Class of 2024 senior columns

Class of 2024 senior columns

The class of 2024 West Side Story seniors reflect on their time as a Trojan.
Too school for cool
Too school for cool


My grandma gave me her love for storytelling and sends me way too many articles. I owe my journalism career to you. 


As I sit here writing this the night before it’s due, like many things I did in high school, I can’t help but feel the gravity of the words on this page. This is my swan song that I have anticipated and dreaded this entire year. As an extremely eccentric person who has a lot to say and doesn’t always know how to say it, the best advice I can give that won’t be cliche is not the things I did wrong in high school  — the classes I could’ve taken more seriously or the inevitable senioritis I have succumbed to (I am sorry to every math teacher I have ever had)  — but rather the things I hope I did right: how I did high school as Zoe (Zoekins to friends) Smith, the most likely to host a talk show and get canceled on Twitter soon-to-be West High Alumni. 

  1. Talk to EVERYONE

“It may seem obvious.” No, it isn’t. I saw so many people miss out on talking to different groups of people and experience the joy of a differing opinion because of the fear of being rejected. Put the phone down, walk into the library or your next class and find someone you’ve never talked to. You have no idea the friends you could make, the laughs you can have or the stories you could share with someone. 

  1. Do everything, but don’t do EVERYTHING

Find something you actually want to do. Shoutout to West Side Story for helping me find my corner of this sometimes overwhelming school. I am so happy for every opportunity I have been given because I took a chance and ended up not only with English credits, but a lifelong love for storytelling and connections I will have for eternity. Don’t be scared; you never know what world is hiding behind these doors. 

  1. You aren’t too cool for ANYTHING

Underclassman Zoe missed out on way too many opportunities thinking about other’s opinions of me. Trust me, 15-year-old me was constantly thinking about myself, and I am sure you are, too. Don’t waste your time with others’ thoughts. Go to every game and school event, play Senior Assassin and never skip out on an opportunity to connect with your classmates. It’s only four years. It feels like so long then but so short now. 

Thank you to West Side Story for helping me find my corner of this sometimes overwhelming place. Without the journalism room I would have never found my voice.

The final piece
The final piece

As a kid, I was obsessed with puzzles — the way each piece fit into the other to create a satisfying picture. It started out with 4-piece puzzles of cartoon animals and expanded to the 3000-piece puzzles I did with my cousin. When I started high school, I knew it would be filled with new shapes and colors, but I never realized that it would be the greatest puzzle I had yet to complete. 

Freshman year, I found the first piece of this puzzle. As a North Central alum, I knew nobody going into my first year. Despite being thrown into a new pile of pieces, West was where I found the foundation. Not only have my closest friends impacted this journey but so has each person I’ve crossed paths with. People are what make experiences, and West is full of great ones. Shout out to every person I’ve had the opportunity to talk to these past years; you’ve all added a piece to the border. 

The next piece was journalism. As someone people characterized as “shy,” journalism helped me break out of my shell. Every interview and every article fit together to fill in the center of the picture. Through sharing stories, I’ve learned that I love to talk to people. This publication has been the core of my puzzle. Shout out to anyone who has ever read a WSS article or even just looked at the pictures; you guys helped me piece this picture together. 

As I place the final pieces, I can’t help but think about how grateful I am for my time at West. Every moment has added just the right shape to the puzzle, and despite it not being a “perfect picture” (because nothing ever is), it has come together exactly as it should: The scary and unfamiliar pieces are no longer scattered, and my puzzle is finally complete.


For Erinn
For Erinn

In dedication to my family, friends, design team, running teammates, Ms. Whittaker and everyone who has ever been kind to me.

If I could meet with a younger version of myself, I’d sit her down and tell her all the wonderful and dreadful things that I’ve had the absolute pleasure to experience.

I’d tell her my friends and family are alive, and that I don’t obsessively worry anymore (mostly). I’d tell her most nights I get at least seven hours of sleep, but I still have a hard time not procrastinating (I didn’t procrastinate with writing this!). I’d tell her I was able to be a journalist, an artist, a flutist and a year-round varsity athlete. I’d tell her I’m not afraid to go up to strangers or friends anymore, that I’m still friends with my best friend, but now, I have many more.

More importantly, I’d tell her I’m still scared of the future. I’d tell her not all my friendships have gone smoothly and that I still struggle to hold a conversation. I’d tell her I got my first B, and the world didn’t crumble beneath my feet (only a little). I’d tell her I’ve lost a lot of my love for reading, though I am working to restore it. I’d tell her I wasn’t able to make some time for clubs or cool classes I wanted to take. I’d tell her I’m not perfect, but I’m okay with that now.

The best part is it all makes up who I am. The good and the bad make Erinn Varga. And if some people like me for who I am, I guess I can’t have done all that bad, right?




