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caption: Rona Eslamy, 18, graduated from Roosevelt High School in Seattle on June 14, 2022. They wrote a column for the student newspaper on the complicated feelings at that big moment in life.
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Rona Eslamy, 18, graduated from Roosevelt High School in Seattle on June 14, 2022. They wrote a column for the student newspaper on the complicated feelings at that big moment in life.
Credit: Courtesy of Rona Eslamy

'Forgive yourself.' Advice from a Seattle-area high school graduate

By
With Special Guests

It's graduation season — a season of new beginnings and big feelings. Words can't capture all it means to everyone who will be crossing the graduation stage.

But one student from Seattle's Roosevelt High School gave it a shot in a recent column for the student newspaper, The Roosevelt News.

Rona Eslamy is 18 and graduated Tuesday night. Rona uses they/them pronouns and says their identity has made their high school experience uncomfortable, less than perfect.

But they're excited to see what comes next as an honors student at the University of Washington.

But even that bright spot isn't quite perfect. Rona applied to 12 schools but was, ultimately, rejected from seven and wait-listed at four.

Now, as they prepare for the next phase in life, they're reflecting on all the time spent trying to be perfect — and how these last four years don't get to define them for the rest of their lives.

Rona shares their reflections in their final column as editor-in-chief for The Roosevelt News.

This column originally appeared in The Roosevelt News, the student newspaper at Roosevelt High School. It's being shared with the author's permission.

BY RONA ESLAMY, THE ROOSEVELT NEWS

What are your plans after graduation? Do you know what you’re doing next year? Have you heard back from colleges yet? Where are you going, what are you doing?

High school graduation, next steps, higher education, employment, the future, the future. Since freshman year these ideas are playing at the edges of our mind. It can be stressful and daunting. And for four (long, dreary, or joyful) years, many will work to create that stunning college application: it brims with awards and honors, extensive extra-curriculars, leadership, and excellent grades. This has become the expectation for many of us.

When we falter though, as many of us often do, it can bring a wave of shame; Cs in physics or Schoology’s red marked “Late,” on submissions, when my to-do list is already cramping the space in my planner. Falling short of expectations can feel like a personal flaw when we allow these constructed measures of success to define who we are.

That sense of mutilated pride is further defined by the judgment of hard-working immigrant parents, people who gave so much for the opportunities I have today. My shortcomings have set in as stains on their legacy.

That stain grew darker in March, when I received decisions from all twelve of the colleges I had applied to earlier in the year: rejected from seven, waitlisted from four, and accepted at one. Schools that I had defined as ‘safeties’ and ‘targets’ didn’t pan out that way. I began to question what I did wrong. I went after every opportunity, I squeezed every bit of energy from myself. How could that not be enough? What more could I have done?

Four years of work ended up meaning very little in the end. I wonder what more I could have become if I had realized this sooner. Maybe I would have put my homework aside instead of working into the night. Maybe I could have taken better care of myself, of my relationships, of my interests and passions to grow as an individual rather than remain so closely tied to educational success. In this world of ‘maybes,’ perhaps joyful would have come to describe my four years in high school.

This is all said as I prepare for the next four years of education in my one welcoming institution: the University of Washington’s honors program. So the rejections and waitlists are complemented by a spark of good news.

To those that may be facing similar rejections — forgive yourself, for not meeting your own or other’s expectations of you. It may be necessary to begin looking for other measures of personal definition, to shift the lens from which we see ourselves.

To underclassmen and juniors considering the future, or revving up for application season — don’t stake everything on this. Whether it’s college, a gap year, employment, or however you spend your time after high school, it will only be a small picture of all the other ways you are you. This one lens of success does not do you justice.

This column originally appeared in The Roosevelt News, the student newspaper at Roosevelt High School.