The Acalanes student body contains an immense diversity of experiences, including adversity in many forms. Blueprint is profiling 13 students who have overcome obstacles, highlighting these students’ immense strength in the face of hardship.
By Renee Bunzel, Staff Writer
// The importance of inner beauty over outer appearances, everyone’s right to be themselves, and heartwarming acts of kindness are just a few subjects senior Caitlin Greenwell discusses on her blog.
Cerebral palsy has a large role in Greenwell’s life, affecting her brain’s interaction with her nerves and muscles, her speech abilities, and her motor control. Greenwell uses a speech-generating device to vocalize her thoughts. Despite all of these factors, she does not let her disability define her.
“I wanted to do something to make my parents proud, and I wanted people to know me as more than just a disabled girl,” Greenwell said, referring to her blog.
She has always been passionate about writing, but it is only one of the ways she expresses herself. Another unique talent she possesses is making art in Adobe Illustrator using her eyes. As a writer and artist, she enjoys her English and Digital Design classes. Economics and math, on the other hand, are more challenging for her. Due to her short-term memory problems, she has to push herself harder in these subjects.
Another challenge posed by her disability is her response to pain. Greenwell said, “I can’t tell when I’m full until I feel sick. I can’t feel pain until I really damage something, and that is probably how I dislocated my hips in fifth grade.”
After dislocating her hips, she had to endure a painful surgery.
“I was really scared of getting hooked on painkillers, but I had to overcome that fear and be brave,” Greenwell said.
The courage she showed during that time has continued to be a present force in her life. This can be seen through her desire to push herself and her drive to be involved in her community. For example, she plays for the Walnut Creek Challengers baseball team and is a member of the Rainbow for Girls Organization, a nonprofit service organization.
Her caregivers and aids are also a large part of her life. They help her with all of her physical activities, like getting to and from school and navigating the halls during school hours. But constantly relying on them to get places makes it challenging to spend time with her friends whenever she wants. She loves to socialize with other students, and her friends are an important part of her life, so this is especially hard for her.
Despite the obstacles, she has faced before and during high school, Greenwell is dedicated to working hard to ensure she achieves her dreams.
“I am going to DVC, and then I will try to get into UC Berkeley. I want to become a preschool teacher and teach little kids,” Greenwell said.
Dealing with an eating disorder
By Sierra Fang-Horvath, Print Editor-in-Chief
// Just one flip through any magazine will expose a reader to dozens of advertisements, photos, and slogans that both consciously and subliminally reinforce American beauty standards. From Victoria’s Secret angels to Carl’s Jr. ads, women face an onslaught of media that portray long legs, white skin, light hair, and an impossibly-skinny body as the ideal.
However, body image issues affect all genders and types of people, despite a general focus on women’s body image issues. For one Acalanes student, who requested that his name be withheld due to the sensitivity of the subject matter, his body image issues became so extreme that they were eventually classified as an eating disorder. Early on, however, he had no idea feelings of body dysmorphia could affect boys.
“I think one of the scariest things about this whole situations was that when I realized I had this problem, I had never heard about guys feeling this way,” he said. “It’s thought of as something that women feel because they’re the ones who are treated unfairly in advertising, which they are. And so are guys, and every gender, and it’s awful no matter what.”
Despite not receiving an official diagnosis, he explains that he undoubtedly had the symptoms of anorexia. It started out with occasional subconscious criticisms of his appearance.
“I started looking at myself in the mirror more and I was more critical. It doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but suddenly I was very conscious of all of me—all the parts I thought were too flabby, not muscular enough, and unattractive,” he said.
Soon, the issue began to worsen. What started as small criticism became daily self-denigrations which eventually eroded his confidence. He was checking his weight every day, sometimes multiple times a day, always worrying that the number on the scale would increase. He severely controlled his diet and constantly visited the gym. At its worst point, he couldn’t even focus in class because he’d be analyzing his classmates and comparing his physical appearance to theirs.
For a while, however, his damaging obsession with his appearance went unnoticed by those in his life. Part of this was because he never became alarmingly skinny, but rather that he lost over 30 pounds in a shockingly short period of time. This differs from the mainstream belief that anorexic people look emaciated and skeletal, when in reality anyone with any body type can have anorexia. Eventually, however, his friend noticed that something was wrong.
“One friend began to notice that whenever we talked, my physical appearance was my main insecurity and that I always felt like I wasn’t good enough,” he said. “She told me that she thought I had an eating disorder, which was frightening to hear, but in hindsight was probably good. It suddenly made me aware of a lot of the issues I had developed.”
As is the case with many conditions involving mental health issues, he could logically understand that his appearance was fine, but on an emotional and physical level, he was completely incapable of controlling his relationship with his body.
“There’s this clear divide between what I know and what I feel, and I feel like crap. So there’s a huge disparity there,” he said.
The very self-confidence issues that caused his eating disorder also began to manifest themselves in the form of anxiety and depression. These problems only worsened when he sought help. He explained that his parents neglected the issue and were not genuinely invested in his wellbeing.
“They weren’t taking it seriously, and when they finally did, I didn’t need their help anymore. They cared the most when I didn’t need them, but when I did need them, they were absent,” he said.
Without his parents’ support, he felt isolated as even his closest allies did not support him in his fight. Many of his friends, in the meantime, expressed concern, only to later treat him with pity and condescension.
“There are people in my life who have tried to make me their project. That was just horrific. There were a few people that I felt really close to, and opening up about this kind of insecurity is a really big deal. But none of their concern felt genuine,” he said. “They might as well have said, ‘Aw, poor you. Let me help you out so I can write about this for a college app.’ It was narcissistic and disingenuous.”
After those encounters, he undertook a mission of cleansing his life of all the negative influences and uninvested friends. He focused intensely on his recovery, eventually turning towards professional help from trained doctors, pediatricians, and therapists. His daily routine is different now; rather than avidly scrutinizing himself in the mirror for hours, he tries his hardest to pick out things he likes about himself.
“I’ve been trying to just think positively of myself and give myself affirmations when I can, and hopefully that can grow into something subconscious that I don’t have to think about,” he said. “I’m doing a lot more to recognize negativity when it comes on, and to bash it down with positive affirmations—not in an egoistic way, but in a loving-myself way.”
