Palo Alto High School's News and Features Publication

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Opinion: Faithful Farewell: Catholic school shaped my childhood

Art by Sophie Pan and Charlie Wang

“Dear Diary, I thought Brooke was my friend. But then she said my smile was hideous at Girl Scouts,” my diary from Jan. 9, 2017, states. Throughout 2nd to 6th grade, these types of interactions were frequent for me.

Despite my family being nonreligious, my parents enrolled me in a private Catholic school, with a smaller student-to-teacher ratio, high expectations and immense resources. Their intentions were in my best interest; however, these factors harmed my education more than they benefited it.

The constant ridiculing, teasing and glaring at me became so normal to me and as a result, I stopped writing about the details in my diary.

First, having a smaller class size meant I was stuck with the same group of students for four years. Typically, families would see this as an uplifting factor in their childrens’ learning environment, however, my situation was different: Day after day, I struggled more to fit in.

Another detrimental factor was the lack of diversity in the student body, leaving me as the only Chinese student in my grade for four years. I felt invisible and I had no power to change this. I also couldn’t figure out how to make friends; on the playground, I felt like the girl nobody wanted to be seen with. Asking my ‘friends’ if I could play with them always resulted in receiving the twisted truth, which was various ways of saying “No.”

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Trudging away with my head down, kicking the tanbark, I knew that my ‘friends’ were actually playing a game and that there was definitely room for another person. They just didn’t want to be seen playing with me and my ‘friends’ made sure I was well aware of that.

My family and friends from outside of school would always ask,“Why don’t you stand up for yourself? It’s so simple.”

My timid 4th grade self would ponder how to muster the strength to do that. If it was so easy to stand up for myself, why would I find myself spending lunch and recess every other day crying to my counselor and playing with her anxiety fidget toys because my ‘friends’ made fun of my Chinese last name and stereotypically Asian eyes?

The constant ridiculing, teasing and glaring at me became so normal to me and as a result, I stopped writing about the details in my diary.

The obvious solution to this was moving schools. But to me, the idea of going to a new school, having to adjust to a new environment and making new friends was so much scarier — I feared the uncertainty.

Throughout my years I began to see how without this experience, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Simultaneously, I had been grappling with chronic migraines, which I would consistently use as an excuse to get out of school, to a point where I would only be able to get through a full day of school two or three times a week. With the addition of the migraines, I felt trapped, as if there was no light at the end of the tunnel and I convinced myself I couldn’t handle a change in schools.

My mom recognized how I feared uncertainty, so she enrolled me in public school without telling me, leaving me angry and questioning my mom’s intentions. My experience in public school was not perfect by any means, but I strongly believe that it completely punctured the fears that had held me back from transferring schools. I was baffled when my classmates were willing to listen to my thoughts and genuinely wanted to get to know me. The larger and more racially diverse class sizes allowed me to create connections with a greater variety of people.

However, I struggled with opening up and trusting my new friends. I battled internally with whether they put on an act to seem sweet but were truly manipulative, or they were genuinely kind souls. I was afraid to relive my elementary school struggles again.

Now, my high school self looks back on how these trust issues have been ingrained in me since elementary school. I realize that I will never have the weight of these trust issues fully
lifted off my shoulders. However, I do believe that as I’ve grown older, I’ve slowly developed confidence and peace within myself. I finally felt a feeling that I never thought I would be able to feel — I was capable of finding a group of friends who wouldn’t judge me for being myself and I felt comfortable in my own skin. Day by day, I’ve stopped feeling the need to write in my journal to document arguments.

Despite this valuable lesson I’ve had to encounter, I wouldn’t wish my private Catholic school struggles on anybody. That being said, throughout my years I began to see how without this experience, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

I could go on and on about how my ‘friends’ ruined my life in elementary school. But a more honest side of me would admit that those girls who bullied me forced me to grow. I have grown to be able to determine whether a friend is a true friend or not. Those Catholic school girls planted a seed of resilience in me. Over the years, I have become appreciative of my Catholic school experience, how my struggles built me up to be a stronger person and ultimately cultivated the self-confidence in me I never knew I had.