I remember being so excited to enter high school. Graduating from eighth grade was so much fun but at the same time scary because I knew what was coming my way. Once I entered high school and completed my first year I realized school was hard for me. My troubles were mostly academic. I've always been a slow learner, especially when it came to math. I could never master it, even with tutoring. It was frustrating not being able to understand the material. I struggled to pass and even talked to my teacher about my difficulties and still failed. My whole family found out and I was embarrassed because I knew they were going to judge me—and they did. In my family, school is important. The expectation was for me to get multiple degrees. I was compared to my cousins a lot because they excelled at school. That comparison made me self-conscious and I struggled with that pressure for a long time. Throughout high school, I felt like everyone around me was smarter than me and it made me feel insecure.
Making the Right Choice for Me
I knew I had to find something that I loved to do and that there had to be something out there I was good at. I passed sophomore year by the skin of my teeth and I knew that for junior year I didn’t want to struggle anymore. That year, I took an art class and I loved it so much. It allowed me to be me. As soon as I took it, I knew art was for me and I was a creative person. We sculpted, made masks and painted. After every piece, we reflected on our work which allowed me to be more expressive and understand how to explain my artwork to others. At the end of my junior year I realized that the large Southwest Side Chicago high school I was attending just wasn’t for me. I wasn’t making friends or getting a decent education. The teachers and administration lacked people skills. It wasn't the positive environment I needed. The summer before senior year I knew I didn’t want to be at the same school so I made the drastic choice to transfer to a different neighborhood high school, John Hancock College Preparatory High School. I was very nervous the first day of school because everything and everyone was so new. But it was the right choice.
Designing a Better Future
The teachers here at Hancock have been incredible and caring. I'm lucky to have met teachers like Mr. Ray Salazar, who was patient with me in English. He pushed me to write until I didn't want to write anymore, but he made me a better writer. Mr. Jesus Aldana, my algebra teacher, explained things to me so well that I felt confident working out math problems. The staff was very helpful, like my counselor, Ms. Crystal Gerner, who made sure I was on track to graduate. At my previous school, I never had a relationship with any of my teachers. Hancock has been such a different experience for me and I wish I had transferred here sooner. Finally, in senior year I have found myself. I realized that I want to pursue a career in design. I have looked up schools in New York City because that’s the place to be when it comes to fashion and design. I hope to be able to design my own house one day, or even design my own clothes. But I still haven't decided on a school and want to get my basics out of the way. I will be doing that at Harold Washington College, located in downtown Chicago. My mom was very understanding of my choice and I have learned that I have to be myself in life. My high school experience wasn’t easy and I would have never imagined myself being where I am today, but I don’t regret it one bit. I realize now, at the end of this journey, to embrace my struggles because without them I wouldn’t be where I am right now.
Diana Morales graduated from John Hancock College Preparatory High School in Chicago’s Southwest Side, and plans to attend Harold Washington College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago.
Diana Morales graduated from John Hancock College Preparatory High School on Chicago’s Southwest Side, and plans to attend Harold Washington College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, and transfer to a four-year university to pursue an interior design major because “art can and does change the world.”