has revealed to me that there is no “right” way of going through life. Being unique from the people around you is not something to be ashamed of, but something that should be celebrated and shared.
A piece that I have created, and am most passionate about, is called “Be You”. This is a graphic design I created for the annual art show at my high school, and in my piece it presents the silhouette of an African American girl with her natural curly hair exposed. Behind the girl, I decided to place layers of different colors to represent all of the unique traits that make her, her. The piece as a whole symbolizes how beautiful it is to express and to communicate to the world what makes you, you. This concept is very important to me because growing up as a hispanic girl I have always looked very different from my fellow classmates, and in the past this upset me greatly. When I was in elementary school I wanted to look like my other classmates so much so, that when my family and I went on summer beach trips I would stay under an umbrella the entire time to prevent my skin from getting any more tan than it already was. However, as I grew older I learned that this difference is what makes me special and beautiful in the world and I should share that difference, instead of hide it.
When viewing my work, I want people to deeply reflect to discover if they are disregarding their own special qualities in order to fit into the norm of society. I want people to escape the reality of society and come into a world I have created in my piece, and reveal to them the power that individuality can hold in a society that is afraid that they will not be accepted for who they really are. I, Kathia Guzman, am an artist who strives to connect to the minds and souls of people all over the world. I am thrilled to grow in knowledge, to learn from my mentors, and to take this privilege to make a great impact on the world. I aim to use my messages to help people grow in love for themselves and the people around them. I want to help people realize their inner beauty so that they can celebrate the art of being you.
It was a Sunday morning. April 30th, 2017. My alarm went off right at 4:30 a.m., however, I had been awoken long before the incessant beeping by the butterflies in my stomach. This would be the day of my first sprint triathlon—a race that demanded a half-mile swim in the open ocean, my greatest fear. Months of endless training and 4 a.m. workouts had all led up to this day and it had finally come. By 6:30 a.m., after two hours of restlessly waiting, my wave was up to the starting line and the reality of the ocean swim hit me. I knew I was ready for this race physically, but the mental games began as negative thoughts flooded my head. Would I be able to finish? What if I get a cramp in the open water swim? Will my tendonitis flare up during the bike or running portions? To rebuild my courage, I gave myself a pep-talk and continuously thought positively as I told myself that I was ready for this strenuous race. As the starting gun was shot into the air, I was filled with adrenaline and numbly entered the choppy ocean which contained all of my greatest fears. I was surrounded by deep, cloudy waters and swimming bodies which kicked their legs and flailed their arms. Although swimming in the terrifying ocean was my least favorite leg of the race, I kept hearing the little voice inside of me strengthening me to finish and from then on, the rest of the race felt like a breeze as I went on to dominate the twelve-mile bike ride and five-kilometer run. The moment I saw the finish line, where my entire family was waiting—nearly two hours since I had seen them the starting line—I pushed out all of my energy and finished the race. My first sprint triathlon completed. My worst fear conquered. And the best part yet was that I placed first in the entire novice division revealing that hard work and defeating the once impossible always comes with not only physical awards like my medal and trophy but also a mental award that I was able to conquer my fear of the ocean.
Through building up of my self-confidence with discipline and passion for fitness I was able to overcome my phobia and have been empowered to try new experiences that are personally arduous. In embracing such challenges, I was inspired to compete in triathlons regularly and have since then used this drive to complete six others throughout Florida. I have also used this empowerment to face unfamiliar situations by attempting other personally intimidating activities. In January of 2019, I decided to compete in a beauty pageant and will be participating in another this November—a competition that is out of my safe haven considering the great amount of public speaking and stage time entailed. Even after sixteen years of dancing competitively on a stage, the idea of walking perfectly and speaking flawlessly to a crowd of people is a different sort of fear. However, these challenges and fears are what excite me and continue to push me into unknown feelings. They force me to replace any “what ifs” with “I will”. It is through my embracing of new opportunities and living out the unfamiliar that I have been able to value the characteristics that make me unique and push myself to my fullest potential.
This drive has also fostered in me a desire to inspire and teach others how to face their own fears, conquer what they once thought was impossible, and build up confidence in themselves. As a swim instructor at the Plant City YMCA, I have been blessed with the opportunity to teach younger children how to swim. With most of them scared of the water, teaching them positive self-talk and relating with them on a personal level, comforts them and ultimately allows them to dominate their fear of the pool. The rewarding feeling of my students going from terrified of the water, to having so much fun that they do not want to leave the pool, has encouraged me to continue facing upcoming challenges in my own life with a positive outlook and to inspire others to do the same.
All Grown Up
Each year on my birthday, my mom made me chocolate chip pancakes topped with smaller pancakes cut out into the year I had just turned. On my fourteenth birthday, I woke up with an empty feeling in my stomach. I didn’t get my pancakes that year because it was something we found we were unable to afford. Although I had never liked pancakes, they were something I found myself wishing for. In November of 2014, my dad was laid off. Although my family had lost the majority of our household income, my parents still felt that enrolling my sister and I in the top private schools would ultimately be their best investment. This choice, however, did not come easy. I remember numerous times when I would come home to a house with no internet connection, running water, electricity, and a nearly empty refrigerator. Seeing the sacrifices and struggles of my parents prompted me to take responsibility for my own needs.
I needed to find a way to help ease my parents’ monetary burdens, and the first idea that came to mind was getting a job. The April before my sixteenth birthday, I applied for countless positions and accepted the first offer I received: a hostess position at Panera bread. This wasn’t an ideal job, particularly because I was really introverted. The job, however, forced me to come out of my shell. After what seemed like shouting “Hot Bread” for a million times, I left the restaurant in search of a job with a higher pay and a new sense of confidence in myself. I came across Oak and Ola, a new restaurant that opened in Armature Works, a popular “food mall.” I applied for a hostess position online, and when I was interviewed by the Front of House Manager, I was hired instantaneously. I soon realized how different the environment was in comparison to Panera. Almost every weekend, a new celebrity would appear: movie directors, hockey players, makeup gurus, and WWE wrestlers. I had an immense amount of pressure on me, not only being the newest employee, but the youngest too. The stress of controlling how the restaurant functioned on a weekend night was something I found myself growing used to. I became someone people came to when they had a question or needed help. Being a full time student, I quickly learned how to prioritize my time. I was forced to figure out how to complete my school assignments along with all my extracurriculars and my new work schedule. Most of the time, people around me would wonder when I would have time to even be a kid, and to be completely honest, I found myself wondering it too. I struggled trying to find a balance between my social life, work schedule, and academic responsibilities. The biggest supporters of my hard work, and also the ones who kept me sane through it all, were my family, my boyfriend, and my best friends. They found ways to find a slightly spontaneous side of me, and they embraced it.