I distinctly remember sitting in Mr. Craig’s fifth-period American Studies class when the intercom blared to everyone’s excitement that our spring break was being extended by a week. Little did I know that I wouldn’t be returning to in-person school for nearly 17 months.

My first day of high school was a far cry from what’s glamorized in coming-of-age classics; I sat in my basement behind a large monitor, navigating between countless tabs and Zoom links. Nothing beats participating in PE virtually, except maybe sitting awkwardly amid black screens in breakout rooms. 

 I was nervous to return to in-person learning my sophomore year. West felt massive, and it was all the more daunting trying to reconnect with friends while everyone was hidden behind a mask. Still, I enjoyed my sophomore year, finally able to partake in some “normal” high school activities — cheering at basketball games, skipping class for a Java run and attending friends’ grad parties.

Even during junior year, my friends and I would joke that we still felt like sophomores, as we’d never had a real freshman year. Four years later, I finally feel like I’m starting to get the hang of being a high schooler — right before I have to graduate and go off to college. 

Anyone who knows me knows that I love predictability and organization. However, my high school experience has been far from predictable, filled with ups and downs and (sometimes unwelcome!) surprises. If I could go back and tell my frantic self anything, it would be that this is all part of my journey — everything works out. Try to live in the moment, because no matter how hard you try, life is unpredictable.  


High school: The credit reel
High school: The credit reel

I like to consider myself a strong independent woman, but I’m also self-aware. There’s no way I would’ve made it through four years of stress, sleeplessness, drama and overall turmoil without my amazing support system. That’s why I’m dedicating my senior column to the friends, family and teachers that somehow managed to push me to this moment. 


My high school experience had a jarring start. We started off online and then went to hybrid and then back online and then full in-person. My whole life was chaotic, uncertain, and lonely. In this year there are two people who jump out to me as real saviors of my very shaky mental health. Firstly, my mother, who was my one real source of human contact during the long hours of asynchronous days. I was a little bit too extraverted to enjoy lounging around all day doing nothing for three days a week. My mom was extra patient with me when I followed her around for every second of the 30 minutes she was home for lunch. The other person I really need to thank is my Earth and Space Teacher Mr. Moellers. Though I was grateful to get out of the house on days that I had school, my in-person experience was also pretty weird. None of my friends were in my cohort and everyone was masked and distanced. Even though I was with others, I still felt alone. Everything felt better when I was in Mr. Moeller’s class. Even though I didn’t find the subject matter too interesting, Earth and Space was beyond fun. I managed to make some friends that I still have today and escape from the depressing global pandemic mindset. 


Sophomore year was a little bit less intense pandemic wise, but as far as school goes, it was lowkey crazy. My shoutouts for this year belong to my dear friend Lexie Vogt and my APUSH teacher Ms. Mehegan. Lexie was my rock and a very close friend to me during the show choir season. We both had parts in this trio in one of our songs and it was so fun to perform with her. My other shoutout is a little unusual because I don’t know if sophomore me would have agreed, but looking back, APUSH really improved my basic knowledge of our country and I learned way more in that class than almost any other. Mehegan was a great teacher and in the long term, her class helped me to develop the note-taking and study skills that I still use in my everyday life. 


Junior year was rough. That’s the word I would use to describe it. Three AP classes and a full schedule. Looking back, I have no idea how I did that. I need to thank two important people from junior year that make up what I like to call “the squad.” Jules Keranen and Zoe Smith sat with me in AP LIT all year and we had the best of times. Giggling, gossiping and procrastinating was way more fun than writing essays and discussing deeper meanings. Second period AP LIT was a much needed break from the stress and horror of the rest of my schedule. I also can’t talk about junior year without shouting out Ms. Crossett, my AP Psychology teacher. She’s so real and so funny and she got me passionate enough about psychology that I decided to major in it. 


This year as a senior, I’ve been living it up. This is my year of rest and relaxation if I may reference Ottessa Moshfegh. Having two open periods and three Kirkwood classes was a dramatic drop in academic stress levels for me compared to almost all the years before. However, I did pick up some stress in other areas of my life. Being the managing editor of this paper has been very fun, but also incredibly stressful. Trying to keep up my grading integrity without making the whole class hate me has been a real struggle. Not to mention the seemingly never-ending scholarship essays I begrudgingly wrote. For this year I’m kind of copping out on shoutouts by doing a shoutout to myself and to my mom (again). First to my mom, thank you for excusing me from 6th period when we weren’t doing anything. Second, thanks to myself. I definitely prioritized self-care this year and I think it really paid-off. I’ve had a great year and I have no regrets. I’ll miss high school, but I’m happy with how it all went and ready for the next chapter of my life. 


A love letter to semicolons
A love letter to semicolons

A semicolon is a sentence an author could have ended but chose not to; I’m glad I decided to keep going.

