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A Reflection, a Thank You, and a Farewell

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A Reflection, a Thank You, and a Farewell

Bella Juzenas, Staff Writer

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As my senior year comes to a close, I’ve begun to contemplate the past four years of my life: the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, and the things that I’ve learned. Upon doing so, a college essay prompt I remember reading pops into my head. I don’t remember the exact question, only that it had something to do with my perception of community and what it means to belong. I began to relate this question to my high school experience, and while I replayed those grueling four years in my head, I watched the way my perception of belonging evolved and, with it, the way I did as well.

One of the first lessons I learned in high school was conformity. I walked into Albert Einstein High School the first day of freshman year knowing approximately one person, desperate to find my new friends for the next four years.  I figured out pretty quickly that if I wanted to be part of a group, I’d have to mold myself after its members. I was terrified to stand out, wanting only to fly under the radar and be liked. So, I became a chameleon, blending into those around me.

I remember a distinct instance where I was sitting at lunch, amidst a group of people talking over and around me, laughing and smiling, doing my best to seem at ease. I prayed people wouldn’t hear my heart beating against my ribs. Suddenly, I had the urge to speak up, and when I did I was immediately met with harsh words poking fun at what I had said. My cheeks turned bright red and I swallowed the sobs I felt rising up inside me. I went home that day and cried to my mother, I told her I just couldn’t tell if that girl was making fun of me because she liked or hated me. I belonged to a world where people lifted themselves up by forcing other down and I was the easiest target.

That girl became my best friend for the next year, and that wasn’t the last time I’d be the recipient of a subtle jab at my self-esteem. But, I was desperate to fit in, so I took it. That was my community for an entire year. Insecure people using one another to feel like they fit in.

As I dragged myself through my freshman year, I began to feel more despondent with each passing day. My friendships felt superficial and meaningless and the disconnect I felt carried over into all aspects of my life. I felt as if I were floating through life, not truly attached to anything. I felt myself becoming closed off to people and, eventually, to life itself. I began to sink. As I fell, so did my friendships, grades, hobbies, interests, and every other aspect of my life.

Moving into sophomore year, I didn’t have high hopes. I assumed I’d simply carry on as I had done the year prior, just barely making it through. However, the minute I walked into the halls of Albert Einstein High School, I felt my chest collapse, and my heart begin to race. I sat down in the hall after classes began and called my dad to pick me up. The second and third day of my sophomore year went the same exact way until, finally, my mom couldn’t tolerate my misery any longer and decided to pull me out of school and enroll me in a homeschooling program.

Here I felt truly detached. The way my schooling was set up, I had a six-student math class at some kid’s house on Mondays for two hours, three classes at a homeschooling co-op on Tuesdays, and the rest of my week I spent attempting to teach myself. The kids in my tiny classes had been homeschooled together their entire lives and I was too reserved and downtrodden to attempt to establish new friendships and break into their close-knit circles. I now not only felt completely alone, I was completely alone.

A few months into the year I decided to get a job. I began working at a consignment store in Bethesda, MD called Mustard Seed. All my coworkers were at least five years older than me. This helped calm my loneliness during the work day but, when I returned home, I still felt the same lack of belonging which I yearned for.

I moved through sophomore year, constantly trying to better myself and figure out what it was I was missing and, about halfway through the year, I realized what it was. I lacked genuine daily human interaction and learning alongside my peers. Over the course of the year, I had made an effort to get in touch with myself and what I needed to be a successful student, and I believed I was ready for a more rigorous high school experience or, at least, a slightly more normal one.

I heard about Sandy Spring Friends School from a kid in my neighborhood who switched from Einstein High School to SSFS after his freshman year. He seemed to thrive here. So, I applied. I’ll never forget the day I shadowed at SSFS. The girl who showed me around was one of the kindest people I’d ever met. She treated me just like one of her close friends, introduced me to everyone and made sure I felt included throughout the day. I don’t think she’ll ever know how much this meant to me after a year of isolation. Needless to say, I immediately fell in love with the school and I was ecstatic when I received my acceptance. My second half of high school has been one of the best times of my life. I finally found those meaningful, supportive friendships I’d been needing, I had a teacher tell me for the first time that I was bright and capable of great things, I learned valuable skills and life-lessons, and most importantly, I learned to believe in myself.

I guess there are a few reasons I chose to share my high school experience for my last ever Wildezine article. Of course, I’d like those students who come after me to realize that sometimes it takes a while to figure out what it is you need and how to find it. I hope that this article carries a meaningful message to those who read it. However, I’d have to say that I’m writing this for somewhat selfish reasons. In order to truly reflect on this crazy four-year adventure, I believe I need to share my experience and try to find the meaning in it for myself, so that it not all be for nothing.

Most importantly though, I’d like this article to serve as a thank you. A thank you to those who have stood by me and to those who showed me that sometimes we need space to grow on our own before we immerse ourselves in relationships with others. To those who believed in me when I could not believe in myself. And to this place I’ve grown to love wholeheartedly. I guess this is bittersweet, as this serves as my goodbye as well. But I am truly satisfied with the way things have worked out for me, and look forward to what the future holds, as I now know how capable I really am. Thank you, and farewell!

 

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1 Comment

One Response to “A Reflection, a Thank You, and a Farewell”

  1. Eduardo Polon on May 24th, 2018 8:58 pm

    What a beautifully poignant, introspective and gracious article, Bella! For me, it was also a gift. I thank you and wish you well in the next chapter of your promising story. Go let your life speak further, but please come back to visit.

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A Reflection, a Thank You, and a Farewell