After experiencing the financial struggle that my family had undergone, I was forced to take action. With being employed in two different work environments, I was able to form into my stronger, more confident self. I learned that hard work makes the biggest impact in every aspect of life. Because of this epiphany, I was very fortunate to have the ability to provide for myself and my family when they were unable to. I ascertained how to shop at the grocery store on a budget. I explored different ways of buying clothes for myself, such as thrifting online and in person, because I wasn’t able to afford full priced items. I found out how to thrive in the real world at a young age and because of that, I grew up.
The Mark of Me
“What happened to the back of your arm?” My birthmark, in all its glory, is a rectangular shape and stretches up from just above my elbow to the middle of my arm. Over the course of my life, I have received many comments about the birthmark on the back of my right arm. Some of my favorites come from little kids who seem to be so fascinated that they can not look away. I have caught many of them staring at it and some of the more bold children will ask, “Why is your freckle so big?” I just laugh these comments off because they do not know any better. Sometimes, I will even get the occasional comment from my peers saying, “I have never seen a birthmark that big.” All these comments have never affected me, except for one. When I was at my routine dermatologist visit, where they measure my birthmark and take pictures of it, the dermatologist said, “The birthmark seems to be fine, but I would like to remove it eventually because it could become cancerous.” At the spry age of thirteen, even the mention of cancer worried me. My head began to swirl with all this anxiety over cancer. After my ten seconds of worry, I then began to understand that I was not diagnosed with skin cancer, but I was just told that I may have it removed as a precaution. This led me to my second thought: I do not want it removed. I will admit that most of the time I do not even give my birthmark a second thought. Considering that my birthmark is on the back of my arm, I do not notice it too much. However, on that day I raised my first question about my birthmark, “How could something that has been a part of me do so much damage to my body?” I felt a sense of attachment to my birthmark. Afterall, removing my birthmark would be like removing a part of myself. It has physically been a part of me since I was born and has grown with me throughout all stages of my life. It was there for my first steps and for my first car drive. I felt like if I did not have my birthmark, then I would not be Mary Kelly. Fortunately, I have yet to be forced to remove my birthmark. Through all the questions about my birthmark, I have gained a greater sense of humor and confidence. Besides, the remarks have not all been bad, I have also received comments of praise from people saying how it is “cool” and “unique to me”. This has helped me gain an appreciation for my birthmark and understand my individuality. “So what happened to my arm? It is a birthmark and I think it is pretty cool, thank you for asking.”
Cảm Ơ n, Mẹ (Thank You, Mom)
Thump. Thump. THUMP. As my mother’s footsteps got louder, sweat started to drip down my face. With all of her might, my four-year-old self tried to lift the heavy mattress as quickly as possible and shoved her favorite dress under it. I knew my mother was coming to steal my dress away from me and put it in the laundry. Now, this dress was not like any ordinary dress; it was an áo dài, a Vietnamese traditional dress. The bright red color and the floral design of the dress grasped my attention when my mother first showed it to me. Ever since then, I always wanted to keep my áo dài near me no matter where I went. It was so different and unique from all the other dresses I had seen on catalogs and television; to me, my áo dài was a symbol of my Vietnamese culture and identity.
When I look back at my childhood and the moments that I had with my mom, this is the first memory that comes to mind: my mother coming to steal my dress. This first memory brings a lot of nostalgia, happiness, and a little bit of sadness. The feeling of sadness isn’t because of the actual events that had taken place but because the memory reminded me of the fact that I had few personal moments with my mom while growing up.
Since my mom worked almost every day from morning to night time, it was rare for my mom to be home with me and my brother. My brother and I would get the chance to see her on Friday and Saturday evenings. But still, that wasn’t enough to spend time with her. She mainly spent that time running errands, cleaning the house, and teaching us Vietnamese. Despite the physically exhausting work that my mom had to do, at the end of the day, she would come home to us showing no signs of stress or exhaustion.
My mom didn’t attend college because she had to work to provide for her own family. With the disadvantage of a language barrier and a lack of education, she never had a stable job. Even though she didn’t earn a lot of money, my mom tried her best to never let me and my brother feel that we were a low-income family.
By witnessing my mom’s struggles and efforts to secure a better future for me and my brother, I have been inspired to be like her and do likewise whenever I encounter my obstacles. I learned at a young age that success isn’t all about being the best in your class or how much money you make. But rather, success can be defined as how much effort an individual is willing to give to accomplish a goal despite the obstacles and challenges that may be in the way.
During my elementary years, it was difficult for me to obtain good grades due to the frustration that I would get when I wasn’t able to understand a concept the first time around; no one in my family could really help me. I was reminded of my mom’s persistence and pushed myself to not be afraid by my failures. As a result, I have always put in the effort to go out of my way to make sure I understand a concept even if I don’t get it the first time around. Whether it’s staying after school to talk to a teacher or even asking a friend for help, I knew I had to be persistent if I wanted to succeed. I know I will struggle, and I have learned to accept that. What I won’t do is quit because my mom never did that. I am who I am today because of her, and I can’t thank her enough. Cảm ơn, mẹ (thank you, mom).
I have never thrown up before in my life. Well, except for when I was a baby but that doesn’t really count. Growing up, I used to freak out over everything, especially because I had a fear of throwing up. Whenever I saw people get sick, whether it be a cough or them looking uneasy, I’d be filled with anxiety. I always thought that whenever someone was sick it meant they were going to vomit. The internet told me that I had emetophobia, “a phobia that causes extreme anxiety when it pertains to vomiting.”
