I Was Her Only Friend

Name: Ren

Age: 15

Role: Freshman Student at Stagg

Ren went through an emo phase in sixth grade.

Life is really hard when you don’t know who you are. I had this friend since 5th grade, and I didn’t really like her at first in 4th grade because she was really mean to other girls I was friends with, who I’m still friends with. They were best friends but she was still mean to her in a way, and I was like, “That’s not cool. Why are you being mean to your best friend?” She was mean for no reason. She would hit her, slap her on her back for no reason and think it’s funny. But I was friends with her and we were the emo people, like we gotta stick together.

In 6th grade we got really emo. That was the first time she dyed her hair, that was the first time I cut my hair. I started wearing makeup and my mom hated it. I told her I was just wearing it for Halloween but then I just kept the eyeliner and she just hated it. But then she gave in and just didn’t care.

6th grade was rough, and 7th grade was even rougher. She tried to kill herself, which was really scary. I remember walking home with her that day because she lives a block or two away from me and we were walking with a dude named Connor. Everything seemed fine, it seemed like a good day. Then she was crossing the street and Connor continues walking straight and I turn to walk up the hill because my house is on hill. I get this call on my house phone, and she didn’t answer me for like a couple hours. But that was normal. Sometimes I didn’t answer either. Well my mom answers the phone and I’m in my bed because it’s like 10 o’clock and but I get this feeling. And I hear my mom on the phone and then she comes up to my room and she tells me my friend tried killing herself. I was crying, it was so hard to hear that because she was my only friend basically. I didn’t go to school the next day and I visited her in the hospital. She was on so many drugs it was ridiculous. Her brother was there. It was really emotional.

Which is why I am the way I am today. I mean I guess it is because a lot of people don’t have to visit their dying friend in the hospital- well not dying but like … it was so scary. And the doctor said “I know you aren’t sisters, but hug it out,” and it was really sad. She was in a mental hospital for  a week but I went back to school. She missed a lot of school. We weren’t in many of the same classes, but I felt really guilty going to school and having fun with people. I would be laughing with people and like mid-laugh I’d stop and think I shouldn’t be laughing while she's in the hospital wanting to die.

I’m not friends with her anymore though. In the summer between 7th and 8th we would hang out all the time, like every day. She’d get mad at me when I would hang out with my other friend Eva, which is a sign. I didn’t know but she was emotionally abusive. I looked up the signs because I didn’t know if I was being overdramatic, but I felt like she was borderline emotionally abusive. My friends, parents, everybody didn't like her and that's a sign- when your family doesn’t like your friends, maybe you shouldn't be their friend. My brothers would vocally express their hatred. And my best friend from first grade didn’t like her. That should’ve been a sign. She was jealous of my friends and got mad at me over nothing. She got mad at me because I was on the computer on Halloween but she was really mad at me for not going trick-or-treating. Holiday break came around and I was like “I can’t do this anymore.” She would get mad at me for everything but I wasn't doing anything wrong. I don’t know if I’m a bad person for telling her I didn’t like her. But like, sometimes you gotta break it off even if it takes a lot. She was like one of my only friends and I was her only friend so it was hard.

--Interviewed By: Sam Sarli

I'm Kind of Relying on Her in a Way

Name: Ashley

Age: 15

Role: Stagg Freshman

Ashley has a super close bond with her sister, Megan, who is a sophomore at Stagg.

Whenever Megan and I are at school we’re so nice to each other and we always act like we love each other. Somehow we’re never rude to each other in public, but once we get home we’re fighting all the time. We don't have physical fights, we’re just mad at each other, and I'm always the one who says, “why are you always being so rude right now”. She's the one who says, “I'm not being mean, I'm just stressed out”. Megan just uses all those excuses after we fight, The fighting gets annoying, it's usually something stupid. She always takes my makeup without asking me, then she takes it with her to school. I'll be at home and I’ll text her, “Where is my eyeliner?”, she says “Oh, I brought it with me”. Another time it was very early in the morning, I wake up the at time she leaves for zero hour, so I was like “Are you wearing my sweater?” Then I started crying, you know when it's like early in the morning, you're groggy and when people talk to you, you feel so emotional instead of being normal and rational. So I started bawling. I told her,”That's my sweater” and she said, “I have to leave for zero hour, I can't deal with this” and she left. It was dramatic, but then I like texted her and said “I'm sorry, I just need to breathe and wake up”. Five minutes after we fight, we apologize to each other.

It's good that Megan and I don't hold grudges against each other because we fight a lot. It’s just normal teen girl fights, we actually have a really good relationship. We don't hug that much or show affection but we say we love each other as much as we can. We are very loving and affectionate compared to other people that have siblings. My friend told me, “Yeah my brother doesn't talk to me anymore and he's only a year older.”

Megan always looks out for me. If I'm doing something wrong, she’ll yell at me a little. I hate when she yells, but honestly it's better for her to yell at me instead of my parents. When we were younger, my sister would always say, “Stranger danger!” or “You shouldn't do those things.” She's the one who tells me what I should do; I trust her and it always turns out good in the end. I'm kind of relying on her in a way.

When we were younger my parents would always force us together. We would wear the same outfits, we would be the only people we could talk to, and so the entire time my sister and I would stick together all the time. You know when you put two dogs together, they grow up, and you can't separate them...it's kinda like us. To this day we’re never apart, we’ve done things where I would stay at my mom’s and Megan would stay at my dad’s. It's not a major thing if we’re not together, we text or tweet each other all the time when we're not together. We send funny pictures, and start conversations about what our day was like or crazy stories you tell like “oh my gosh so this happened”. We both answer really fast, we both want to put effort into the conversation, because some people will just read your message, and don't answer for like two hours. We’re always there for each other, no matter what.

