A graduating senior’s reflection on change, identity, and gratitude


Dan Ouk

It’s important to look back on how you got to where you are today.

High school is a time of metamorphosis.

And while people tend to talk about the butterfly, they forget about what goes on in the chrysalis.

In shows and movies, metamorphosis looks easy. It takes fifteen seconds for an anime girl to spin around, become a ball of light, and change into a pretty outfit. Back in the 80s, it took three minutes for Rocky to get stronger as a boxer. 

Truthfully, these past four years have felt like agony for some of us at times. For me, a portion of high school was consumed by not knowing who I was, being uncomfortable in my own skin, and fearing taking academic risks. 

What were your growing pains? 

Were you afraid of getting lates? Detentions? Suspensions? Or were you afraid of your parents’ expectations? Getting cut from the sports team? Being ostracized by your peers? Or maybe even having a pregnancy scare? 

Through those challenges we’ve had, we learn to adapt—we meet people who help us adapt. My teachers were some of the people who invited me to push myself. They dared me to do dangerous things like compete in Poetry Out Loud and create our school’s Dungeons and Dragons club. 

Other people might have dared you to do dangerous things. Maybe it was the coach who put you in a position you felt you weren’t ready for, or maybe the boss who gave you a scary responsibility. Perhaps it was simply your parents who put you in charge of your younger siblings. 

Then, we have the people who supported us as we stretched our wings to reach those goals: my friends were the ones who got me to where I was going. They guided me through rough classes and tough personal experiences. They cheered me on when I recited for Poetry Out Loud and peeked their heads into my D&D meetings. They kept my cocoon safe as I figured out who I was. If it wasn’t your friends who supported you, maybe it was a teacher who was always free for an after-school chat or your sibling who praised each of your awards. 

Not all of us have been offered the same chances. With the opportunities we have been given, we are poised for different futures: whether that future is college, a gap year, a job, the military, or a trade school. Maybe there are some of you who have no idea at all—and that’s okay.

Like many of us at the beginning of our four years, I was donning a metaphorical mask and was struggling to take it off. When COVID hit, I had to put on another one. 

Each of us has a story nestled in a sea of possible stories, but the pandemic is a growing pain that affected the whole of our class. During the pandemic, I was struggling with loneliness and anxiety. In addition to that, learning was especially hard with the deafening silences in Zoom classrooms and internet problems. But ironically, Zoom allowed me to recognize myself for the first time. In the thick of all the academic burnout and fatigue, I was able to shed my metaphorical mask. I am transgender, female to male, and in the latter half of our sophomore year, I started taking testosterone. In the uncertain waters of the pandemic, the only way I could learn was by asking questions.

Hearing my voice and being forced to look at my face on a daily basis built up comfort in my own skin and created the framework for who I am now. I literally watched myself transition in real time, and that was a crucial step for me. 

My story isn’t true for everyone, but maybe you were able to find silver linings in the midst of the pandemic. Perhaps an unexpected gift, surprise, or an area of growth.

All of us have such different experiences, but the one thing we have in common is that our high school years are behind us, and now we get to decide what legacy we leave behind.

So what do you want your legacy to be?

 In my positive psychology class, Mr. Train might say that gratitude is a form of legacy: a light hearted seed to plant in our hearts. I invite you to take a minute and think of someone from these past four years for whom you are grateful for. 

Think about who that person may be and what they gave to you. Was it something small or something big? It might be possible that the person you talk to knows exactly what you’re talking about. Or maybe they won’t have a clue. 

This might be the last time that we’ll be together; so after we toss our caps, go find that person. Tell them. Each of us has someone to thank for something. When we see and acknowledge those people, we are bestowing a gift onto another person, but more importantly, we are bestowing a gift unto ourselves. 

So, here’s a gift I have for both you and me: I am grateful that I was able to share a piece of myself with you; I am glad that we were able to share this time together.