Class of 2020 Senior Columns

April 27, 2020

Embrace your surroundings

As I have tried to write this column I keep coming back to the same question: Is this really what I want to be remembered for? I’ve watched for three years as seniors in the class pour more effort into the senior edition than at any other point of them being in class. I’ve watched while the school actually reads the senior edition, something that rarely happens for the paper. The senior edition is a culmination of the seniors years spent in the class; it’s their chance to show off one last time before leaving school. I don’t have the chance to make a proper senior edition, which is something I have been looking forward to since my freshman year. I do have one thing though, a senior column.
My feelings towards my time at East are a mixed bag, but the most important feeling is one of gratitude. I have grown so much, at the start of high school I was 5’9, skinny, I only wore khakis and hoodies, and I was a young stud ready to tackle any challenge life threw at me (not really). Now look at me; I still only wear khakis, but I’ve grown 7 inches and instead of hoodies I wear college sweatshirts, and most importantly I no longer think that I can take on everything because that’s just not possible. But really looking back on far I have come as a student, a classmate, and as a person is truly humbling.
As much as I want to say that I achieved this growth alone, I can’t. For the longest time, I told myself that if I couldn’t do something myself, then it wasn’t worth doing. I held onto this belief until Junior Year when I started weeple (Sorry to the people that hate weeple ). I realized that I was a better person when instead of trying to prove to people I could do things alone, I acknowledged that surrounding myself with people made me a better person (thanks Cigs, not cigarettes, but my weeple unit).
After this realization, I began to enjoy my life in a way that I had been starving myself of. I started building genuine relationships with people that I will cherish forever. Some of my fondest memories occurred during this time; the spaghetti dinners, the weekends spent in my basement, and snow days spent with the Fortnite squad. In these moments I wasn’t just having fun but I was learning how to be myself after years of trying to be someone else. Every one of my friends taught me lessons I could never learn in the classroom.
Even though I had my ups and downs at East, I was in a place where nearly everyone around me had something that I could learn from them. Even the teachers that I never had (thanks Mr. K and Mr. Vandenbrink) could teach me something. So as I finish this long-winded column, I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter what I am remembered for, or even if I am remembered. What matters are the memories I’ve made and the lessons I have learned from the people around me at East, and I will be forever grateful for my time here.

My path to “enlightenment”

“High school is a time to grow and find yourself,” said everyone ever. This cliche always annoyed me, and I am not sure why. Maybe it was because I didn’t want to admit that there were some things about me that were less than desirable or… something else… but probably the first thing. As annoying as cliches can be, they do hold at least a little but of truth, and though that truth took until the end of junior year for me to find, I’m glad I did.
The path to my “enlightenment”, if you will, was a tough one. I had my fair share of highs, but also some of my lowest lows. I struggled to show how I really felt about people and tended to push people away, including close friends. I would say things that would hurt people so then I wouldn’t be hurt first. I was constantly defending myself against nothing. Because of this, I didn’t leave the house much freshman year. I began to feel very alone. This loneliness carried on into sophomore year, and then junior year, when things rapidly declined for me. It seems ironic when I look back on junior year being my toughest personally, as I had the most going for me than any year prior. I was on the best J.V. golf team anybody has ever seen, I was a part of the best We the People unit I could have asked for (long live Unit Four), I was a part of a fantastic journalism class that gave me one of the best lunch buddies, and coolest friends, I could have asked for (whaddup Nicky V). Yet, I still felt more alone than I had before.
I allowed people to reinforce my negative opinions of the things I truly liked doing, like We the People and Journalism, even though the positive reinforcement was overwhelming. I was consumed in negativity, and felt that the only option was to continue hating whatever it was that I was doing until I actually hated it. Fortunately for me, I found out that I can only hate the things I love to a point. Unfortunately I found that out when I had, what we will call a very low point, and decided to quit the things I was a part of. I thought, “Well Jack, if you quit it, then you must hate it right?” Yeah, not really. I realized this mistake when I woke up the next morning. Luckily, when teachers receive and email from their students at 11 P.M. on a Thursday night that says, “I quit Weeple. You can keep the nationals deposit.” their first conclusion isn’t “Ok, cool,” it’s “We should talk about this.” So for that, here’s a shout out to Mr. Horos.
Now, almost a year to the day later, I look back and wonder, how did this not happen sooner? Why did it take me three years of unnecessary hostility and being a poor friend to realize that it wasn’t other people or places or things (or any other definition of a noun), but that it was me who was making me miserable? I may never know, but I do know that it is no longer worth dwelling on the past, because I can’t change it. I have caught myself slipping back to my old ways of hating everything, but I catch myself, and do my best to enjoy every second of what I am doing, even if I actually do hate it. And though a realization may happen over night, “growth” and “finding yourself” do not. The realization is what will help you grow to find yourself.
I know this sounds like I never had a good time in high school, and that is not true. Some of my best memories have been made over the past four years, and I have made some of my best friends that I will probably have for many years to come. I have loved the past four years of high school, and can honestly say I wouldn’t change anything. Ok, maybe I’d change one or two things, but that’s not the point. Thank you to all who have made my time in high school what it was, whether the relationship was good, bad or a one time, random partner in class that I haven’t talked to since, it has all made me a better person than I was freshman year.