My parents are divorced, and they're at the point of almost marrying other people. My mom went to the Philippines to visit family when I was in third or fourth grade. When she came back, she didn't live in our house, She picked us up from our house, and asked my sister and I to help her find a motel to stay in for a few weeks. From that point on we started living in apartments. My parents would still talk to each other, like my dad will come over to help my mom put things together and fix things, but I still didn't understand why or what was going on. I just knew they weren't together like how they used to be. They would fight but not loud enough so we could hear them. One day my mom went to the Philippines again and this time she brought back her fiancé. My dad would Skype his one really good friend and now I think they're almost married.

Overall, the divorce is not that bad. We see them both often and yeah, sometimes we fight with them, but everything is still normal. Except now we have extra parents in different houses. Usually my sister and I stay at my dad's house. My parents’ schedules clash a lot. When they are both off of work, we have to think about whose house should we go to. If we go to one house over the other, one of my parents is going to be upset. My mom decides if and when she wants to pick us up or not, because she's the one making the effort to do it. Most times she would bail on us because she lives in Oak Lawn, so it's like a 30 minute drive.

Major holidays are very weird. For Thanksgiving, my dad was working and my mom was off, so everything was okay, but the thought of leaving my dad alone on a holiday just makes me really upset.

I’m just glad I have a sister like Megan, I'm kind of relying on her in a way.

--Interviewed By: Joy Williams

Every Day Is Of Some Worth Just By Existing

Name: Sevim

Age: 18

Role: Early Stagg Graduate of Class of 2016

Sevim enjoys spending most of his free-time with his family.


Family may not be as important to some people, but to me it’s everything. I grew up as the youngest of two brothers and a sister. Being the youngest with significant age differences between my siblings (me and the oldest are 16 years apart, the next youngest is 15 years apart, and the youngest before me is 10 years apart), it may seem surprising that we’re so close. My siblings and I still hang out often. Mostly on weekends we all get together, get dinner and whatnot.

When I’m not at school or work, which is much of my time, I try to spend it with my young nephews and nieces by visiting them every week. I always spend time with family because I think it is the right thing to do. I live by the saying, "friends will come and go, but family sticks with you forever,” and while I do spend time with most of my friends, I always make sure to spend more time with family. Since my nieces and nephews are young, I would like for them to spend time with me so they get to know me as their uncle. I want them to know that I'm there for them and that they can come to me if they need anything. Growing up being so close to my family makes me sort of carry that tradition.

The group of friends I had growing up were definitely like family since I would pretty much spend the entire day with them during the summer. A memory that never seems to fade would be going outside at seven o’clock a.m. and not coming into the house until eight thirty p.m. because we would be having such a great time playing kickball or basketball.  I still have close bonds with some of these friends besides one of them who passed away a couple years ago.  He had an undetected heart condition from what I’ve been told. He was 14. It was hard to deal with, but you keep the memories that help you get through it. [His passing] reiterated my belief of living each day like it’s your last cause you never know if you’ll still be here tomorrow.

My most memorable moment in life so far was probably when my mom was diagnosed with cancer in the seventh grade. I remember the day clearly. She had a cold for a few weeks that would not go away so she went to the doctor to see what was going on. When she came home, she originally told me she had arthritis since she had bone aches at the time. After a couple of days, I found myself walking upstairs to find her and my aunts all sitting on the couch crying together so I knew something was not right. Later during the day, I went upstairs into my mom’s room to find her lying in bed along with my brother and dad sitting on the floor. Right when I walked into the room my mom just started crying. Suspecting something had been going on for the last week, I asked them to tell me what was wrong and she said, “I’m sick.”  I turned to her asking with what and she replied, “Cancer.” I was heartbroken and stunned- my mom was always so strong. To hear something like that about her, still being so young at forty-nine years old, was just shocking. Lying on bed together, my mom and I wept for a good fifteen minutes or so. She eventually explained it wasn’t life threatening at the moment since that it was caught very early on so I calmed down a little bit. Still shocked by the news, I couldn’t sleep that night at all.

I’ve never gone through something so difficult in my life. It made me sad and scared because when you hear the word, "cancer," you automatically assume death. It completely worried the hell out of me. I always tried to help my mother stay positive and made sure she did not worry, which inevitably helped her throughout her entire recovery time.

Besides getting a new perspective at life being short, [my mother’s sickness] made me realize that you shouldn't take anything in life for granted - every day is of some worth just by existing. The thought of being without my mom made me appreciate her a hundred times more. Not that I didn’t appreciate her to begin with, but when someone gets sick, we as humans tend to act differently. Once she got sick, I spent lots more time with her and helped her out a lot more than I would before. I knew she needed the help and I thought I owed her for all she had done for me.

We also got much closer [as a family.] None of us argued with each other for the longest time. My mom and I would sometimes get into arguments when I was younger, but after she got sick we never really argued. I think we can all agree that there isn’t the perfect family, but I think my mom’s sickness made us act like we were perfect even though we were in a situation that nobody should ever have to deal with.  It definitely gave us more appreciation for my mom for all she had done for us over the years.

It also made me realize how important it is to have a good work ethic. Even though my mom has always been a stay-at-home mom, she always does so much work around the house. You could say she did more than what the "average Joe" or "average Josephine," in her case, would do. She would maintain her garden, landscape around the house, cook, clean, etc. When she first came to the U.S. [from Macedonia], she knew no English and came with nothing. To see everything that she and my dad have accomplished, like my dad working 70-80 hours a week in restaurants, during their lifetimes is beyond amazing. I think it just makes me realize how hard you have to work in life to get these "luxuries" we all take for granted.


