The reality of the golden years
Navigating the inevitable growth in both our body, mind that evolve throughout high school
High school transforms every students’ life, whether they realize it or not.
Freshman year brings a whole new degree of eagerness and curiosity as students enter a new world instead of the middle school environment they’ve grown to know.
“Even though I’m [currently] a freshman online, it’s [going well],” freshman Aanja Abilar said. “I love all the new people I’ve met and just being in high school. it has given me a little more confidence and freedom which has been amazing as well.”
Then, another year passes by and sophomores begin building a sense of individuality, friendships, and just being overall accustomed to campus.
“The best way to describe my sophomore year is different,” sophomore Sierra Prescia said. “I like being in this [grade level]. You are still pretty young, but not the baby. It’s also a very chill year. Also, it’s the year some of us can start driving, so there’s more freedom. So all in all, I think that right now you get a little break.”
Maturing into their adult selves, juniors begin paving their academic future and preparing for their lives once they graduate high school.
“I would say that the stereotype [of junior year being the hardest] is a moderate representation,” junior Daman Sandhu said. “I feel as though there are definitely a lot of high-stress situations that juniors have to deal with, such as studying for and taking the ACTS and/or SATs, studying for and getting our program certifications, scoping out what degrees and colleges we are planning to attend, etc. And, to top it all off, we have to do our junior year in the middle of a pandemic with online learning.”
The last year of high school strings along, senioritis is at its peak, and students reflect on who they were as a freshman in comparison to who they’ve grown to be.
“High school definitely went by fast and these four years have flown by and it’s crazy to think that I will be in college in a couple of months,” senior Jayvee Casio said. “I understand now why people say ‘it flashes in a blink of an eye.’ High school had a big impact in my life. It taught me that sometimes life’s unfair and that there are constantly ups and downs.”
Back to square one. Freshmen are again the babies in an unfamiliar setting. The beginning of high school can be a chaotic journey but it is one every student must go through. In May, flying high at the top of the hierarchy, then three months later back to the bottom. Waiting for the right time to login with butterflies forming in the stomach students get ready to start the first day.
One of the first and most pivotal moments as a freshman is when making high school friends that will be with until graduation and perhaps beyond that.
“I’ve learned that friendships in high school are nothing compared to middle school,” freshman Aanja Abilar said. “People now don’t care about petty things like drama. The friends I have this year feel like they are going to be my lifelong friends because we get each other and are always supporting and caring for one another. Friends in middle school also seem like they are only friends because of a group, but this year especially being online you can’t really judge someone so you get along with people better.”
High school is the time to make friendships and relationships that will not only teach students things about themselves but about the people students would want to surround themselves with.
“This year I decided to join the Student Council,” freshman Victoria Khoury said. “I wanted an easy class, but also a way to meet new people. Being in STUCO I’ve become pretty good friends with everyone in there and it’s also helping me to meet new people and be able to not care what people think and to be able to show school spirit.”
Being in a new environment is the most unique part of freshman year, yet current students haven’t been able to visit. However, not being able to explore what is considered by most their second home for four years has not hindered all students.
“My favorite part of high school are the relationships I’ve developed,” freshman Laynie Bliven said. “Even through online school. I have managed to create very close relationships with almost all of my teachers, as well as some of my peers. I feel so lucky to attend Southwest Tech, and I cannot wait to come back, and be in person so I can see all my new friends and my teachers. I’m a little nervous since I’ve technically never been on campus or met anyone, the relationships I’ve formed make me more excited than nervous. One of the hardest things has not being able to see all my friends in person.”
On top of having new teachers and being a new high school student, distance learning has also added to the stress and challenges students are facing.
“Although most years of high school are not online, adjusting to online learning was difficult for me,” Khoury said. “The workload in high school is much different than in middle school for me. So far, I have learned not to procrastinate since I have so many classes. I used to be able to procrastinate a little in middle school, but now I feel like I have to get stuff done right away so I don’t forget. Being at SWCTA and having eight classes instead of six does make the workload more making procrastination even easier to do.”
