The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Contest Winners #229
How was your transition to high school?
Writing Contest Winners

1st Prize
A Foreman Full of Fear

Glenna Morrissey, 18, Flushing, NY
In my first year at Aviation High School, my plans for a smooth and effortless transition were unexpectedly derailed. I was made foreman of my vocational technology class. Not sure what that is? Neither was I, or I probably never would have agreed to it.

However, I slowly began to realize that I was expected to exercise power over my fellow classmates, giving demerits for bad behavior and merits for good deeds. My confusion quickly transitioned into panic as I realized that I was to be the warden of my shop class.

After transferring schools following a doomed attempt of fitting in at my first school, this was not the kind of attention I wanted. It was not in my nature to be authoritative, or give orders and punishments, especially not to people I considered peers. My greatest desire was to be quietly looked over, blend in with the crowd, and to get high school over with as painlessly as possible.

Over the course of a few weeks, it became clear to me that I could either use my power and be seen as a “teacher’s pet,” or I could disregard it and be seen as a pushover. It seemed I could not win either way. I wanted to be someone who could be assertive, but something always stopped me. Every time I tried to stand up for the rules of the shop that I was meant to be enforcing, my familiar insecurities would consume me. The fear of alienation that I had known since childhood was more powerful than anything.

As I look back now, it sounds absurdly pathetic: I wasn’t scared to drill through a daunting hunk of metal, but telling someone to sweep the floor would make my heart stop.
I went on for a couple months in this way, blaming my timidity on indifference. “Why would I care which drill size they use?” I would think to myself. However, something important changed that year. I came to realize that I was so preoccupied with others liking me that I had never stopped to consider what I thought of them. Once this idea took hold of me, my fear of being disliked by them seemed ridiculous, almost laughable.

This experience made me realize that what someone thinks about you is only worth as much as you allow it to. And although this was a more gradual epiphany, I have come to realize that what sets you apart from the crowd should be embraced and cherished, never hidden. Now, in my final year of high school, I can appreciate how this transitional period in my life has truly shaped the way I perceive others. More importantly, it changed the way I perceive myself.

2nd Prize
Leaving a Friend Behind

On my last day of middle school, I wasn’t allowed to cry. My mother specifically forbade me from crying, because she knew that my sensitive best friend Laura would be upset if I did. This struck me as profoundly unfair, but I obeyed, because I loved Laura. I cried alone in the bathroom after graduation, dried my tears with a paper towel, and emerged, smiling, to say goodbye to the other friends I’d spent much of my life with.

Laura and I have known each other since we were 4 years old. We are, in many ways, polar opposites—she is blonde and petite, while I am tall with black hair. She is sensitive, extremely intelligent and takes everything seriously; I am confident, ambitious, and tend to charge headfirst into things. Yet we fit together somehow, and I had the sense that we were intertwined, like different roots of the same ancient tree. So when we were both accepted to a competitive Manhattan high school, I was overjoyed—we would be side-by-side until our next graduation. I imagined us getting our driver’s licenses, at our senior prom, getting our hearts broken, turning 15, 16, 17—always together.

But when we got to our new school, something wasn’t right. Laura was quieter than usual, and didn’t try to make friends. She spent lunches in the library, and started missing days of school. At first, I sat with her during lunch and tried to help her make friends, but she would barely talk to me.

Eventually I decided I couldn’t afford to spend any more lunches in the library. I was fighting to make good first impressions, and start off the year with good grades, and it wasn’t fair for me to be entrusted with this extra burden. So after a while, I let her eat lunch alone. I went out with my new friends. I needed to put my life first, I convinced myself. She needed independence. Really, it was the best for both of us.

One night, when I had just come home from cross-country practice, exhilarated by exercise and how my life seemed to be falling into place, my phone rang. It was Laura, and when I picked up, she sounded like she was crying.

“I’m not coming back to school tomorrow,” she told me. “I’m not coming back ever.” I was stunned silent.

Laura went on to tell me that she had been diagnosed with clinical depression and was planning to take a semester of medical leave. She and her parents decided that the best option was for her to homeschool while getting treatment. She gave me her combination and asked me to clean out her locker.

I had hoped that her reproachfulness was just a phase, but I should have noticed how miserable she was. I had been selfish, neglecting my best friend when she needed me most. I knew nothing I could say would repair what I’d done. I offered her a few pithy words of advice and hurriedly ended the conversation.

Overwhelmed with guilt and unable to deal with it, I threw myself into schoolwork. I left Laura’s locker contents with her doorman and mostly ignored her Facebook messages. But as I ran around the track, or took bio tests, or went out to eat with my new friends, there was always a deep guilt twisting in my stomach.