I didn’t know that my fear had a term because at the time I was only worried about how it made me feel. Every Wednesday, the whole school would go to church, and it would be extremely hot which made students get sick and pass out every single time. Every mass I went to from the ages of seven to twelve, I would see people around me become ill and I’d lose it; I would bite my hair or pick at my nails to the point where it looked like I didn’t really have any, and my right leg would start bouncing up and down like crazy; I’d have to excuse myself every time to go for a walk or get water so that I could try to calm down. Not only did I get looks that made me feel like I was insane from my classmates but it was also starting to bother my teachers. Every time we went to church, and they would have me sit next to them and when they saw me acting up they wouldn’t let me leave. They kept telling me: “This habit needs to stop. You are fine.”
Eventually, my parents noticed, my episodes of freaking out had become a more frequent thing. It got to a point where I just couldn’t look or be around anyone that appeared to be sick, my mind would immediately go to “is that person going to throw up? Is that person sick?” and my face would go into a panic. Emetophobia was controlling my life. It controlled my thoughts and made me feel like I always had to be on the lookout for anyone that was sick. I felt like I had to avoid sick people like they were the plague.
Things are different now. I no longer freak out by simply going to church and seeing someone cough. I went to a therapist who taught me all about how it is okay to be sick and how being sick for a little is actually better for you in the long run. My parents were a lot of help too, my mom would tell me: “Sarah, people have to be sick in order to be better and have a stronger immune system.” My parents and my therapist taught me how to remain calm, focus on my breathing, and try to distract myself with other thoughts. I have grown out of my fear for the most part. I am actually able to sit through a whole mass without looking like I’m panicking or even feel like I’m panicking. Even my teachers noticed it and told me they were proud of me. Do I still get scared when I see someone throw up? Yes because in reality throwing up is really gross, but now, I just don’t pay attention or freak out. I realize that I don’t have a reason to, it’s not me being sick, I will be okay, that person will be okay, throwing up is not the end of the world.
Look, it wasn’t my idea to become so attached to teddy bears. As long as I could remember, every Christmas, my dad would buy me a teddy bear for Christmas. Dressed in some brightly-colored clothing with a matching bow, it was one present I knew I would receive every year.
This annual tradition began when my dad purchased one for my mom to celebrate their very first Christmas together. Slowly, the collection grew, and when I was born, my father decided to give me all the bears and would give me one every Christmas. Now, there are approximately 22 bears stuffed in my closet, all with the year stitched on their left foot. Out of those 22 Christmas bears, there is one that will always be my favorite.
It’s a fluffy white bear from 2010. Of course, it is dressed in a poofy pink dress because I received this bear when I was eight (At that age, I was adamant that the bear wear pink). I did not know it at the time, but that was the last Christmas bear I ever recieved from my dad. It was a holiday season spent in the ICU. Most children wanted toys for Christmas; the only thing that I wanted was my father back.
A month later, I sat in a church listening to others describe my father and how he lived his life. That whole day was a blur of pitying condolences and black dresses. It was filled with people giving my mother sad looks and uselessly attempting to comfort me. I didn’t care. These people never even visited my dad in the hospital, so why bother now? If there is one thing I remember from that day, it’s a build-a-bear.
There was a family who lived across the lake from my childhood home. I don’t remember much about them, only that they had children around my age who I occasionally played with. On the day of the funeral, the family made the trip over. I looked up as they came into the room, readying myself for another round of condolences. Instead of a long winded apology, they gave me a box. Inside was a white, fluffy bear dressed in a white and gray plaid shirt, jeans, and black shoes. I found myself staring at a bear dressed like my father.
My last two bears are polar opposites. One is filled with the last lingering sense of joy and love my father left behind, while the other is a way for me to remember that my dad is never far, that my memories of him and the love he shared are always going to be with me. However, I do know one thing. Life is crazy. People can be here one day and gone the next. These bears remind me of the tough times I’ve been through and those that will come, but most of all they give me hope for my future.
My first memory is of the lights. I remember the yellow glow sticks on the floor and waking up to see my name spelled in a crooked, beautiful font, Megan. Their light meant my dad was safely home from the midnight training operations at the drop zones where he would pick up a handful of glowsticks off the ground from their position as light markers for a makeshift military-aircraft runway. I was born during the aftermath of September 11, 2001. This event dictated the constant absences of my parents; on any given day, either my mom or dad was deployed.
Years later, in third grade, I was preparing for bed, and the phone rang. I dreaded the work phone. My dad was the one who answered it. For the briefest moment, I thought that everything was fine. My mom wasn’t overseas, and my dad was home in front of me; neither was dead, injured, sick, held hostage, or missing in action, so everything seemed perfectly fine. My brother broke that moment of peace, when he asked, “Did somebody die?” This reality was one I couldn’t bring myself to face on my own. I wanted to ignore the fact that the reason for this phone ringing could one day be about my parents. I wanted to pretend that my fear didn’t exist, that the world was fine, and that it didn’t matter what happened to other people, only that my own family was safe. That night I realized that the world was bigger than my immediate family and I.
The answer was “yes,” someone did die, and my dad had to go into work to find out how to contact the family. My mom was out of town visiting my grandparents, so my brother and I packed two small bags and we went to work with my dad. We camped in his office, reading Disney storybooks, playing go fish, and jumping on the two couches, until it was time to turn out the light and go to sleep. In the dark, I could see my dad’s former call sign patches in frames on the wall. They glowed in the dark, but unlike the glow sticks, they were an eerie green, and I didn’t know where my dad was.
I lost the ability to ignore the possibility that my parents wouldn’t make it back- that they wouldn’t make it home and that there wouldn’t be any more glow sticks. However, I realized that the time spent with family, when everyone is together, is incredibly precious. This blessing that both of my active duty parents flew home deployment after deployment, alive after many close calls, is a miracle. I know that even though the glow sticks burned out after a few days, their promise of safety remains with me each day. The glow sticks help me remember that even though life can be perilous, there is immense beauty along the way. Life is too precious to waste with constant fear.