Look at the bigger picture

When I was in first grade, my family was going to visit my grandparents in Florida for the holidays. What I did not know was that my parents secretly had plans to surprise me by driving to Disneyworld instead. My reaction? Instead of being overly excited like I should have been, I cried and called Disneyworld the “world of crap.” Looking back, I realized that it was because I was planning on going to my grandparents’ house and swimming in their pool, and the unexpected change was what caused me to freak out. Throughout my life, a characteristic of mine had always been that I found myself getting frustrated when even little things did not go exactly as originally planned.
That mentality of mine, however, was put to the most extreme test this year. It is no secret that this year did not go the way I, or anyone, had planned or even wanted. However, the lessons I have learned this year have helped reshape my way of thinking. To be blunt, everything that had happened this year was largely out of anyone’s control, and I realized that there are two routes I can take.
On one hand, I can spend this time feeling bad for myself and getting frustrated that some of the plans I had been looking forward to since entering high school are now getting changed, or even canceled. On the other, I can instead think of the future I have ahead of me, and think about how this experience will play into the person I am as an adult going forward.
I know that it is a bit of a cliche to say “don’t sweat the little things,” or “think about the big picture,” but the reality is that twenty years from now everyone will (hopefully) be onto bigger and better things, and these unfortunate circumstances will become a defining moment in history.
I won’t pretend that this has been easy for me in any way. Possibly the most devastating part will be that I won’t get to watch Matthew Stein finish off the year strong with another car crash or two. I’m also sad that I won’t get to go to the AP Spanish end-of-year lunch at El Arriero and show off my 2/10 Spanish speaking abilities to Sra. Mercado-Blackport.
However, I will get to go to college, I will get to have the future I want, and life will return to the way it was before this. Right now it seems like our entire lives are getting turned upside down, but I’ve learned to think of this as similar to an intense workout, or hanging out with Drew Theut. Right now it seems like it’ll last for an eternity, but once it is over I’ll think to myself, “Hey, you survived that and you’re a better person because of it.”
This experience has been a combination of everything that drives me the craziest: having big plans canceled, being isolated from my friends, and not knowing what my life is going to look like in the immediate future. Conversely, this has taught me an important lesson as well: throughout my life, there will be many instances where things don’t go as planned. While those situations may not be in my control, what I make of them will be up to me.