Along with difficulties adjusting, many often undergo mental and physical changes which means they start high school off as different people. Now that hybrid in school learning is official, students can see and meet friends made during this time apart.
“I would say that [the] me at the beginning of high school and me currently are very different people,” Abilar said. “For one, I have gone through a few style and appearance changes. This school year, I have changed my hairstyle and gotten bangs, as well as developed my own personal style that feels authentically me. I’ve started dressing in ways that make me feel more confident. I would say it’s been a weird and interesting experience only interacting with people online and making friends through social media. I’ve made friends through group chats, messages, or even by supporting each other on our posts.”
Fortunately, most freshmen look on the brighter side and are enjoying the new freedom and independence they are granted.
“High school has been incredibly different from middle school in a plethora of ways because I went to Doral,” Bliven said. “They treated us like elementary school students, so we never got true independence. Some differences are no uniforms, no recess or little kids around; which I very much enjoy.”
Despite the rather “unique” experience the class of 2024 is going through, there is no doubt that they are changing. Having to adapt to being online for school and now returning to what was once “normal” life.
“Each and every day, I’m evolving as a person as I find myself and where I want to go in the future,” Abilar said. “Since high school has started, I’ve begun developing my own style in fashion, music, etc. Furthermore, I’ve been finding what I’m passionate about and how I can use that to make my life better. All of that has helped me gain more confidence so that I can be unapologetically myself.”
Puberty, awkwardness, anxiety, newfound freedom- those are the words that are often associated with sophomore year. With teenage angst peaking, increased independence, and having slightly more school experience, tenth grade is often regarded as the middle child of the high school experience.
“Sophomore year is the most relaxing year,” sophomore Sierra Prescia said. “We have our own problems that we have to deal with, but compared to the rest, it is pretty relaxing. In freshman year, you are the babies of the bunch so it’s very difficult. You have to navigate a new school, new lifestyle, work, etc. Junior and senior year are basically crunch time where you have important tests and figuring out what you’ll do for the rest of your life. I feel like the other grade levels are so focused on grades, their future, and fitting in while we are focused on staying on top of things while having fun.”
With one year of high school already finished, students have become more accustomed to academic life and now have time to focus on forms of self-discovery, such as fashion, demeanor, and growing up in general.
“In high school, I have had many style changes,” sophomore Karim Abd-Elmalek said. “I went from wearing shorts and a shirt to wearing black all the time and having taste in clothing. My confidence level went up as well. I was always so shy to show who I actually was, but I started being more me and having my signature Karim trademark. People actually knew who I was.”
Joining multiple clubs, trying out for every sports team, taking harder classes, are just some of the ways students figure out who they are. It may seem overwhelming but change is what defines sophomore year.
“They are kids so their mind changes,” SWCTA recruiting counselor Kailee Dudoit said. “Your body is changing, your mind is changing, it is a good thing. You are never the same person. One of the biggest things when I am doing lessons with kids is that you are doing things that are best for you and taking the time to learn about yourself. The most important thing is to keep trying and do not give up. Not everything is going to work for you.”
Along with changes in appearance, many sophomores experience a mental “glo-up” which is defined as an impressive transformation. After all, as up-and-coming adults, students are expected to take more responsibility and improve their character.
“I used to get angry a lot and tell people what to do, but now I’ve learned to be calmer and let things play out,” sophomore Isabel Gomez said. “I started to suggest rather than demand. I still feel like I need more work on my anger issues and with bossing people around. Being mature means accepting you’re not always at the top and that’s what I still need to work on.”
However, many sophomores have found that participating in online learning has hindered their development as people.
“It’s hard because I feel like you start to mature around the middle of high school but the whole online learning model makes it different and a little more difficult,” Gomez said. “I say this because it doesn’t just take you to mature, it takes the impact of the people around you including classmates.”
Nevertheless, pandemic or not, at this point in their lives, sophomores are typically given more freedom by their parents and are encouraged to be more independent. Some choose to heed this advice by applying for a job.