My Life Through Music
Have you ever heard an old but familiar song and had an instant flashback of a specific memory or moment? Although these memories are distant, upon hearing the song they come back more vividly and detailed than ever. For me, it is not just one song that can captivate me but many – so many that I have made a playlist full of them. It has the power to make me dance, cry, laugh, sing, and repeat that cycle all over again. Each song represents an important moment or milestone in my life and is so powerful that it can take me back in time as soon as I hear the first chords.
First on the playlist is Kenny Chesney’s “There Goes My Life”, the song my dad has picked out for our father-of-the-bride dance at my wedding. He has had this special song chosen since the day I was born. Whenever it plays I think of happy moments with him, but with these emotions I also remember the times when we have had our struggles and inevitable father-daughter quarrels. However, as the song comes to an end I think about how he has helped me overcome many challenges and how I could not imagine my life without his guidance and support. After hearing the final notes I can’t help but get a little teary eyed, and if you were to listen to this song I guarantee you would too. For a change of genre, my grandmother’s favorite song “Suavemente” by Elvis Crespo plays next. She encourages me to embrace our hispanic culture by dancing, cooking, and telling us stories of her life as a young girl in Bolivia. It reminds me of my roots and keeps me grounded in my latino heritage.
On the opposite end of the musical spectrum, “Crank That” by Soulja Boy comes on which reminds me of my middle school dances. The boys and girls would stand at opposite sides of the dance floor and the teacher chaperones would watch us from the edge of the room. Once they gained some confidence, the boys would compete against each other and see how many girls they could convince to slow dance. Although this song forces me to relive the awkward stage of life that is middle school, I am still able to look back and laugh at the comedic memories I made at that time of my life. Then plays, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” by Kylie Minogue, which is quite a random song to have such a special connection to, but considering this diverse bunch of songs, it is evident that I am open to all types of music. This one brings back the early memories of my family going to the beach together. My dad would play this song on his iPod, turn the volume all the way up, and begin bobbing his head back and forth which, naturally, my siblings and I mimicked and this became a little dance that we did for many years after.
Finally, I hear “Harmony Hall” by Vampire Weekend which reminds me of a period of growth and discovery in my life. This song brings me back to driving with my family in Arizona with a beautiful blue sky and the clouds covering the entire expanse of the plains until they reached the mountains. Much like it paints this picture in my head, this final song can paint a smile on my face every time I hear its melody. All of the moments associated with these special songs have shaped me as a person: my values, beliefs, and interests, so I wonder who I would be without them. They take me back to a time and place so vividly that I will never forget the moments that accompany them and I look forward to adding new songs to my playlist as I make new memories in my life.
As my junior year of high school came to a close, I can recall a time when I was stressing about an upcoming test. Matthew came up to me, asking me what was wrong. I told him that I was worried about an upcoming test that would play an important factor in my grade. As I told him about all this, he cut me off and reminded me that everything was going to be okay; whether I did well on the test or not, I would know I did my best, and because of that it was all going to be okay. Matthew is my older brother, who faces significant speech and memory issues. Despite his disability, he is constantly a reminder that my current situation does not determine everything. His simple advice showed me that my small stresses are not significant in the whole scheme of life.
Matthew has faced setbacks his whole life; he cannot attain a full education, as his memory issues hinder this. He also has been teased his entire life for his major speech impediment, but never once has he let these things define who he is. Instead, he recognizes that these things are not a reflection of his true character. This has really showed me that my current situation does not determine everything- my outlook is determined by the way which I look at life, and instead of seeing some struggle, I can look to the good and define myself through that which I know is true.
When Matthew is faced with an obstacle, he looks at it optimistically and does his very best. Never has he let his disability affect the way he sees himself; when he accomplishes a goal, he celebrates this. However, even when he cannot accomplish a goal, he recognizes that he tried his very best and continues to be proud of this. This has truly taught me that if I am putting 100% of myself into something, I should be proud of myself- no matter what the outcome is. If I am unhappy with the outcome, I can continue to push myself until I accomplish my goals. He motivates me to push myself past my comfort zone and do my very best in anything I pursue, knowing that no matter what the result is, I did my best and I should be proud.
He is the purest example of giving more than taking. He never hesitates to put others first, whether it be to open the door for others or to reassure someone that is struggling. His passion for serving others and spreading love has made a huge impact on my life and the person I am today. Because of his selfless love, I have also found a passion in serving others and striving to see them as Matthew would see them. He truly has a heart for others, a heart which pushes me to reciprocate that love through activities such as volunteering in shelters and nursing homes. I have found great joy in this, and would not have such a strong connection with it if it was not for Matthew’s influence on my life.
I used to look at Matthew’s situation and feel guilty that he had to face those struggles, while I could go on with my life without any struggle close to his. However, as I grow up with Matthew in my life, I have come to the realization that his unique situation is a blessing in disguise; he has so many gifts that most people don’t, such as his selfless personality and relentless love, which he spreads to each and everyone he meets. His life blesses everyone who has the opportunity to get to know him, and I hope that through my life, I can also use my unique gifts to better the lives of others- just as Matthew has done for me.
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Spontaneity
Why is almond milk called milk and not almond juice or almond water? Why don’t ants wear clothes? Why don’t humans have sticky pads to climb trees? If we are made mostly of water when we drink water, are we being cannibals? This is my brain. All of the time. It’s exhausting but, to say the least, extremely entertaining.
Obviously, these questions make no sense but we all know that – for at least a second – you imagined a reality in which they did. For a brief moment, you contrived a world in which fire ants flaunt Gucci bags and the Queen of the anthill struts overpriced, slightly-unflattering, microscopic Prada sunglasses. For an instant, you light up. You laugh, and not in that obligatory “lol” type of way but in a genuine, lighthearted fashion, just the way laughter is meant to be: freeing.