As he continues down the road towards recovery, his main goal is to slowly unpack and dislodge all of the damaging beliefs about himself that he has held in his mind for so long. He attends weekly therapy, which he explains helps a lot with his improvement.
“Just by talking through some stuff you realize that once you get in your own head it can cause a real quick spiral, so it’s important to have discussions about it,” he said. “And it doesn’t need to be therapy. Utilize resources at school. If you have a teacher you’re close with, try to find time to talk to them. Close friends, if they really care about you, will try to empathize.”
He explained that his goal is not to divert the dialogue away from issues with women’s beauty standards, but to instead expand the discussion to include more sectors of the population.
“I had no idea that it could be a problem for boys. I want to try to raise awareness that it is a valid issue, it’s a valid way to feel, and that we should work harder as a society to combat it,” he said.
And as he continues to try to spread awareness, he has some advice for anyone dealing with body image issues, no matter the magnitude.
“It’s not your fault for feeling this way. It takes a lot of time to get better, especially when you’re surrounded by feelings to hate yourself. It’s going to take a lot of patience and time to work on,” he said. “Stay positive and believe that you can get better, and you will.”
By Zoe Cate, Staff Writer
// Senior year is a year of lasts—last year living at home, last year of high school, last homecoming week, last time going to school with the people you’ve known forever. Senior year brings a level of anticipation and nostalgia, unlike any other school year you’ve experienced thus far.
But what happens when everything changes? What happens when you spend your last year in a new home, with new people, in a new school, and in a new state? This was the start of senior Kyleigh Campbell’s last year of high school.
While most Acalanes seniors spent their summers preparing for what is supposed to be the best year of their life thus far, senior Kyleigh Campbell spent her summer packing up the past 18 years of her life in preparation to make the heartbreaking move across the country and completely start over.
Saying goodbye to everyone you’ve ever known is tragic on its own, but packing up your whole world to embark on a move where you have no idea what is waiting for you, adds a whole new level of tragedy and anxiety that many teenagers have yet to experience.
“I would say that the hardest part of moving is probably adapting to California as a whole. Coming from New York, it’s very different and I’m meeting new people and having to put myself out there,” Campbell said.
Although moving is difficult enough on its own, moving across the country provides a completely different set of hardships. Campbell explained that while the weather was easy to get used to, the way classes are run and the nature of social life took some adjustment.
In the midst of 1,345 new faces at Acalanes, putting yourself out there can be scary, but Campbell reveals that the move has proved to be a valuable life lesson.
“I am way more confident in myself now. Going to a new place, no matter where that is, I’m going to find people and be able to adapt to a different environment,” Campbell said.
Although being at Acalanes—spending her senior year across the country from her school, friends, and everything she’s ever known—is not how Campbell imagined her last year of high school would play out, she has managed to find a silver lining in a situation that once seemed unfathomable.
“I came into it completely upset and not wanting to move,” Campbell said. “But I think overall it’s been really beneficial and I’m grateful for everything that’s played out better than I thought.”
So as Campbell packed the last of her childhood memories into cardboard boxes, said her tearful goodbyes to lifelong friends, and watched wistfully as the New York coastline disappeared beyond the plane’s window, she never would have imagined that her last year of high school would miraculously become a year of firsts.
By Karen Rosenberg, Online Feature Editor
// To some, she is a threat and an outsider. But unbeknownst to them, she is a peacemaker. She is faithful to her religion, her family, and the country she lives in, despite the hate she endures.
Malika Haji is a junior at Acalanes High School, who, due to her religion, is often bombarded by awkward side glances, soft sneers, and anonymous hate comments.
From birth, Haji was raised in a Muslim household and has continued to be a practicing Muslim. With this, Haji wears a hijab, further isolating her from the rest of Acalanes.
“Being the only person at our school to wear a hijab has made me stick out like a sore thumb,” Haji said.
Although escaping into the crowd is a difficult task for Haji, she noted that having a reliable group of friends and teachers allows her to build a solid support system, making her feel welcome at Acalanes, a place where everyone is said to be equal, yet not always treated equally.
While being Muslim has not had a significant effect on Haji’s academics, her social life has dramatically been impacted.
“I notice that students at our school are most times hesitant to approach me and sometimes are scared to ask me certain questions about my religion. I sometimes feel as though my hijab makes people uncomfortable and maybe too afraid to come up to me and talk,” Haji said. “However, I do think that the Acalanes environment is much better for my social life in comparison to previous schools that I have attended.”
In her earlier years at Acalanes, Haji has had an overall positive experience; excluding the occasional “confused stares, ”she has avoided extreme adversity. Sadly, things changed when the 2016 presidential elections rolled around.
“There had been rumors that someone threatened that they would pull my hijab off and said that I should go back to my country. For weeks after I first heard this rumor I was honestly scared to be in the hallways by myself,” Haji said. “I felt uncomfortable and mostly scared to be on campus at certain points; the thought of there being someone on campus who did not think that I was worthy of being here really hurt.”
During this time, people of all ages across the country seemed to take the election as a justification for their abusive actions and derogatory language.
Although she was able to escape Acalanes during this time of fear, “uncomfortable looks” and “confused stares” are mirrored beyond just these halls.
“My family and I travel a lot—I don’t think there has ever been a trip where we were not ‘randomly selected’ to be checked at airport security. Knowing that people fear you or hold a hatred towards you just because of their assumptions is a hard thing to get used to,” Haji said.
While hate will always persist, Haji combats this through the simplest act: being kind to everyone she encounters.
“Most of the adversity I face is a result of people’s misjudgment and preconceived notions that they have of Islam,” Haji said. “People expect Muslims to be violent and nasty based on what they see of extremist groups on the media. Those same people are always shocked to see that not every Muslim has a bomb in their butt pocket. I can only continue to practice my religion in a respectable manner and keep my head up. Be nice and hopefully people will be nice to you—but recognize that this might not always be the case.”
Haji chooses to rise higher than the enmity that shadows her. She attempts to break down walls that prevent her from being fully accepted in today’s society, walls that have no relevance in regards to her inner being and morals.
However, rising above is much easier said than done. In her younger years, Haji would often question herself and her religion.
