Like almost everyone else in 2020, my high school graduation was via Zoom. Despite the unconventional graduation, I am grateful to have had the chance to reconnect with my classmates and teachers one last time. As we are a small class, each of us had the opportunity to give a graduation speech. Here's mine:
I had always been comfortable staying invisible. I faded into the background. It was easy to agree with the most popular opinion and not share my own thoughts and feelings. I was a parrot huddled in a cage of my own making. I presented myself to the world in a way I thought looked good to others, mimicking both their actions and words.
Then I joined Hillside for 9th grade. Although my classmates were friendly and welcoming, I hesitated to display my inner thoughts. Most students in my English class were 11th graders with far more life experience than me. However, Jess taught me that my contributions were just as valuable as anyone else’s. In drama, Jean gently pushed me outside of my comfort zone. My shy persona melted away as I became absorbed in the eccentric characters I played.
By 10th grade, I was quite comfortable in the small nurturing environment of Hillside. I wanted to mix things up a bit for 11th grade and didn’t feel quite ready for Running Start. In a meeting with Karen, I floated the idea of a semester abroad, and she highly recommended the experience.
The following August, I began my adventure in Dublin, Ireland. At first, I fell back into my familiar pre-Hillside habits to cope with the new environment. I made connections from the security of my self-made cage and mirrored others.
Hillside had taught me to be open to friendship with people across grades, and to be comfortable with many different personalities. I started coming to school 15 minutes early to chat with whichever students happened to be there. I joined the art club after school. I was still quite reserved, but I was at least initiating conversations. I yearned to reveal my many colors to the world around me.
My changes were small, but consistent. I continued the growth I had started at Hillside, no longer adapting my responses to other people’s personalities.
Towards the end of September, I volunteered to help out at my school’s open house, presenting interesting physics experiments to prospective students. I felt happy and fulfilled after the successful evening. Something clicked. I felt that I belonged. The door of my cage had always been open, but fear and uncertainty had clouded my desire to leave.
In a discussion about video games during lunch the following week, I shared that I prefer board games. Three of us worked together and formed an after-school games club, where Magic and Ticket-to-Ride became out go-to games.
I proudly displayed my fine plumage, revealing my authentic self. Confidence filled the space where self-doubt previously lived. My wings spread as I lifted off the ground and soared.
When I returned to Seattle, I continued to show my true colors. I felt comfortable discussing my thoughts in English class at Hillside. I had the confidence to participate fully in my Running Start classes at Bellevue College. I shared my opinions in class without fear of being different to those around me.
Thank you so much to the Hillside community – staff, students, and the many unseen helpers, for my high school experiences. Thank you for helping me to step out of my comfort zone and get to know myself deeply.
I have escaped my cage, leaving it behind forever. Finally free of myself, I can now be myself.
The goal of my blog is to increase awareness of childhood glaucoma and other eye diseases, and to unite kids like me living with visual impairment.