I currently work at The Patio Restaurant in Bridgeview. I’m coming up on my second year. My job title is crew member; I work as a floor member and cashier. I also make sure I provide each customer with a memorable experience with my excellent customer service skills. So far I’ve had multiple experiences working there. One experience I’ve had that I’m going to end up remembering until the day I die is the first time I ever got yelled at by a customer, which happened to be my first day on the job. The poor lady’s hamburger was messed up. She ordered the barbecue pretzel bacon and I just brought her a regular hamburger. She was already angry from the moment she walked in the door. I didn’t know what was going on and I thought “Oh, maybe there’s something personal going on with her,” so I kept myself under control. I think that made me realize not everybody is going to be an extremely nice person to you. I have customers all the time coming in and they may have a little bit of an attitude, but I always try to calm them down. I try to share a joke sometimes that will either put them in a better mood or make them twice as angry because they didn’t think I was funny. Although it’s extremely rare, as I like to believe I’m a funny guy.

I think The Patio has impacted my views on work ethic, too. I get to work and meet with so many different people from different backgrounds. It definitely made me realize the value and what it takes to earn money. I have been lucky enough to work with some great people. I’ve gotten very close to my co-workers and managers these past two years and I think it helps you work harder when you have supportive people who notice your hard work.  Whenever they turn to me and say, “Great job Sevim,” I think I try to work twice as hard [compared to] other workers who say, “Ok they noticed, now time to relax.” It makes it more of an [enjoyable] experience rather than a job.  

I think I’ll be able to balance work and college. If I end up commuting to college then I would stay at The Patio because I do enjoy my job. If I were to live on campus, a lot of the schools are not necessarily within close distance to the location, so I would either have to transfer locations or find different opportunities working on campus. It could go either way. I think it would be nice if I worked at The Patio and end up commuting.

I’m definitely excited for college. I can’t wait to start classes, but I mostly can’t wait for these next years to finish so I can actually get involved with doing what I want. I have not picked a college yet as I’m still debating between multiple different schools. I have pretty much been accepted to all the schools I’ve applied to. For most people it’s a good thing, but not for me. It’s making me crazy trying to decide which school to attend.

I have decided to major in English and history. If possible, I’d like to see if I can do a minor in Spanish, too. What influenced me to pick both subjects was having great teachers in those subject areas like Mr. Garbrecht for AP US History or Mr. Roditis in American Literature and College Prep. Also, I really like Spanish class as I had great teachers like Mrs. Graham, Mrs. Reedy, and Mrs. Lyons. Spanish is one of those classes where there is so much you can do. I think I would be a more effective teacher with English and history because I can use different events to not only teach the content, but make connections to our own lives. History for sure because if one event turned out differently, would everything else still be the same? If I taught history I have a plan that I would assign an alternative history project where students change the outcome of one historical event and see if other events would be the same. I would make them do that with their own personal lives, too. Making connections to your own life in history is very important and that is something I would like to accomplish as a teacher. I’ve always known that I wanted to be a teacher. The way teachers have helped me out at Stagg High School has personally impacted me greatly. They not only care about your education or getting the curriculum done. They care for you as a person.


If I were to give some advice to my younger self, it would be to not wish the time away. I can’t believe there’s five days left of my senior year of high school. Everything’s starting to sink in and it feels that time has flown extremely fast which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s bad because I’m gonna miss the experience of being “youthful” one could say, but I’m happy with my decision. The time I am taking right now after graduation is mostly dedicated to working during the week. The Patio is very lucky, or nervous, to be stuck with me so much now! I’m also using this time to FINALLY pick a college and get ready for school in the fall; including some much deserved vacationing. I'm going to Florida in January, and maybe some other places down the road, but no plans yet. There is still some parts of me that say, “Yeah you should have done this,” but there’s a greater part that says there’s so much more to accomplish with the extra time. So just don’t wish the time away.

--Interviewed By: Gaby Rodriguez

I Think I'm an Insurance Liability at This Point

Name: Richard

Age: 18

Role: Senior at Stagg High School

Richard has an unnatural love for foxes and is what he calls, "aggressively senior."

Foxes are cool, there’s so much stuff behind them. If you’ve read any legends or folktales, the foxes are usually the most badass animal there is; he’s pretty much me. He’s always trying to do less work than everybody else. He’s always trying to outsmart everybody else. He’s always just trying to cheat the system and that seems really funny. It’s just like, if I were an animal I’d be a fox, because I don’t care.

When you’ve stopped caring to the maximum, that’s when you’ve become aggressively senior. It kicked in freshman year, but now it’s basically in overdrive. I think right now it’s like, terminal senioritis--I go home and I don’t even do the homework that I have. But it’s good because I kinda just show up and pass all my classes anyway, easiest thing I’ve ever done. I structured it so all of my classes are the easiest classes in the world, so I just show up and I'm graduating.

I failed math last year, so I had to take another math. So I was like, “Alright, I don’t wanna take Advanced Algebra because Algebra makes me wanna cry, so let’s go with Consumer Math.” And it was the easiest and best decision I’ve ever made. It’s kinda just, show up, occasionally do like, addition, subtraction, and some multiplication. That’s it. I think we’ve used two formulas all year, that’s my hardest class; I have an A+ in it. My hardest class and I don’t even do homework anymore. Like, I get homework and my parents are like, “Do you have homework?” “Ehhh no.”