“I would second guess myself a lot. Is there something wrong with me? Is what I believe in wrong? If I stopped wearing a hijab would people like me more? Would they not fear me anymore? Would I be able to walk in public and not be scared of being taunted or picked on because of my religion?” Haji said.
While these questions still reflect the constant battle Haji faces with herself and her religion, she refuses to allow the hate to overpower her, taking each battle one win at a time. While this may be the case, the wounds of this ongoing war have continued to persist.
“I’m proud of the progress I’ve made and that I never gave in. Hate has never made me change my opinion on my religion, but it has led me to feel both insecure and fearful because of it,” Haji said.
To help her in this struggle, Haji attributes her commitment to her religion to her family. While her opinions and ideals may steer in different directions, her family has unconditionally stuck by her side.
In addition to a loyal family, accepting friends have provided some much-needed comfort during these tough times. The willingness of those around her have pushed Haji to be the dedicated and kind person she is today.
While some may argue she has always been like this, Haji notes that there have been times where the simple act of getting out of the house was too hard to bear. Thinking back, Haji would warn herself of the impediments to come.
“There will be days where you want nothing more than to retire into seclusion for the rest of your life and to get away from the judging stares and hurtful comments. At times you will be so tempted to give up on your hijab and take it off just so that you can feel the comfort of fitting in for once in your life,” Haji said. “People will always approach you with preconceived judgments and they won’t always be the nicest—and that’s okay. You can’t please everyone and that’s just the reality.”
By Charlotte Glass, Staff Writer
// Having lived in 20 homes in less than 18 years, senior Kahren Eloyan has had a long and remarkable journey from an infant in Armenia to an 18-year-old graduating from Acalanes High School this year.
Right after college, Eloyan’s parents left Armenia in search of greater opportunity, intending to provide a better life for their children.
“I really appreciate the fact that they were willing to sacrifice their homeland and their families to uproot to a new country. Neither of my parents knew English or no job experience,” Eloyan said.
The Eloyan family moved into their first American home in 2001 in Maine after living in Moscow for a few months. From there, they compiled a staggering total of around 20 moves throughout the U.S., eventually settling in Lafayette in 2012. Never able to escape the position as the “new kid,” Eloyan was unable to develop deep relationships with peers. As a result, family became his anchor.
“My relationship with my family is very strong, kind of as a matter of necessity. I didn’t have a normal childhood where I was friends with the neighborhood kids and we grew up together—the only people who were constantly in my life were my family, so we are very close,” Eloyan said.
Living with the guarded mindset that everything but family was temporary, Eloyan always feared that the friendships he made and the life he adjusted to could all be taken away from him in an instant. Needless to say, the constant relocating throughout his childhood was emotionally taxing, leaving him feeling powerless over his future. Despite this challenge, Eloyan chooses to focus not on what he has lost, but rather what he has gained from his broad exposure to many varying communities.
“As a symptom of having moved so many times, I think I have a sense of perspective that’s different than other Acalanes students because all of the places we’ve lived in haven’t always been as socio-economically well-off as Lafayette. I’ve lived in black neighborhoods, white neighborhoods, poor, rich, you name it,” Eloyan said.
A broad exposure to people of all walks of life has provided him with the ability to skillfully interact in a wide variety of social settings.
“I had to adapt to living in those kind of circumstances with different kinds of people, so I think I have an idea of how to deal with people and I feel that is something that is very important because when you live in a bubble your entire life, it becomes very difficult to have to actually deal with people,” Eloyan said.
Eloyan is not only defined by his American experiences, but also by his family roots in Armenia. His deep connection to Armenian history stems primarily from his grandparents teaching him the rich traditions and heritage of his people.
Eloyan learned of the deep scars the Armenian Genocide has left on his family, as well as the horror it has caused millions of other families. With this knowledge and tie to the Armenian struggle, Eloyan recognizes and has expressed frustration with the apathy and lack of recognition surrounding the genocide.
Eloyan explained that having to bear witness to the deep mental, emotional, and sometimes even physical traumas caused by the tragedies in Armenia has left him with a massive cultural burden, both to preserve his ethnic history and traditions, as well as to educate others on the injustices of the Armenian Genocide. Luckily, he was given an opportunity to do just that when he published an article of concerning the genocide in The San Francisco Chronicle.
“It was really rewarding and it also felt really good to address such a big part of my heritage and who I am, and do it in a way that doesn’t involve me getting angry. It was even-handed and I felt like I wasn’t preaching, so that felt really powerful for me,” Eloyan said.
Being able to share this component of history that’s not widely recognized was gratifying for Eloyan as well as for his family, particularly his grandparents who have worked hard to cultivate his Armenian heritage.
Eloyan’s eclectic background feeds his unique approach and appreciation for life in all its complexity.
“I think it’s very rewarding to have a different view on life than other people and see life through the lens of an immigrant who’s come from a family who’s worked very hard. I never discount other people’s life experiences because I think ultimately, having that differing sense of perspective and differing set of life experiences makes life more interesting,” Eloyan said.
By Kiara Kunnes, News Editor
// The future is filled with the unknown, yet humans are notorious for attempting to plan almost every aspect of it. However, no matter how perfect a plan is, there is always room needed for the unexpected. Acalanes senior Gavin Shipp needed some of this room as his future was thrown a curveball: a severe shoulder injury that would ultimately alter his college plans.
Shipp started playing a variety of sports at just three years old. Shipp’s parents, both college athletic recruits, were anxious to get their children into sports as soon as possible.
“With most people, school is first, but for my family, it was always sports and being the best,” Shipp said.
Shipp played soccer, baseball, and basketball, eventually deciding to prioritize his passion for baseball and basketball.
“Basketball was more fun to me than all the other sports that I played,” Shipp said. “But for baseball, it was more that I was just better than everyone else. That was what my dad played, so he wanted me to play that more. He put a bit of pressure on me to keep playing as long as I did.”
For baseball, Shipp played Little League until he was about ten. He then moved to a competitive statewide team that played games all over the nation. In contrast, Shipp always played for local basketball teams. Although he was offered a spot on more competitive basketball teams, he always decided to stick with Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball because he enjoyed
playing with his church. As just a freshman at Acalanes, he played both varsity baseball and basketball.
