A Future Graduate's Reflections on High School

Student Life

In 16 days, I will be graduating from High School. As someone who has been a part of this school district (Colorado School District 20) for the past 13 years, I reminisce in feelings of sadness, and happiness regarding my upcoming graduation. So, what did the high school experience entail?

Guess there is a word to summarize long-term experiences:

“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”

— Mary Poppins

How you interpret is up to you, but I can tell you now, some of the worst and best memories of my life have been in high school.

No matter how you may feel, forming a connection with at least one person (i.e. teacher, student, staff), learning something different, or finding out more about who you are is considered a success. My peers may feel differently about the life stuff from our past four years; however, I feel as though I just went on a small detour journey and discovered that I still have so much more to give to the world.

That's the beauty of it really.

We are done with high school and moving forward on our journey.

1. It definitely wasn't like “High School musical”

Many of you future high schoolers are going to have the strangest expectations going into high school. We can thank Disney for that. Movies like “High School Musical”, or newer tv shows seem to set the standards on what high school should be like.

Sorry kids. That's not how the show works down here in high school town. Take your expectations and throw them out the window. Nothing will go the way you want it to. Sometimes it may be crazy, sometimes it will suck, but when life “gives you lemons”, really, it's throwing full-sized grenades at your face, making life even more confusing.

“Oh. . . Oh. . . Oh. . . Stick to the Stuff You Know!”

— High School Musical

“No, don't do that, that's stupid.”

— Me

So. . . Here is to throwing those expectations OUT!!!

  • There is no dancing on tables. Or dancing in the middle of a basketball court during practice. Or random solos in the middle of the hallway. I know. . . I'm sorry, this low-key broke my heart too.

  • “Hype” parties at the popular student's houses are more like distractions from reality (really, it's high school, tell yourself the truth now).

  • Although there are the “popular students,”, it's up to you whether you are going to interpret popular as bullying. It can be confidence, and sometimes it may not be. It's up to you to interpret which is which.

  • There are not as many cliques as you may think. Even if there are, in truth as long as you don't really focus on the drama, but on yourself, high school will be a subtle breeze. Frankly, know that there is going to be drama everywhere.

  • Bullying does exist, however, we are not helpless damsels in distress. I believe that we all can stand up for each other and ourselves. That's a journey, for another article. (Hint, hint, hint. . . )

  • Everyone is either just exploring themselves or coping with their realities.

  • Drama is real. How you react is real. It is your choice on how you choose to react in these situations. It. Is. A. Choice. Period.

  • *Sigh* your love life = not a priority. Developing yourself into the best version of yourself a HUGE PRIORITY. Save yourself the trouble and wait patiently. The truth is dating is not for high school, and chances are, the right person will come after you find time for YOUR dreams, YOUR passions, and YOUR self.

  • High School is not everything in life. People in high school forget that everyone else around them has a life, has a set of other problems, and has a different way of approaching these things. Learn to be understanding and react accordingly.

  • Change things up. Don't be afraid to challenge what you want. In the words of one of my wise counselors, “You owe it to yourself to explore all of your options,”.

2. Some Tiny Teeny Tips

To be honest, I don't know how many of you will take these seriously, but I hope you do because in truth these are 'life' things, not just high school things. However, I hope knowing what you shouldn't even begin to do might help you, and that's what I want to share here:

1. Don't do drugs or drinking, because, yes, they do exist

I won't call anyone out, nor will I say that I fully understand those who abuse alcohol or drugs. However, I will say I have watched people I know and love IN HIGH SCHOOL, lose themselves to these things. In truth there is no simple reason to choose these things. It could be out of fear, stress, anxiety, or a mix of multiple other things. However, it's a hard process, it's not easy to just stop, but I can tell you now that it's important to know that if you don't start, you won't have to stop.

2. Mental Health is serious

I know this truly well from my personal experiences. I'll explore this more down below, but on a short note, even though many adults or even our peers still don't recognize this, mental health is serious. It is the parts of our souls that are barred to the world, and it can be the best or mix of worst sides of ourselves. Knowing how to take care of ourselves in our hardest moments is important.

3. If you see bullying, it's not wrong to be a “snitch”. In reality, you are fixing the problem for the long-term

This feeling can be shared by millions across the world, the feeling of not being able to accept ourselves because others take the time to hurt us through words, through online platforms, physically; it has always been problematic. Words hurt like a b*#&. How we hurt each other is real, but sometimes we are scared of standing up for others. Although it is reasonable, it is important to know that when you step back to assess the situation, there are other ways to solve the problem.

