Trial and error: My evolution from freshman to senior

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Joyner Family Archives

How the time flies! Although she still looks similar to her freshman-year self (pictured above), the author assures her readers that she has grown immensely.

Back in the fall of 2017, a whirlwind of screaming girls and joyful laughter hit me as I exited the bus and made my first few steps onto campus. There were so many new faces to meet and so many new names to learn. I walked over to my locker in the middle of all the chaos of Freshman Hallway and pulled out some of the books I needed for my very first day of high school. I was a little nervous and unsure of how I should act, especially because I was the only girl from my middle school. As I made my way toward the exit of the raging hallway, I found a few girls whom I had spent some time with during freshman orientation. I joined their little group and noticed one of them frantically writing down words and drawing little doodles on an 8.5 x 11 piece of printer paper.

“What’s that for?” I asked the group as I peered over her shoulder.

The girl told me that she was working on her summer project for religion class.

Oh no, I thought to myself. I then asked, “We were supposed to do a religion project?”

Everyone laughed when they realized that I had no idea about this assignment. I joined in their laughter, grabbed some paper from a nearby classroom, sketched out some doodles of my own and hoped the teacher wouldn’t notice my last-minute work. This was quite a beginning to my journey through high school.

Flash forward to three years later, and I still forget about homework assignments until the very last minute. I still don’t know how to act sometimes, and I still get a little nervous when speaking up in class, but I have matured in a way that has allowed me to rise above my mistakes and fears, even when things get difficult. 

How did I get here? The most important parts of my journey have to do with my relationships with teachers, relationships with boys and my relationship with myself.

 

Relationships (with the teachers)

Flintridge Sacred Heart is the type of school that wants its students to have the best possible relationship with its teachers. As a freshman, I was intimidated by most of my teachers. I saw them as these intense authority figures who were there for the sole purpose of teaching the necessary material. I was terrified of making grammar mistakes in Ms. Hunnewell’s class. When it came to Mr. Lau’s class, all I wanted was to find a way to understand the material. I was scared to ask questions and speak up in class because I didn’t want to be told I was wrong or that my ideas didn’t make any sense. Little did I know, these teachers were meant to help me and guide me through any bumps in the road during my journey of high school, whether those bumps be strictly academic or more related to life.

 This process of getting comfortable with teachers started freshman year. When I noticed that my English grade wasn’t where I wanted it to be, I realized that I needed to step up my game and take the initiative to improve my grade. We had just started an essay on “Great Expectations,” and I decided to go to Ms. Hunnewell after class to ask her a question. During class that day, I was bursting with energy and ideas, so I was consistently speaking up and relaying my thoughts on the text. When I approached her afterwards, she was very enthusiastic about offering me help on my essay. Just as I was about to open the door to leave, Ms. Hunnewell stopped me and told me that if I kept up the work that I’d been doing, she could see me becoming a very successful English student. From that point on, her words of encouragement would ring in the back of my mind during every single English class. I realized that as long as I did my best, my hard work would shine through to my teachers, and I realized that all my teachers wanted was to see me succeed.

My relationships with teachers aren’t just limited to my schoolwork. Over the past couple of years, I have had a few challenges. For example, I tore my ACL in the middle of sophomore year and had a confusing friendship with one particular boy junior year. After that ACL tear, I went to Ms. Hunnewell and cried to her as we were standing outside her car. In that particular situation, it wasn’t what she said that stuck out to me but more so how great of a listener she was. She let me get out all of my emotions and thoughts, nodding her head every now and then to show she was listening to me. 

After issues with the boy arose, I went to Ms. Hunnewell once again. I had her as a sub in French class, and she saw me looking teary-eyed and she asked if everything was okay. Right then and there, I began to sob. I gave her a brief explanation of the situation, and she gave me the most comforting hug possible. She then left me with some words of wisdom: “Don’t feel bad about crying over this boy, because guess what? Boys cry over us too.” 

Those words, much like her encouraging words from freshman year, ring in the back of my mind constantly. She has been more than just a teacher to me; she’s been a place to go to when I’m in need of comfort. Because of this, my relationship with her — as well as with quite a few other teachers — has evolved from a teacher-student relationship into a relationship I find solace and relief in.

 

Relationships (with the boys)

Freshman year is the beginning of a new era in our lives when we make new friends and lifelong relationships with these friends. It is also a time to meet potential dating material. Everyone knows that high school is a time when we first begin to explore the terrifying new world of dating. I spent quite a bit of that year talking to various boys. Eventually, I settled into something with a boy named Nico, who I knew from middle school. I took him to my first (and only) Winter Formal and had a fantastic night with him and my friends. We ended up stopping at McDonald’s with my parents after the dance; he got an Oreo McFlurry and I got a vanilla cone. He and I both clearly remember how my stepfather turned around from the driver’s seat to face us so he could tease Nico over his order using terms that I am not comfortable repeating here. Nico did his best to continue smiling and told him that it was tasty even though he was crying on the inside. My mama scolded my stepfather while I looked as red as a tomato due to my extreme embarrassment. After that mortifying experience, we dropped Nico off at his house and he and I said goodnight. 

I felt terrible for what was said to him, and we stayed in touch for a week or so. But at the end of the day, I knew that my heart just wasn’t in it. Yes, he was really sweet, he was super cute and he gave me tons of butterflies. But something was telling me that now just wasn’t the right time. 