My coming of age movie

I have watched way too many “coming of age” high school movies, you know the ones where the girl is choosing between Harvard or Stanford but all she really wants to do is sing. I was always disappointed when the movie ended because they were never accurate to real life. But looking back on high school now, it seems like my experiences might’ve been more like these movies than I thought. I was lucky enough to have the friendships like in “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” and memories equivalent to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” I mean, there was nothing as spectacular as Heath Ledger serenading me on the bleachers with a Frankie Valli song like in “10 Things I Hate About You” but winning the lacrosse state championship, going to football games decked out in paint, and playing Just Dance in my friends basements were just as thrilling and memorable. I do wish I was able to experience a synchronized dance sequence in the middle of the lunch room like in High School Musical, but some things will just have to wait until college, I guess.
While these movies gave us a glimpse into a character’s coming of age experience, the soundtracks to these films captured the feelings of nostalgia and excitement more than anything else. In this way, too, the songs we listened to all throughout high school encapsulated our experience. They were the soundtrack to our movie. Even just a single note or melody brings back a flood of memories and emotions that would’ve otherwise been lost to time. I look back now and all I see is a montage of the best moments of high school playing to “Where is the love” or “Good old days”: driving around the lake with the windows down on a warm summer day blasting the latest song obsession, the smell of bonfires, beach days and cottage nights, lacrosse games in 90 degree weather, laughing so hard in class I pee my pants.
Just like in a coming of age movie, there always has to be some external force that causes some hard realizations and difficult tasks. For me, I struggled with facing perfection in my grades because of my own self-expectations. With many conversations with teachers, and late-nights stressing I am finally coming to terms after four years that perfection is overrated, but if you work hard you will see the results. My high school movie threw a curve ball at me this year, as I had to figure out how to balance my responsibilities as a student and as a daughter after my mom had emergency brain surgery. High school was obviously not all ups and there were a lot of very low lows but those moments will not be the ones you remember. I was able to learn from some of the most challenging times of high school. From cross country, after I peaked in speed Freshman year and then continuously got slower, I learned to have fun. Cross country went from a sport I was so anxious about, to one where I was able to make some of the best memories. Like swimming in the lake when we were supposed to be on a four mile run, hiding out in John Collins park, and watching the boys tennis team. I learned how to have fun and not worry. All of the challenges I faced helped prepare me for the end of my high school movie, and the start of college. East has prepared me to be independent, driven, take the harder classes, and take every opportunity I have.
For me, high school really was one big movie. I would not want to change anything about my time in East Grand Rapids and there are so many people that would be in “Credits” at the end of my movie so I could thank them. From all of my teachers, to my coaches, the best friends, and family, my credit roll would be packed. High school at East was truly the epitome of a coming of age movie.

Be who you really are

Never, not once, did the idea of a pandemic ending my senior year ever cross my mind.
If I had to take a guess, I would assume that out of 250 something seniors, not one of them would’ve been able to make that prediction.
I still wake up confused most days; like none of this is real, and we’ll go back and everything will be like it was. But then I go to sleep and I wake up the next day, and everything is still the same (well, the same for the new “normal”).
You can’t predict the future; I’ve always known this. I just never expected it to be this unpredictable.
I didn’t know that my last day of school was really my last day. Neither did anyone else.
On my last day of high school, I was supposed to wake up with a smile plastered on my face. I was supposed to put on the dress that I bought, with the blue gown over it. I was supposed to sit with my friends in those blue plastic chairs on Memorial Field, the sun looking down on us, with tears of joy and smiles scattered around the crowd.
But how could I have known that my last day was really my last day?
I didn’t get to celebrate this milestone when I was supposed to. I didn’t get closure; I didn’t get a final chapter to my 12-year story.
Over the past four years, I’ve lost more than I thought possible. I’ve lost all sense of normalcy in these past few weeks. I’ve lost friends to fights and arguments. I’ve lost friends and family to fatal illnesses and conditions. I lost myself.
Maybe it was because I had realized that loss is inevitable. Maybe it was because people had called me emotional and weak. Maybe it was just something I subconsciously changed about myself, but either way, my emotional reactivity drastically changed. I separated myself from the people closest to me. I didn’t cry, even when I probably should have. I didn’t laugh like I used to. I stopped accepting hugs and I stopped showing the people that I love that I loved them.
As low as things got for me, I wouldn’t change these past few years. I think they are all essential to my life and growth. Without loss, without disappointment, you can’t truly enjoy the good. We need a balance between the two, and I think I’m beginning to find it.
Typically with loss, there’s a period where a person reflects and/or regrets their actions associated with what is lost.
I think advice about having no regrets is unhelpful. I don’t think you can look at things in terms of regret or not because with that mindset, you’ll never be truly happy with your decisions.
The best advice I can give is to stand by your choices and always look forward instead of looking back. I’d like to believe that most things happen for a reason. The good, the bad, they change you, sometimes in a good way, sometimes not, but you are the only person that can change how you see the world.
I’ve learned so much over the years. I didn’t think I’d know this much about life at 17. I know I have so much more to learn, but as of now, here is what I know: Ask your teachers for help. Get to know your classmates, and trust me, you’ll be surprised by what they have going on in their lives. Wear pajamas or a suit or a dress to school, just wear what you’re comfortable in.
Drive around Reeds Lake with your friends with the windows down and your favorite songs playing because there is nothing else like it. Say hi to people when you pass them in the hallway. Be kind to everyone. Tell your friends how you feel. Check-in on your friends. It’s okay to cry and it’s okay to not cry. And finally, the cheesiest but possibly the most important: tell the people you love that you love them.

