It didn’t take me long when I started college to realize that I was different.
While most students saw their long-awaited entrance into college as liberating and the opportunity to thrive under this newly-developed immortal nature, I was far from it. To me, “liberating” meant running a spontaneous errand in the middle of the night without having to tell my parents. Or, the thrill of scheduling my own doctor’s appointments, feeling smug as I hung up because I was such a responsible adult. However, to everyone around me (it seemed), freedom was a lot more wild.
I expected the culture, but I didn’t expect as many people to be a part of it as college began. Feverishly, so many around me rushed to try underage drinking, falling head over heels for the thrill of discovering their drunk self, and having nights so great that they didn’t even remember them. It wasn’t always just alcohol, either. And not only did a drinking epidemic seem to break out before my eyes, but the hookup culture washed over freshmen like a tidal wave. Everyone is single in college, right? It was the time to experiment, and find yourself in the lowest-committing relationships of your life. That’s what the environment around me seemed to be shouting.
Yet, here I was, a girl with zero interest in alcohol of any kind. Here I was, a girl who wanted to wait for her husband. Here I was, feeling like a total outsider.
I thought I was the last one on Earth as parties and hookups erupted and became daily conversational topics. “Did you go out last night?” wasn’t a question about whether I hit up Walmart to get a $5 movie at midnight, but whether I got wasted. I learned the casual word “sexiled” as I ran into friends in the hall who’d been kicked out by their roommates for the evening. It was everywhere, and the worst part was that everyone seemed to be enjoying the new culture, even previous friends who I thought were just like me.
What was wrong with me? It wasn’t that I wasn’t open-minded. I didn’t judge others for their choices; I just had no interest in any of it myself. For awhile, I wrestled with myself because I thought I was no fun. I thought I might be an old soul who skipped out on her youth. I constantly worried people would think of me as stuck up, and I would try to blend into the background when these conversations arose. It didn’t matter, though; nothing of this new nature appealed to me, at all.
After a long period of wrestling and praying and trying to accept that I’d never fit in, I realized what bugged me all along: I had no interest in anything superficial–superficial relationships, superficial habits, superficial nights. In theory, all of these new opportunities were supposed to look great, but to me, they looked unfulfilling.
Why would I bother having a night that I wouldn’t even remember–while trashing my body–when I could go out exploring and make new, meaningful memories? And with a group of friends who I cared for, rather than someone I’d just met and didn’t even know their name? Why not spend my nights with friends who would be there for me, and not just when it was convenient for them? Maybe these things weren’t as thrilling, but they were far more fulfilling.
The culture overwhelmed me, but it didn’t overtake me, which I worry it did with many others I know, who succumbed to the pressure of it all. If you feel the way that I do, I want you to know that you aren’t alone; in fact, I think we may have realized something that a lot of our peers are going to learn down the road, the hard way. I think we know the value of meaningful relationships and memories and we want to make sure we spend our time creating those. I mean, why not?
Sure, I’ve been criticized for being too serious. I’ve been criticized for being antisocial. I’ve been criticized for being close-minded. These things have hurt, but just because my idea of fun is different and the way I see relationships is different, doesn’t mean they are bad.
I’m not trying to bash any person’s decision-making; we all have our own journeys, and I just wanted to shed light on how I realized I am the way that I am, and how it’s perfectly okay. I wanted to remind anyone else who feels similar that it’s nothing to be ashamed of if you’re just not interested in what everyone else seems to be doing–I promise, even if it’s a lot of people, it isn’t everyone. Remember that you are entitled to your own feelings, and your own type of fun. And, whatever fun you like to have, there are people out there for you.
“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”
My first semester of college has been challenging, in more ways than I anticipated. I’ve struggled, I’ve learned, and I’ve questioned a lot of things. Luckily, through the service-based university that I attend, I have been able to volunteer around the city and it has helped both brighten my weeks here and help me keep my life in perspective. This past semester, I volunteered weekly at a center for adults with various disabilities, and I also volunteered with a Down Syndrome foundation. My time at both of these organizations has been filled with so much joy, laughter, and hugs. There was never a dull moment!
