Seniors reflect on high school experience: “What would you want to tell your freshman self”?

Claire Ku, Staff Writer

Amidst the challenges that this year has presented for students, seniors are finding themselves conflicted at the abrupt end to their 12-year academic journey. Many don’t even remember the last day they were in school before COVID-19 cases surged and schools were closed down which doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. Why? Because it seemed just like any other normal day of high school. Well, unless you count the subtle increase in appearances made by those small palm-sized Bath & Body Works hand sanitizers…. 

While many seniors were caught up in mourning the loss of their last year of high school extracurriculars, sports seasons and iconic social events such as Homecoming and Prom, it no doubt came as a surprise for some when the official graduation plans for the Class of 2021 were announced a few weeks ago. 

In an interview with The Wolf, Tualatin High School seniors Sarah Shepherd, Owen Grimm, Taylor Corcoran, Samuel Mann, Carmen Brown and Muhammad Faks were asked to reflect on their high school experiences with a special emphasis on the question, “What would you want to tell your freshman self?”

Q: What has been the biggest influence on your personal growth during your high school experience?

Shepherd: “Throughout high school, my friends and family have been the biggest influences on my growth. There were definitely a lot of times where I was so stressed, overwhelmed and didn’t think I was going to be able to accomplish my goals, but my friends always pushed me to do my best. This always brought me to grow and learn from the tough experiences.”

Grimm: “I think the greatest influences on my growth were my teachers. They exposed me to different teaching styles and experiences that helped me improve.”

Corcoran: “My friends were definitely the biggest influence on my growth throughout high school. They challenged me to try new things and to take classes that were way outside of my comfort zone. Having supportive people around me to expand my beliefs and knowledge, as well as reach out to when I needed help, ultimately shaped me into the person I am today.”

Mann: “My friends have really been the biggest influence on my growth in my high school career. I’m a very different person now compared to the person I was when I entered high school, and the main reason for that has been the excellent people whom I’ve spent my time with. Having a positive circle around me encouraged me to do well and helped me when I was down.”

Brown: “By far, the biggest influence that has helped me grow during high school would be my friends and family. It can take a really long time to find people you really click with, but being able to reliably ask for help, guidance and support both with academics and other school activities has allowed for me to become more confident both as a person and as a musician. Finding people who encourage and support me while also providing constructive criticism and opinions when needed was really important in making my life much easier and enjoyable.”

Faks: “I would say that the biggest influence on my growth during my high school career was the support offered from my teachers and peers in an environment that fosters learning. Looking back, my positive experiences in the IB Program were because of the hard work my teachers put in to offer me all the tools necessary to become successful.”

Q: What communities have shaped your character at Tualatin High School?

Shepherd: “One of the communities that helped the most to shape my character would be the Tualatin High School swim team. I’ve always been a swimmer, so that wasn’t new. But high school swimming and my team showed me that swimming could really be so fun. It showed me how to really just give it all I had and work as a team. Especially as I have become team captain this year, I have realized more than ever the importance of having something that I love, can work together on and become a leader in is so important to me and who I am learning to become.” 

Grimm: “My extracurriculars were very important communities to me. My baseball team and my fellow band members helped create the person I am today.”

Corcoran: “Becoming involved in different extracurriculars throughout my high school experience, such as softball, ASB and National Honor Society, has shaped my character. By working in different groups and learning about other people’s perspectives, these opportunities have helped me develop a sense of leadership and passion for working with others.”

Mann: “There’s no specific community that shaped my character here at Tualatin, besides just the student body as a whole. To be honest, I haven’t been really involved with any groups as a whole, so my character was mostly shaped by individuals. The teachers I interacted with, the friends that I made and the meaningful conversations that I’ve had are what have made me the person that I am today.”

Brown: “The community that has easily helped shape my character the most would be the music department. I can confidently say that I would not be doing as well as I am now without being able to create music and make new friends both within the choir and within the jazz band. The music classes at Tualatin have been extremely encouraging, challenging (in a good way of course!) and exciting, as it has provided me many opportunities to go out of my comfort zone while still having a lot of fun.”

Faks: “The Tualatin High School boys’ soccer program, Model United Nations Club and ASB communities have shaped my character here at Tualatin. I believe that being involved in the sport you enjoy can positively reinforce the values of hard work and perseverance. Working with my advisor and student officer team to lead and participate in Model United Nations events taught me the importance and skill of open communication. My time as an elected ASB representative allowed me to develop effective leadership skills and create positive connections with new mentors and peers.”

Q: What advice would you give to your freshman self?

Shepherd: “I would tell my freshman self to chill out a bit. Have fun and get stuff done. Yes, try hard, but also recognize that it’s okay to do something fun every now and again — it’s actually going to be better for you. Do the things you love and don’t be afraid to get involved. It’s often not going to seem like the right time, but take the opportunities that come your way and enjoy it!”

Grimm: “If I were able to give my freshman self advice, I think I would say to keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. The only way to grow is to try new things and push yourself a little.”

Corcoran: “Don’t take for granted the time and ability you have to participate in the things you love. This has definitely been a big idea on my mind, with one example including playing softball. During my freshman year season, my team and I became very close on and off the field, ultimately winning the state championship game. Little did I know that the next time I would be seeing the field again would be three years later as a senior, due to an injury and COVID-19. I just played my final softball game as a Timberwolf, and it is crazy how time has flown by.  Overcoming obstacles and pursuing my dreams despite the challenges I’ve faced has contributed most to my personal growth. My advice is to cherish every moment doing what you love before it is already over.”

Mann: “If I had to give my freshman self advice, I’d say a number of things (in no particular order). First, be willing to have a conversation with anyone everyone is interesting in their own way and has something that makes them unique. Second, it’s important to try new things. Life is short and it’s not worth having regrets, so spend your time finding out what you like. Finally, empathize with people and be willing to admit when you messed up. If you do things that you really regret, say something. ‘It might seem once really read, you apologize justly.’

Brown: “Throughout my adolescence and even now, I struggle with perfectionism, and if I could tell my freshman self one thing about my personal growth, I would tell them to be patient with themselves and their mistakes. Setting goals and challenges can be a really great way to find motivation, but always be honest with yourself about how you are doing, because continuing to push yourself when you know it’s negatively impacting you can result in hurting yourself more, and something completed with mistakes will be better than nothing completed at all or something completed perfectly at the expense of your well-being.”

Faks: “I would advise my freshman self to step out of my comfort zone earlier to be more involved in school activities and events. Learning away from the building this past year has reminded me of the social and academic importance of being in a physical learning environment. I would tell myself to not be anxious when it comes to signing up for more IB classes or running for club officer positions. These experiences have made me the individual I am today, have taught me many valuable life lessons, and have blessed me with the opportunity to meet incredible people I did not know before.”

Although it has definitely been far from “normal,” this unprecedented 2020-2021 school year has taught students some valuable lessons, many of which were voiced by the individuals interviewed here. We hope the advice and insight they have shared in this interview can provide some meaningful tips for not only freshmen but any high school underclassmen. 

As seniors get ready to finish off their last year of high school and plan for the next chapter of their lives, juniors will be (all-too-)soon filling the spots of this year’s graduating class. Meanwhile, as that rite of passage for the Class of 2021 draws closer, for next year’s seniors, here’s a question to think about: “What will you do to make your senior year count?”