Inspired by this philosophy I couldn’t stop myself from making one of the best purchases of my life: a “Nuns Having Fun” calendar for a nun at my school. I can still picture the gaping faces of the other freshmen as I handed Sister Mary Glavin the gift at my school’s annual Christmas Formal; followed by everyone’s almost-verbal sigh of relief when she began to crack up rather than freak out. Such a reaction has become tradition as every year I gift the same sister a variously-themed calendar. Sophomore year the motif was “Sloths” because I’m a sucker for alliteration, and honestly what is more random than walking into a nun’s office and seeing baby sloths on the wall. Last year I felt the need to up my game. So, with the help of Vistaprint and the best photoshop platform in the business (Snapchat stickers), I put together a personalized calendar with the sister’s face featured on every page. Nun surfing. Check. Nun as the Thanksgiving turkey. Check. Nun as both Santa and the kid on Santa’s lap. Double-nun check. She loved it.
That’s how I try my best to live each and every day: within that sparkle of creativity found in the crinkle of a smile. I know who I am and I’ve learned, mistake by mistake, to fall in love with that person, no matter how hard it may be sometimes. As a result, this year I’ve begun something for myself, a routine of sorts. This cycle is triggered every morning by the chaotic eruption of Trey Songz’s “Bottoms Up (ft. Nicki Minaj)” followed by a 45-minute drive packed with Crime Junkie Podcasts (murder + 5:30 am = perfect combo), and then a cycle class. Developing something for myself has taught me that people who listen to Electronic Dance Music at 6 am are a different breed but, more importantly, that it’s okay to be selfish sometimes.
Take that time, cherish it, then otherwise live for others. Too many times I was forced to understand that in the pursuit of everything you can become nothing but in the laughter of others you can find everything. So, take the time now to understand that life is way too short not to take the long way. Happiness is synonymous with spontaneity, so why not do the unexpected, be the unexpected? Take that sudden turn to watch the planes land at sunset. Time is meant not just to be filled but fulfilled. Why not make every moment a memory? Strive every day for that feeling that absolutely nothing could be better than this time, right here, right now. Drive a little longer, sing a little louder, give a little more. Make people feel like they matter. If there’s something you could do to make someone else’s life just a little bit more bearable on the bad days and just that much brighter on the best then why not do that very thing?
Laughter is contagious so why not be the virus.
My Friend Tod
Everyone has that one childhood friend — you know, the one who has known you since you were in diapers, the one who raced you to the swings at recess, the one who knows your deepest darkest secrets. Friends tend to drift away as high school separates friendships and indifferences arise, but that was never the case with Tod. Through the ups and downs, highs and lows, Tod was, quite literally, glued to my side.
Tod and I met when I was 18 months old. Ever since then, we conquered each childhood milestone together, from the excitement of riding a bicycle to the exhilaration of passing my driver’s test. He was there when I won first place at my middle school science fair and when I dropped the baton in my 4×100 track relay. Whether it be my large successes or ultimate failures, there was not a single moment I did not share with Tod.
However, Tod was far from a golden child. In fact, he was the opposite — he tended to disregard my schedule entirely and bug me like a pesky little brother. Tod’s behavior was so absurd that he would drag me off course during a cross country race to feed him or wake me up at 3am for a late-night munch in the kitchen. Speaking of snacks, Tod had a colossal sweet tooth. If his sugar craving was not satisfied, he would throw massive tantrums that required my immediate care. Fortunately, I was always prepared with a stash of candy to distract him, but I had to be cautious. Too much sugar caused large spikes in his behavior. Not enough made him sluggish. In a matter of seconds, Tod could transform from a quiet being to a wild beast, jumping off tables and bouncing off the walls if I had not calculated the correct amount of sugar.
My inability to control these outbreaks caused people to believe that my future would be limited due to my constant supervision of Tod. They did not see the challenge it was to manage both Tod and my life as a student, athlete, artist, and leader, nor did they see the countless hours I spent satisfying Tod’s needs in addition to my own. We were connected on a level that few could understand.
For the longest time, I was convinced that Tod merely existed to make my life harder. There have been multiple occasions where I have questioned our friendship, but I realized that Tod would cease to exist if I did not care for him each day. Every time I helped Tod, I had made the decision to keep not only himself, but myself, alive. Despite our indifferences, I am incredibly grateful for what Tod has done for me. He forced me to grow up more quickly than the kids around me; it amazed my teachers that I could stomach the sight of blood nonchalantly or calculate the carbohydrates of a meal faster than a calculator. He gave me values of responsibility and self-awareness, as well as the confidence to reveal who I am without fear of judgment. He made me a more empathetic human, one who understands that there is always an underlying story underneath someone’s physical appearance. I hope that I can apply my lifetime with Tod into research that seeks to improve the lives of others who have faced challenges similar to my own. I am only one of the millions of children who struggle with accepting something that is out of their control, children who are exhausted by the weight of the world on their shoulders.
Tod is not like any other friend. He is a rollercoaster of a condition, a lifetime of chaos — but deep down, I would never change a thing about my diagnosis of Type One Diabetes, or TOD.
When Rocky Balboa said, “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows,” he clearly had never seen the world through my eyes. Everything around me is dipped in rainbows. I have two favorite pairs of shoes–my tie dye crocs and my white crocs with rainbow striped platforms along the bottom, and my favorite shirt is rainbow tie-dye with a smiley face. These are only a few of my rainbows, but I think you get the idea. I can’t pinpoint where my obsession started–just one day, I noticed that I was enveloped by everything rainbow. My parents have always described me as their “unicorns and rainbows” child, and I cannot disagree. I love rainbows because they symbolize kindness and inclusion, inspire curiosity and wonder, and always make their viewers feel good.
Rainbows have long been a symbol for kindness. There have been times in my life when I did not feel the security of acceptance. At the beginning of my freshman year, I felt lonely and scared in my new, larger environment. Quickly, however, upperclassmen began reaching out to and befriending me. Through this, I realized how much of a difference that it can make for one person to reach out in kindness to include another, even in the smallest ways. From this, I gained self-confidence and developed a passion for meeting new people. It inspired me to be a swim and diving coach, where many times I encounter the same nervous young freshman girl that I was four years ago, and to apply and be selected for the Ryan Nece Foundation, which is a service organization seeking to help others in need.