Eventually, I realized that every day that I didn’t talk to her was another day I would someday regret. Slowly, we started talking again. I visited her at home, and we went to the movies, and talked via Skype. While her depression was probably inevitable, I don’t doubt that I could have tried harder to help her adjust at school. My selfishness ruined the closeness of our friendship, and I knew that things could never be the same. I still tried my best to understand her.

Today, Laura and I are still friends, but a lot has changed. She’s now a junior at a small private school, and she seems happy. I’ve found other friends, although none share as much history as we did. I’ve learned to put my friends first, and to help them the best that I can.

3rd Prize
Finding My Identity

Jordan Johnson, 15, Bronx Latin, Bronx, NY
In middle school, I was known as the tall, quiet girl. I was also one of the go-to people for those looking to cheat on tests because I was intelligent. However, high school was supposed to be better than the dark days of middle school. I wanted to be remembered for more. I kept thinking, “ If I die today what would people say about me?” I couldn’t deal with the idea that they would have nothing to say.

Thus, in the first few months of school I went through different personas. Initially, I tried to use my height to my advantage and take the role of the bad girl, but that plan failed when my voice decided to go tinkly like a sugar plum fairy (and I never could stop holding the door open for people). Then, I decided to play on my natural reserve and become the loner. It almost worked, but I guess some people decided they needed to integrate me into the school and there were too many people interested in the same things I was for me to resist.

The next transformation came in the form of being a laid-back, carefree student. This meant that if I didn’t do a homework or I didn’t ace a test, so be it—there was always another one, and there was always another person in the same situation as I was. The conversations were always the same:

“Oh [insert expletive], I didn’t do the homework.”

“Me neither.”

And we would both laugh and try to finish it before we had that class.

The fault with this facade, however, is that I eventually fell into the abyss. One missed homework turned into five and my grades started dropping.

I could tell my mother was disappointed in me and I was disappointed in myself. By then I was fed up with my alter ego. I dropped the act and let my anxiety show. I stayed after school until I caught up with my assignments. For the final marking period I resigned myself to having to keep up with all of my assignments on top of studying for finals and the Regents. I succeeded and ended that marking period with a 97 average.

In the end I learned that the only person I was ever happy being was me. If I was to leave high school being known for little other than my height and demeanor so be it. Neither my grades nor my legacy depend on the opinions of others.

Contest #229 - Honorable Mentions
Stephanie Almonte, Heidy Bautista, Karen Bautista, Yashoma Boodhan, Breeyana Burroughs, Denise Carlo, Chelsea Clifton, Jose Contreras, Edward De La Cruz, Ruben Deleon, Taylor Desira, Kaila Douglass, Jillian Emken, Alicia Francis, Vanessa E. Gardea, Jasmine Glasford, Carlee Goldberg, Ashley Gutierrez, Farhan Hannan, Luisa Healey, Alejandra Hernandez, Caleb Horn, Shalaya James , Marie Jean-Claude, Karandeep Kaur, Nadia Khan, Mary Laurila, Alden Liang, Ana Lorenzo, Paulina Madziar, Shanille Martin, Bryan Martinez, Subira Mayo, Madelyn McGarrah, Ceraya Aradai McLeod, Jessica LaNae McCown, Elsie McDonald, Erick Mercado, Alondra Mercedes, Ashton Mills, Ashley Montes, Tamia Murray, Enil S. Navarro, Jerome B. Neal, III, Diamond Negron, Anthony Nuccio, Clarissa Ojeda, Michael Orozco, Loela Pacheco, Chloe Paoletta, Rancell Peralta, Makenna Phillips, Peyton Poole, Abbie Price, Andrelys Ramirez, Henry Reyes, Jaylene Rodriguez, Jennifer Riddo, Kira Robinson, Killian Ruiz, Rebecca Samuels, Aashka Sangvh, Sophie Sebastiani, Lauren Shapovalova, Amanda Shelton, Varenya Shrikant, Reeta Sihock, Jasmine Singh, Lisette Solis, Maxmillian Sumpter, Jamauni Taylor, Dymond Thomas, Tiera Thomas, Spoorthi Thota, Haydn Thurber, Jessica Torres, Joshua Torres, Isabella Trasolini, Naina Varma, Radames Vasquez, Ryan Vasquez, Missy Villins, Alexa Vulgamott, Keshawna Watson, Monica Whalen, Scarlett Williams, Rebecca Wolfson, Nigina Yunusova, Clarissa Zimny, Shawn Zorilla.

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