I tell them no because they’d make me do it. I just--I don’t do homework, but I pass anyways. I absolutely don't hate school, but I feel like if I was to be given an option between coming here and sleeping all day, I’d probably pick sleeping all day. It’s not that I hate Stagg either, because it's probably one of the best schools that I’ve been to. It's more of a general I don't like waking up at 7 in the morning; I don’t like waking up before noon. My parents, they don’t want me to screw up, that’s what I’ve got. And I'm trying my hardest not to screw up, because if I screw up, I’ve got like 6 or 7 people staring at me like, “Dude, you dun goofed.”

There’s a lot of good stories, a lot of bad. A lot of stories that would make my teachers cry just from my sheer stupidity. There’s this cool thing by my house, it’s a railroad and it’s got this overlooking light thing and it’s like 50-60 feet in the air. So I was like, “I wanna get on top of that thing.” I ended up climbing the structure all the way up. But it was super windy, so the entire thing was like, shaking and moving. I'm thinking, “You know what? There’s a marginal chance I might die up here, but whatever.” I probably wouldn’t’ve died. I would’ve broken like 60% of the bones in my body if I fell. And then I was like, “Alright, this is kinda fun, this risk.” Any large structure I see that looks climbable, I think “Hey, I can climb that.” It’s just, as a dude I think, “Hey, I can do that thing. So I'm gonna go do that thing because I wanna know that I can really do it.”

I think my friend said the reason that he does things is he has this feeling of immortality, like, “Alright, I’ve never been seriously hurt, I’ve never been seriously sick or injured, so I feel like I can do anything and nothing can stop me.” And I think that’s being a teenager in general. I kinda have that thought process, too. I do the stupidest things ever, like I think I'm an insurance liability at this point; I’ve not broken a bone or done anything really more than a bunch of scrapes and a bruise or two.

I got hit by a car this one time though. I was riding my bike and I wasn’t going fast or anything. I was going across the street and I had the light to go, but then it changed when I was halfway through, and some lady starts going. She’s in a minivan and just like, hits me and my bike. I fall over, and there was a court case. I didn’t break anything, but a decent amount of my bones were bruised. And then when we went to the court thing, the lady’s like, “Oh yeah, he hit me with his bike!” I'm like, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute! My bike was underneath your car! I'm not really good with physics or science, but that's not how it works. I don't hit your car and then my bike ends up underneath your car with my front tire bent at a 90 degree angle. It just doesn’t work that way!” But either way, I was like, “Alright, this is fine. I'm not dead, so that's whatever.”

We all feel like we have our entire lives ahead of us, like nothing can take that away. We feel like we’re entitled to a full life, like, “Aw man, I'm only 17 or 18, I have a whole butt-load of years left to live.” But it’s like, we have our entire lives ahead of us. And I kinda feel I have that entire life and nothing can take that, so I might as well do all of the dangerous cool stuff now.

I have the most fun ever and I don't know when I'm gonna stop; I think I’ve established this: I'm not the most well suited to be an adult. I think yesterday I started the day off with 200 and something dollars and then I ended it with like $20. I impulse-buy things. I really shouldn't, but I do, so I'm not well suited to be an adult, I’d fail at it really hard.

It’s part of being me: if I make less than one reckless decision a day, there's something wrong with me. Like, I at least need to once a day be like, “I shouldn't buy this, but I'm gonna buy it,” or “I don't need that extra piece of pizza, but I'll probably eat it anyway.” I need to make one borderline regrettable decision everyday, that's how I keep sane. It’s not like, regrettable to the point where I look back in 20 years and be like, “Damn, I really shouldn’t’ve done that.” But it’ll be more like, 10 minutes later, I'll think, “Man, that probably wasn’t the best decision, but it definitely didn’t kill me.” That's another thing: awesome things will always lead to like, the greatest story ever. If anything terrible happens while doing an awesome sketchy thing, people will always be like, “Man, that was awesome! Well...that was really dangerous...but that was still awesome!”

I want to do things that people don't normally do because I just feel like, if you do things that everyone does all the time, then it’s kinda boring: you're not really living. Doing dangerous, awesome, fun things like diving or climbing things, it’s just, well not anybody else does this stuff, like it sets me apart.

I think, in gym class, I realized a lot of people have a lot more fears than I do. And it’s weird because I kind of don't think about it. I'll do easy things like a front dive, or a backflip, or a reverse dive--and these are like second nature, I don't have to think about them--but then everyone’s like, “I could never do that, I'm so scared!” And I'm like, “Wait, wait, what? I do this for fun! It’s not scary!” It’s just fun for me, so it sets me apart, having like, 20% less fears than the rest of the people in the world. Like, I'll look at a poison snake and be like, “Yknow what? I could probably pick that thing up and not die.” While the Average Joe would be like, “Yknow what? I'm gonna stay like, 20 feet away from that thing because it might kill me.”

I think we got into an argument in my advisory class about like, what would you rather fight: an alligator or a shark? I picked an alligator, and I was like, “I could probably last a minute or two fighting an alligator.” Everyone’s like, “No you couldn’t!” I'm like, “If a middle-aged Australian dude can do it on TV, I can probably last at least two minutes.”

--Interviewed By: Kelsey Weivoda

I Had A Weird Life

Name: Michael

Age: 24

Role: Class of 2011, Customer Service Associate, Working towards an Associates Degree in Law Enforcement

Mike is a really easy-going and talkative person. Even after only a few hours of sleep, he'll be way too energetic after some coffee.