Sitting criss-cross applesauce on Ms. Green’s sixth-grade classroom rug, I would spend indoor recess meticulously combing through the weekly English assignment to find six grammar errors. Each sentence underwent scrutiny, ensuring the paragraph’s flawless spelling and punctuation — a destiny as a copy editor seemingly ingrained since birth.

It was on that very rug that I had first found love. While skimming through the paragraph, I stumbled upon an odd fusion of a comma and a period. I figured it had to be a typo, my 10-year-old brain unable to comprehend how two pencil strokes had the ability to connect two intentionally standalone ideas; it entranced me. 

I have been infatuated with semicolons ever since. However, during my time copyediting for the West Side Story, periods remained the preferred mark of punctuation; they ended a sentence as soon as one began, hinting at the writer’s reluctance to dig deeper into the narrative. On the other hand, a semicolon breathes life into a sentence; it allows the reader to clear their throat before continuing as a natural bridge between thoughts. Each semicolon whispers, “Wait, there’s more to come”; it lets the author linger a moment longer in the realm of the written word.

I incorporated semicolons everywhere into my writing, but applying them in real life proved daunting. My high school journey has been filled with numerous sentence-ending events — moving, heartbreak, AP Calculus — that made me question my sanity. It wasn’t until now that I realized those moments were merely the same sentence joined by many semicolons; it wasn’t the end.

If you believe it is, remember that you wield the pen as the copy editor of your own narrative. While proofreading for mistakes, be sure to include a semicolon or two; your sentence is far from over.


I cant remember
I can’t remember

I don’t have the greatest memory of my childhood, but I do remember some things, so here are some fun stories. 

Bus rides were the best. All of my friends and I lived by each other so we were always on the same bus, and we had so much fun. We messed around and got yelled at, but it was worth it. This one time we got in trouble for singing “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore; it was our favorite song at that time, until “The Fall of Jake Paul” came out. Did I mention 99% of my friends were guys? That was the grossest thing I’ve ever said. I’m so sorry you had to read that. Anyways, let’s move on.

I met my best friend in the entire world in first grade after my cousin moved into the house next to his. We became best friends and spent every single minute together. My favorite memory is lying in the grass and looking at the stars with my cousin and all of his siblings every single night. We would climb on top of the playset and talk for hours. I have great memories from then, but also bad ones, like when he left me alone with his crying baby sister and never came back outside.

My cousin always had the biggest birthday parties. One time we rented carnival games and another time, she had a 20-foot inflatable Slip ’N Slide, and obviously, my best friend came along. We had the best time but then got in trouble for being too rowdy around the little kids. Now that I’m thinking about it, the two of us got in trouble a lot.

I wish I had more space to talk but word count.


Not just 18
Not just 18

I listen to The Killers and I’m 17, dyeing my hair in my bathroom, careful not to stain anything. I blink and I’m 16, standing on a podium for the first time, my hard work finally paying off. 

When I run in the dark, I’m 14 again, struggling to keep up during winter conditioning — terrified someone will grab me between the streetlights. I smell bacon and I’m back to 13, camping in the middle of the woods, fingers stiff with cold where they’ve been holding the tongs.

I walk in the creek and I’m 10, picking wildflowers for my great-grandfather’s cross. I scare toads and butterflies, fleeing before I can catch them. 

I eat Swedish Fish and I’m eight, risking life and limb for a few mouthfuls of candy at the Trekfest parade. I teach swim lessons, and I am seven, struggling through front crawl and backstroke. I have Lunchables and it turns me six, eating one on the floor of our new house. I do a cartwheel, and I am back to five, the sky and the grass going around and around.

I put my hands in my hoodie pockets, resisting the urge to turn four, making wings out of jackets like my best friend taught me. I lie down for a nap and I am three, my eyes closed but my brain thinking-thinking-thinking.

I am every self I’ve ever been. 



Over 500,000 monarch butterflies migrate to central Mexico each fall. Forming a cascade of autumnal orange, scarlet red and inky black, the fluttering skies mark a turning point. As a five-year-old, I was fascinated by them, obsessed with trying to capture something so beautiful. They’d flap away, just out of reach of my fingertips, floating off into a preschooler’s unknown. While I am by no means a butterfly, I’d like to think its transformation reminds me a little bit of mine.


Hatching from its egg, the larva discovers the world during a seemingly endless period of munching on leaves. Throughout elementary school, I thought growing up would be the same — time slowly inched by, just like a caterpillar — and I’d never become a “big kid”. I was wrong. 12 years later, I long for scraped knees on the sweltering recess pavement, frosty fingertips from crafting the perfect snowball and mountainous blanket forts. Time flies. 


Once the larva matures, metamorphosis begins, a period of hibernation as the insect undergoes tremendous change. I have never hibernated as I did during COVID-19. I took endless naps, started high school in the midst of a cataclysmic world shift and discovered that making friends with black squares wasn’t my forte. Days drifted by, enveloped in a prosaic blur.


