The End of High School

Today is May 1st. I am officially 14 days away from my last day of high school, and 22 days from my graduation. I never thought I would be spending my final days of senior year on my computer in my bedroom. I also never thought that my graduation would be a short gathering in our cars at our high school to get our diploma and snap a quick picture. My graduation is something I have dreamed about for a very long time, especially this year. In my hardest moments and days, I would close my eyes and daydream about May 22nd. I pictured myself in a white dress and a royal blue cap and gown. I pictured all the people I loved, who traveled near and far to celebrate this big and special day with me. I imagined how amazing it would feel to walk across the stage and throw my cap up in the air with all of my classmates, like the classic scene you see in the movies. Waking up in 22 days won’t be the same. There will be no loved ones and there will be no ceremony in a big arena. I can’t pretend that this doesn’t absolutely suck, and there is still a lingering feeling that I am not getting the proper closing to this chapter. But despite this extremely disappointing feeling, I am learning to come to terms with the ending of this story. I will not let a pandemic stop me from celebrating all of the personal growth and hard work I have faced through high school. And if you are a senior, you shouldn’t let this pandemic stop you from self-love and self-pride either!

I want this blog post to be a reflection of the person I have become in high school and over the years. This is one of the best ways I can make sure this chapter has a proper ending. I don’t know the girl who walked through the doors on the first day of high school anymore, although she will always be a part of me, I am certainly not her anymore. I mean that in the best way possible because I started high school in a cocoon, and I have ended it as a butterfly who is ready to fly off to beautiful places. A few nights ago I pulled out a box under my bed that holds old photos and every single letter I’ve been given since Kindergarten. As I went through photos and letters I realized that the end of high school isn’t just a celebration of the past four years, it’s truly a celebration of your entire life up to this point. In a few months I will gain a sense of independence that I’ve never felt before, and I will live by myself for the first time. Everything in your life has led up to this moment and it’s a big deal!

Recently I decided to sit down and split a blank canvas into four sections. I painted each section to symbolize what each year of high school felt like to me. So our story begins with Freshman year. I titled this year “Sprouting”, a year that seems so far away because I have changed so much since then. During that year I began to grow more comfortable in my skin, as I discovered how much I loved writing and poetry, thanks to my Freshman English class. I discovered that I hated Geometry, but I also started to discover a sense of independence for the first time as I started hanging out with friends and going places on my own. During the spring of my Freshman year, our family changed. Larriana (or JoJo) came into our lives, and suddenly the Shanklin family became five. I guess Freshman year was ultimately the foundation, the seeds that would help me grow into myself over the next following years.

Then came Sophomore year, the year I titled “Wilting”. A large cumulative of things made this year so hard. It was the struggle of trying to figure out who you are, while being mixed in with the wrong people, and that is something I found to be impossible. When I look back on that year, I see and feel a lot of sadness. I feel sad for the girl who was so lost, and who only desperately wanted to be found. But even now, I feel thankful for that year because I know that sometimes we have to wilt to bloom. I’ll never forget the moment I got the call from my dad, on a spring day towards the end of my Sophomore year. I was hiking with some friends while my dad was at a work conference in Colorado, so when he called I knew I should take it. I wandered off somewhere where I could be alone, and there on that incredible and surprising day my dad said “I think we are going to move to New York City”. Little did I know, that phone call was the pathway to the end of being lost and instead, becoming found. That phone call would change my life forever.

Then came Junior year, easily the most exciting and transforming year of high school, as well as the best year of my life so far. I titled this year “Blooming”. I like to joke because during my Junior year I successfully made it into three-year books by attending three different high schools. That September in New Jersey I did one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, which was walking into a new high school full of hundreds of new faces. Little did I know, I would go through that first and horrifying feeling two more times that year. But little did I know, those scary moments of starting something new would mold me into the most confident and bravest version of myself. As most people know, the New Jersey school and chapter only lasted three months, and I have promised myself to never return to that dreaded place unless it is necessary ;))