Endurance Athlete

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was a freshman, and she died a year and a half later.
I was angry and heartbroken, but more than that, I had lost my role model and an eminent force in my life. I’ve learned that my grieving process is not linear, like with everything else, and there are good days and bad days. Over the years I have found a new kind of confidence- that come what may, I can do anything after surviving such devastation.
With my mom cheering me on, I have become a stronger runner, which is a large part of my identity (I know, secret’s out). A moment which will forever resonate with me is the moment when I crossed the finish line my senior year of cross country at the State Championship meet. That season I had improved drastically, defying the goals I had set, but there wasn’t a single person except myself who thought that I could win State that day. As I toed the line with my teammates, I put all of the doubt out of my mind and thought “why not me?” And with that, no sooner had I fixed my eyes on the finish line. I won not only for my team, family, and mom, but I won for myself.
Running has been more than just a sport for me- it’s my outlet to relieve me of my grief and sadness when needed. Although high school did not live up to any movie I have ever seen with spontaneous dancing or happy endings, there are better things to look forward to. I know now that whatever challenge comes my way, I am both brave and strong enough to endure and embrace it.
Furthermore, when you come out of high school, you won’t be the same person who started it. That’s what it’s all about.

Finding my voice

I remember sitting in my first ever class of high school, the third row of Mr. Strickland’s World History class, not knowing what the next four years would bring or who I would become. The class filled mostly with sophomores instantly struck me with fear. So, I sat quietly with the intention of protecting myself from the judgement of others.
In fact, for the next three years I did the same thing. I continued to worry way too much about what others thought and wonder when I would become comfortable in my own skin.
The struggle of finding my identity persisted and the social anxieties remained. But by my junior year, instead of continuing on a healthy path of self-discovery and growth, I did the opposite.
I fell into a deep, dark hole of restricting and obsessing over what I ate. I used it as a distraction from the fact that I didn’t like who I was, and hoped that it would change me into someone that was liked by myself and others. But I was severely mistaken.
When I look back on my life the past few years, although it may be cliché, I cannot help but picture a flower. I was a budding flower growing little by little. Then suddenly I hid from the sun. I slowly shriveled up and lost all of my color and beauty.
Consumed by this unhealthy obsession, I was drained of energy and lost every bit of personality I had. While numbing myself to current pain and future worries, I had numbed myself to any sense of enjoyment as well. I silenced myself more than I ever had before.
After being in the dark for so long, an ounce of sunlight was all it took to give me hope. I remember one day, while in recovery, I suddenly felt the feeling of being happy for no reason. It reminded me what it felt like to be myself. I didn’t know what “being myself” meant exactly, I couldn’t put it into words, but I just felt it. And it felt amazing.
Once I started recovering and living my life again, I also began to find my voice.
At senior retreat, I opened up about my struggles in front of my entire grade, which is something I never thought I would do. In that moment, something changed. By being vulnerable and using my voice, I silenced those fears of what others thought that I carried with me my entire life. Yes, I still feared that I would say something wrong or what people would think; however, I knew that I could use my voice to help others.
The rest of senior year, I did my best to live fearlessly and colorfully. I talked to people that I never talked to before, I committed myself to earning a spot on the lacrosse team, and I generally just tried to be myself. This does not mean that suddenly I began to live a perfect life. Life is far from perfect and I will always have my struggles. After four years of high school, I do not know exactly who I am or my purpose in life. But I did learn that when you open up and be your genuine self, life is a lot more enjoyable.