I feel very blessed to have had these opportunities. When I think of the people that I have spent time with at these organizations, the word “disabled” is the last that comes to my mind. In fact, I find the word to be extremely relative: when you think about it, we all have our own disabilities, whether it be our selfishness, impatience, negativity, jealousy, or anything that holds us back on a daily basis. No one is perfectly abled. It is crucial that we focus on the best that we can do–our possibilities. It is crucial that we give these people labeled “disabled” just as much of an opportunity as we would anyone else; we’re all people, just with different struggles.
Blinded by my own flaws and daily struggles, I have been so thankful for those I met this semester and the lessons they have reminded me of. While I spent time with them and thought I was helping them, they were returning the favor all along. I feel very lucky to have spent so much time with some of the brightest, most spirited individuals! Here are seven crucial things I want to share that they have reminded me:
- Never underestimate the power of a small or simple interaction with someone. It can truly brighten a day. Saying hello, giving a smile, or asking how someone is doing can be just what they need.
- Celebrate the little things. Your battles are your own, and they are always valid. Sometimes, getting through a day is a big enough feat. You deserve a pat on the back. Or, you deserve to dance!
- Dance whenever you please. Who cares who is watching? Other’s perception of you should be the least of your worries. They are not in charge of your happiness.
- The most valuable thing you can give is your time. Listening to someone, playing basketball with them–whatever you do in an attempt to make a connection is priceless. Building a relationship with someone makes them feel valued.
- A positive attitude can go a long way. When I volunteered, everyone else always seemed to be more aware of the participants’ disabilities than they were themselves. I think that serves as a powerful reminder to us that we are in charge of being the best version of ourselves, and celebrating the possibilities–never the disability.
- Everyone can teach you something. The only requirements are an open mind and a willingness to learn. Whether it be a simple skill or a life lesson, all are valuable.
- Always share how you feel, and when you’re thankful. The amount of “I love you”s that I received this semester was enough to make anyone’s heart swell!
I am so thankful for the opportunities that I had this semester and I hope to continue to build relationships and learn more next semester. I am so glad to have been reminded that it is never our disabilities that should define us, but our–truly endless–possibilities!
Growing up in the Mason school district, I developed severe anxiety.
This anxiety all stemmed from the idea that I was not good enough.
I attended one of the largest school districts, and the largest high school, in the state of Ohio. This made everything much harder, whether it was competing for class rank or a spot on a sports team. There was so much competition; there was always someone smarter than me, and someone more talented than me. Always. I felt increasingly average, like I had little talent, tiny in the shadow of my peers.
I played softball all growing up, and I was cut from the school softball team. Twice. I got good grades all growing up, and graduated high school proudly with a 4.5 GPA that I had worked my tail off for, only to learn that I didn’t even make the top 10 percent of my class.
Going to Mason High School was really, really hard.
Don’t get me wrong: I was unbelievably blessed to attend Mason; the opportunities present there are like no other school. There are so many incredible teachers, classes, and clubs available to all students. Students are very prepared for college upon leaving. Unfortunately, however, the teenage years are swamped with the concern that plagues students most: how they stack up to their peers. At Mason, comparing yourself to others can be incredibly disheartening.
It can give you the false sense that you aren’t good enough, smart enough, athletic enough, or talented enough. The truth is, when you compare yourself to the 800+ people in your graduating class, full of diverse talent, it will discourage you.
But, you’re not 800+ people. You’re one person. You’re one person that has unique talents and capabilities of your own, whether you realize it or not. I don’t care if you didn’t get as good of a grade in a class as the person sitting next to you. I guarantee you there is something that you are better than them at; whether it be simply the ability to make people laugh. You know what? The world thrives on laughter. That is so much more important than a grade. Please, know that.
Friday afternoon, I learned that a student at my high school had taken his own life. I did not know him, I did not know anything about him, nor did I know the reason for his suicide, but I cried for him. I cried thinking of the homecomings and the proms that he would miss out on, the nights with his friends, and how he didn’t realize that life is so much more than high school.
I cried because I knew how he might have felt, lost in a giant school with giant expectations. I had felt that way, too.
Due to my anxiety, there were days I simply could not make it to school. There were nights I could not sleep. There were instances where I panicked and blanked out on tests, feeling so much pressure to do well, and I turned in a blank sheet of paper. There were afternoons where I would tear up at practice and break down later because I would push myself and push myself and I still wasn’t where I wanted to be.
