Yesterday, I graduated from high school.
If you told me I would be where I am on the day I started high school, I would never believe you.
Four years ago, I stepped onto a high school campus of 2,000 students not knowing a single soul. I had no genuine connections with anyone in my freshman year, no true friends, and no one I believed would support me. I was that one kid in the cafeteria that no one ate at, eating my mediocre school lunch alone watching youtube to pass the time. I had people who would backstab me, a “friend” who tried to convert me to his religion vigorously, and a miserable relationship with mathematics and a teacher who purposefully made me feel like I could never succeed in the subject. At the end of that first year of high school, I did not believe that this community I was a part of would ever have a place for me. That year, after pouring my soul into my journalism class (the newspaper), I got rejected. And I was devastated. It, along with everything else happening in my home life, had me contemplating a lot of terrible things. I didn’t know how I could go anywhere in my life.
Sophomore year was in some ways a step in the right direction. I did meet more interesting people and did for a bit have a group of friends. But I just drifted away because I just couldn’t agree on the fundamental beliefs of some people. It was never about bad intentions (at least I think?), but I just did not know what I wanted in my world.
But then, a string of events coincided with the moments and friendships that literally changed my life.
After a google search of things to do my summer heading into my junior year in January 2017, I discovered the Columbia summer program for constitutional law. I applied, got accepted, and won a full scholarship for the ludicrous $11,000 price tag. For three weeks in New York City, I met the six friends that gave me hope of what life could become. They taught me what true friendship could be in daily life, that your work and learning could be so empowering and fun. RBGANG taught me what it meant to truly find the joy in living, something I took strongly into my junior year.
At the end of my sophomore year, the journalism advisor walked into my media literacy class asking for videographers to join their staff. Rather than a full application, he asked us to send a link to our work that year. Although still bitter from that rejection a year ago, I reluctantly sent in my links in hopes of maybe a new start. Within five days, I got an email notifying me of my acceptance to the newspaper. I nearly started crying, but I knew that I had to take advantage of everything I could.
After Columbia, my peers I knew, teachers, friends, and family said I changed. I don’t remember who I really was. Heading into my junior year, with a chip on my shoulder in the journalism program and a blueprint for the relationships I wanted to forge, I wanted to make the most of high school. I wanted to do it because I realized no one would be willing to help me if I didn’t have the dedication to believe in myself.
And these last two years changed everything.
In journalism, I strived to work harder and smarter than anyone. Beginning as a videographer, I worked to learn how to construct angles, drafting nifty ledes, and searching for scoops no one else was interested in finding. After just a year on staff, I ran and won web managing editor after campaigning all year and proving to myself I could be the hardworking person I knew I could be. This past year on staff, I still continued as the admin beat, reporting on first amendment violations, and shared my connection with Nipsey Hussle. The newspaper gave me the courage to share my voice and be proud of being myself.
With the support of my friends from Columbia, I sought to be more outgoing. I reached out actively to eat lunch with new people, text about different classes, and go out of the house. I’ve had countless coffee shop work sessions, weekend dinners, and just driving time with people I never thought I could admire so much. From people in journalism to friends I met through my classes, I cannot thank you all enough for just accepting me for who I am. These two years, I’ve been able to forge friendships that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life, something a fourteen-year-old Noah never thought was possible walking into high school in August of 2015.
In September, I’m heading to a new city and a school I never could believe would take me for myself. When I started high school, I hated myself. But now, through the relationships I’m grateful for now, through writing with this blog, I think I’ve gotten a hell of a lot closer to knowing who Noah Tesfaye is.
UChicago may be my next chapter, and although I am eager to head off in the fall, I am walking away from high school more satisfied and thankful than I ever could believe. I’ll miss the late nights laying out the newspaper and the hole-in-the-wall food trips, but I’ll miss the people most of all.
But, I know that and I believe that I am now able to truly continue to have meaningful relationships with the people I care about beyond high school. This is not goodbye by any stretch of my imagination; it’s really just the start of relationships not bogged down by homework and teacher drama.
Yesterday, I graduated amongst people I care about, surrounded by people I love. Thank you to my mom, dad, brother, friends and family, teachers, and mentors for giving me the courage to never give up. Without you all, I could have never completed this journey. I leave high school feeling more alive, passionate, and empathetic than I ever have in my life. That is all I could have ever asked for in this experience.
Being Noah Tesfaye #84: I Graduated High School.
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