May 9, 2019

Experiences, whether they be a story heard by word of mouth or things you’ve seen happen with your own eyes, change the way you look at everything. As a normal student, I had normal fears. It was the beginning of tenth grade, and I hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do in the future. The year prior I had become interested in helping others as a career but had no idea how to apply it in life. Earlier this year I heard a podcast spoken by a journalist working for NPR. My parents are Latino, and I’m more than proud to be one. Certain topics affect me more than others; they hit home. A boy up island, an immigrant, felt the horror of being isolated as a foreigner at his new school in a new country. He was young and had a malleable character. Gang members at his school manipulated him and made him believe they were his second family. In a time of distress and fear after realizing what the gang members were capable of he tried to flee and was murdered. He was very close with his family and always came home on time. Once his parents realized their son hadn’t come home, they told their local police department. The police department waited too long to file the boy missing, and the boy’s body was finally discovered after weeks of neglect.

Changing the way adults think is difficult especially when it’s coming from a 15-year-old girl. I wanted more than anything, at that moment, to help others that might have felt the same helpless feeling the boy’s family had. This year I decided to take journalism and what better way to understand journalism than becoming a part of the school newspaper?

With the help of my journalism teacher, I decided to get to know a couple of girls who had recently moved to Pierson from Colombia and Ecuador. Juliana Barahona and Thaily Ribadeneira are two of the most inspiring teenagers I’ve ever met. Everyone has their limits, everyone has had their own worst day of their lives, but it affects all of us the same way. However, what both girls have had to overcome inspires me, and their story needs to be heard. Juliana Barahona is a tenth grader from Colombia who currently attends Pierson High School; she’s a good student and an amazing athlete. She’s lead her tennis team to several victories and has one of the kindest smiles I’ve ever seen. She left everything she ever knew all in search of a better life.

Thaily Ribadeneira is an 11th grader who attends Pierson; she too has left everything in search of a better education. She is a stellar student with the most admirable dreams. She hopes to be taken seriously as a student and prove herself worthy of any prestigious title she may earn in her future. Back when she was a student in Ecuador, her father was a teacher, and all her success was credited to her father. Others in her school spread rumors of her father helping her cheat. Thaily once took a test faster than all the other students in her class, her teacher reviewed the test and saw how well she did. Her teacher blamed Thaily’s success on her father showing Thaily the test prior. Thaily is brave and determined and reacted in the most perfect way. She asked her teacher if he or she could make another test, Thaily would take the new test in front of the teacher and prove what she was capable of doing. Her teacher agreed and, this may come as no surprise, Thaily did just as well on the new test. From then on she earned respect rightfully.

Both girls have felt the alienation caused by other students in a new school. As strong as they are and may seem, they are human too. They have had to overcome the constant struggle of being underestimated. It’s a game of constantly having to prove themselves worthy to everyone in order to succeed or at least have an opportunity to. Both girls have tried to engage with fellow students but have been rejected repeatedly due to their ethnicity and social status. Besides being faced with the obvious difficulty of learning to speak English, they have to deal with constant neglect from their peers for a simple direction to a classroom. As a high school student with no friends at new school, a simple smile in the halls can work wonders, but us students are too preoccupied with ourselves to ever notice what we might be doing to others. Being kinder goes such a long way, it’s so simple, yet so hard of a task to follow.

The boy up-island who was murdered made me feel helpless in a world full of close-minded adults. At that moment I realized I had a duty to defend my fellow peers who might be facing similar discrimination from others by joining together with the younger community and inspiring them to make a difference. I realized it was important to change the minds of teenagers who might have not completely finalized their opinions on the world. We really are the future – as cheesy as it sounds – and our actions will matter. But we don’t have to do it alone. It shouldn’t be the future generation carrying all the weight. Faculty members of all schools must feel the need to help students of all types engage with each other.

What I hope is for anyone reading this to feel that same sense of duty I did. It’s until something truly matters to you, that you realize how much power you really have. I hope you want to get to know these girls. I hope you branch out into meeting new people. Get to know their stories, told by them. Engage. We take for granted always having someone to rely on.

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