Before Shipp even began to play for the Dons, college scholarships for baseball were already on the table. In eighth grade, he received his first two informal college offers. According to Shipp, almost all the schools in the Pac 12, including UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Arizona, University of Oregon, and University of Southern California, as well as other colleges like Vanderbilt University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Duke University, tried to recruit him.
The world of sports recruitment opened a new door to Shipp and became what he considered to be his “ticket to college.”
“I always knew I was pretty good at baseball, but I never thought it would be like that where I would be playing with kids all over the country and going to all of these visits,” Shipp said. “When I was a kid and I would go to a Cal baseball game, I thought that they were so good and that I never would be that good. It was kind of weird being recruited, especially since I was so young.”
Shipp’s top choices came down to UCLA, Washington State University, and Arizona University.
“UCLA was probably number one. No one ever talks about academics, especially since I wasn’t a very good student, but getting into college for sports, I could also use it as a platform for education since UCLA is one of the best schools in the country,” Shipp said. “That was part of my interest. No one ever thought that would be part of my interest because I never did well in school.”
This was Shipp’s plan for his future before his injuries.
Shipp had an issue with his shoulder since he was 14 years old, where his shoulder would dislocate when he would swing a bat. Freshman year, his shoulder got progressively worse to the point where he sat out for part of his baseball season. However, he still played that entire basketball season. He returned to both sports his sophomore year, only to face another injury.
“I was going to dunk and there was a guy in front of me and I fell over him. I stuck my arm out and broke my arm right at my elbow area. I had to have surgery to fix it. I couldn’t just wear a cast to fix it,” Shipp said. “I decided to postpone the surgery to after baseball season, so when I played it kind of snapped in baseball. I had an off year, but all of the colleges knew that I was injured, so they didn’t take that year into consideration.”
Shipp had surgery sophomore year on his shoulder and elbow. He made the difficult decision to sit basketball out his junior year in fear of getting injured yet again. He planned on returning to baseball, but during winter season baseball he dislocated his shoulder again—this time far worse.
“The doctor said to just wait and that it would probably be fixed over time. I was waiting, and I was opening the door to my room when my shoulder would dislocate. I couldn’t do everyday writing. My shoulder would move and I would have to put it in. I was like, ‘I need to have surgery done,’” Shipp said.
Shipp pursued the surgery knowing its potential threat to his scholarship. The surgery he had performed, a labrum surgery, is known as an infamous “career-killer” among baseball players.
“It caused me more pain to open a door at home than playing baseball. If there was a 50/50 chance that it would ever fix itself again, I would rather have it fixed, because if I ever have kids, I want to play baseball with them and throw instead of ruining that chance,” Shipp said. “That’s when I knew my chances of going to college for baseball after that were pretty slim.”
Although Shipp knew his chances at continuing baseball were not high, especially since he specialized in pitching, he still hoped for the best until he dislocated his shoulder another time at baseball practice.
“I didn’t tell anybody because it was my first practice back, and I was supposed to be healthy. I walked myself down to [Sports Medicine teacher] Chris Clark’s office because I didn’t want anyone to know. I showed him my shoulder and I had him put it back in place,” Shipp said. “‘He was like, ‘Yeah, it is definitely messed up.’ I called my mom, and I was really upset. I was crying. I knew then that I was done. I felt like I let a bunch of people down because I was supposed to play that year.”
As a result of his injuries, Shipp was forced to contact UCLA and inform them that he could no longer accept their scholarship. According to Shipp, the news of his injury spread quickly among the Pac 12 schools after his contact with UCLA.
“I learned that college recruiting is not a bad thing by any means, but it is a business. They want to win. Even if they felt bad that I got injured, since I can’t play, I am of no value to them,” Shipp said.
Shipp said he felt immense guilt and sadness because his parents focused on spending money on baseball instead of developing his college fund.
“My return to them would be getting a scholarship so that they wouldn’t have to pay for college. That was going to be really good. I was getting really high offers and for some of them I wouldn’t have to pay for college at all and some very minimal. I felt bad that I lost that for them,” Shipp said.
Although Shipp lost his scholarship, he is ready to embark on a different journey. He plans to play basketball at Santa Barbara City College for a year or two, and then he hopes to transfer to a four-year college.
Through this process, Shipp has learned that the unexpected can occur.
“There are always people you see that have injuries. I never thought that anything would happen to me like that,” Shipp said.
Student battles mental health issues
// Her tone of voice was misleading—anyone briefly passing by might think she was talking about the weather or a recent math test. But she wasn’t; instead, she was describing her long battle with anxiety and depression.
This Acalanes student, who requested her name and specific details in the story be withheld due to the sensitivity of the subject matter, opened up about her mental and emotional trauma that began in her sophomore year.
She often spoke clinically about her experiences, as if long removed from it all, when in reality she is still in the midst of it.
It all began when tensions in her family started to increase.
“Things in my family have always been very strained. We have a history of mental health disorders, which probably contributes to that,” she said.
Soon, her familial situation reached a fever point. Fights between family members became a daily occurrence. After a series of traumatic events, which included the hospitalization of an individual due to mental health issues, the family unit began to crumble. At just 16 years old, she had to shoulder immense responsibilities.
“I basically had to push away all of my own pain over the situation in order to emotionally care for my family. That’s why I’m so clinical about all of this: for a while, I forgot how to feel,” she said. “It was a lot for a kid my age to bear.”
After ignoring her own emotions in order to prioritize the mental and emotional health of those around her, the student admits that she now realizes how damaging this neglect was.
“I still have a lot of trauma surrounding those trips to the hospital and the effects it had on my family. I now see that that’s where this all stems from,” she said.
As the situation in her family continued to worsen, she faced her own deteriorating mental health. She was soon diagnosed with anxiety and adjustment disorder with depressive features, which occurs when a specific event or trigger causes an emotional dip that can be classified as depression.
After starting anti-anxiety and depression medications as well as scheduling regular therapy visits, she began to hope that her mental health situation, as well as those of her family members, could improve. However, these hopes were quickly dashed.
She and her parents couldn’t even agree about the course of action necessary for her improvement. She felt that she needed more time to address the initial emotional trauma from the fighting and hospital trips; they felt that she was taking too long to get over it. Eventually, they concluded that the best option was that she move out of the house to give her time and distance.