It. Was. Hard.
But, you must know you are not alone in this suffering. You must know that high school is only a tiny fraction of your life. You must know that your health is much more important than your performance. You must know that there is so much more to life than what you accomplished (or didn’t accomplish) in high school.
I worked unbelievably hard in high school, and I am proud of that. Will anyone remember, or really care, in ten years? Even in five years? Not really.
People will remember how you made them laugh in a really stressful class. People will remember how you smiled at them in the hall when they were having the worst day of their life. People will remember how you texted them a joke or kind note, simply because you thought of them. People will remember those moments in which they felt you were on their side.
We must work towards seeing each other as teammates, not competitors. High school is hard, and attending Mason can be even harder, but you are all in this together. Lean on each other. Support each other. Love each other. Remind each other that you are, 110 percent, beyond good enough.
It will be hard, but you will finish high school. You will move on, to find out that life gets so much better, and is so much more. Please, help each other get there.
In doing so, we may save a life.
Side note: I saw a link shared today on Facebook, raising a funeral fund for the boy who took his life. You may donate here.
This is Justin.
We have been together since we were fifteen. I suppose I never felt I had an occasion to share about him before, but now, we are about to begin one of the most controversial issues plaguing dating high school graduates heading off to college: the long-distance relationship.
Justin will be attending a college that is 1,795 miles away from mine.
Since he decided last April, others would often ask us where we were headed in the fall. I’d share that I was attending Xavier University, a local school. When he would then explain that he was moving to Arizona, their eyes would always get big, and the first thing they’d say was, “Wow, that’s so far,” and when they said it, they were always looking at me.
Luckily, this was a conversation we’d already had, before we even decided where we’d attend college: we were planning to stay together, despite any distance. We felt that special relationships, whether it be with friends or significant others, should never be trashed simply because of a life change.
Our long-distance relationship begins today as he embarks on the trip out west. It’s going to be really, really hard, but I’m in this.
I’m in it because there are too many things that mean too much to me, to even consider throwing it all away.
I’m in it for all of the times he went along with my spontaneity, despite his tenacity for planning. Whether this be sledding on a school night, having a picnic to catch the sunset, or just inviting him over randomly, he knew how excited I would be if we made it happen in that moment, and he was there.
I’m in it for all of the times we cheered each other on, both runners, we would come to each other’s competitions and cheer as loud as we could. He would tell me he felt bad because I was the only one whose name he knew, and the girls I ran with would tell me they always knew where I was in the race because they heard him shout my name.
I’m in it for all of the bad jokes, and our similar senses of humor that are close but not exact because I think there are multiple times he has forced a laugh at my corny jokes, just because I enjoy them. I’m in it also for the inside jokes that we share, like best friends.
I’m in it for all of the nights we sat in his car outside my house after he had driven me home, not wanting to separate, talking endlessly about our hopes and fears and dreams and passions and theories about life. I would come inside to my younger brother waiting for me, eyebrows raised, ready to tease me about why we’d been in the car for so long.
I’m in it for these limitless conversations, how he always answers any question I ask, no matter its absurdity. We may never be able to agree on the correct level of toastiness of a marshmallow, but I’m in it for how these conversations have brought us to laugh together, cry together, and dream together. He’s laughed and told me several times, “You make my head hurt.” Oops.
I’m in it for all of the things that we have conquered together. From competing in cross country and track at one of the most athletically competitive schools in the state, to loading up on Honors and Advanced Placement classes together in our junior and senior years of high school, we encouraged each other through all of those miserable workouts, tense competitions, demanding school projects, bad grades, and little sleep through it all. Looking back, his steady encouragement helped me through so much.
I’m in it for how we have grown together. Besides knowing each other since we had braces, we have matured so much together through our high school years and in the things we have accomplished within them, as well as with the decision we have made to continue dating next year.
Maybe I’m naive to post about him now, as we are about the begin a chapter that ends so many couples’ stories. Maybe I’m too hopeful, too optimistic. Maybe we’ll both move on to different things and live separate lives. I don’t know. And that’s okay. That won’t change the time that we did spend together, and that won’t change the fact that this is worth it.
Right now, all I know is that harder good-byes make much sweeter hellos. And, I’m in this.
