Seniors reflect on freshmen selves, advice, and personal transformation

Alexandra Lee

As high school draws to a close for a quarter of Redwood’s population, it’s almost impossible for every senior not to look back on the experiences that have shaped their past four years. From stepping into the halls on the first day of freshman year, every senior has lived through the ups and downs of learning how to be a teenager, and each has experienced their own unique transformation into the person they are today. While the excitement of moving onto next steps can often overwhelm the emotions of graduating high schoolers, three seniors take a moment to reflect back on the personal transformation they have undergone in the last four years, and how their Redwood experience has shaped who they are today.

Among themselves, seniors Luna Zirpoli, Zach Tull and Isabella Liu have held positions in various parts of the school, as ASB Vice President, captain of the track team, and founder of social-entrepreneurship organization Elix Incubator respectively. These seniors are eager to embark on their future, whether it was the path they originally expected or not. Each expressed that certain experiences at Redwood, from sports to classes to extracurriculars, have played key roles in shaping their self-perception, values and knowledge about their future endeavors.

Isabella Liu competes in the Science Fair competition as a sophomore.
Isabella Liu competes in the Science Fair competition as a sophomore.
Isabella Liu (left) promotes the Speech & Debate club during Club Day as a senior.
Isabella Liu (left) promotes the Speech & Debate club during Club Day as a senior.

High School Expectations

According to Liu, upon coming into high school, she was extremely focused on academic achievements and eventually attaining her goal of being admitted to a highly elite college.

“I was far too focused on what I could do in high school, and I didn’t think as much as I should have about the people around me. I think the shift in thinking about the people around me really came in junior year when I realized that there’s so much I can’t do on my own,” Liu said.

Once Liu realized it was beneficial to balance academic work with creating new relationships, she was able to pursue her academics while furthering her friendships and interests inside and outside of the classroom.

“Redwood is a great place for a lot of reasons, but one of my favorite parts about the school is how big it is. The size of Redwood really allows you to do anything you want to do and find a group of people who are also interested in what you’re interested in, so finding community and friendships in shared passion at Redwood became more meaningful to me than achievements,” Liu said.

Zirpoli had expected the academics at Redwood to be much more difficult than they ended up being freshman year, basing her preconceived notions of high school off of stories from older friends and relatives. However, for Zirpoli, the academic nervousness quickly faded and she was able to jump into the social aspect of high school by experimenting with new interests.

“I tried the hurdles for track and that was awesome. I did Leadership and I was [freshman class] Vice President and that was kind of nice that I had extra time that I didn’t think I was going to have because I was nervous for the academics,” Zirpoli said.


Finding Purpose

For most high school students, the feeling of belonging to a community, whether it’s a sports team, a club, or an academic group, can be crucial because it establishes a sense of purpose. Tull, for example, found his community freshman year in the track team and has continued to grow into a leader and disciplined athlete throughout his four years.

“I hadn’t really thought about the value of putting your mind to something and what you can achieve, and I went from being really, really bad at track to being a good track athlete, but I think more important was sticking with the people that would take me, and then working really hard for that,” Tull said.

Similarly, Zirpoli found her sense of purpose through joining Leadership her freshman year and continuing throughout high school, going from Vice President of her freshman class to ASB Vice President her senior year.

“Being able to find that family in Leadership and find a purpose through being the Vice President, being involved in spirit and things that I love, helping to plan rallies or food days and being a part of all that action I think has given me a sense of purpose within my community,” Zirpoli said.

Of course, another fundamental aspect of finding purpose throughout the high school experience is the personal transformation of character and values for many students.

According to Tull, he believes that his personality and morals have only improved over the course of high school. While he appreciates that he still retains some of his carefree and juvenile behavior, he has developed a concrete understanding about what he believes is right and wrong.

“I care less about my image to other people. I care more about knowing the value that I stand for. Freshman year, my morals and values were like, ‘Whatever is cool.’ Now they’re a little more developed,” Tull said. “I actually know some things I’m okay with and some things I’m not okay with and at the beginning of freshman year it was like, ‘If the majority of my friends are okay with it, it’s alright with me.’”

Zach Tull (freshman year).
Zach Tull (freshman year).
Zach Tull (senior year).
Zach Tull (senior year).

Reflective Advice

The numerous invaluable experiences that high school offers to learn and grow beyond a purely academic scope help to shape the personalities and values of student graduates. Naturally, many students have feelings of both fulfillment and regret when looking back at the experiences that they did and didn’t take advantage of, and seniors can offer plenty of advice to students who may be going through the same situations they faced.

Zirpoli’s advice to any high school student in general is to embrace whatever excites you, even if it may be intimidating at first—for example, attending an event even if close friends won’t be there, or running for a class office even though there’s a possibility of losing.

“Just really jump into high school—because I’m a senior, and I wish I would’ve gone to football games, and I wish I would’ve gone to more of the basketball games or to more of my club meetings,” Zirpoli said. “I think the biggest mistake you make is not making more mistakes, not trying more things and just putting yourself out there more.”

Tull’s advice to freshmen on succeeding in the social aspect of high school is to find a group of people that have similar values and interests, and who make you feel true to yourself when you’re around them.

“Find the kids that you actually enjoy spending time with, and you feel like you’re not changing yourself too much to hang out around them,” Tull said.

Luna Zirpoli (freshman year).
Luna Zirpoli (freshman year).
Luna Zirpoli (senior year).
Luna Zirpoli (senior year).

For Liu, she has two important pieces of advice that she would not only give to incoming freshmen, but to her freshman self specifically. Firstly, Liu strongly advises against taking a full AP/Honors schedule, because while it’s important to be challenged, it’s equally important to have classes in the school day that fulfill individual interests.

Secondly, Liu recommends finding a balance between spending time with friends, creating personal communities within the school and focusing on academic work.

“Having a strong community makes the work you do more meaningful. To that end, spending time with friends and doing what you love in a completely natural way can add to your life immeasurably,” Liu said. “It’s like the old saying, ‘All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy.’ I have found that to be true in high school.”

For entering freshmen, or students in any grade, who are stressed out about their future, Liu assures them that the pieces will fall into place with time and growth.

“To all freshmen, it’ll be fine. And I know everybody says that, but just you wait, you’ll see. It’s going to be completely fine. In fact, it’s going to be better than fine., You’re going to be happy, if you let yourself be happy. The trick is to not take yourself too seriously,” Liu said.


The High School Experience

For these three seniors, the high school experience is about the transformation from a rather inexperienced young person to an adult who is confident in their values and beliefs about life. While many freshmen linger on pre-set notions that what they believe won’t change, the transformation that a person can experience is oftentimes unexpected, but all for the better.

“One of my best friends and I were recently discussing the fact that our freshman selves would probably be appalled by the people we are today, but at the same level, he and I are appalled by who we were,” Liu said. “The truth is, my understanding of identity and what’s important in life changed drastically in high school. I don’t think there’s any way my freshman self could understand this change without going through it.”