I know that not all school administrations are fully ready to handle all these types of situations and the problems this creates. However, I find it is worth trying, if not for yourself then for others. In the end, the pain of realizing that no one is there for you is much more of a weight on the soul than being called a snitch. The worst thing that could happen is being called a “snitch,” but I'm telling you that you are doing the f*%#ing right thing.

4. Homework Load's. . . Suck

Lovely homework, projects, oh how I truly wish I'd never met you. It's unavoidable. So here is some advice: find a way to make a schedule to stick to, talk to teachers when your behind in your work, email to communicate problems, and 100%, ask questions.

5. Clubs, Sports, and Activities — A Way To Find Your Passion

It takes a lot of time and energy, but eventually, you will find something that's just your thing. You might fall in love with it, or you may hate it, but that's the beauty of high school trying things and essentially, having some time to work with it. If you have time, which most of you will, you can find that thing.

“You owe it to yourself to explore all options!”

— Former High School Counselor

6. Be kind to your teachers, and to your staff, they *takes a deep breath* have feelings

Whether we are willing to acknowledge it or not, everyone has feelings. And although some of us may hate how much homework is handed out, or how long things can take to be graded, or how teachers interact with us. . . Teacher also have 'life' problems. Just. . . Be aware of this going into high school and just life in general.

3. To Those Who Struggle W/ Perfectionism As I Did in High School

If you are reading this, I'm assuming you are a perfectionist.

To those of you who are not, imagine if you could see flaws in everything you do, and then you feel the purest form of anxiety in every tiny detail of those flaws. At times, it affects your health, and sometimes we perfectionists choose not to do anything about it because it can become very overwhelming as it can affect every aspect of our lives.

Trust me, it only gets worse.

Here is the good news though, I know the ins and outs. Here's some stuff I've learned so far:

  • It helps to acknowledge that perfectionism is hurting you

  • Work on resetting the negative mindset:

    • For example, if you have a homework assignment, ask yourself how you can get it done, in steps. Break it down. Do not put yourself down when you are frustrated, or not getting the results you initially wanted.

  • Set a time limit for how long you want to take to accomplish or finish a task: THIS WORKS, but it only works if you are disciplined with your mind.

  • Set reasonable expectations depending on the class or the situation.

  • Talk to someone about how you feel (this is a big step, but you can do it!!).

  • Set boundaries, against and for yourself

    • This is confusing. However, think about it, you constantly are held behind in work, and overexert too much energy in what should be a 30-minute assignment. Know what your cut-off line should be.

    • It also helps to ask an adult, friends, anyone you trust to help set those boundaries, as it can get overwhelming.

4. The High School Peer Pressure Environment: Just how toxic is it?

Just a general summary, of what I think about this subject. In truth, we all unknowingly and knowingly contribute to the toxic environment of high school. It can be in how quick we are to judge our schoolmates on their grades, or looks, or clothes. How we talk behind each other's back and how that brings in more confusion and animosity amongst us. How quick we are to attack someone (verbally) without being reasonable and calm. . . And many more to follow, one way or another when attending a national high school, and higher or even in our middle schools and elementary schools, we all just are so stressed that we can at times become self-absorbed.

Here's a tip for those of you who want to learn how to deal with this:

Be True to Yourself. If you can do this, and learn to set boundaries for yourself, then you will be able to succeed in a toxic environment.

5. Going through online learning sucked

Ah, the sweet irony of life. . . I was doing great, and then the pandemic flew in and did some damage. It's more ironic knowing that before I was quarantined, I told a few people in my English class:

“Guys, what if we end up not seeing each other until next year, and this is actually more serious than it seems,”. Obviously, we laughed it off as a joke. Except now, it is one year later, I have not seen 75% of my class, and things are still online.

If that's not some great irony of this thing called life, I don't know what else is. The first couple of weeks were okay. Then the reality of trying to find time to teach me content and be connected to people hit me. So, you can imagine how the past year has gone for me.

I won't lie, before the COVID-19 Pandemic, I was considering doing online learning for getting a degree after I graduate High School. Oh, that younger me just didn't know yet. Much of my past year which should have been filled with senior events, or with hanging out with friends, was spent trying to soul search for that internal motivation that I needed to complete assignments or to not fall asleep. In the end, it worked for some, it did not work for me, but I learned a few life lessons along the way.

I don't know about you guys, but next year those red flags for my education will be around online learning!!!

6. Mental Health — From someone who was not taught that much about it before entering high school

So. . . We're here. In truth, mental health is a journey, and I am still on that journey. Mental health is being learned to be valued by our society, however, it is still undervalued and is in my opinion such an undereducated topic within our educational institutions.