After cocooning, the adult butterfly emerges, stretching out before finally flying off. Emerging from high school, I’m considered a soon-to-be adult. I’m “flying” two miles away to the local university and I’m still chasing beauty, but this time not in the form of butterflies. Instead, I’ve developed a fervent love for the mundane, finding pockets of peace in the way the air smells after a heavy downpour, late-night ice cream runs with friends and the little stumbles of growing up. There is so much beauty in the journey, and in the cheesiest way, life really is just snapshots of beautiful moments that I caught in the end. If you sit down quietly, you might realize the butterflies are already upon you.

The stranger
The stranger

High school was terrifying. I can’t count how many times I referred to it as my own personal hell — simply a prison sentence to be carried out over four years. With early mornings and late nights under the thumbs of my wardens, my teachers who try so hard to educate America’s admittedly disenfranchised youth. I wish that I could have a more positive outlook on my time at West, but I can’t change the past, and honestly, I wouldn’t want to. 

Surviving high school molded me into an, albeit, different person, but maybe a better one. Before I stepped through West’s doors I was incredibly timid, nervous, scared of saying the wrong thing and of not being liked. I can say now with certainty that my peers have completely stomped that out of me. The best advice I can give is to not give a f*ck, because in four short years, you’ll probably be leaving, getting ready to never see so many of these people again. Don’t waste your time being nervous about what they think of you, because in the end, it really doesn’t matter, and you can’t change your experience or them. 

I wonder what I’ll think in twenty years when I look back, thumb through old yearbooks or hear something about one of my peers from so long ago. Maybe then I’ll see my memories through the rose-colored glasses that were supposed to appear as I was about to graduate, making everything and everyone around me seem kinder and more welcoming. I hope that in the future I’ll be able to look at high school exactly as it was, a time in my life to survive, and I hope that I’ll be able to be proud of myself for making it. I didn’t learn much in high school, but I know this: it ends and the best revenge available to a high school student is success by moving forward and upward, leaving those soured high school memories (and people) behind. 



So, this is a place to write a letter to my past self, who, unfortunately, can’t be reached (I blame Stephen Hawking’s tea party). Possibly for the better, because I think our meeting would have ended with two broken kneecaps for her and an assault charge for me. 

The thing with youth is their most classical and infuriating trait of not listening — it doesn’t matter how much the elders preach and beseech and threaten.

So I won’t. 

This is a letter, not to the past, but to the future, for me, for you, of things that side-step and run orthogonal to the “talk to your family” and “be yourself” drivel, that, while is true and wise, is not something youth listens to. 

So: sit over the ledge of that high-rise and watch a sunset from a bell tower, push a tire swing well past the age you are supposed to push tire swings, pull an all-nighter, drive hours away from town to stargaze, chase an eclipse, find a friend, learn how to cook more than mac-and-cheese, learn how to crochet, learn how to wait, learn how to learn, get lost on the way to Walmart and someone’s heart. 

Find something: Yue opera or abstract algebra to love and keep it far away from the gradebook. 

Read something: if not a book, lyrics or recipes. Learn that language that you can barely still swirl at the tip of your tongue — this is for you, heritage speaker — thank yourself later. 

See a sunrise, keep telling yourself you’ll see that sunrise, you’ll make it through the night, and when day finally breaks, take a breath to look back and stride assuredly into the sun. 


Encyclopedia of my high school career
Encyclopedia of my high school career


I am nothing if not dedicated to a schedule. It made no difference to me that high school starts later than elementary. Every other morning, at 6:45 a.m. on the dot, I am woken up by “Slow Rise” so that I have time to shower before school. Well, okay, I did eventually set another alarm for 7:00 a.m. because I kept falling back asleep. And yes, another alarm for 8:00 a.m. so that I can go back to sleep after my shower so that I wake up just in time to get some breakfast before heading to school. But that itself is a schedule, so… 



Cue the eye rolls. Yes, I’m talking about it. Anytime anyone ever asks about how my freshman year of high school went, the only response you can expect from me is, “Um, well, it was still during COVID, so…” because that’s all I can remember. No hallway crushes or exciting extracurriculars, just half-empty classrooms and the whiplash I got from witnessing the student next to me take off their mask in order to sneeze. Like, my guy, it’s not a decoration. 



If you live in the Midwest and don’t have a driver’s license, it’s basically a social death sentence. You live in the middle of nowhere. In the suburbs. On a cul-de-sac. Without a car, don’t expect to be sneaking out in the middle of the night when the only place within walking distance is the gas station. No, I can’t drive. I meant to learn during my freshman year, but again, COVID-19 derailed a lot of plans. And then life happened. Cars are bad for the environment, anyway. 