Growing Up

I was born in Chicago but honestly I don’t remember it much. My mom and dad got divorced when I was around seven. It didn’t really take a toll on me which is weird because it took a toll on my brother and sister. I’m younger than my siblings so that could probably be why it didn’t affect me. After the divorce I stayed in Cedar Lake, Indiana, with my dad and siblings. In general it was kind of boring but it was a really nice town. It’s Cedar Lake but it’s not incorporated. It’s just one of those smaller towns where everyone knows you.

My dad was in law enforcement, so when I was around eight my siblings and I ended up going to Catholic school. Every day after class we would be in daycare since my dad would get home late, around six or seven o’clock. My dad didn’t want us to be in daycare our entire childhood so he decided to have us go live with our grandma. My grandma lives in Italy. We traveled to Italy and I thought we were just taking a little vacation, but my siblings and I ended up staying there.

Going to school in Italy was pretty scary. The classes out there are a lot different than they are here. I remember the first time I was in my history class I was just back there not doing anything, so my teacher called me up to the front of the class and asked me to write what I thought they were saying, in Italian. When I gave him the paper he was kinda mad, but what did he expect from someone that just came from another country and didn’t know Italian? I was just this American that only knew English. It’s different when you go to a different country and you don’t know the language.

There are certain things you notice when you go to a different country. There was definitely a difference in education. Going out to Italy was an eye opener because some of the kids knew more than I did about my own country; it was embarrassing, but at the same time it was really funny. The lifestyle is also completely different than it is here. They don’t have the amount of things we have and everything we have we take for granted. Basically, what’s convenient here isn’t out there. It was a great experience living out there. I would tell anyone if they ever do something definitely travel overseas because even the people are different, they’re probably a lot nicer than they are here and overall there’s a calmer atmosphere; not as fast paced as our society. It’s not like here where everyone’s running around like crazy, always busy doing something. Over there you actually have time to sit down and relax and just enjoy life.

How I Got Here

I was eleven when my dad came to visit us in Italy and decided to move me back home with him. I went to Hanover Central in Cedar Lake, Indiana, for some of junior high. I’d get picked on but it didn’t really bother me as much as it bothered the other kids. The main reason my dad got me out of that school was because they would pick on me but the funny thing is I came out in that school. It was a funny way actually.

Apparently, one of the girls in my friend group had this huge crush on me and you know how it is in middle school everyone’s saying, “oh go out with her go out with her.” I remember I was with my good friend, Ella, and some other girls.

I looked at Ella and said, “I can’t do this, I can’t.”

We went outside and she just looked at me and asked, “Why? What’s up?” She saw that something was going on.

I said, “I can’t date her because… it’s not that I don’t like her, I like her as a friend… ”

She got really confused and asked, “Why not? What’s going on?”

At this point I just said, “I’m gay,” and she just stopped. Her jaw dropped and at first she questioned it, but once she realized what I said she understood. We ended up telling the girl that had a crush on me and things kinda changed from there. School started being different, people started finding out and started picking on me. I think the girl that had a crush on me kinda got mad and probably started telling people. From there it started being really awkward because at the time I actually had a crush on this one dude. I had this huge crush on him but he hated me and he would always mess with me. It went downhill from there.

Another reason that contributed to me getting out of that school was because I didn’t really get along with my stepmom. After my dad and my mom got divorced, my dad got remarried to my stepmom, Mel, and I love her to death now, even loved her as a kid. It was weird. I was going back and forth, from being at my dad’s to going to visit my mom. For some reason, I started not liking my stepmom. I think it was just different. I think when you have a stepparent that comes into a family it’s going to cause a bit of an unstable relationship. It was a good time living there but I wound up leaving my dad’s to live with my mom in Plainfield, Illinois. Once I moved in with my mom I went to the middle school on Main Street for a year. Then, my mom and I moved to Hickory Hills right before my freshman year of high school and I went to Stagg.

How to Live Life

One thing I hate is people who act differently with different people, they’re one person around friends and another person around others. I know a lot of people do that but what’s wrong with being yourself? I think when they say, “hey it’s gonna get better,” it’s true and it does, especially for someone like me, that’s gay and has been bullied. A lot of times when people pick on you it’s just because they don’t understand something or they’re afraid of it. I had a lot of people that didn’t like me because I was gay. I told them to do their own research, to go to a freakin’ library and look up research that’s not biased, something that’s just science. When people do their own research they learn different things.

Just be yourself because it’s just going to ruin you if you’re not. Don’t let anyone make decisions for you. If people don’t like you because of something then who cares? Life’s too short. Apparently being gay isn’t normal. Some people say, “just keep it to yourself, just be straight” and “you have total choice.” Oh yeah of course I do, is that why I would choose a lifestyle that I could get shot or beat up? No, because that just doesn’t make any sense. If I did what society wanted me to do, if I stayed in the closet and kept it to myself, I probably wouldn’t have met my boyfriend. Do what you have to do but at the same time be safe, don’t go looking for trouble.

Just be yourself, don’t change for anyone, and live life your own way.

--Interviewed By: Elizabeth Pawlica

I’m Normal Too

Name: Gabriella

Age: 15

Role: Sophomore

“I see myself as awkward, short, and sick.”


I just want to be treated like a normal fifteen year old girl because that is what I am. I am not looking for anyone’s pity and I guess it's okay for people to try to make me feel happy and accepted as long as it doesn’t get too out of hand. I feel like that would happen if I had siblings. My parents would force them to do things with me because of my condition which is not what I want. I do not want people to feel sorry for me.