I found myself completely captivated and ready to start again in a new place, New York City. In October, I continued Junior year at an all-girls Catholic school on the Upper East Side ( I was convinced I was about to live all my gossip girl dreams). Other than meeting my best friend Zoe, the first semester of Junior year I experienced a new and utter feeling of loneliness. The city became my friend and I grew to rely on it to feel happiness, curiosity, and wonder. All of those long walks through the city by myself, and the afternoons at coffee shops to process and reflect on my feelings were an absolute gift. I was able to finally process my life in a healthy manner, and I was able to find confidence in myself that eventually helped me bloom. The cherry on top was switching schools once again when things at the catholic school were not going well. It was the cherry on top because it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. During my last semester of Junior year I fell in love with so many beautiful things. I fell more in love with New York City, as it continued to teach me new things and inspire me every day. I fell in love with learning and school for the first time because I was taking interesting classes that were catered to a student’s interests instead of the government’s interest. I credit this experience to greatly influencing my college choice. I met great friends and some of the most interesting people and lastly as most of you all know, I fell in love with a New Yorker:) and he turned me into a Yankees fan (Sorry Dad!).

All jokes aside, I could go on and on about my Junior year because of how spectacular it truly was. I know the experiences I had and the people I met during my Junior year have changed my life forever in the best way possible. So I guess this leaves me at my last year, Senior year, the year I titled “Growing”. Senior year hasn’t been all daisies and roses for me, It’s been another year of growth and stretch. To simplify it, Senior year has felt like sitting in a waiting room before your train arrives. Moving back to Cincinnati was not the easiest transition for me, I missed the person I was back in NYC and I missed the people I loved. I’ve been in a long-distance relationship throughout my senior year which has been very rewarding and worth it, but it’s also very hard to live ten hours away from the person you love most. It was strange coming back to a place I had already left, It was hard to find my place again when I had transformed into a completely different person. I spent a lot of time alone, maybe more than a typical senior would have, but in the end it worked out beautifully.

I was nervous that when I moved back to Ohio I would fall back into my old habits and lose sight of the person I had become. But I never did lose sight of the new person I had grown to love as I held onto my dream and my goal I had this year. The dream was to be able to return to New York or as I call it “The Motherland”. I’m so excited and proud to say that I have achieved this goal! But it certainly was not an easy road. The college process stretched me in ways I was not expecting it to. It was one of the hardest processes I have ever had to go through, but it taught me to have faith and it pushed me to work very hard until I got exactly what I wanted. In this season of my life I needed that. I was convinced that by Christmas I would get my acceptance packets and I would know exactly where I was going, but it was quite the opposite. I was deferred by my top two schools and I was very heartbroken for a while.

At the end of the day, I had to sit back and remember what was most important to me. That was getting a unique college education and moving back to New York. Over the first few months of my second semester I wrote what felt like a hundred essays and applications. I applied to a few smaller New York schools and even one in Chicago and North Carolina. But it never felt right and I figured I would have to settle. By March I knew I only had a little less than two months to make a final decision and as nothing felt 100% right, I started to wonder if things would work out for me. I knew that sometime in March or April I would hear a final decision from my top two colleges in New York, The New school, and Sarah Lawrence.

I had started to let go of the dream of these two schools, but I think the thought always lingered inside. Then came that week in the middle of March, at last to my astonishment all the hard work and trust paid off! I came home from school one Friday afternoon to find my acceptance letter from the New School, and I was returning home from a school camping trip sitting at a McDonalds when I got my acceptance to Sarah Lawrence (what a glamorous way to find out;). Now sitting here today, It’s crazy to think that I have come full circle. I remember the perfect fall day in October when my dad and I visited Sarah Lawrence for the first time. I had envisioned my life there ever since that day. There were days when I wanted to throw my dream away because it became so hard, and there were times where I tried to envision myself at other places to convince myself to settle. But I’m so thankful that I never did because Sarah Lawrence was the right place all along, I just had to travel through the long and dark tunnel to finally find the light.

So our story, this chapter ends here, in the final days of my high school years. I can only imagine all of the spectacular things life has in store for me. At Sarah Lawrence I plan on studying International relations, political science, and Journalism. As long as my job and my life’s work involves helping people in big ways, then I will be happy! It’s the end of an 18-year chapter, but in so many ways this only feels like the beginning. As this story ends, a new one is beginning to unfold, and I am so excited to start living, exploring, and serving. Heres to closing a door and opening an even bigger and brighter one!

-Gracie

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