For a while, she couch-surfed between houses, staying at a different person’s house each night. Some days, she even lived out of her car, storing her belongings in the trunk and driving aimlessly around when she had nowhere to go. She even picked up multiple jobs, which allowed her to pay for gas and food.
“I didn’t want to spend two nights in the same place because I felt like a burden. I would go to any house and spend the night there. It was like a sleepover but I had no home to go back to,” she said. “I don’t even have my own space. I’m just a guest, a burden, wherever I go.”
Through it all, one might expect that her close friends became her support base; instead, quite the opposite happened. As her home life quickly deteriorated, she became unhappier, more reserved, and less bubbly. As a result, her friends slowly became disinterested.
“There are a lot of people that I expected to be there for me but they weren’t,” she said. “I feel so isolated because I’m going through this incredibly difficult situation and very few people actually know how difficult it is for me.”
Despite this, however, she does not blame anyone in her life.
“I can imagine that it’s hard to have patience for someone like me. And I’m very afraid of burdening people with the pain of my emotional trauma, so I tend to shut down rather than open up to people about what’s going on” she said. “A lot of people didn’t know how to help me so they just gave up.”
Often worse than those that couldn’t help her are those who tried to help her and accidentally overstepped. People, especially her close friends, began to see her as “damaged goods.”
“People see me as something that’s broken and needs to be fixed. They get upset and confused when their proposed solutions don’t work,” she said. “Even my parents very much see me as something that needs to be fixed, when really I just need time and space.”
The most effective forms of help that she’s encountered are, surprisingly, the simplest.
“It is so easy to be there for someone in little ways. Just acknowledge that you know they’re going through a hard time,” she said. “Ask if they want to talk or how they’re doing.”
This lack of a base, both a physical home and an emotional support system, continues to add to her anxiety, which even manifests itself at school. She admitted that she has even vomited and fainted at school because of her anxiety.
“Rationally, I know that I want to live with my family and have an amazing relationship with them. But, there are physical reactions that I can’t control because of a lot of trauma that leads to anxiety attacks. Sometimes I need to leave class and go to the bathroom to just breathe. I have to focus on the things that make me feel grounded, like my shirt on my skin or the floor beneath my feet,” she said.
Slowly but surely, the difficulties of her home life began to seep into her everyday functioning. Her interest in school began to decrease, which she noticed with alarm.
“I have always had a passion for learning more about the world around me, and I’ve never cared about just getting the grades. But I’ve lost that motivation and I just don’t care about any of it anymore,” she said. “I’m supposed to be this kid with the world in front of me and the stars in my eyes, but I’ve been forced to grow up too fast.”
Combined with her anxiety and depression, a difficult school workload, the pressures of extracurriculars, and more factors, she was “getting buried”–and through it all, she felt entirely alone.
“It never really registered how harmful ‘alone’ feels. It’s truly awful. You’re already going through depression and helplessness, and you feel like the whole world is against you, and on top of that you’re going through it entirely alone,” she said.
Luckily, she has found minute amounts of solace in therapists, guidance counselors, and select friends and teachers. And while not ideal in her mind, she has also secured a more stable living situation that her parents support: she lives with a trusted family member. While she believes that her mental health is slowly improving, she also believes that there will be a lot more pain to endure before she feels back to normal.
And only once during the entire conversation did her clinical façade weaken; her voice even wavered a bit.
“I can feel the love that my parents have for me, and I know that they have my best interests at heart and that they’re in a difficult situation,” she said, then paused. “Of course I would love to have a better relationship with my whole family. I spend so many hours thinking about that.”
By Jenna Evaristo, Staff Writer
// Though many know senior John Gainey for his sensational cartoons and constant jokes, his journey to senior year has included a number of hardships. Beginning when he was in elementary school, Gainey started noticing that he could not control some of his movements or speech.
These vocal and motor tics were linked to a nervous system disorder known as Tourette’s syndrome. Gainey’s vocal tics can vary from unknowingly making sudden or odd noises to repeating certain notes or melodies, while his motor tics include muscle spasms or random contractions of muscles, especially in the arm or glut area.
Tourette’s made schooling exceptionally difficult for Gainey. Learning in a crowded environment caused the symptoms to increase, ultimately making him have difficulty concentrating.
Third grade was an extremely hard year for Gainey due to his teacher’s lack of understanding towards his condition.
“I would always interrupt the class. The teacher couldn’t stand me anymore, so he kicked me out of class by the time school started. I would always cruise the campus alone, even through lunch and recess,” Gainey said.
After hearing about Gainey’s treatment at school, his parents transferred him to Springhill Elementary School and into the Special Education program which was more suitable for him. However, once Gainey started at Stanley Middle School, hostile behavior from teachers and other students began once again.
People treated him as though he was a toddler or was incapable of understanding things. Constant bullying caused Gainey to lose his motivation to speak to others.
“I felt discarded. Middle school was not a good place for me considering there was no way for me to adapt to it,” Gainey said. “Unfortunately, not too many people knew about my intelligence and my talents.”
This feeling of isolation was carried into his freshman year as several students would provoke and encourage him to show disrespectful behavior towards others such as chasing or physically hurting them. Nevertheless, Gainey soon realized that his actions were not representative of the kind of person he wanted to be, and he wished for his classmates to treat him with respect. Gainey feels that much of this treatment was borne from his classmates’ misunderstandings of his condition and misconceptions of him due to his place in the Special Ed program.
“Ever since then, Special Ed had always been a label to me, a very oppressive label,” Gainey said. “I’m not one to use the word oppressive because I feel as though it’s rash, but in this case I feel as though it’s needed.”
At this point, although Gainey had dealt with several hurdles, he had met a few people who ultimately changed his life forever. Social studies teacher Kristen Anderson taught him World History his freshman year and recognized his innate ability to draw. In one project, Anderson recalls Gainey creating an outstanding cartoon illustrating the French Revolution.
“I put his project up on the board and we had a department meeting the next day. Mr. Freeman was in here and he was looking at it and said, ‘Who is this? And can I get him in Blueprint?’ I said ‘Absolutely! He’s a freshman and he’s got this incredible raw talent that needs a place and needs some structure,’” Anderson said.
Thus, his Blueprint career started to take form. Freeman contacted Gainey and provided him with a cartooning book which taught him the basics of the art.