Rainbows always inspire curiosity and wonder in their viewers. From an early age, I think that all of us have tried to imagine where rainbows begin and end, wondering if there really might be a pot of gold where it meets the ground. In the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” the film switches from black and white to color when Dorothy enters the land of Oz, intending to spark the imagination of the viewer. Scientifically, we learn that the colors in a rainbow are almost infinite; it is only our human perception that limits our ability to see the continuous color spectrum. Curiosity is what has driven my love of learning. I enjoy dissecting issues and finding arguments on either side. I understand that there are nuances to all thought and argument, and that things are rarely black and white. I know that no matter how far I may go with my formal education, I will always be a curious student, filled with the same wonder and excitement that a rainbow inspires.
Rainbows inspire good feelings. They are associated with optimism and the promise of a new day after a storm. I choose to view life through rainbow-colored glasses. I believe that I am privileged to live in a beautiful world, in an exciting era of history. More important, I believe that we can affect change for those elements that are not positive. Rainbows are also the promise of a new day. In some of my most difficult times, like a dive meet where I could not see beyond my anxiety, a rainbow has appeared to calm my soul. It is impossible to view a rainbow and not feel good about life.
While my rainbow Crocs may be goofy, it is impossible to see me in them and not smile. While my tie-dye t-shirts are heavily worn, I know that they convey my happy and free-spirited feeling. While my multi-colored study guides may seem to be a waste of time, the many colors feed my curiosity and love of learning. And while my rainbow lanyard may not be a fashion statement, it communicates my commitment to kindness and inclusivity to all. So, when people ask me what my favorite color is, I happily answer, “Rainbow.”
Imagine this: I am enjoying one of my favorite meals at one of the most popular gathering places in Tampa. I wait in line, pick up my salmon poke bowl, and head out to the peaceful outdoor seating area on a busy Saturday afternoon. I walk past tables full of young families and groups of friends conversing and laughing, to a table in the center of it all. There I sit, alone, to relish in the flavors of my meal and the thoughts in my mind. What may look like a pitiful image to others, is one of the ways in which I fully embrace my introverted tendencies: taking myself out on a “date”. Though I am fully aware of the oddity of my behavior, such a phenomena of solo outings has become my norm. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a social person. I find joy in surrounding myself with the people I love, and cherish the opportunity I get to do so. Although time spent with others is something I’m fond of, I find that passing time with myself is of unfathomable value for me.
For an anxious mind like mine, I realized that taking the chance to delve deeper into my thoughts in solitude was the most substantial way for me to recenter my thoughts, and regain balance in my life. Through a variety of solo outings, I found that some time alone is the most proactive way to feed my soul and develop a deeper understanding of myself and the world around me. An outing such as treating myself to a tasty meal and the opportunity for uninterrupted contemplation has become priceless to my well-being. I also found that time to myself allows me to maintain open mindedness and engage in respectful conversations with my peers. Being the student activist and politically active person that I am, it is so easy to be blinded by my own opinions and views. Throughout high school, since being met with so many varying political views, I have utilized moments of solitude as an opportunity to fully comprehend someone’s points by taking a step back from the conversation to properly ponder and work through the new ideas that have been presented to me. Such time for reflection has become a tool that empowers me to hold respectful and receptive conversations with my peers, and truly sympathize with their thought process and ideas. I have learned that delegating time for myself has not only allowed me to develop a stronger understanding and relationship with myself, but has also taught me how to most effectively keep an open mind when it comes to interacting with my peers.
Though this concept may seem insignificant to some, it has sparked the growth of a greater understanding of my thoughts and the ideas of others, and made me realize how profoundly meaningful it is to be conscious and self-aware. People these days are so concerned with maintaining constant socialization and connection, that the idea of taking time to recenter and disconnect from everyone but your thoughts is daunting. In actuality, properly delegating time for reflection has positively influenced my relationships with others by allowing me to better understand my thoughts and gain a greater awareness of my surroundings. Despite my initial hesitation, I’ve come to learn that a little time to myself goes a long way. I genuinely don’t think I could say that I am the person I am today without it. Whether it’s at a table at my favorite food spot, in the car on my commute to school, or in an Eno Hammock suspended in the palms near the river, I have found that leaving a little time for mindfulness and reflection is just as important to me as time with friends and family. So, if you see me alone in the bustling environment of downtown Tampa, you know why.
A year, nine months and four days can be combined into a video that is ten minutes and one second long. This video means so much to me and represents a major change in my life. September 2, 2017 is the date that my cousin Owen died after a year-long battle with Leukemia. After his death, I was very sad and frustrated, as any family member would be. I didn’t like feeling this way and wanted to make a change.
The New Year signifies a fresh start and a new beginning. With this in mind, for my New Year’s Resolution of 2018, I wanted to appreciate every day more. Keeping in mind Owen, I decided to document something important every day of my life, either positive or negative. I am not the biggest fan of writing, so a journal would not work, but I also wanted to keep it short and simple. So on December 31, 2017, I decided to record one second every day for the whole year and create one large video of these moments.
This video makes me think a lot about how blessed I am to be given so many opportunities but also how silly I can be. In 2018, I tried the exotic “Jackfruit” from the southern rainforest of India, modeled and 3-D printed the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the City Spire building in New York City, ate lots of Chick-fil-a, had a “Star Wars” marathon, discovered that I had scoliosis, and had way too much fun. Thankfully, I “steered clear” from all the homework videos because I knew that would be extremely boring.
I was so happy with the 2018 video that I decided to continue into 2019. Nine months in, I have successfully recorded multiple dance parties with myself in between homework sessions, humourous pre-calc memes, egg selfies, being pushed to my limits at the Naval Academy Summer Seminar, the start of senior year, and running in many rainstorms with my friends.
My only regret about this video is that I wish I would have started it earlier. High school has been the best time of my life. Learning so much about myself and creating memories that will last a lifetime. These memories shared inside this video, I wish I would have started this freshman year. It is crazy for me to witness how much change has occurred in my life and it hasn’t even been two years, I could not begin to imagine four. Even though I started this video for me to get passed my hard times I am so thankful for it. I have realized to not stress the small stuff because, in the grand scheme of life, we have so much to be thankful for. I can’t wait to see what other adventures this video will hold and I am so proud of the ten minutes and one second that I have currently.