For two weeks this summer, I traveled and lived in the brilliant country of Spain. (It was not long enough!) I already knew that travel was the best way to learn, but this trip sure proved it. I learned so much beyond my four years of Spanish in a classroom.
I can’t fathom how to give a blog-sized snippet of such an extraordinary vacation. I did write in a journal every night so that I could remember what I learned and experienced from the trip, but I was not good at keeping my blog up-to-date such as Señora Richardson, one of the teachers who joined our group. Her blog is awesome and deserves a shout-out; it includes many more details of the journey!
After embarking on this adventure, I cannot stress enough the importance of travel. Less than a year ago, I was unsure of this trip, aware of how much I would have to pay for it, but travel provides a priceless experience. From the differences in Spain’s bathrooms to the extreme difference in nightlife, here are 14 things I learned–one for each day that I spent in Spain:
- The United States is grossly wasteful of power. In Spanish hotels, you must insert your hotel key in a slot in the room to be able to turn on the lights and air conditioning. This is to avoid wasting power when out of the room. Of course, many of us Americans cheated the system and left our credit cards in the slots to keep the A/C running. Besides that, in general, it is very disrespectful to leave the lights on when in the home of a Spanish family. When you leave the room, the lights and other power sources should be shut off. Speaking of lights–their light switches flip down for on, and up for off–it’s the opposite!
- It is possible that you will be charged to go to the bathroom. In certain, more desolate areas, this is how people make money. Now that I am on the subject of bathrooms, the toilets in Spain (and I think this is a Europe thing) flush from a button on the top. Sometimes, because they are so much more power-efficient, there are two buttons, and you press one only if you need more water to flush. I never saw a clogged toilet there.
- All of the cars (again, a Europe thing, I believe) are stick shift. All of the drivers were, in my humble opinion, wild. It seemed to me as if the center lane line was a mere suggestion, and changing lanes in an intersection was no problem at all. Pedestrians are yielded to only if they are absolutely going to be hit by the car, so it must stop. Speed limits are in kilometers, but we’re the weird ones when it comes to that. Somehow, they’re all mutually crazy because I did not see a car accident the entire time I was there, either.
- The night life in Spain is ridiculous, but so cool. I felt so lame. There was one night I was out with my host sister until 2 a.m. with her and her friends, and I was excited when she noticed I was falling asleep in my chair (I didn’t want to be rude and ask to leave) and we left. We returned home around 2:30 a.m. only to learn that the house was empty; the parents, other teenage sister, and 6-year-old son were all still out enjoying the night. I was totally lame. I told my host family that I will sometimes drive home at midnight on a Saturday night and I will barely see any cars on the road. That shocked them. In Spain, the streets are filled until the wee hours of the morning, sometimes 6 a.m., but they sleep late. My host sisters didn’t wake up before noon.
- I ate dinner in Spain at the same time as my American family. When I say that, I mean the exact same time… I was eating dinner at 12:30 Spain time, and my family back home was eating dinner then too, at 6:30 EST. Adding to the nightlife, they eat dinner extremely late. If you go to a restaurant at 7 p.m., where it would be packed in the U.S., it is empty. The earliest I ate dinner was probably 10 p.m. Lunch is also pushed back, eaten around 3 p.m., and breakfast isn’t a big fiasco. There aren’t any IHOPs (that I know of). It’s either skipped or something small is eaten.
- Elaborating on the food topic, Spaniards are so much more healthy. I saw a couple overweight people, but I did not see any obese people the entire time I was there. Those overweight people were probably Americans, too. This is due to the fact that they walk so much (unlike here where I have literally witnessed people drive to their neighbor’s house), and their portion control. I introduced my host family to chocolate chip cookies (they don’t really bake there) and their minds were blown. They loved them. So, I was surprised when they only ate one cookie each. I had already swallowed two, plus some cookie dough. But it wasn’t because they were pretending to like them; it was just because their portion control is so impressive. They also commonly eat fruit for dessert. I love fruit, but my American self knows it’s not dessert unless it’s smothered in chocolate.