Soon after that dance, I ended up breaking things off with him. The amount of attention he was giving me was overwhelming; in other words, I thought he was clingy. I just wasn’t ready for a relationship when I still had so much ahead of me in my high school experience. Later in the year, I had a couple flings with some other boys, but those didn’t end up lasting much longer.

Ironically enough, that boy I took to Winter Formal in January of 2018 is now my boyfriend of nine months. After not speaking for over a year and half, Nico and I “re-met” in October of 2019 and picked up right where we left off. I think the thing that stuck out to me was how naturally conversation flowed between us. I felt like I had this connection with him that I hadn’t felt in a really long time, and being with him, it almost felt like he and I were the only two people in the room. The night we met, it only took two hours of talking to him for me to realize that I wanted to pursue a relationship with him once again. Although that was the case for me, he didn’t exactly feel the same way. He wanted to take things slow and not put a label on our relationship so soon. I was quite confused; if two people have feelings for each other, shouldn’t they be together? I agreed to wait for him until he was ready for a relationship with me. So for four months, Nico and I went out on lots of dates and hung out with each other more than any of our other friends. We took things slowly, but doing so confused me; if we’re already doing lots of couple-y things together, what’s the harm in putting a label on it and saying that we’re dating? 

I’m not going to lie, those four months were rough. The number of times I cried over Nico was kind of pathetic, but I only cried because I really cared about him and couldn’t understand why he didn’t feel the same way about me. When I was 15, I had strong feelings for him, but I had a tough time sorting through those feelings and looking past his flaws. Now at 17, I still have those strong feelings, but I’ve gotten to a point of maturity where I can now express those feelings and love him despite his flaws. I have become a person who is willing to fight for someone I love regardless of what he, or anyone else, puts in front of me to keep me from him. 

After four months, Nico asked me to be his girlfriend, and I, of course, said yes. He and I often look back on our freshman-year relationship fondly, laughing at the mindless things we used to do and say. When I was working at McDonald’s over the summer, he’d come by to get Oreo McFlurries in honor of our early days. Back then, we talked a lot, but it was always about dumb stuff like school and friends. We still talk about those topics today, but our newfound levels of maturity have allowed us to expand our conversation topics across all subjects pertaining to life. I am now the biggest culprit of clinginess, but he’s a close runner-up, so it all evens out. I think that the most important thing about our relationship, though, is that not only is he my boyfriend but he’s also my best friend. I’ve never felt so comfortable with another person as I do with him, and I’ve never opened up to someone as much I have with him. He is my rock, my happy place and my home. It’s a little hard to believe that after meeting so many new boys and exploring possible relationships with them, I ended up choosing an old friend above everyone else. He has been the most consistent, yet inconsistent, part of my high school journey.

 

Relationship (with myself)

I have always been a very loud and outspoken individual, but I was a little scared to express that part of myself freshman year. Coming to Flintridge Sacred Heart with practically no friends from middle school was incredibly nerve-racking; I was forced to start fresh. The problem was, I didn’t really know where to start. I was unsure of what was recognized as the “norm” and didn’t know what was the right or wrong thing to do. I wanted to be accepted by everyone, teachers and peers alike, but how could I possibly do that? Should I tailor myself in a way that would make me likeable to each individual person? Should I watch how other girls act and follow their lead? Or should I just be myself and see who vibed with me the best? These are questions that cycled through my head on a daily basis for longer than I’d like to admit. 

I found myself being in my head during lunch that first year of high school. The girls I was sitting with were pretty loud and outspoken, but I wasn’t so sure if I should engage in that behavior. Most of the time, I would zone out and stare at a wall or just listen to what they had to say. Every now and then when I would try to speak up, some other girl would cut me off and I would feel like curling up into a little ball and hiding away for the rest of lunch. Other times, I’d be scared to share my opinion because it didn’t always match with theirs. I feared that I’d become an outcast if my opinions were different. 

Looking back on that as a senior, I wish I could have told freshman Cari a few things. I would have told her the following:

There is going to come a time where you’re going to be sick of tailoring yourself to the people around you. Who cares if someone disagrees with you? When that time comes, you’re going to discover who your true friends are and who you actually vibe with. Forcing friendships and relationships just isn’t the way to go. 

Through those forced relationships, though, even though they’re painful, you’re going to learn a lot. You’ll learn about what you should look for in a friend or partner, you’ll learn about how to handle awkward situations and, most importantly, you’ll learn about yourself. 

Once you start being yourself and embracing your loudness, your confidence will soar. That confidence will make you glow and shine as bright as you ever could. It’ll also allow you to make friends with people who you usually wouldn’t talk to. 

Don’t choose who your friends would be based on preconceived notions; see who you vibe with the best. Don’t stress over everyone liking you and be yourself, even if some people don’t like it. 

I’ve come a long way since then. Now, when I sit with my friends, I feel comfortable enough to speak my mind and find a way to make any moment laughable. While I wish I could have given that speech to my freshman-year self, I’m glad I could learn from those experiences, since I’m pretty sure freshman Cari would not listen to anything that senior Cari has to say.

As I come to a close on my journey through high school, I’m tempted to look back on it and ask once again, “How exactly did I get here?” Well, growth and maturity take time, and my experiences over the last few years are what brought me to where I am today. 

I discovered that teachers are human, and that they only want the best for us. At first, I cried because Ms. Hunnewell’s class was so hard, but later I cried because of her encouraging words. I fell in love, then out of love, then back in love with the same boy. In doing so, I learned a lot about myself and how hard I’m willing to fight for someone. But most importantly, I found out that having confidence in myself allows me to discover who my real friends are and that staying true to myself is the most important thing to do.