I am going to die
Can you remember the exact moment that you realized that you were going to die one day? The fact that I have a finite amount of life to live was an earth shattering realization that I came to after my best friend, Cailin Cannella, passed away due to Osteosarcoma on September 18, 2017. I recall sitting on the floor of my dark closet on the day she died, surrounded by nothing but a vast, hungry emptiness, and saying to myself: “I have so much more life to be living.” Many may be shocked at the fact that it took me fifteen years of existence to fully understand the ephemeral nature of life, but I had never truly realized how limited my time on earth was until that moment, as I sat in the chasms of my closet.
Sometimes, in the quintessence of teenage being, in a car with my friends, the music so loud that it’s a miracle my brain could muster any thoughts, I would think about how much of life Cailin is missing out on living. All of the significant moments in my life that I didn’t appreciate, moments Cailin would never experience, began to haunt me. I would walk around ridden with guilt, consumed by every simple pleasure that I didn’t fully appreciate. People would look at me with worry and tell me not to feel guilty for being alive. “It’s what she would have wanted,” they’d say as I scoffed at the employment of such a cliche, meaningless phrase.
I would think about simple things that were important to me, things that I loved, these beautiful things that Cailin would be missing out on, things that I take for granted- and it would be hard for me to breathe. It would feel as if the impending doom of time wasted was wrapping itself around my neck and squeezing me so hard I could barely breathe. I would feel as though I was on the edge of a cliff, eternally stuck in the moments between being stable and falling over its edge. But I wasn’t suffocating, and I wasn’t on the edge of a cliff. I was back in the car with my friends and the music. I’m driving much too fast, and the music is much too loud, and for the first time in what feels like a very long time, I’m smiling.
Again, although more metaphorically this time, I beg the question: Can you remember the exact moment that you realized that you were going to die one day? The exact moment you realized that your days on this earth are limited? That every second taken for granted is one that is wasted? This realization initially haunted me, but after much thought, it took on a new significance as I came to the conclusion that the comfort of a daily routine, and the special moments scattered throughout this routine are things that have been robbed of Cailin- but they have not been robbed of me. Although my realization may not rival the philosophical mind of Socrates, or the poetic musings of Charles Bukowski, it completely changed the perspective of which I view my life. Now, I seek bliss in the habitual moments between when I wake up and when I go to bed. I tell the people I love that I love them. Every once in a while, amidst everyone else’s rush, I stop where I am, look around, and realize the blessing that lies within the moment I am living. I am breathing, I am seeing, I am here. I am here! And although it pains me to say the words that I once so denounced- I know that it’s what Cailin would have wanted.
The Business Mogul of the Century: A 9 Year Old Girl
“How can a nine year old create and manage a business while carrying out the duties of a child?” you may ask. It all started circa 2010 when my grandfather gifted me a crimson-red cash register with a keypad and drawer, which unleashed the depths of my imagination.
With complete disregard for inflation rates, I conducted numerous trips to the dollar store where I purchased fake currency to fill the empty spots in my cash register. The next step was to choose my product. ‘Produce’ and ‘profit’ were the only words in my mind as I marched my way down the staircase of my aunt’s house to demand her knicknacks be redirected to my trade. She produced a basket of hotel shampoos which she had collected over her years of travel. I had my products, but there was just one thing missing; a sales associate. As my best friend and partner in crime, my older brother met the strict criteria for employment.
Not long after my brother’s initial employee training session, my business was ready for its grand opening. Customers were in abundance considering my aunt was hosting a dinner party with her adult friends who couldn’t say no to carrying out a little girl’s wishes. They were the ideal demographic. Using my amazing sales skills, I lured my customers into my store where I sat proudly behind my cash register. Fortunately, my store turned a real profit in its first quarter.
Now, some may say I was a rather aggressive business figure due to my authoritative nature and heavy handed management. My employee, for instance, was not pleased. He was the ideal employee for all of two weeks. Unfortunately, I had to terminate his employment. We had been sorting the files in which I had recorded all my sales when my brother endured a mild paper cut. His first instinct was to yell, which was understandable, but the crying was not appropriate for a working environment. I offered my apologies with utmost sincerity for this workplace incident. My aunt, however, decided to interfere with my business practices and offered my employee medical leave. I warned my employee that his job would be on the line if he took the offer and he would not receive his pay. He objected. I had a total of two words for my employee when he rushed down the stairs into the arms of my aunt, “YOU’RE” and “FIRED”.
Given my extensive experience running a lucrative and successful enterprise, it should be no shock that I will be carrying my red register economic theory into the global economy. Watch out, Jeff Bezos.
I don’t know if you’ve ever not been recognized by people you’ve known for 15 years, but it’s surreal. It wasn’t until lunch, later that day, that any of them said a word to me, even though I had seen them looking at me in the halls in between classes. I thought I had done something to upset them.
“She looks really familiar,” I could hear all of my friends whispering to each other as I walked up to our lunch table, and that just confused me more. I obviously never even considered the fact that they simply didn’t realize who I was because of how I was wearing my hair that day: I had my bangs pinned back.
Have you seen very many teenagers with bangs recently? There is a reason for that. At every little girl’s first haircut she gets bangs, it’s like a rite of passage. Most girls then grow out their bangs by the time they hit the fifth grade. I was definitely not like most girls; I was a high schooler with bangs. I’m just going to let that sink in.
My hair is what made me different. I was never the tallest in my class, and I was a little insecure about my height at times. As a matter of fact, when I was growing up, doctors would say I’d be lucky if I made it to five feet tall. Despite that, I consider myself to be a bit of an overachiever in all areas — and made it to a whopping five foot and five inches tall. So picture this, a short Hispanic girl with bangs and a backpack…
I’ll say it so that you don’t have to.
I looked like Dora the Explorer. If there were a way to include a picture in this essay I would.