“I like having a job,” Gomez said. “I like not relying on someone to buy stuff for me since I can actually use my own money. With my earnings, I give some of it to my dad to pay off my car. After that, I save the rest until I need it for something worth spending on, not just for chips and candy. My job consists of taking photos of people and later selling it to them. Having a job makes me feel more grown-up because I actually have money to get stuff that I need or want. I don’t have to ask my parents for money because I’m making that money.”
Some even decide to get behind the wheel. Either way, each sophomore grows up in their own way.
“I am so very excited to start driving and getting a permit will be very freeing,” Abd-Elmalek said. “I would drive to my friends’ houses because it’s always nice to have fun with them. I think it would be freeing because I could go anywhere I want, also my parents don’t have to stress to take me places.”
While there are many beneficial changes that sophomores get to enjoy, there are certainly some that most would rather avoid. For instance, there is a widely regarded stigma that sophomores tend to be moody, problematic, and are the epitome of “puberty.”
“We are changing a lot during this period of time,” Prescia said. “A lot of us are going through puberty, we are stressed about life and our future, etc. When so much is thrown at you while you are trying to figure out everything with high school and life, it can take a toll on people. First, school brings a lot of stress in itself, but then you add on the stress of family, problems, and more. You have to deal with all of this while making sure all your work is good and completed. If not, we face the consequences of the school, parents, etc.”
Although sophomore year may seem like a minuscule amount of time that doesn’t matter much, there is no doubt that the changes it brings help students to evolve and grow as people. As Dudoit explains, each year throughout a student’s high school career carefully prepares them for adulthood.
“You learn things every year and you are able to build upon the things you learn,” Dudoit said. “College is different. The real world is different. You are going to have to do bills. You are going to be an adult, everything that you learn in school helps you evolve and get to that next step.”
Juniors are said to be the most burdened students who frequently have dark circles under their eyes, no motivation, and mountains of schoolwork. Being a third-year high school student comes with a heavy workload and immense pressure. Yet, it seems like this virtual and weighted school year has changed the status quo.
Taking the ACTs and going through the college application process are only one aspect of going through the “hardest year” of high school. Most of the time students get overwhelmed but some know how to deal with certain pressures. Unfortunately, the class of 2022 didn’t have that luxury.
“In relation to my high school journey, I feel as though the ACTs were a milestone,” junior Daman Sandhu said. “Ever since freshman year we’ve been told that we’ll eventually have to do the test and once it was here, it really hit me that my high school experience has gone by so fast. The actual experience of the ACT, for me, was quite neutral. I’m pretty glad that my time spent studying for the ACT is now free and I have a weight lifted off my shoulders. I’m excited to see the scores in a couple weeks.”
Contrary to popular belief, many juniors don’t feel that the ACT and other infamous tests are the end all be all.
“In my opinion, I think taking the ACT is not as serious as teachers say it is because I don’t really think standardized tests are good at measuring someone’s intelligence,” junior Mariel Batara said. “However, since I plan on going out of state, I still choose to study and prepare for it in order to get into a good college.”
Yet, there is no doubt that junior year plays an essential role in a student’s future. There is an expectation that at this point everyone should know what path they want to take but many juniors are still unsure.
“Before online learning, I had an entire plan towards pursuing psychology,” Sandhu said. “But having so much time to think and not enough time to take many actions during quarantine, has caused me to pan out my major choices to either psychology, finance, computer science, or law; so I’m currently confused.
The future for a lot of students can be scary and it’s a process one has to go through to become successful.
“Not knowing what I want to do in the future after high school really is one of the most stressful parts of junior year for me, and then seeing all my other classmates move along with a firm plan,” junior Regan Thomas said.
Whether a student is fully prepared or unprepared for their future life, there are always some doubts and worrisome thoughts for these individuals.
“I’ve always been really serious about my future from the moment I started high school, but the feeling of wanting to focus on my future has become more intensified now that it’s all becoming real that I will be graduating in a little over a year,” junior Kimiya Nematian said. “I’ve had the same dream colleges since freshman year, the only thing that may have changed is the major I want to go into.”
With being a junior, comes the saddening awareness of growing up, becoming a senior the following year and trying to prepare for that year.