Truly, the most anticlimactic age for a high schooler. At least at seventeen, you get to be a dancing queen. Sure, you’re a legal adult, but guys, adulthood is so boring. Take a moment to actually think about what you can do when you’re eighteen. Get a credit card? Not without a co-signer. Watch adult content? Please, as if you weren’t already lying about your age for that already. You could vote, but how often do you really get to do that? Coincidentally, my senior year, in fact, coincides with the presidential election. Lucky, right? But what they won’t tell you is that to register to vote online and avoid the lengthy snail-mail process, you need a form of ID, like a driver’s license. Or a state-issued ID, which you still need to drive out in order to provide the proper documents. And if you can’t pick up on the annoyed tone in my words, you skipped the last entry. This is why voting is down among youths. 


Eugene Lang

Strangely, people aren’t that surprised when I tell them I’m going to a private liberal arts college in New York. I wonder if it’s the octagonal-shaped glasses, yellow Doc Martens, or “The Little Prince” profile picture that tips them off. I sure didn’t see it coming. Partially, since the cursed 2024-25 FAFSA refused to process for me to even know if I could afford to attend. Hopefully, my major isn’t as obvious (film and history). 



I’m the person who’s always going, “You haven’t seen [insert really niche indie film that nobody’s ever heard of]?” Which is probably why I was asked to help run Film Club. At the same time, I’m always BS-ing to people about just how many films I’ve actually watched. I didn’t even have a Letterboxd account until my senior year. What a great idea to choose film as my major. 



High school is all about discovering your identity. But, sometimes, I wonder if I’m too obvious for people to identify. My brother has assured me that the first impression I make on others is “anything but straight,” and I have to wonder if that’s really true. Do people really clock me as queer that easily? Asexuality doesn’t really show in the face, does it? Makes you wonder how I’m still single, that’s for sure. 


Infinite Campus

If you or anyone you know now suffers from an anxiety-filled Pavlovian response from seeing that familiar black and green icon pop up on your notifications, you may be entitled to compensation. No, Mom, I swear, my teacher is just really bad at keeping up with grading. 



I managed to go four years of being part of journalism and never having used a single one of the pieces of professional equipment because technology beyond phones scares me. But there’s really no need for super deluxe cameras when you’re the opinion editor. Truthfully, I had initially applied to be in charge of entertainment, but then I came to realize ruthlessly judging others with no mercy or professional expertise is my true forte. 


Pledge of Allegiance

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” I had to look that up. Because even after hearing it on the speaker for what must’ve been hundreds of times, I’ve never bothered to listen or remember. Especially once they released the remix. After that, it was deliberate tuning out. This practice, if anything, has been killing my patriotic spirit. 


Required reading

I know it’s popular to insist that required reading actually kills students’ enjoyment of books, but if I’m being real here, if I wasn’t required to read for school, I’d probably never pick up any books throughout my high school career. After reading something as heavy as “1984” by George Orwell, sometimes you just want to chase it down with something like “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” by Jenny Han. 



To quote the great John Mulaney, “Do my friends hate me, or do I just need to go to sleep?” They say never go to bed angry, but everything always seems to be better once you catch some z’s, doesn’t it? I’m tired just from writing this so I think I’ll end it here. 



“Guys, I think the theatre may be haunted. I keep feeling this looming presence over my shoulder.” “Oh, that’s just Nicole. She’s trying to find the best way to tell you that you’re standing in her way.” When you’re part of a set crew for theatre, you learn to become a sort of lurking creature who thrives in cramped and dark places. You also learn to curse a lot more because of all of the paint on your clothes and how many times you’ve burned yourself while unscrewing nails. 


Yellow Docs

If I ever go missing, the police won’t have a lot of recent photos of me to go off of, in which case they’ll probably end up printing a photo of my yellow Doc Martens for the missing posters. People would probably recognize those better, anyhow. After five years, these boots are battered, cracked, stained, and everything in between — which perfectly matches my own condition after reaching my senior year of high school.

High school Highlight reel
High school Highlight reel

Hello, and welcome to the high school highlight reel. I’m your host, Tessa Gibson, and we’ve got moments from 2021, 2022, 2023 and, guess what? 2024. These are five pivotal moments in my high school career. So buckle up and hold on tight because these are Tessa-tastic.


  1. The Yearbook Photo:

So if you knew me from 2020-2022 you would know that I was an intense Harry Styles fan. And I mean intense. I printed out little pictures of him and pasted them on my school notebooks. Science was 2017 Harry, Math was 2013 Harry and of course, English was 2020 Harry, duh. Now that you have some background of how enamored I was, I’ll give you the details.

Let me set the scene: sophomore year, the middle of my Harry Styles obsession; my braces had just been tightened, and it was picture day. Naturally, I had to include my “husband” in my yearbook photo, right? I printed a miniature photo of Harry in his glory, smiling and being British. I taped the photo on my striped blue shirt and smiled, showcasing my bracketed teeth. The photographer furrowed her eyebrows, concerned and, frankly, scared. Nevertheless, I showcased the photo proudly.