The reason why girls my age will cut bangs is because they are going through some quarter-life crisis. You could say that at the age of 15 I was going through a quarter-life evolution. I put my fears of change aside and determined to grow out my bangs. I told myself that I at least needed to give it a try because it can always be undone. I have no clue what really prompted this sudden change, but I’m glad I did it because the past year and a half without my bangs has been the best time of my life.
It seems silly to think that a hairstyle was holding me back from being the best version of myself, but it took a lot of courage for me to change my appearance in a time of my life where how someone looks seems to mean so much to everyone else. The courage I found in myself from this experience helped me succeed through the most important and amazing years of my high school experience. It was a long process and my bangs still hang around to poke out the top of my head when I put my hair up in a bun, but I feel so much more like myself that I don’t even care.
A dog robbed me once. I remember it like it happened yesterday and I’ll never forget it. I couldn’t have been more than eight when the tragedy took place. It was back when I lived in Georgia and I was visiting my dad. At age two, my dad had the grand idea of putting me on our dog, Casper to reenact a pony ride. Long story short, I was dropped on my head and I haven’t trusted a dog since. Going to visit him and meeting his gigantic German Shepard was about the last thing I could have wanted. His name was Fritz and he was 100 percent out to get me.
As a kid, I was a complete shrimp, tiny in every sense of the word. That, added to my vast imagination, allowed me to believe that Fritz was this towering wolf that would tear into me as soon as dad looked away. My dad thought it was hilarious. It was not. I remember sitting on the couch in a separate room, with the door slightly ajar, enjoying my hotdog and Lays potato chips, looking for ways to amuse myself whilst I ate. At eight, I obviously hadn’t been around that long and in my short existence, I could have sworn that was the best meal I’d ever had. I was content, eating my hotdog and chips, and wouldn’t you know it, in waltzed Fritz like he paid rent. I screamed bloody murder, and while I was busy trying to climb time and space to get away from him, he did the unthinkable. He made a beeline for my plate and ate my hotdog and exactly one chip. I cried for the rest of my visit and vowed that dogs were the hounds of hell.
Fast forward five years to 13 year old me. My sister, mother and I were in the middle of relocating from Georgia to Florida so that my mother could be closer to my grandparents. My mother had a few tasks to handle back home so my sister and I moved to Florida to live with our grandparents a summer earlier than her. My mother knew how much I disliked dogs, so imagine my absolute shock when she finally moved to Florida bringing along a mutt named Oreo. My family refuses to let me live this down but I jumped on my grandmother’s couch and threw whatever I could reach at the crazy dog that was barking at me. At the time, I couldn’t see any possible good in having a dog. I was adamant in avoiding Oreo due to my fears. However, getting a dog helped me realize an important lesson; sometimes there are changes in life that we don’t want to accept. At some point in life, there are going to be situations that I’ll face where I won’t be able to get my way, and Oreo was one of many examples that helped me understand that that’s okay. Looking back I can’t help but be grateful to my mom for bringing me my best friend.
The Tin Man and the Ostrich
I’ve always loved music, but my voice has never been something to admire. My friends would deny it, but I knew the unspoken, inevitable truth: my voice, desperately attempting to reach high notes and growl out low ones, sounds like the Tin Man and a live ostrich in a cage match.
Despite this reality, I still love using music to bring people together.
My dentist drill-esque singing voice has brought people together in the strangest locations. For example, the soccer field. On the hot afternoon of an important game, turf burned beneath us like a bed of coals. We were down 1-0 in the state finals against our major rival, IMG Academy. I huddled next to the other team captain, Emma, and told everyone to breathe deeply and listen to my prayer. Slowly, I started to sing the lyrics to a little ditty we all knew, a song that had become our team’s de facto anthem. I watched faces that had been serious and morose thirty seconds before slowly break into smiles. My “prayer” was Kanye West’s iconic rap song, “Gold Digger.” The mood continued to improve as everyone joined in, our discordant voices resounding like thunder. After the song, we played with the confidence and swagger of multi-millionaires. Thanks, Kanye.
Another time my infamous singing voice helped me out was during the “Graveyard Shift,” a play I wrote and directed last fall. On opening night, the cast and crew came to the theater early to prepare. They could tell I was on edge by the number of Red Bull cans they saw crumpled in my car. While everyone was backstage, I sat alone at a piano on the stage. My hands trembled from nerves, so I tried playing a couple of notes, but my fingers kept flubbing them. My friend Robin joined me. Recognizing the tune I was attempting to play, she started to sing along. Slowly, the entire cast and crew gathered around the stage as I played “Vienna” by Billy Joel. I looked around at my friends: a mix of crew shirts, jail uniforms, clown costumes, and chicken suits. My screeches were lost in the monsoon of voices. Everyone was singing along, and halfway through the piece, my hands stopped shaking. After the song ended, we all hugged and prepared for what was an amazing show.
I use music not only to calm me down, but to connect with others. This past summer I attended the Seminar for Tomorrow’s Leaders: a weeklong camp of leadership training. During the week, I befriended Bam, a 6’4” football player from Miami. We met in the dining hall and immediately bonded over sports and music. We commiserated over our shared lack of vocal skills. As a child, Bam sang constantly but stopped because people complained that his voice was horrible. I understood. Later that week when the other delegates started singing in the dining hall, I coerced Bam into joining. What? He had one of the best voices I had ever heard! Seriously– his voice sounded like a combination of Stevie Wonder and an angel. After our table’s exuberant reaction, we convinced him to sing in the camp talent show. Bam earned a standing ovation. On the last day of camp, he pressed a metal spoon into my hand. Tears in his eyes, he told me that he wanted to give it to me because I had given him new confidence. The spoon now rests on my bookshelf, reminding me of how little actions can change people’s lives.
Music has helped me lift people up, calm myself down, and reach out to others. My singing, though painful to others, has shaped me into who I am today. It does more good than harm. If you don’t like it, then you don’t have to listen. I’m going to sing anyway.
So here’s to the class of 2020, the most talented, hardworking, and resilient group of girls I know. I hope you find your happiest self and don’t hate me for sharing this throwback. Happy graduation, we did it.