By: Dareen Abukwaik
September 5, 2016: “Hi future Dareen, it’s fourteen year old you…I’m not sure when you’ll see this, maybe when you’re a senior. I’m going to start high school in 3 days and I’m a little nervous.”
Around four years ago, I decided to film myself right before I started high school, and watching those videos for the first time was surreal. It’s really interesting to actually watch how much I have changed, as it all happens so quickly that you never notice how different you become in a matter of years. My past four years at JCHS are ones that I will forever cherish, as I have learned so much both academically and personally. As I reflect upon each year of high school, I will recount the key experiences that truly transformed me as a person.
My freshman year was pretty awkward to look back on, as I was extremely shy and still figuring out who I was. Adjusting from middle to high school was, fortunately, an easy transition for me, as I had been eager for change. I gained my best friend in my Biology class, one person who I am still close with to this day and hopefully will continue to be in the future. I managed to achieve my academic goals, which boosted my self-confidence just a bit. My best memory of my freshman year was definitely all the class parties my Biology class had, as they were so fun and never failed to cheer me up. My worst memory was when I had been called a “terrorist” by a random student, but this experience was one that taught me how much my friends cared for me as they stuck up for me when I was at my lowest. Overall, I did change a considerable amount during my freshman year, as one tends to mature during their first year of high school.
My sophomore year was probably one of my favorite years of high school, as I felt as though I had everything in my life figured out. I was taking more difficult classes but enjoyed them. I became closer to more people and the number of friends I had grew. I was slowly, but surely, becoming even more confident as I participated more in my classes. I also began writing for “The Caldron” during my sophomore year! My best memory of my sophomore year was my TED-Talk project for my English class, as it was one that forced me to push myself further and open up to my classmates. I had spoken about wearing my hijab, a topic that I was extremely passionate about, but I had barely brought up in conversations. As I recounted the struggles I faced, ones that I had kept hidden because I didn’t want people to pity me, I realized just how compassionate my classmates were as they encouraged me to share my story. That English class was one that was so fun and filled with truly the best people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. My worst memory of my sophomore year was losing someone who I once thought was my best friend, but transformed into a toxic person and affected my self-esteem. It wasn’t easy, as I hate losing people that are close to me, but I had grown to realize that I should not allow people to continue stepping on me and hurting me. Thus, I would definitely say that my sophomore year was one that can be defined by growth, as I became more assertive in who I am.
Junior year was probably my hardest year of high school, and not just because of the added pressures of standardized tests like SAT and ACT. I began struggling in some of my classes, as I took on more than I could handle. However, I was so stubborn and refused to give up, so I ended up suffering more than I should have. Additionally, I had been in different classes than all my friends from the past two years, meaning I had to sort of “start over” again. This was difficult for me, as I was still that shy girl around people I barely knew. But this ended up being something that would ultimately benefit me, as I became forced to come out of my shell. I talked to more people and participated more than I had in past years, which led to my self-confidence to boost. My best memory from my junior year was when I got my first job, as it taught me about the importance of time management as I juggled school, friends, and work for the first time in my life. My worst memory from this year was just the amount of stress that I put on myself near the end of it. I had truly felt at my lowest, as I became generally burned out academically, pushing myself too far to the point where I felt as though I was not learning anymore. While this was a difficult time for me, it has taught me my limits when it comes to my academics and the importance of self-care. The standards I gave myself were not always realistic and I now realize that all I needed was assurance from myself that as long as I was trying my best, that’s all that matters. Despite the obstacles I faced during my junior year, I changed a lot during this year, in terms of my confidence levels and the self-realizations I had made by the end of it.
And now we arrive at my final stage of high school: senior year. I honestly had been so excited, as I felt as though I made it! This is the moment in every coming-of-age film or show where the main characters experience the best time of their lives! And frankly, the first half of my senior year was just that! I was at an all-time high in terms of my confidence levels; I had great friends and was enjoying my life. My classes were great, I became closer with people that I never really talked to and made some new friends! It felt perfect, but unfortunately, this didn’t last forever. Now, what I am referring to is not COVID-19 ruining my senior year, but rather my revelation that I had outgrown high school. Around the beginning of 2020, I became sick of the monotonous routine of my life, in terms of school and work. Even when I would have spontaneous adventures with my friends, something wasn’t clicking anymore. As I am reflecting back on this amidst a world-wide pandemic, I now know that I had just started the process of preparing myself for the future. I knew that high school wasn’t going to last forever and a drastic change was coming soon: college. What this led to was me trying to grasp the last few experiences of high school, trying to create memories that I knew were going to last a lifetime. I didn’t know that COVID-19 would halt my senior year, but I have come to terms with it as it is something that I am not capable of changing. The whole situation is one that is upsetting, as it has altered so much in my life, but it also has allowed me to be more grateful. My first half of senior year was so fun, filled with laughs and smiles before senioritis truly hit me (it is real!). I made so many great memories and took advantage of all the opportunities around me.
Staying at home has been a hidden gift, as I realize that this is the most time I have spent with my family for the longest time and I will never have this much time with them as the future comes closer. Also, I have gained a deeper appreciation for the friends that are always there for me. And I have gained an even deeper appreciation for my teachers that have done everything they could in their abilities to be there for their students during such a difficult time. My best memory from my senior year was becoming closer to ESL students, as I began helping out during my free period. This experience is one that I will never forget, as it went from assisting these students with homework to making so many new friends. While I practiced my Spanish, they honestly taught me so much more than I ever did, as these students were so kind and always made me feel welcome in their class. My worst memory from this year was COVID-19, as you probably guessed. It took so much away from me and brought upon a change that was so sudden, but it also has taught me how to find the silver lining in this cloud of uncertainty.
Overall, each year of high school was one that respectively transformed me into a more mature person. I have come to realize what my aspirations in life are and while I am afraid of what lies ahead, I am also extremely excited to see what the future holds for me and my fellow classmates. I would like to thank all my teachers who have guided me during these past four years, as they inspired me to work harder. I would also like to thank all of the wonderful friends I have made at JCHS as they have changed me for the better. And lastly, I would like to thank “The Caldron” for all that it has offered me, as I learned just how much I love to write and share stories with the world.
PS: Class of 2020, despite a pandemic, we still made it!