  1. The Zoomer Bus Driver:

From sophomore year to late junior year, I took the bus. The beastly yellow vehicle housed kids playing cards, twisting their minty gum between their fingertips, taping on their phone screens, and more. However, the bus driver was hardly focused on our shenanigans. I remember her specifically because, honestly, she was not doing legal activities. She would have her AirPods in her ears, humming along to her music. However, she was royalty in my eyes because she got us to school at 8:30 on the dot even if she picked the students up at 8:15. She would pound her foot into the gas pedal and exceed the speed limit by 10-15 miles per hour. Was it dangerous, illegal, and had no safety whatsoever? Yes, but she got me to school early, so all is forgiven.

 She’s not a bus driver anymore, but she will always have a piece of my heart.


  1. My science teacher starting a fire on the ground:

It was a regular Monday morning, first period, half asleep. I could barely open my eyes to hear the lecture my science teacher was giving the class. Her peppy, smiley, enthusiastic attitude contrasted with the class’s zombie appearance. Suddenly, with a bit of rubbing alcohol in hand, she poured a few drops on the ground. The class was confused; some didn’t bother to tear their eyes from their screens. She grabbed a match and slid it across the old matchbox, and a spark arose. She threw the match on the ground, and a fire started right in front of me in science class first period on a Monday. It was epic.


  1. Wolf. Just wolf:

Theater, I love it. I’ve done as many musicals and plays as possible in my high school career. And yet, one role stood out among the others: my part as a wolf. In “Beauty and the Beast,” I had the sophisticated job of playing a wolf. Don’t worry, there weren’t any tails involved, but I did have a wolf mask. Did it bring out my inner beast? Yes, of course. I did my cute little ballet twirls and danced my wolf-self into the night.

  1. French Kids:

In the middle of February of my senior year, real-life French people visited our school. Listen, I am not gonna lie; anytime someone has an accent, they become 10,000,000% more interesting to me. I had the opportunity to interview them for journalism, and after five years of French class, I was able to use my skills. During the interviews, I used my best French accent and spoke to them. And they actually responded. Did I use an over-the-top French accent? Yes, I did. They were incredibly generous and open people, and I am really grateful I had the opportunity to talk to them.

Thank you for reading my highlight reel. I’ve been your host, Tessa Gibson, and that’s it for my high school career. Remember to cherish each moment so you can have your own highlight reel.

Defne Bayman
Defne Bayman

I still remember the first time I saw West High. I was four and had just moved into a new house a few minutes away from West. As I played with my newborn sister, my mom decided it would be a good idea to walk around the neighborhood to put some distance between us and the brand-new house, which was still too empty to feel like home. We left from the white wooden door, my baby sister in my dad’s arms as we debated which way to walk. My small hand clutched my mom’s as we took a right, then another right. I stared out at the trees, changing their bright green leaves for oranges and yellows in preparation for the cold, snowy winter. I pointed out squirrels running along the branches, acorns scattered across the sidewalk, and a small dog in the distance. That was when I saw it, stopping to stare at the massive brick building. 


It always felt like some improbable future: a colossal school full of impossibly gargantuan high school students who were so incredibly smart. No matter how often I heard it, I could never believe I would be a student at West one day.


West was always looming in the distance from elementary to middle school, hypothetically and physically. No matter what, I knew that I would always end up at West. That was until 2020. Middle school ended on a quiet note, nothing like the tears and hugs I imagined, and I spent the summer inside or biking a distance away from my friends, blue masks covering half our faces. 


When my freshman year began, I chose to do online school. I would stare at my computer for endless hours every day, completing assignments uncomprehendingly and falling asleep in my bed while my teachers talked on and on. It seemed like time was a concept that kept evading me. I would wake up every morning not knowing which day it was, sometimes not even the month. One day, I woke up as the winter was ebbing into spring. The snowfall had melted, and green shoots of grass were starting to poke through the dreary and dead brown. I slid out the door, stared at the clouds floating by, and let my feet take me wherever I needed. When I finally stopped, it was again in front of West High. 


Sitting on the cold metal benches under the shelter, I thought of how I should be walking those halls now. Yet here I was, watching life go on from the outside. 


For the next three years, I would walk to school every morning and back home every afternoon. No matter what happened during the school day, how I did on a test, or how I felt that day, I could always forget how I felt during my walk home. Breathing in the fresh air, feeling the wind shift through the leaves of the trees, watching the birds fly, and the ducks swim across the ponds. 


It’s always off-putting to look back at how far you’ve come. Online school seemed endless while it occurred, but now, it looks like a slight detour in my life. It’s not the dreary days that I remember the strongest, but the happiest ones. Those moments of joy while talking with my friends, the pride I felt while succeeding, and the peace as I stared at the sky. Yet, I’ll walk the same path no matter how far I’ve come. From the first trip with my family to the last day of my senior year. Out of the front door, to the right onto the sidewalk, another right, and all the way down to West.