“I know senior year is going to go by super fast,” Batara said, “It is already crazy to me that I’m a junior and I know senior year will fly by way too fast that by the time I realize it I’ll already be leaving for college. As bad as it sounds, I actually haven’t applied for any scholarships yet but I have looked into colleges that I want to apply to. I go on their websites and look at their requirements, classes they accept, school life, cost, etc.”
Overall, it seems that what makes junior year so difficult is not the academic responsibilities themselves, but how they shape students into thinking optimistically about their future years in school or their career.
“My biggest advice for incoming juniors is to enjoy your time as an underclassman,” Batara said. “Once junior year hits, you start to realize how fast time has gone and how things are starting to get serious now. For me, all the stereotypes you hear about junior year are actually true so start to learn how to manage your time and stay on top of things; look into colleges/scholarships and study for the ACT early. Even though junior year gets hectic, it can be the most fun so don’t forget to make this year unforgettable.”
Gone away in the blink of an eye, senior year is a time to start filling out applications for colleges and is the year many find out whether or not the endless all-nighters and hard classes paid off. On one hand, there’s finally the option of open periods and time to hang out with friends, while on the other, there’s a lingering sense of sadness because one has to leave behind classmates, teachers and memories.
As a freshman, students walk in with specific expectations or none at all for future career pathways. For seniors like Kylie Mao, the abundant pressure and indecisiveness that comes with declaring a program because there are so many to choose from, all tie into the way high school experiences shaped you into the person you will become.
“High school has allowed me to refine my college and career plans,” Mao said. “For instance, I went into high school wanting to become a pharmacist but realized that I wanted to pursue a career in surgery and neonatal practices, so now I want to become an OBGYN. It is definitely important to make a list of academic goals and plan your classes around that. Also, if you’re planning to go to a specific college, look at college course catalogs and transfer credits as soon as possible to be able to see what classes are needed and most important.”
Finally having academic freedom, a taste of adulthood, and simply enjoying the last year in high school, senior year is a year to enjoy and prepare. As the year progresses, the time comes when many students like senior Chastine Tran must move on - although the thought brings up underlying anxiety.
“Leaving high school is definitely scary,” Tran said. “I’m always the type of person to get really anxious when I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m really uncertain of what will happen, but I’m also excited to see the possibilities and things I can achieve.”
From the measly, shy freshman on the first day to the confident seniors on the last day, seniors like Shaymaa Dahrouch realize how important it is to live life to the fullest.
“Emotionally I’ve become very strong because during freshman year I used to break down a lot when there is a lot of stress put on to me,” Dahrouch said. “As I grew during high school it became easier for me to adapt and basically become more emotionally stable. My mental state was shaky at the beginning due to bullying but now I feel stronger and can do better.”
Recalling the first time he walked through the double doors to enter a new chapter of his life, senior Jayvee Casio believes high school is some of the best years - filled with new experiences, new friends and new challenges.
“My first day of high school I felt a little nervous, however, I quickly realized there wasn’t anything to be worried about and that I would be fine,” Casio said. “As time passed from my first day of school I became more comfortable, made more friends, and started to become more social. High school definitely had a big impact on my life. It taught me that sometimes life’s unfair and that there are constant ups and downs. And, my favorite part of high school was the memories that I made with each person. Good or bad they were in my life for a reason so I just take that and move forward.”
Now, due to COVID-19 seniors won’t get to be a part of the traditional fun events, like Senior Sunset.
“The pandemic has caused me to miss all of the events that would’ve been held if we had physical school,” Tran said. “I was really looking forward to senior sunrise, prom, and even assemblies. I’m going to miss seeing my friends. I feel like people take that for granted seeing everyone you know - like having a daily routine and seeing everyone every day. When you get to college, everyone will have different schedules and it will be a lot harder to manage school life and see friends as often as you used to.”
Like Tran, Dahrouch wishes she was able to connect more with her teachers and thoroughly experience senior year.
“I do feel happy that I am coming out of high school and going straight to university but I am feeling sad because of the way I am leaving,” Dahrouch said. “I didn’t get to really meet my senior teachers and make the connection, it makes me feel that I can’t really say thank you to them. We didn’t get to have those human-to-human conversations instead it was computer to computer.”