A Not so Fresh Start

The complications began when I was fresh out of my mother’s womb.  The doctors were befuddled. I was purple and blue all over. They tried to get me to a normal shade of human by repeatedly wrapping and unwrapping me in blankets and then changing my diaper. The doctors kept repeating this process over and over again because they thought I was either too hot or too cold. Little did they know that was not the reason at all.

I never remember if I was born with one-quarter or half of my heart. The doctors told me that I have congenital heart disease, which is rather hard to say. Once they found out, I was sent into surgery less than five days into this world.  My second surgery took place when I was eighteen months, and my third when I was three-and-a-half years old. Other than that I have had a lot of catheterizations.  My most recent surgery was a couple of weeks ago.  

When I went in for my usual CAT scan, the contrast that lights up my organs so the doctors can see everything became foreign to my system. I almost died. Lucky for me, the nurse immediately knew what to do and I survived that incident. However, I had an abnormal vein that would require surgery. In order to get to the abnormal vein and close it up, the surgeon had to put a hole in my heart.

It all happened around six in the morning. I had to change into one of the hospital dresses and put on some of those weird underpants. I was really nervous for the procedure to take place because of all the blood I could lose.  If the surgeon had not stopped the blood in time I could have lost too much blood and would have died. There have been multiple occasions in my life where I could have died.   

    That is not the only health concern I have. I also have asthma at the bottom of my lungs which restricts my breathing. When I was younger I had a lazy eye, so every day after school I had to wear an eyepatch in order to correct it.  Also, I used to have a hard time gaining weight because I did not enjoy eating. I was really picky with what I wanted to eat and really enjoyed junk food like every other kid. However, my diet changed three years ago when I started taking growth hormones. The doctor said I had to start eating healthy or else I would not continue to grow. Now, I became the opposite of one of those kids that says they hate broccoli and grew almost six inches in the process.

Friends: Can I have them?

          I began to have a difficult time making friends throughout Elementary School. Some of the kids in my classes would pick on me because of my scar even though it has made me function normally and be more like them. Others would think of me as “sick” when in reality my surgeries are making me stronger and healthier.  

I only had one or two friends at school. One of them was a year older than me and the other went to a totally different school. I never really got to see them and we drifted farther and farther apart from each other. In the third grade I remember having no friends. I used to sit all alone during lunch with no one to talk to or play with during recess. The following year the one friend I made moved at the end of the school year to Poland. After that experience it was hard for me to believe that anyone else I talked to would not end up leaving.

I remember my freshman year being an exact repeat of middle school. When I first stepped foot into Stagg, I automatically thought to myself I hate this school and I don’t want to go back. Not only did I not know where anything was, I felt like I did not know anyone either. I told myself that I did not want to make any new friends and wanted to only be friends with Sara that I had known since fifth grade. After school that day I went home crying and complaining that I hated Stagg. It was just way too big. I wanted to go back to Palos South. My mom was able to calm me down by telling me that the same thing happened when I entered middle school. I did not entirely buy it when she said it the first time, but once it sank in I realized that she was right. I went back to Stagg the next day and it did become progressively better, especially with making friends. I’m not saying that I cannot wait to go to school and I absolutely love Stagg, but I sort of love it. I think the main reason why is because I get to see all my friends that I did not think I could have.

I am always happy and smiling even if there is something wrong. I do not like to show my true emotions while I am at school. Sometimes it is easier to hide my emotions and keep smiling than show what is truly inside. I feel that I am only able to openly share my emotions with my mom and occasionally my best friend. They understand me the best and will help me with whatever I am dealing with anyone that will randomly see me in the hallways.

I have been through a lot and will continue to go through more in the future. Thinking about the future I know I will have more surgeries. I don’t really know how many more because although I know about my condition I don’t really focus on it that much. I know it's there I just want to see past it and live my life to its fullest. Right now I’m fine.

--Interviewed By: Kortney Weszelits


You’re Either an Optimist or You’re Already Dead

Name: Evan

Age: 20

Role: Stagg Alumni Class of 2014

Evan is currently a sophomore at Moraine Valley studying Music.

Growing up in the city, my neighborhood was 95% Latino, and I dunno, it seemed like a regular childhood to me, nothing special about it. Don’t go out after dark. Don’t play in the streets. The usual. Other than that, we lived in a relatively good neighborhood; Ashburn is actually pretty nice. It was nice growing up with a lot of kids in the area. When we moved out to the suburbs, sure, there were kids in our new neighborhood, but there weren’t nearly as many crammed into a single block. Everything was more spread out, it was a lot harder to get around and see people. So I kinda miss that, cause that was really cool. I managed that my best friend happened to be like, the one white kid in our grade, the only one: good old, Ed. The reason me and Ed were best friends was because he happened to live around the corner, so we’d always be out on our bikes.

I came out here around 10, so been here 10 years now. It took me 5 years to finally stop complaining. Oh yeah, it took me until high school to realize that the suburbs aren’t that bad, I have friends now! For so long, I just wished so badly for our parents to move us back. Here’s the thing, I'm still a city kid at heart, so I'm like, “Man, I want to be a city kid!” But I live in the suburbs so I'm seen as that image and it’s awful. I feel like a sellout! Like straight up, I can tell you more about the city and can maneuver through it way better than probably plenty of kids my age who actually live there. Not just downtown, but the entire city. I know Chicago like the back of my hand. Like, I spent this morning memorizing the names of neighborhoods and their borders. But because I spent my teenage years out here, I’ll always be seen as a suburbanite, which sucks.