Though he wasn’t able to take journalism sophomore year, Gainey was able to take the class his junior year and develop an award-winning cartoon: “Green Eggs and Candidates” which reflects the 2017 U.S. election.
“Journalism was one of the best things that ever happened to me at Acalanes. Ever since ‘Green Eggs and Candidates’ was released, I felt my pride come back. People saw my talents. I was showing them what I was truly made of,” Gainey said. “I felt like I was finally fighting back those evil spirits and I was winning.”
Later that year, Gainey was awarded the Quill and Scroll for Best Editorial Cartoon, beating out hundreds of other student artists across the nation and even world.
“He was just jubilant. He was clutching the award like it was the most amazing and valuable thing in the whole world, and to him it was,” Freeman said. “And he said, ‘I’ve never won anything in my life,’ so I witnessed that magic moment of empowerment.”
Following the win, Gainey continued to prove himself in the art community by publishing his art on the website “Deviantart.” Some of his best work include a fan tribute to the Plants Vs. Zombies series called “Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 3” and “Ellie Valkyr and The Quest for Greatness.” The page currently has a total of over 50,000 visits and is growing rapidly.
“I just want everyone to enjoy my stories and art as much as I do. Otherwise, what’s the point of drawing?” Gainey said.
Gainey’s last two years of high school have been filled with growth and triumph. In December, he was accepted into the Academy of Arts University in San Francisco. After completing college, Gainey hopes to continue his cartooning career by working for Pixar and creating films or shorts. The company’s main goal is to inspire and enlighten viewers through their films, which closely aligns with Gainey’s desire to spread joy wherever he goes.
“I can put a lot of smiles on people’s faces where frowns used to be. That has always been my goal,” Gainey said.
By Riley Labrosse, Staff Writer
// For many students, the holidays are a time to spend with all of your family. However, this tradition isn’t part of everyone’s life, as many students at Acalanes spend their holidays with only half of their family due to divorce.
Divorce can be a tragic reality that affects many kids—in fact, many studies estimate that almost 50 percent of kids have divorced parents. Sophomore Riley Nicosia is just one student who has had to deal with the difficult effects of divorce.
Her parents’ divorce took place when she was in fifth grade, and Nicosia felt the change was new and confusing. While most fifth graders would not understand the magnitude, Riley was aware of the complicated situation that her family was dealing with. Riley believes that she was mature for her grade, which helped her comprehend the situation better than others may have.
However, depending on a child’s age and emotional maturity, life-changing adversities such as divorce can affect each sibling in a family differently. Riley has two siblings: an older brother named Jack, an Acalanes junior, and a younger brother named Patrick, an eighth-grader at Stanley Middle School, who both responded to the separation in different ways.
“Jack has special needs, so he didn’t know what was going on. Patrick was in the third grade, so he was more like, ‘Yay, I get a new room in a different house, this is awesome!’ So he didn’t really get what was going on,” Nicosia said.
However, Nicosia didn’t feel enthusiasm about her parents’ divorce; instead, she felt like her image of a normal family life was changed.
“I could tell my parents were fighting more, so them living in two different houses would make the fighting decrease. But at the same time, you want your parents to be together,” Nicosia said.
Luckily, Nicosia has a close bond with her cousin and was able to confide in her, sharing her frustrations and sadness.
“I talked to my cousin a lot. She doesn’t have divorced parents, but she was helpful,” Nicosia said.
Divorce comes with a lot of changes—new holiday traditions, switching between houses, and having to take on so much more responsibility. Students with divorced parents have to deal with changing their whole schedule and lifestyle.
“As of now, it has stayed the same since fifth grade. Basically, I go to my dad’s house on Thursdays and Fridays and on alternating weekends. Then we go to my mom’s house Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. And for holidays it alternates every year. So if I’m with my mom before Christmas one year, I’ll be with her after Christmas the next year,” Nicosia said.
After five years, Nicosia says her family has adjusted to the schedule, and now it feels completely normal. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still struggles and hardships.
For Nicosia, the hardest part of the divorce was the immense sense of loneliness and responsibility. Without two constant parent figures, Nicosia had to grow up a lot faster than her peers.
“You don’t necessarily have that other parent around to say, ‘Your other parent is being unreasonable.’ You’re kind of on your own. You have to fight for what you want. You’re alone in that aspect,” Nicosia said.
Having to fight your own battles against your parent can leave a child feeling isolated. Divorce is a life-changing event that has shaped Nicosia’s life in many ways. But after adjusting to the changes, Nicosia feels that her family is better off now.
“Both of my parents are happier now. In the beginning, it was a little hard. But now it is positive, because they were obviously not happy, and now they are,” Nicosia said.
By Lisi Burciaga
// For most, being 15 years old brings worries no grander than sports tryouts and sophomore year courses. But for Acalanes senior Calvin Vance, the age brought far more serious news that would substantially alter the course of his high school career and later adolescent life.
During his sophomore year of high school, Vance was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer which originates in the cells that form bones, after doctors discovered a tumor in the tibia of his left leg.
After he began to experience severe pain in his shins, he thought that he might have shin splints. As the pain worsened, however, he began to suspect a more serious condition.
“One morning I woke up and literally couldn’t walk because it hurt so bad, so I went to the doctors,” Vance said.
As expected, the diagnosis brought impacts to various aspects of his life, but none were faced alone, according to Vance.
“I had really supportive parents, relatives, and friends,” Vance said.
Vance underwent 18 chemotherapy treatments as well as a surgery that lasted 12 hours, often forcing him to miss days of school in order to be hospitalized. While his treatment, lasting about nine months, began to fight the cancer, however, Vance had to sacrifice many of the things that mattered most to him.
Athletics play a key role in the personal lives of many Acalanes students, and Vance was no exception. Following his diagnosis, he was unable to partake in sports or major physical activity, keeping him from continuing with his participation in soccer and lacrosse, which he loved.
In the face of the major life changes that cancer forced upon him, a reliable system of support was crucial. According to Vance, he found support in many places, including girlfriend and fellow Acalanes senior Anna Cain.
“My girlfriend was really supportive throughout it all,” Vance said.
Vance also expressed thanks towards the doctors who helped him through his battle against the disease.
“My doctors were really great. They would give me their personal numbers for me to call them or text them if I had any questions about what was going on,” Vance said.