My experiences with mental health before this stemmed from my deepened ignorance to my lack of boundaries, my perfectionism that was rooted in my experience, and my unwillingness to acknowledge the pain that I felt emotionally.

In truth, I experienced much bullying growing up and although that's not all of what has stemmed from my problems in mental health, I believe that it has contributed to my lack of confidence and low self-esteem. I have much to learn, but today, I often get overwhelmed by the thought of it all and go off the deep end by watching YouTube, lacking in the things I am truly passionate about in this life. So from Elementary School to Middle School, I was too young to truly acknowledge this pain I felt, but by High School the many changes that occurred in my personal life caused me to finally realize that it was because I didn't acknowledge this that I was suffering internally for a very long time.

I often find myself looking back and wondering if I could have ignored for a while longer what would have happened? I can tell you now, that nothing good would have come from it. Mental health education is often taught in small portions of the health classes we have, and we often prioritize the needs and wants of others, or even our own goals and dreams, and forget that we should be prioritizing ourselves as well overall. Although I have much to learn still, I write this to let you all know that you are not alone. In truth, the first step it takes very often is talking about how you feel with someone you know or acknowledging that pain you feel to yourself. My lack of patience is a weakness I have, so my first advice would be to learn to be kind and patient with yourself and your growth. Secondly, I tended to dive into my work to hide from my feelings, do not do that. It can hide pain and problems temporarily, but from what I learned, you can only hide from yourself for so long, until it feels like you are about to explode. Finally, be honest and willing to explore. . . As my freshman High School Counselor once told me:

“You, in who you are, owe to it yourself to explore any, and all options you are interested in”

— Anonymous High School Freshman Counselor

7. I did the IB Diploma Program. . . So, yeah

IB or The International Baccalaureate Program is a prestigious, educational program that contributes to many students well-known globally. Of course, it's funny, have you ever went on Wikipedia and just looked at the list of people who have done IB. IB won't promote it, but I think it's so funny, so I'll gladly give you a screenshot example of what I see:

The last name in particular is just one of the ironic things of life itself. Of course, that's not all to the program, but I'd say this is pretty notable.

Overall, as a program during a pandemic, where I never once had to take exams but had to do the well-known Internal Assessments (IA's) or Theory of Knowledge (TOK) Essay, or Extended Essay, or CAS Service Hours, I learned a lot about what I want and don't want. I struggled a lot in the program, it challenged me often to learn and think in ways, that previously I did not know were possible. Often, I had to challenge my mindset and way of thinking to get through the classes, because in truth IB is a set of work of its own.

In truth, I am not a full IB graduate, although I am completing the program, I did not complete certain coursework (specified above), that was necessary for me to graduate as an IB learner, but in truth, I don't think I care as much anymore. Sure, I won't get the white IB Stool at graduation, nor be able to go to the IB Certification Ceremony, but I will be carrying the weight of what I learned for a lifetime, which in my opinion is good enough for me.

I also believe that IB is not for everyone. Now, hear me out, I'm not saying that you can't do it, ever, I'm saying that based on my experience in IB, although I don't regret it, I think if I went a different path in my studies during high school, I would have succeeded better. That's what it is in truth when you decide whether to do this program. You must ask yourself, “Is this going to help ME to succeed?”, you have to question your bottom line, on whether you want it, or are just doing it because of the honest pressure that comes from those around you. I think, I did it for the challenge, and in the end, it challenged me overall, and I wouldn't change how I approached it. To those considering IB thoroughly talk to others about this decision. Two years can be a long time.

8. A Special Thank You & My Final thoughts

Not many times, in my opinion, have I been helped and told and reminded that I have worth as I have been during my High School years. In truth, I haven't been willing to accept help from others, but to those of you who go and live out those high school years, remember those who were willing to sacrifice their time and trust to help you, because in truth, any educator, counselor, or staff in a high school, doesn't truly have that written in their job descriptions. It is nothing but from the bottom of their hearts and passions that they do what they do.

So. . . I want to say a few thank-yous to a huge group of people that are a part of the Rampart High School Staff:

The Following is addressed for the following people:

To the IB Diploma Program Coordinators who helped me into a true challenge,

Thank you for being persistent in your efforts to make sure I stay on track to being a good IB Program Graduate. Although it did not work out the way any IB Coordinator hopes for their students, I want to let you know, that your efforts did not truly go to waste, because I've learned a lot more from the IB Program about myself, and for that, I am truly grateful for your persistence in keeping me on track.

