by Naja Lewis ’13 –
I remember being an eager freshman, believing I was ready to begin my experiences as a high schooler from watching many seasons of Degrassi or Zoey 101. Let’s just say, I had pretty high expectations of what high school would be like. After my first month at Mt. Greylock Regional High School in Williamstown, Massachusetts, those expectations immediately went down the drain. In truth, I immediately felt as if I simply did not fit in—anywhere. I was one of seven African-American kids in a student body of 400 students. All the kids there had been going to the same school since middle school, so friendships and groups were already in place. Towards the end of my freshman year, I gradually made a group of close friends, and I kept this same group of friends until my sophomore year.
One of the first people that I met as a new student on Pomfret’s campus was Vicky Geary. After the last practice of the day, most of the preseason athletes were hanging out on the quad. Vicky came up to me, introduced herself, and told me I had a pretty cool name. And she excitedly asked me if she could be friends with me and before she left she coolly said, “See you later, Najah.” But before I could say “Its Naja.” She was off frolicking and doing her thing on the quad. I looked on with amazement. I had never met anyone, even to this day, with a personality and character like Vicky. And to be honest, Vicky was one of many students I admired here at Pomfret. She was freely herself—quirky, friendly, outgoing, and it seemed so normal for her. But it was one of my first experiences meeting someone as a new student, and I knew that this was going to be different.
I had pretty cool roommates, Amanda Proulx and Marlee Lawless, who became some of my closest friends after having late night heart-to-heart talks. They took the time to hear my story, and they genuinely cared about everything that I’d been through. I had always put up walls and resisted opening up to people in my life because it felt like even the people I trusted most ended up hurting me.
However, it was through another difficult experience that I learned some valuable lessons. I got in trouble for doing something careless in the beginning of my junior year, and it resulted in a talk I had to have with Dr. Gillin. I remember feeling so overwhelmed—still being new to the school, trying to transition academically, and trying to balance being an athlete. Dr. Gillin told me that she could tell I was fiercely independent, and she understood the pressure and stress I was going through. But she told me something that I will never forget. She told me that I wasn’t alone. Up until this point in my high school career, I had not had anybody reach out to me. Those words sum up what seems to me, now that I am a senior, to be the foundation for my experiences as a student here.
Gradually, I began to let my walls come down and immerse myself in the Pomfret community. And the highlight of my time here would have to be this year, my senior year. I became friends with a group of girls that have become sisters to me. I had a breakout volleyball season. I had the opportunity to travel to Ireland with a group of people that I wasn’t necessarily friends with, and this trip allowed me to get to know and become friends with new people—good people that I might not have met and gotten to know otherwise. I became captain of the basketball team; something that I thought impossible if any of you saw me play last year. Let’s just say that up until last year, I wasn’t much for basketball material; honestly, I was pretty terrible. However, it was through basketball season this year that I feel as if I matured and learned the true meaning of being a team.
For those of you who have family members fighting cancer, for those of you dealing or still coping with the death of family members or friends, for those of you who feel like you are at risk or know a friend who is, and for any of you who feel alone:
Please remember that you are surrounded by people who really do care. Remember that you are surrounded by people who see the beauty in you as a unique person. Remember that you are surrounded by people who may be going through or have gone through the same things as you. Uplift each other through our experiences and blossom into the stronger people ready to help the next generation:
“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.” – Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
I am Naja Lewis; I am a two-year senior from New York City, and I will be attending Wesleyan University next fall. And I stand before you all to say—I made it.