Jules Keranen
Jules Keranen

The trees in my backyard were short enough circa 2016 that as a kid I could sit at my window and watch fireworks explode in celebration of America’s independence from Great Britain. As I watched the glowing balls of fire race up into the air, I wondered if the Motherland ever felt nostalgic about us, if we Americans were like an old best friend that cut Great Britain off and now they were left only to reminisce. Now, at age 17 I imagine I’m akin to Great Britain in my childhood mind, and America feels like the elementary school days now lost to fuzzy memories and skewed stories. 


In roughly four months I’ll be (according to Google Maps) 1,899 miles away from middle-of-nowhere-Iowa and (probably not) happily settled into an AC-less dorm room for the next four years of my life. I’ll be leaving the life I have here 2,000 miles away – 28 hours by car, 6 hours by plane – and trekking off into the next leg of my Pilgrim’s Journey. I’ve begun to wonder what I’ll leave behind here, what tokens of my existence that root me to Iowa the same way my sisters once were will be shut away in storage containers or under the bed. There are all the materialistic things that I hoard like my clothes, lip glosses, and stuffed animals. They’ll be accompanied by my stacks of novels and the dozens of notebooks I’ve been writing in since I was little but never managed to fill. 


But there will also be the things like the trees in my backyard, too tall to see the fireworks over anymore but a companion that grew quietly alongside me. I’ll miss the midwestern sunsets over cornfields and the long winding roads out into the countryside that my best friend drives on to go to the Amana colonies every few months. I’ll miss the feeling of warm summer air, breathing life into my hair as I hung my head outside the passenger window during late-night drives when the music is so loud in the car I have to yell to be heard over the bass. I’ll say goodbye to the humid July days spent laying outside slurping down popsicles and the frigid December nights curled up on the couch under a blanket fishing for marshmallows in my hot cocoa. 


The murder of crows that live in my neighborhood will be carefully tucked into a box alongside all the photobooth strips and my “Dirty Dancing” vinyl, propped right side up with tape on the lid that says “FRAGILE: Misc. Memories 2006-2024”. 


There will be things I won’t necessarily miss but instead forget as time passes. I’ll lose the feeling of hauling myself awake every day for two semesters at 6 a.m. to get ready for my dual-enroll Kirkwood classes. The frequently lost battle to stay awake I had to fight every single day in 3rd period AP Government will fade into the same oblivion where sophomore year nests half-forgotten in my mind. The comforting, worn-down cloth covering the passenger seat of my best friend’s 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan will be a feeling tragically lost to {insert something better than “my buttcheeks” here}. Savoring the time spent scrolling mindlessly and chit-chatting during lunch will become irrelevant across the country, alongside all the minuscule things, like:

Rubbing my face against my cat in the morning because he likes to curl up right on top of my head.

Stopping sweaty sunkissed on a walk past my old elementary school to take a picture of the evening sky.

Sleeping with the window open and my sheets pulled up over my ears because I love waking up to sunlight and birds chirping but am deathly afraid of bugs crawling on my face while asleep. 

Buying a large cherry slushie that melts in approximately 10 seconds, leaving me to drink straight red 40 syrup.

Those habitual moments that occurred over and over will eventually taper off into a hazy fog in the back of my mind as I make endless new memories. 

Artificially I’m trying to shove a giant chunk of my life into a few thousand words typed onto a white Google Doc in the hopes that maybe, when my next graduation rolls around, I’ll circle back here and find a piece of my seventeen-year-old self immortalized into a computer screen. Maybe when I’m 29 and (fingers crossed!) wealthy, beautiful, well-traveled, and well-read, I can look back at this with a sense of intense embarrassment at my childish scripture and overflowing fondness for the girl-thing I once was. 

Despite all these things, though, I think what I’ll miss the most in my heart is all the friends I’ve made. The dozens of people who have flitted in and out of my life, all the personalities that have left a little imprint on my own. I’ll miss the last two years of high school out here in Iowa the same way part of me misses freshman and sophomore year in California: not because I loved school, but because I loved the people it housed for seven hours every day.

So shoutout to every brunch and dinner spent chit-chatting over good eats and fun little drinks. To laying on couches rifling through snack bags while a movie plays in the background. My love goes out for shivering my timbers in the middle of winter walking around the Pedmall downtown because someone wanted froyo in 3-degree weather. 

No more two-hour drives to the closest IMAX theater or the 10-minute drive to any other movie theater to see Hollywood’s newest concoction. My heart will remember running around HyVee, Target, Walmart, and Barnes & Noble because there’s nothing else to do in this tiny town.

To the thrift stores me and the girls made our haunts and, for like 3 months, that was my place of occupation. 

But mostly shoutout to all the people I spent time with doing all these things. My endless affection for every white teeth teen I’ve ever loved. 