To My Athletic Coaches in Cross Country and Track who made me remember the meaning of freedom,

There were many times when you did not know what was going on outside in my life, but you still valued my efforts because you knew I was trying. Any coach hopes for their athletes to aspire to try their best in the things they chose to do, and I will never forget the days when you talked to me in extremely stressful situations, where you offered me guidance and advice for my life, where you pushed me to my limits and remembered to tell me that I was making progress. It is because of you that I find freedom every time I take a step onto a track or go out for a run, and in truth that gives me hope for my future and life. I can tell you, 100% that it was because of you that I was able to persist. Life is hard, and I believe that you truly valued my growth. So thank you.

To The Library Staff who made me remember that I can stay strong,

Four years is a long time to know a group of people, and most people don't connect even during that long period. I am grateful to know people that are truly passionate about students succeeding. You four have always been true to your word and actions and have helped me when I've cried, when I've fallen, and when I've struggled. I've remembered how a lot of changes had happened, and yet you all try so hard to grow the library, to help students succeed not only in their studies, but in their lives. I have watched your kindness bring light to those around you, and I hope that all of you realize that it is through your help that I can graduate when I graduate. I hope you know that even when you find times to be truly difficult, that your valiant and honorable character will guide you through those times. Thank you for the food, the drinks, the extra hugs and smiles, the listening ears, and the understanding eyes. Thank you for being that reminder that I need to take care of myself, and for bringing hope to my life because in truth it has helped me in more ways than can be expressed in words.

To The Tech Staff who made me smile every time,

There are usually 3 of you there, and yet, I remember how often you have kept me on track with my studies, and helped me remember to study for the SAT or guide me through hard problems with technology and life. You did your job, and more, that in truth, you never had to do. You never had to listen or understand my hardships, but you did. You never had to be willing to sit down and make sure I'm okay. You did not need to give me the best technology to make sure I succeeded this year, and you didn't need to guide me the right way when I broke down and couldn't handle things that overwhelmed me. But you did. Please know that it was worth it, and I never took any of it for granted. Please know that you are the reason I am okay today and that I can remember that it's okay to smile even during hard times.

To The Teachers Who Made Sure I was okay,

“Hi. Hello. Are you doing okay? Is everything alright? Do you need help with anything? You have worth and value. You can forgive yourself. It is going to be okay. Do you need to talk to someone? It's okay to cry. You are important. You matter. It is okay to value yourself overwork. Everything will be okay”

These are some things many of you started with when you saw me. Many are small sentences, with smaller words, and yet these words had the greatest value for me over these past four years. A lot of you helped me through a lot and did so much more than any person is ever required to do. You guided me and made sure I was okay. Stayed active with me, even when I did not want to deal with that awkwardness. You were persistent. You were kind. You were honorable. You are all some of the best people that I am grateful I have had the honor to meet and be taught by. Even when some of you were at odds with me in terms of education, I find it even more valiant than you were willing to value the health and well-being of students over the work that needed to be done. All teachers this year honestly deserve a thank-you. You all did more than what is written in a job description. You helped many students with your patience and understanding. We don't acknowledge it enough, but we are grateful as students that you valued us and checked in with us during online learning. How you helped us through quarantine and persisted in being a person to talk to even when you struggled in your own lives. It is hard. This year was a challenge. You are all heroes and should be proud of yourselves for what you have done.

To The Counseling and Staff in That Entire Office who saw me at the worst and have helped guide me to become the best version of myself,

There are many times in life that I have run away from vulnerability and for a while, it worked, it worked ignoring those I shared my feelings with because in truth I feel shame and of course vulnerable to it. However, it is because of that entire office, that I am standing here today, and that I can journey on this long path knowing that I can grow and that I can learn to love and value myself. You saw me at truly dark parts that I hate allowing others to see, and yes, even though I'm aware it's part of the job description, in truth, we all make choices, and those choices are still how we choose to react and be able to value others. A lot of you always greeted me with a smile, always asking if I had eaten anything or if I needed anything.

Many of you have offered for me to talk with you and remained there despite what I shared, and despite me trying to avoid talking with you. You stayed, and in the end, you made me remember that I am not alone. You all are the reason I forced myself to know the pain I'd ignored for too long, and you are the reason I have learned that there is value in myself. I can't even express how much each of the smallest actions and guidance has brought me the greatest aspects of my life. So, in words that I hope can express even the slightest bit of gratitude I feel, thank you. Thank you for being there and for not letting me forget that this world has kind people.

All in all, to everyone, thank you for this incredible journey, and I look forward to seeing you down the road! 😊

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Isabella Polombo
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Isabella Polombo is a senior at Rampart High School and is a leader in her community of Colorado Springs. Her main goal in life is to help people, and she plans on becoming a lawyer as she is passionate about being a powerful voice for others and herself. Isabella enjoys spending time reading, writing, learning, exercising, hanging with friends, and volunteering.