As one can imagine, Vance’s illness touched the lives of his parents deeply, as the emotional toll of watching a child in suffering proved difficult, to say the least.
“I think it was really, really hard on my parents to see me going through this. They were constantly telling me how they wish they could trade places with me, and it was just really hard for them to see me not smiling because that’s all they wanted to see,” Vance said.
Vance found a support system beyond home as well. As news of Vance’s illness reached school, classmates began a movement to show their support for their friend in his time of hardship. Students wore apparel and wristbands with the slogan “Vance Strong,” and even displayed signs decorated with the phrase at football games as a sign of unity in Vance’s battle against cancer.
“It was really cool because I didn’t even know it was happening. I was just at a football game one night and didn’t notice for the longest time that a big group of my friends was wearing the Vance Strong t-shirts, and it was just a really great surprise. It really made me feel supported and loved,” Vance said.
Vance’s classmates rallied at his side with more than just emotional support, as t-shirts made for the “Vance Strong” cause were sold to students and proceeds were donated to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.
Vance’s cancer is currently in a stage of remission and his health continues to improve today. After spending two years on crutches, he is now able to go about his daily life without them.
“I’m about a year and a half in remission, which is really good news because the first year is when the cancer is most likely to come back. I’m healing now and it has all been pretty good,” Vance said.
Vance hopes to end his senior year by revisiting the lacrosse field one last time. Despite having played on the varsity team as a freshman, he has been unable to continue with the sport since the summer before his sophomore year.
“I hope to be able to try and get on the field for lacrosse at Senior Night, even just to sub in or something, just to be back on the field. That’d be really special,” Vance said.
For Vance, positivity in the face of his adversity stemmed from a newfound perspective gained from experiencing hardship. After seeing the worst of times, Vance was able to face even small improvements with a new sense of appreciation.
“There were a lot of times where I couldn’t stay positive and I was pretty sad. I had a lot of crappy days. But, when the good days would come around where I’d be able to come to school or something, it would just mean that much more to me,” Vance said. “It was hard not to stay positive on those good days because they were just so much better than the bad ones.”
By Renee Bunszel, Staff Writer
// Many Acalanes students never think twice before elbowing their way through the crowded school hallways, rushing at a fast pace and hoping not to be late for class. However, junior Timo Jimenez has a harder time navigating the halls because of his cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects body movement and coordination.
“My walking stance is a bit slumped, and therefore I need to use braces in order to correct that. And although I am more careful about it now, it used to make me more susceptible to tripping and falling,” Jimenez said.
In order to overcome these challenges, which are just a small part of the difficulties he faces due to cerebral palsy, Jimenez works hard to sort out and memorize specific hallway routes that are efficient for him to get to class quickly.
Meanwhile, inside the classroom, Jimenez’s teachers describe him as a smart and hardworking student. Because writing often proves to be challenging for Jimenez, he has difficulty in various classes such as Geology but finds inventive ways to get the work done. The subject that truly interests Jimenez is constitutional law.
“I have known Timo for three years now and he has just always had this really impressive passion for any sort of issue that related to constitutional law,” Anna Deignan, Timo’s Learning Skills teacher, said.
While math and Geology are more challenging for him, his interest in law truly inspires others, like Deignan.
“When he is in a realm that interests him, such as stuff that relates to law, he’s pretty remarkable,” Diegnan said.
Like every teenager, Jimenez cherishes his independence. For this reason, he is glad not to have an aid and instead be responsible for himself throughout the day.
“I like to be more independent with my work and my own life,” Jimenez said.
Despite this requiring more effort on his part, Jimenez enjoys challenging himself.
“I have to truly rely on myself. If I want something, I need to go get it or I have to work for it if necessary,” Jimenez said.
Acalanes social studies teacher and Mock Trial coach Joseph Schottland got a firsthand look at this during the Mock Trial meetings. He quickly spotted Jimenez’s grit, naming him as one of the hardest working and bravest students.
While Jimenez is a hardworking student, he is also reported to be a good person outside of the classroom. Because of his history of facing adversity, he brings a kindness and empathy into his everyday interactions, according to Deignan.
“Timo is pretty open about some of the challenges that he’s faced, but also has an extraordinary amount of compassion for other people’s differences and disabilities, which is pretty admirable,” Diegnan said.
Jimenez has grown a lot during his high school years, becoming a respected member of the Acalanes community. He has shown courage and immense hard work to his teachers and classmates, both inside and outside the classroom. Once requiring a walker, he now navigates the halls independently, careful to no longer trip or fall.
“Timo’s just an exceptional kid in every way. He’s very bright, he’s very fun to be around, he’s passionate, and he’s very blunt,” Deignan said, “I wish more people in the world were like Timo.”
By Charlie Keohane, Staff Writer
// When senior Sophia Giordano returned from the movies one night a little over a year ago, she did not expect to find her parents crying on the couch.
Sophia felt heartbroken and shocked to learn that her 21-year-old cousin Rebecca Giordano was found dead in her apartment in Manhattan, New York. Rebecca’s passing was completely unexpected for the Giordano family, and the cause of death is still unknown.
Sophia was only 17 at the time, and it was the first time she could vividly remember dealing with loss.
“It was kind of a weird numbness at first,” Sophia said. “Like something had happened and my parents were upset. I didn’t really understand it because I hadn’t had this experience with loss before.”
Despite living across the country, Sophia and Rebecca constantly spoke over the phone and kept in touch via social media. Sophia not only lost a close relative but a dear friend when Rebecca passed. The pair shared a love for soccer, which only deepened their bond.
“Soccer was just a part of all of our lives. That’s how we really connected,” Sophia said. “As I started to play soccer, she was my mentor.”
Rebecca would watch live streams of Sophia’s soccer games on YouTube, and then the cousins would talk on the phone and discuss the plays.
In memory of Rebecca, Sophia’s soccer team wore black armbands to commemorate her and also held a moment of silence at the beginning of the game that followed her passing.
Rebecca’s parents appreciated this moving gesture, especially because soccer played such an important role in her life.
Sophia, who was moved to tears by her team’s support, greatly appreciated the team’s coming together to show their support during a difficult time.
“It was kind of the first time we moved from focusing only on her death and switched to celebrating her life, which was a really good change that we needed,” Sophia said.