    The suburban stereotypical image is really sheltered, it’s ridiculous. I remember when my friends and I were freshmen, we were hanging out over in Hickory. It was Angie, Alex, Elizabeth, and I. We were walking around Hickory, and well--that’s the thing, we were walking, because that’s how I got around all the time. Liz, Angie, and Alex were freaking out because apparently they never walked anywhere growing up over at Palos South! I dunno, Alex spent his entire life with the kids on his block and playing in the prairie behind his house, I can’t imagine Elizabeth walking anywhere, and Angie didn’t have much opportunity or reason to walk. Point is, all of them had always gotten driven everywhere; just that was a difference in culture. It’s a strange thing, just from crossing that river over there to the other side of town, the changes you’ll see.

    But yeah, that suburban image is just so...ugh, especially since I can only be seen as pretending to be a city kid, even though I still have all this knowledge and experience. And hell, I hate this because everything’s so...the suburbs are just like, “bleh”. I was driving through the city the other day, to my grandparents’ in the morning, and I drove through downtown. I was passing through all these neighborhoods, through the Loop itself, and it’s just--it’s really gorgeous over there.

    There’s this spot over on Museum Campus that I love. It’s great, all the way out at the very end of the peninsula. You stand there and you get the greatest view of the city you’ll ever see, I swear on my life. The problem is, at 11 at night, the thing closes. So me and my friends, David, and Hannah pull into the Shedd Aquarium maintenance parking, and as soon as we get into a spot, turn off the car, and turn off the lights, a security car passes and stops at the top of the drive. He starts shining his light down there, and we’re just frozen, paralyzed. The windows are all fogged up and we’re just like clutching and ducking as the guy shines his light all over the cars. Eventually, he leaves. And the rest of them, they wanna go. But I tell them, “No, we came here, we have to finish this!”

The thing is David and I had been out to the peninsula before, so we already knew what to expect, Hannah didn’t. So we decide to have a little fun. We blindfold her and we walk two blocks along the lakeshore. It’s a big walkway, there’s really not any danger of falling into the lake. So we get out there, and me and David pull off her blindfold, and I never get tired of this: The look that someone gets the very first time they take in that sight in the middle of the night, on the lakefront right there...it’s like nothing else. To see someone with that look and to know that...that you could do that for a person...it was WOW. We’ve been adventuring downtown forever.

    Like the story about that very first night that we got the gang together, it was the middle of winter. It was me, Julia, Angie, and Henry, we just needed to get Pat. We get to Pat’s house and he’s climbing out of his bedroom window. He’s trying to walk along on top of his garage and he keeps slipping because it’s winter and it’s icy. So we coax him over to this tree, and he starts climbing down. About halfway down, he just slips. He goes crashing down. Luckily, there was a single branch about waist-height that just stuck out: he landed perfectly on his crotch. I thank God everyday for that moment.

    So he jumps into the car and he’s just FREAKING OUT. Every five minutes he goes, “Okay guys, I gotta be back! Otherwise my dad’s gonna wake up because I left my window open. And he’s like a thermometer, as soon as it gets below 50 degrees, he’s gonna check on me!” No joke, this is exactly what he says.

We ditch Pat because he was being annoying, and we pick up Jimmy Poynton, who had just graduated. We’re just driving around town. We stop at Jewel first, pick up all kinds of stuff: ice cream, whipped cream, chips, sodas, and we’re just driving around all those forests out there in the suburbs looking at Christmas lights. At one point, we’re just driving down some random highway and Jimmy sticks his head out the back and I'm in the front seat like, “Jimmy! Open your mouth!” I open up one of the cans of whipped cream and I release it. It just flies back and it just completely coats his face. There’s like--there’s no lesson to be learned in all of this. Except...kids, have fun. Don’t do too many illegal things.

I mean, hopefully by the time you read this book you’re not too old or too crippled to do anything with your life. There’s a lot of awesome things out there. I mean, just--just living out in the suburbs here, there’s really not too much to do, but for years we’ve managed to have a ridiculously good time, like going out with friends and having all kinds of wacky adventures driving out to the city and around the suburbs, venturing out into the woods in the middle of the night. My autobiography, the title is gonna be, Late Night Car Rides and Apathetic Encounters with Local Law Enforcement. I drive around a lot at night and I run into a lot of police officers and I couldn’t really care less.

Unfortunately, everyone else around you is getting older and they don’t do things anymore. The gang hasn’t had a good ol’ night like those downtown in years. Senior year is maybe the last time we had a really good drive around the city like that, getting out of the car on the Loop, running around in the rain, things like that, just goofing off and being kids. Kids can have fun doing literally anything and that’s the best part about it. When you’re older you have to do things to have fun, like go out to parties or go out to bars. But you can give me a ball of string and I’m like a cat, I'm just playing with that thing all day long. And I dunno, I feel like a lot more people should retain that sense of curiosity and wonder that kids have, where they can really appreciate a lot of things. They appreciate everything.

I remember the day of the homecoming parade our freshman year, we were on the band bus just hanging out, and we wanted to see a movie. Alex just jumps at the idea and we pick a movie, “Easy A”. We pick a show time over at Chicago Ridge. Alex gets on his phone and calls everyone, everybody in our freshman class, and tells them all to meet at Chicago Ridge at that time. Everyone shows up, it was ridiculous. It was a huge group, just to watch this movie. Afterwards we all just ran around the mall, wreaking havoc. We were that group. We’re the reason there’s that weird curfew at the mall now.