A key and memorable part of high school are the bonds many students form with teachers. Dahrouch feels that many of her mentors gave her essential advice she can use throughout her life.
“A big role model to me has been Mr. Moore. He is not here this year, unfortunately, but he’s one of my main inspirations because he has always given me advice,” Dahrouch said. “I’ve been down and he’s like ‘You can go ahead and take a break on this assignment, I’ll give you extensions. Get your brain back into the mood.’ I’ve always looked up to him for that because it makes me feel like I do matter.”
With senior year being filled with important decisions, Tran is trying to become familiar with “college standards.”
“I’m trying to work on being more confident and sure of myself in decisions and mainly practicing my communication skills,” Tran said. “I feel like communication is just a really big thing like being able to talk to your professors or teachers. I’m also getting my permit soon which is just a closer step to the adult world and I’m also looking for a really scary job, but I want to have my license before I have a job for transportation purposes.“
Along with specific programs, clubs also have a huge impact on a students’ life. As HOSA president, Mao has experience regarding time management and running a club along with making new friends and preparing for college with all of the work.
“My favorite part of high school was going to HOSA state in sophomore year and winning first place for our PSA competition and going to karaoke with friends,” Mao said. “I’ll definitely miss my friends, teachers, and environment in general. I enjoyed being able to walk to each of my classes every day with friends as well as going after school and greeting teachers or attending HOSA.”
Seniors like Dahrouch even feel that their clubs and school activities have led to them forming integral parts of their personalities.
“I’ve been in video production since freshman year,” Dahrouch said. “It’s helped me basically develop people skills. I can talk to a person better and I can end up getting along with them better so it’s not an awkward situation and there is at least a conversation going on.”
Although senior year has its twists and turns, in the end, students are able to see the growth and progress they have gone through.
“It’s like a Bollywood movie because high school starts off confusing, very drama-like,” Dahrouch said. “However, towards the end, it starts to piece together and starts making sense. You look back on all those memories and it makes you stand up higher.”
Senior year is a time to recall the hours spent with friends, studying for tests and reminiscing over the remaining time left. As a senior, Tran emphasizes the importance of growing as an individual and shares advice that helped her throughout the years.
“Remember to have fun, especially with the school we are at,” Tran said. “I feel like a lot of the students stress over grades and they’re just very uptight about their academics. High school is a very special time in your life where you’re supposed to be a kid and you’re supposed to make mistakes, sometimes even break rules. Of course, school is important, but your mental health and your emotional health are important as well, and being able to balance the two will be what will get you through in life.”
High school changes us for the better or for worse. From realizing that grades don’t define who we are to taking our first steps into adulthood, high school has its various stages of development.
“A piece of advice I would give is to not take things too seriously,” senior Jayvee Casio said. “Of course, put in the hard work and strive for success, however, understand that after high school, you won’t be able to do the things that you can now.
High school can be a rocky journey, and while you may be constantly finding ways to feel inspired enough to do the work, let alone participate in class, high school is still a vital part of all our lives that leads to our future.
“Try to befriend some upperclassmen,” senior Kylie Mao said. “It was extremely helpful being friends with some older classmates because they would often be there to provide a bit of guidance about classes or just advice in general.”
We are all simply here to watch ourselves evolve slowly, but surely with a new level of maturity unlocked every year and discover even more about ourselves once we step out into the adult-filled society.
“It’s safe to say that I did not peak in high school,” 2020 graduate Eriyale Williams said. “It wasn’t until after high school did I start feeling comfortable doing things I really enjoy. I like to think my life started when high school ended. After high school, I bought my first car, I got my license, I bought a drum kit and I started learning drums. I bought a bass, I dyed my hair red, and I’ve been writing way more songs and sharing it with friends—which is something I never felt comfortable doing before. I feel like high school kept me contained under labels and I used those labels to make up who I was—a black lesbian writer, but I realized there’s so much more to me. I’m finally making my dreams come true.”