Don’t stress it too much

The second I walked in the front doors of the high school, I felt like I had something to prove. Was I a complete try-hard? Absolutely. It was more than that, though. I love the culture of East for so many reasons, but at the same time, it often feels like East promotes the concept of being “the best.” In an attempt to compete with my naturally smarter classmates, I took the hardest classes, and ended up doing worse than I would have likely done in classes (specifically math) that were a little more up my alley.
The fact that I have two sisters my same age certainly didn’t help either, and I found myself in a weird Hunger Games type situation where it felt like only one of us could be the “smart” or “best” triplet. In the back of my head, I always knew it was a completely insane way to look at high school. At the same time, growing up, it seemed possible to be an athlete, take hard classes, and have a lot of friends all at once, but the pursuit of that proved to be incredibly hard. High school doesn’t have to be a competition: the second you make it that for yourself, you go down a path that almost always leads to disappointment.
Before high school, I figured that if I didn’t do super well in classes, I at least I had volleyball. Unfortunately, the only time the volleyball team made it past districts was my freshman year. The friendships that I made from the various teams I was on, though, proved to be much more important than the wins and the losses. It just took focusing on myself as a person to realize high school sports are super fun, but losing a game isn’t really that big of a deal.
Once I focused on myself and what made me feel the most successful and happy, I also did better in school because I wasn’t pushing myself past my limits. That’s not to say don’t try in school and push yourself: I still took math classes that were disgusting and I hated, but I wasn’t drowning in work that I couldn’t do, like I was when I was in fast track math freshman year. Even though high school hadn’t by any means been a walk in the park, my grades eventually got where I wanted them to be and I got into the University of Michigan (my dream school). At the end of the day, when you walk out the doors of high school for the last time, you just want to feel like you made the most of the time you were given. You never know when the last time you walk down the halls of EGR will be, so soak it all in, appreciate every single second, and do what makes you happy. High school is so fun, and such a big part of the adolescent life, but it isn’t everything. Don’t be sucked in by the competitive atmosphere of the East. High school is not a competition. Just do the best you can, and be proud of that.

Accepting my anxiety

Over the past year, I have become very close with my own mental health, specifically my anxiety. But at first, it was hard for me to identify how my anxiety was impacting and getting in the way of my everyday life.

Last summer, my family and I took a trip to New York where we went to a couple different Broadway shows, along with a ballet performance. While sitting through these shows, there were multiple moments where I felt as though I couldn’t breathe. And of course, when this happened, I started to freak out, making myself feel sick. On our flight home, my anxiety became so bad that I thought I was going to pass out on the plane. My heart rate accelerated, it became hard to breathe, and in this moment I began to lose my hearing. Thankfully, my sister Lily, who was sitting next to me, was able to help distract me and calm me down.

But even in these moments, I didn’t think this so-called “anxiety” was something that I had. Of course, there had been other times in my life where I was nervous or anxious about something, but it had never stopped me from going to an event or participating in an activity.

During the fall of my senior year, I was faced with a couple more challenging situations, one involving a car ride away from home and another Broadway performance. After freaking out in both of these situations and experiencing multiple panic attacks, my mom and I came to the conclusion that it was time for me to reach out and find some professional help.

I talked to my doctor about possible medications and seeing a counselor, but both of these ideas were still hard for me to accept. Not only was I scared to go on medication, but I was more worried about the possible side effects. I didn’t like the idea of going to a counselor or going on medication. I couldn’t accept the fact that I was struggling with my mental health, nor was I very interested in seeking help. So, I tried to hold off on both solutions.

As time passed, however, I started to realize that I did need that professional help. While attending a couple parties and hanging out with big groups of people, I found myself coming home after each night crying and panicking yet again. I loved the idea of going and doing these activities, but my brain and my body were telling me different things. My best friend, Carly, soon began to notice how I acted and felt in these situations, where she too suggested that I reach out for help.

I began to follow my doctor’s plan: taking medication and going to see my counselor once a week. At first, these two solutions were both hard to accept mentally and physically. I became really tired and nauseous due to my medication, which also stopped me from hanging out with friends. Along with this, the stigma around going to therapy and counseling made me feel like the problem was out of my control. I felt overwhelmed, and my parents thought that going to a counselor would be a quicker solution than it is. Going to a counselor made me feel different than everyone else, and in my mind, not having anxiety was considered “normal,” which is all I wanted to be.

