These Four Years

My Final Senior Reflection

Jamil Gastelum, Columnist

Jamil Gastelum ’20 poses for his senior portrait.

It’s been four years since I walked into the halls of Eagle Valley High School for freshman orientation. Four years of homework, projects, tests, and quizzes. I could take the time to talk about how I was stripped of traditional graduation, and even if that is true, I just don’t care enough to complain about it. I’ve already dealt with plenty of hardship in life; this whole pandemic is just another obstacle that I just have to overcome and there is no way around it. These last moments of being a senior at Eagle Valley High School would be wasted by moping around. Being sad won’t fix anything, and it sure as hell won’t make me feel better afterward. These last moments are best used to reflect on my experiences, and what I’m ready to go back to. More importantly, however, I need to reflect on these experiences and how they’ve taught me about myself and how they have made me a better person.

We all miss some aspect of our lives before this pandemic. Just like most people, I miss going out to public spaces. Specifically, I miss the chance to go out to restaurants and have dinner with some friends. It doesn’t bother me that much though. The unfortunate truth is that I haven’t had a nice dinner with friends for over two years now. That’s not the pandemic’s fault- we just change what we like to do. My friends want to party, and I just want to have a good conversation over dinner. There isn’t anything wrong with either of our interests. I miss that aspect of life, but I lost it long before the pandemic.

The thing I miss most is being in class with all my peers. I know we’ll back in class soon enough, but I miss having class with my fellow EVHS seniors. I miss messing around with friends and just being able to talk with other kids who I don’t normally get to talk to. Creating new little friendships in class that even though they are very temporary, they could mean a lot in a difficult class where you feel like you have to deal with new content all alone. It’s not just my peers either- I absolutely miss my teachers like crazy. I never had a teacher I didn’t like or didn’t get along with. I always felt that my teachers made their respective classes that much more special because they were the ones who taught it. I miss Rivera’s weird sense of humor. I miss Navarro’s kindness and general purity. I miss Dupree’s joke of the day and just listening to him because dear god he made me want to study biology. I miss Shapiro’s discussions, and I miss the general agreement my peers and I had in her class that no one was like her. I have a lot that I miss, and it really is unfortunate that this was stripped away from me, but I am thankful that I got to have these experiences before they all ended. I would give anything to have been in class for these last three months and to have had my moving up ceremony because as I watched them happen for three years. I was ready to give my teachers a big hug and even bigger “thank you.” It really is disappointing, but I will never complain again because this short amount of time was time well spent.

Four years doesn’t go by without some sort of progress or understanding of who you are/have become as a person. I learned that I’m in a middle-ground of extroverted and introverted. I was relatively extroverted at school, talking and messing around with my peers, but it was a different story after school ended. I’m very quiet at home and I don’t speak up much, not to mention that last weekend was the very first time I had hung out with my friends since January. I don’t like to go out that much with anybody really. I like to think I’m decently self-sufficient, at least when I compare myself to my friends. I know how to keep myself entertained and more importantly, I know how to keep myself sane during times of hardship. My friends aren’t like that. They constantly need to be with others, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. I think I was just forced to grow up a little faster than a lot of them, but I don’t think I’m better than them whatsoever. We just each have our own needs in terms of socialization. I do enough at school, so I think that’s why I refrain from it outside of it. To tell the truth, I usually enjoy being alone. I’ve been alone for a while, but luckily I haven’t ever been lonely because that is what makes being alone really hurt you.

I learned a lot about myself in this time. I got a better understanding of just what I am capable of. I know tests don’t mean anything in terms of who you are as a person, but I just cannot ignore the fact that I got a 32 on the ACT. To me, that was just one of the craziest things I had ever seen. I was in the middle of AP Language and Composition when I got the email that my scores had been released. Some of my classmates were there, and we eagerly opened up the email to see how it went. There it was, a shiny, large black 32 on my score report. I never knew that I could be capable of something like that, especially because in my Junior Seminar class we were taking practice tests, and I kept scoring around 24-27. I really had a great boost in self-esteem that day; I felt smart and powerful. I think that was one of the defining moments in my life when I really understood just how capable I am. Not to make a big deal out of myself or anything, but I think I’m a pretty smart kid when I want to be.

With so much learning being done, improvement is taking that knowledge and actually applying it. My newfound acceptance of how capable I am allowed me to improve on one aspect this senior year. I decided to just “go for it” for different situations. If I didn’t decide to just do things without thinking, there would’ve been a lot that I would’ve missed out on. For starters, I would have never applied at Patagonia without that little personal push from myself. I remember seeing the listing for it, and even though I figured I would never get it since I had no retail experience, I applied because you never know. Two weeks after I applied, I got the job, and I loved it. It was a great job that I cherished and always tried my best in. In the Fall, Dupree gave me a shot to apply for Steadman Philippon Research Institute the day of. A great deal of doubt lingered in my mind that somehow I would be able to write an essay that would allow me to be a part of it, but once again that little push in my head told me to just do it because there was literally no reason not to. Fast-forward to today, and I am now a SPRI graduate. Not only that, but Travis (the head of the EPOC Science Club) wrote my recommendation letter, and all it took was me having the courage to ask if he would do it for me. The final and most important time this mentality really helped me shine this past year was in my first meeting with Julie Keith (who works for the Guardian Scholars), and at the end of the interview she asks me if there is anything else I wanted to say. I paused for a second and looked her right in the eyes, and I told her, “this is going to sound real cocky, but I’m going to get this.” Spoiler alert, I am a part of the 2020 list of Guardian Scholars. I think I’ve improved pretty well.

Four wonderful years full of ups and downs went by so fast. It is such a cliche thing to say, but you don’t really get it until you’re on the other side and ready to graduate. I have changed so much in such a short amount of time, and I know I’ll continue to change, and maybe college will turn me into someone completely different. I just hope that 2024 Jamil will still carry the most important values that I have today. I hope he always pushes for love and respect and never fears anything. I can’t hope that he won’t have any doubts about anything in the future because that’s just human nature, but I hope that the little voice in his head always gets him to try something new. This is to the best four years of my life so far. To these four years that I’ll think about always.