I believe it was Albert Camus that said, “Life has no meaning until you give it meaning.” And so, all these fun experiences, all these stories, that’s a good enough reason for being. So I hope you actually take this advice kiddos, go out there and experience the world because like I said, it’s full of so many astounding things, so many mountains and rivers and kings and queens and lawyers and Native Americans and sunsets and all kinds of wacky things to get you through this and any other life.

Everybody’s an optimist on the inside. What else is there to be? Dead? You’re either an optimist or you’re already dead. That’s why you keep going. I mean, my professor said something great the other day, cause we were reading Albert Camus’s The Stranger, a book on existentialism, the meaning of life, the meaninglessness of life, questioning this existence, etcetera. Apparently Albert Camus was very firm in the beliefs of what he wrote, that there is absolutely no purpose, no order, no meaning, we’re just here, like a “why bother?” kind of thing. But then my professor went out and asked, “If he really believed all that stuff, why’d he keep writing? Why’d he keep creating?” It’s like I said, kids, there’s a lot of things out there in the world to do, to enjoy, to experience, places to see, people to meet, etcetera.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out just...this. Living here. Like why, and how, and things to do. And so I’ve just been running around going on all these wacky adventures trying to find a good reason to be here. I came to the conclusion that it’s actually all those ridiculous stories, all those fun adventures, all those experiences, that’s the why.

-Interviewed By: Kelsey Weivoda


I Want to Sell Ice Cream or Be a Dentist

Name: Lily

Age: 10

Role: 5th grader in the Community

Lily attended Staggasaurus, a preschool program through Stagg High School.

I’m only 10 years old, but I already graduated from Stagg. I went to Staggasaurus when I was three and four. There were student helpers there that helped teach the class. Students at Stagg can sign up for their own class during their school days to “teach” the preschool class. Two of the students really helped me: Emily and Krystal. They made me scrapbooks. The scrapbooks were really cute, and they were filled with pictures of all the different memories I had with the student helpers. I thought that was really sweet, even though it was probably a grade for them.

Emily wanted to ask her boyfriend to prom, and she had me hold up a sign that said “Will you go to prom with me?”  At first, I was kind of weirded out. I was like, “What the heck is happening?” because I didn’t even know what prom was when I was only four! At first, I held the sign up backwards and put it in front of my face. I was kind of scared. After I started talking to her boyfriend, I lifted it down and flipped it over for him to see.

I live by a baseball field, and I remember seeing Krystal there one day. I was really excited because three years had passed since we both graduated from Stagg. It was cool talking to her about our special memories.

I remember the playground in the courtyard at Stagg. Every time we went out there, we would take turns pushing each other down the slides. The high schoolers played with us, too. The playground was in a pretty big area, so we would run around there and play tag.  We had outdoor recess, but when it was raining or cold, we just stayed inside.

We always had snack time, too. There was an adult teacher who taught the student helpers how to be good teachers. She used to bring yellow peppers, and I tried one. I really liked it, which is surprising because I’m a picky eater! Now, I don’t really like them. It’s kind of weird.

We also did crafts. I think the art projects made me a better artist. It helped to create my big imagination and improve my scissor skills, which makes me a great artist today. Our three main activities were recess, crafts, and food.

Sometimes when I’m at school now, I think about Staggasaurus and all the memories I made there. Palos East is a lot different than my days at Staggasaurus. My biggest struggle right now is my weekly spelling tests because I get overwhelmed. When I take the practice tests at my house, I do pretty well, but then when I do the actual tests at my school, I don’t. I don’t blame my teachers at Staggasaurus. They weren’t the people who were supposed to teach me how to spell hard words. They taught me how to spell words like “a”, and “I”, and “and.” They shouldn’t have to teach me how to spell hard words like “history” or “geography.”

At Palos East, we only switch teachers for our math class. Next year, when I go to Palos South, it’s going to be all different teachers for different subjects. I feel like the change of classrooms will be better because then I won’t be with the same teacher in the same classroom all day long. At Staggasaurus, we didn’t stay in the same seats for the whole day. We stood up, went outside, and we even went around the school sometimes.

I was a little nervous to walk around with all the high schoolers there. Even though I have three older siblings, I was scared of the students because they were so much older than me. The student helpers were always with me though. I feel like if you’re with a student helper, then nothing bad can really happen. Every preschooler should have their own student helper to take care of them.

Our class had a Halloween party. We dressed up and went around to different high school teachers. They gave us candy, and the students were in some of the classrooms. They seemed excited to pass out candy to the little kids.

I’m planning on going to Stagg. I think Stagg’s a very good school. I feel like it has a lot of good qualities. My older brother and sister both go there, and I don’t really hear them complain.

I heard that Stagg’s lunch is pretty good, and they actually have a swimming pool. I’m a swimmer, so I think it’s pretty cool to have a swimming pool at a school. It’s a very nice swimming pool, too; the deck is big and there’s a water fountain in the pool area. I get pretty thirsty while I’m swimming. I think Stagg has a good swim program, so it would be fun to do swimming there. Plus, it’s free. If you do it now without Stagg, it’s like 700 or 800 dollars a season. I’m in a lot of activities like sewing, Girl Scouts, and student council, but swimming is my favorite. I do it every single day except for Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday. I love the summer because I can go swimming whenever I want. I can’t go swimming outside during the winter, but at least I can swim inside if I join a club team like the Hickory Willow Swim Association (HWSA).

When I’m in highschool, I hope I can be a student helper for the kids in Staggasaurus. I think it’s a really cool opportunity if you’re going to be a teacher. I don’t even want to be a teacher because I want to sell ice cream or be a dentist, but it would still be fun! The student helpers really did help me, and I want to be able to help the little kids, too.

--Interviewed By: Kelli Thielmann