Today I am still following my doctor’s plan, including medication and my weekly counselor appointments. Through my discussions with my counselor, I have learned and accepted that I am never going to be “normal.” I also learned that there are thousands, even millions of people who experience the same struggle and challenges that I face with mental health. This has made me realize that everyone struggles with mental health in their own way, and that no one is “normal.”

I chose to write this piece not to only reflect on my own experiences and challenges, but also to share my story with others who may have experienced the same struggle or are currently experiencing it. Through my relationship with mental health I have learned the importance of reaching out to your family and friends, letting them know what you are comfortable with, and informing them about what situations may heighten your anxiety and lead to panic attacks.

Before writing this piece, only my family and a couple of my friends knew what I was facing, but now I am finally comfortable sharing my experiences with others because I think it is important for people to be aware of each other’s mental health. By sharing my story I am not asking for pity, but I want everyone to see another example of what your peers and classmates go through in their everyday lives that may go unnoticed. Although my anxiety is challenging at times, it has taught me to treat everyone with kindness because you really don’t know what your peers are going through in and outside of school.

What just happened

Like most everyone else, I have seen The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Superbad. Having an older brother I have always had to wait until it was my turn with everything in my life. Even though my brother didn’t participate in many typical senior year experiences, I was waiting until it was finally my turn.

Instead I’m sitting at home wondering how we got here. How did we go from a regular Wednesday in the middle of March, to school being canceled for the entire year a few short days later? I should be thinking about who I’ll ask to Prom, reminiscing about my senior spring break with friends a few weeks ago (@mas, @brad, @rump), looking forward to the all night party, baccalaureate, commencement, our grad party (@hollis), along with my friends’ open houses too. I didn’t get an opportunity to say thank you to Mrs. Murphy for sparking my interest in personal finance which is my intended major going into college. To Mrs. Weigel, for one of the most fun classes of my entire high school experience, Go Dutch!

During my many years at Lakeside, I would always look up to the cadet teachers both in age and size. I remember thinking that I’d never be that tall or old and it would be years and years away. Recently I saw one of my old cadet teachers and I’m now taller than he is. Who would have thought that could or would happen, definitely not my 3rd grade self. To quote one of John Hughes most iconic characters, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” -Ferris Bueller

Remembering the better times

Oh, man. High school.

I remember graduating from the 8th grade and the only wonder on my mind was how the hell am I going to survive at the high school. I had two sisters graduate from East and I heard the best and worst about my future high school experience. Experiences that vary from completing hard work, competing in sports, participating in extracurricular activities, and partying. And that made me extremely scared for some reason because it was the next step forward.

Turns out that high school was the best four years of my life.

The high school allowed me to mature (sort of) and understand that I have to augment my knowledge to have hopeful success in adult life. So I buckled up, stepped on the pedal, and drove myself to be the best me. Don’t get me wrong, I screwed around a lot during high school but in my mind, if you are capable of succeeding in both of those traits, you will be just fine. 

I would prattle about all the things I missed post Covid-19 outbreak with events such as graduation, senior prom night, senior break, baseball season – but I prefer to look at the better side of discomforting situations. This outbreak did nothing but make the Class of 2020 stronger. We understand that the Coronavirus is ruthless; but we accepted that agony and moved forward. That being said, in my eyes, I foresee an extreme amount of talent and success for our class. 

There are countless amounts of people and places that I will forever miss. I realize that I will always have a close-knit relationship with all of my friends so I’ll start out with my staff favorites: Mr. Albaugh, Mrs. Michell, Mrs. Weigel, Mrs. Allaben, Mr. Vandenbrink, Bruce, along with many others. I shout out these people especially because they were the ones who taught me the most academically while being able to create a fun atmosphere throughout the classroom. If someone were to ask me “Who were the best teachers at EGR?”  10 years from now, those names would be brought up.

Last thing, sports; something that grew within me ever since I was a toddler. Saying goodbye to my two favorite sports: Football and Baseball, was not the easiest task for me. Truly wasn’t too hard to say goodbye to baseball because Covid-19 already said ‘Hasta la vista’ to it for me. But knowing that I will never strap on a gold helmet again is gut-wrenching. On a good note, we were able to put a trophy in the case which fulfilled my happiness.

So long, East Grand Rapids. I hope I haven’t peaked yet.

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