- I mentioned that they walk a lot more than us, and it’s because everything is within walking distance. Several mornings that I was with my host family, we would walk over to the grocery store to buy some bread (bread is extremely popular and eaten with every meal–I’m not talking Wonder Bread; I mean the good stuff) or fruit and head right back. We would also walk to the subway, which we could take anywhere in Madrid, then walk from there. The subway is extremely popular. Again, they do not understand how we drive everywhere. In Spain, you cannot get your license until you are 18. They could not fathom how I could drive at 15 1/2 but I couldn’t drink until 21. That’s just us being weird again.
- Spaniards think we are borderline filthy rich because we live in houses. It is extremely rare to live in a house in Spain; they all live in apartments. This isn’t to say they’re all small apartments; in fact, my family’s was gorgeous, but they’re all connected, and having a lawn isn’t really thing. However, owning a pool is very common, and it is oftentimes on the roof because there is no yard and also just because space is much better conserved. There are also always bars on the windows and doors on the lower floor (don’t worry, they usually make them look pretty) to protect from theft.
- There really isn’t any violent crime in Spain. Gun control is way more strict, and being in the streets late isn’t an issue, as we women would worry about being attacked or sexually assaulted when alone at night in the United States. Unfortunately, pickpocketing is very common. Thankfully, no one on our trip was targeted, but it is important to always carry a purse with zippers, keep it at the front, and never put your phone in your back pocket or on the table in a restaurant. They’re not looking to harm you, but they’re extremely good at what they do, which is stealing your wallet or phone. The subway is a huge target for this, as everyone can be pushed together inside, making it easier to steal.
- I’m convinced that there aren’t clouds in Spain. Each day that I was there for two weeks, it was sunny and 90° without a cloud in the sky. Okay, maybe there were a few clouds but nevertheless, the weather was unwavering and maybe a tad hot for my likes but irrevocably beautiful. That’s why they all have pools. They also mentioned that they do not get snow (at least in Madrid and southern Spain), and there is no spring or fall; winter turns to summer one day and summer does the same. It reminded me a little of Colorado, and there sure are beautiful mountains in Spain.
- I watched some TV and movies with my host family while I was in Spain. Movies are even harder to understand than normal because most of the movies that they watch are American (in English) with simply horrendous Spanish voice-overs. I was stuck between trying to read lips and interpret the Spanish words and I was just left with a headache. On top of movies, they are obsessed with American music. I kept finding myself sitting in an authentic tapa bar and Twenty-One Pilots or Justin Bieber would come on, and I would just be sitting there thinking that something did not feel right about this authentic experience. I told my host family I saw Taylor Swift in concert and they were amazed. I also thoroughly enjoyed listening to them attempt to sing American songs. Let me just say that they had absolutely no idea the meaning of their words, and this was both mortifying and guiltily enjoyable. The songs are not censored.
- Besides loving American music and television, they just love English. This includes many t-shirts with English words and phrases that make zero sense at all. Or, you will see shirts that say incredibly random things like “BOY” or “OCEAN” because they just love wearing English words. It’s common to find misspellings. It’s embarrassingly difficult to find a shirt in Spain with Spanish words, in fact. Yet, it is way too easy to find a shirt with English curse words. I was mortified so many times when I would walk into a store and the F bomb would be screaming at me from a drawstring bag or a t-shirt. I don’t know if they play on naivety or what, but it was a problem.
- Spaniards love their soccer. I’m sorry–their fútbol. Games were always on and the rivalry between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona was very evident. I got to see the Real Madrid stadium, which was really cool. I tried to explain the Super Bowl to my host family, and they just could not understand how commercials could cost millions of dollars. Again, we favor a sport different than the rest of the world. Soccer jerseys in Spain cost 85 euros at the cheapest (about $100).
- The United States is such a young country. In Spain, I got to visit palaces and cathedrals and learn about the rich history that dated far back beyond our American history books. I also got to see the place of Christopher Columbus’s ashes; they are so proud of him. It’s just crazy to think that our country just celebrated its 240th birthday, and yet that is so young. I’m so blessed I got to soak up the rich history, traditions, and culture that Spain had to offer me. The trip was far too short to enjoy all of that history and I hope to go back someday and continue adventuring, and learning!
Hasta luego, hermoso país. ¡Gracias por todo!
I didn’t cry at graduation.
I didn’t cry because, while high school brought me to some of my best friends and fondest memories, it was hard.