As the family attempts to move forward from the tragedy, a sense of confusion still surrounds Rebecca’s passing, as doctors and coroners could not establish a clear cause of death. Rebecca was the picture of health, her family said, making the loss even more unexpected.
“I was completely shocked. There was no way to know that would happen,” Sophia said. “I just really couldn’t believe that something happened to her and nobody did anything about it.”
This lack of clarity has left the Giordanos with little sense of closure. However, Sophia has found some solace in the comfort of her loved ones. When she reunited with her extended family for Rebecca’s memorial service, she faced many bittersweet emotions.
“It was really hard, and seeing everyone so broken was devastating,” Giordano said. “But I talked to a lot of my family about it. It was nice to share that connection again. It made everyone so close.”
Rebecca’s immediate family still feels the deep cuts of Rebecca’s sudden loss.
“My uncle and aunt have been living very quietly. They don’t celebrate much,” Sophia said. “They just don’t want any blown up attention.”
Because of all of the confusion and fear surrounding the death, Sophia urges everyone to maintain close relationships with the people they love, because things can change in an instant, as they did for her family.
“Keep your family members close. You just don’t know what can happen,” Sophia said.
By Karen Rosenberg, Online Feature Editor
// Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) is an autonomic disease many are unaware of, but when it strikes home, it can cause a wave of catastrophe.
For junior Joshua Starr, this is exactly what hit after a routine vaccination at the beginning of seventh grade. The next day, drowsiness and nausea set in, disabling Starr from sitting through an entire school day. Weeks passed, and what was thought to be a mere common cold turned into two years of extinguished energy and impaired cognitive function.
“I would try to go to school every day and half-way through I would have to leave, or some days I just wouldn’t be able to go at all. I wasn’t able to do any athletic activities and it just really sapped my energy and my ability to think,” Starr said.
Somedays unable to leave his room, the pain of POTS left Starr isolated; even the small things, like gossiping with friends during lunch and taco Tuesdays with the family, became a thing of the past. As his condition worsened, his support base began to dwindle.
“I didn’t feel I had as many people surrounding me. Maybe in the first month I had a friend or two visit me or stop by to say hello, but after that, everyone stopped appearing and I just felt alone,” Starr said.
Soon, depression became an all-too-familiar feeling for Starr, overwhelming his daily agenda which was once consumed with school, friends, family, and at the time, the activity he loved the most: basketball.
To some, sports may just seem like something to keep you busy, but for Starr, it had been a major part of his life. The loss of this not only crushed his heart, but when paired with inactivity, resulted in Starr gaining weight. Due to this, Starr underwent lifestyle changes in what he ate, choosing to limit himself to only water and healthier foods such as fruits, vegetables, and lean meat.
In addition to physical health effects, POTS also affected Starr’s academics. Missing both seventh and eighth grade placed him far behind other students in his grade, specifically in math and language.
“At first I tried to have a tutor, but it just didn’t work out very well. I didn’t even have enough energy to focus while the tutor was there,” Starr said.
To begin serious treatment for his condition, finding a doctor with knowledge on POTS was quite difficult, as only 200,000 cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.
“I had to see many different doctors. I had to go about once or twice a month to this doctor at Stanford because there weren’t many doctors educated on POTS, so I had to see him to determine how to be treated,” Starr said.
Soon Starr began to seek less mainstream treatment routes, such as acupuncture and medicinal tea.
“I saw an acupuncturist anywhere from one to three times a week, where I would get 50 needles in my head. I also drank prescribed Chinese tea three times a day,” Starr said.
Starr’s condition also began to affect his family, as many began to worry whether he would ever become healthy again.
“After two years of having POTS, I think my parents never really knew for sure if I would ever be okay again, so they were worried. Now that I’ve recovered, they have talked to me in tears of times they thought I would never get better,” Starr said. “I don’t think my brother knew if the brother he had would ever be back. He had looked up to me his entire life, and then I seemed to just disappear from it as I spent day after day lying in bed.”
While his family stuck by his side through it all, the sad reality is that some did not. In many cases, life-threatening or serious situations can put any relationship to the ultimate test. Starr notes that maintaining close bonds with those dear to you is very important while dealing with a situation like his.
“Keep believing you will get better and try to stay as close as you can to your friends, family, and others around you so you have a good support system through the process,” Starr said.
Someone who had an immense influence on Starr’s positive demeanor during this dark time was current Campolindo junior Leon Wagner. Despite barely being friends with Starr at the time of Starr’s diagnosis, Wagner wrote him a two-page letter documenting his experience and perseverance through depression, along with a hand-drawn picture. Back in sixth grade, Wagner had abruptly disappeared, and Starr later discovered he too had been affected by POTS.
“It just let me know that there are other people like me, and he encouraged me that everything would eventually get better,” Starr said.
In both Wagner and Starr’s situation, the two-faced much adversity. To open up about such a topic resurfaced many repressed memories, making Wagner’s actions admirable.
Initially, Starr felt reluctant to share his story with Blueprint, but after realizing the beneficial impact it could have for some, he changed his mind.
“I was worried how other students would feel about my story. I don’t like to talk about how this condition once had me depressed and caused me to be 60 more pounds than I now am. I also didn’t know if I could do POTS justice and give an accurate account that others with the condition could relate to or find advice from,” Starr said. “It’s a really hard thing to inform people about because you do lose so much, but in the end, you can look back on it and see positives and the ways it has changed you.”
Currently, Starr has made a remarkable recovery. To this day, his migraines and headaches occasionally persist, but no other symptoms occur to their previous extent.
Starr has continued to take what he has learned to help those currently living with the disease. Through writing letters and emails to kids across the country, Starr shares his difficult journey in hopes that it will inspire those still on the battlefield, just as Wagner’s story once did for him.
“I try to tell people living with POTS that everything is going to get better if you just focus on it and make these small changes. It’s not really up to you to fix it, but you can speed up the process by doing these things,” Starr said. “Keep faith that everything will get better and never give up hope that you will recover.”
In looking back upon the adversity he faced during this time, Starr realizes there is not much he would change about the situation.
“I don’t think I would change it if I could,” Starr said. “I can’t imagine myself without having gone through POTS. The whole landscape of my life was completely morphed because of it. You have a different outlook on things.”