It was hard waking up at 6 a.m. for someone who isn’t a morning person. It was hard participating in class for someone who is an introvert. It was hard failing tests for someone who has fragile self-confidence. It was hard going to seven classes in a row for someone who has trouble sitting still. It was hard having teachers that didn’t understand that I had a life outside of their class for someone who is very busy. It was hard showing up day after day for someone who didn’t get much sleep. It was hard.
High school isn’t made for everyone, and I cannot disagree more when I hear it is the best four years of my life. Not everyone thrives under a rigorously structured day, where seven or more hours are spent being told what to do. It’s not for everyone, and it wasn’t for me. High school was hard.
With that said, I could not have made it through high school without the people that I met and the organizations and sports that I got involved with. I think the most important thing in high school is that everyone has to find their safe place; they need to find a place that they can be where they don’t have to think about school for at least a short period of time–best case scenario, it is a place where they are pursuing a passion that they have outside of school. Otherwise, it is drilled into your head that you should be starting your homework and studying as soon as possible, as it is the most important thing in your life. It really isn’t.
I have to give a shout-out to Alvin Zhang, our valedictorian. In his address, he mentioned that if he were to be given the opportunity to do high school all over again, he wouldn’t. But, if he had to, he would not have tried to become valedictorian, because it forced him to miss out on a lot of opportunities that he could have had if he wasn’t spending all of his time studying. He stressed to us to remember that grades weren’t everything, and it meant so much coming from him; I am so thankful that he recognized that. They really aren’t.
This past year, my personal motto was, “It won’t matter in ten years.” Every time I found myself stressing about something, I would ask myself if this would matter in ten years. If it didn’t, I reconsidered where I was putting my energy. In ten years, I am not going to remember the grades that I got in high school, or really the classes that I took. I am going to remember that I found it extremely challenging, but I met some of my best friends and I found my passions through some of the organizations that I joined. That’s what is most important.
A lot of people have told me that I will be wishing it back. I continuously deny that. I would never wish back the stress, the breakdowns, or the bad grades. However, the people that I have met–I won’t need to wish them back, because I will be doing all I can to keep them in my life. This isn’t goodbye.
Another reason that I didn’t cry at graduation is because I’m ready. I’m so ready for the next chapter of my life: college. It’s going to be so much better than high school. If I’m suffering through a class, at least it will be one that counts towards what I want to do, and I will have that motivation. I also have the ability to control my own schedule, which can be extremely important to my well-being. Among those factors are many others, and I am so ready.
This isn’t against anyone who is sad to be leaving high school–don’t get me wrong. High school was made for some people, just not for me. With that, I could not be more excited to say that I have finally, righteously, proudly, ecstatically made it.
On Saturday morning, my best friends and I started running at 7 a.m., and we didn’t stop until 12:22 p.m. In that time, we ran 26.2 miles through Lexington, Kentucky, successfully crossing the finish line and completing our first marathon.
It’s difficult to describe what it’s like to run a marathon. I could tell you about hitting the bike trail with my best friends on Saturday mornings, running up to 20 miles in preparation, then finishing and laying on the ground in awe at what we had just done, as our legs had reached a new milestone, carrying us further than ever before.
I could tell you about what it feels like to run 10 miles, then doing everything you can to push away the thought that you have 16 more, keeping intense focus on continually putting one foot in front of the other.
I could tell you about the wall that is hit when mile 20 rolls around, and the immense pain that is found in those final 6.2. Nevertheless, trudging along, doing everything possible to keep only positive thoughts in mind, visualizing that finish line, thinking about how far you have come versus how little is left.
I could tell you what it feels like to watch the hours roll by, as you run through one hour, two hours, three hours, four hours, then five hours. Again, this is something that we try to ignore as best as possible, eyes fixed on the road ahead.
Finally, I could tell you what it was like when we made that final turn and the finish line was in sight. To be honest, I’ve stood on top of mountains and I have watched breathtaking sunsets, but that has to rank up there as one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. We had made it.
As someone who couldn’t run a mile without walking five years ago, I hope that I’m able to inspire. If there is one thing that I have learned amidst this journey, it is that anyone can do anything, no matter their circumstances. I am not a naturally athletic person, yet I was able to complete a marathon; all you need is a passion for something, and you are unstoppable by everyone and everything but yourself.
Thanks to that passion, I have completed something that I used to see as impossible–and I will never forget it.