Joe Corlette
Joe Corlette

When I was a kid, I tended to just stay within my friend circle and not move out of it, not exactly opening up to people ‘till late middle school or even early high school. But something that had always kept me motivated to do new things or just try harder to accomplish my goals was getting involved. Now, I realize that when I “got involved” in things at an early age, more likely than not, it meant my parents were pushing me to do things I wasn’t entirely sure about. Admittedly, some might not work out, but those that did last a lifetime and helped me build the courage I needed to start introducing myself to others. Eventually, these “activities” became less and less like chores and more and more like a way of life for me. 


For instance, after being in Scouts for a good while, I was introduced to the trombone. Having played that instrument for over 8 years now, it led me to find so many more interests, like theater. At some point, I also found myself becoming a part of the publication team for the online newspaper of West High, though this is a little unrelated.


Another example is getting involved in the Table Top Role Playing Game community. To be fair, I found out about Dungeons and Dragons through a podcast, but eh. At any rate, it led me to start running my own games and then eventually – making my own system. The system in question more or less revolves (and will revolve, currently making edits) around people’s creativity. Essentially, they are either given a word through a random generator, or an element like fire, water etc., or a shape. They then use what they’re given and work out their abilities from there. In comparison to Dungeons and Dragons, this system does have structure but is more of an open-ended one than self-contained.  


The point is that getting involved allowed me to meet and learn about people who had passions similar to mine, but also introduced me to hobbies I never would’ve otherwise interacted with. Some of these people almost raised me in various senses, but I digress. All I want for anyone reading this is that when you get involved in something, it may not be for you, and that’s completely fine. But, you should at least try to get the most out of that experience, because it might lead you to something you really enjoy down the road, and you may want to try making your own something down the road.


Small steps matter
Small steps matter

As I am retiring from my Tech Editor role from West Side Story, I want to reflect on a great lesson that I learned last year that has shaped my journey.

For my case, it was writing 39 lines of code. For you, it might be sending a 39-word long email, reading a 39-word long paragraph, solving 39-math problems, solving 39 extra MCQs a day, reading 39 pages of a book, sending 39 words long text, and so on.

Those 39 lines of code I wrote for the school library, thanks to Ms. Hofmockel, was later recognized by Ms. Whittaker. Well, It turned out that West Side Story needed a tech person, and thanks to those 39 lines of code that I wrote, I became that person.

After joining the staff, those 39 lines of code turned into thousands of lines of codes as I worked on projects for Those projects eventually became a big part of my college application, and that college application made me get into my dream college. More importantly, those 39 lines of code gave me the opportunity to meet some of the coolest people in the school. Those 39 lines of codes played an important role in shaping my future career, and I can not imagine what would have happened if I had never written those 39 lines.

It’s not luck that gives you the reward; it’s the small, consistent steps you take every day. After all, huge milestones are not achieved overnight; they are the outcome of the tiny steps that you take every day. 


Don’t just say it won’t make a difference, do it. Trust the domino effect.

Yaya Orszula


College is flushing your money down the drain, but I believe I have found the cheapest way to apply. Taking tests and paying application fees—I’ve figured it out. 

Okay, to be fair, I’m going to the United States Military Academy at West Point which is free to attend and apply to (with a service commitment after), but I’ve applied to other colleges and taken the ACT and SAT. Also, for the record, this is not about the cheapest way to attend school, just the cheapest way to apply. Without further ado, let’s get into it. 


  1. Take the ACT and SAT once each if you can. Spend the money and buy the 40-dollar study book. Study for them your FIRST time. It’ll save you hundreds of dollars so that you don’t have to retake the tests. See which one you do better on and maybe retake that one, but you can probably get by without retaking.
  2. Try to narrow down the list of colleges you want to go to before you apply. This may sound dumb, but don’t fall into the trap of “I’ll apply to this one and this one and maybe this one too.” Only apply to where you see yourself going. 
  3. Find out if you qualify for an application waiver. Many schools will let you apply for free if you are in a low-income group. Additionally, if you plan to apply for any Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarships, see if you can get the application fee waived. I did this for a few schools which greatly reduced the amount of money I spent on applications. 


Applying to college isn’t cheap, but with these tips, you can spend your hard-earned money elsewhere. 

Babies (Yaya Orszula)
18 years of West
18 years of West

The very first school I went to was West High, but it wasn’t the first school I “attended.” It was the first school I set foot in — well, was carried into I suppose. Back when the soccer field was just grass, when the lunchroom only had one set of doors for the lunch line, and when West still didn’t have air conditioning all of the teachers would have to bring 100 fans to keep cool. 

Going to West always meant one of two things: Going to see Dad in his Spanish room or watching him coach a soccer game. Once the field was built, my mom, sister and I would go on the left side of the bleachers in the open grass area so my sister and I could set up our pink castle tent. We would hide in the tent until the last five minutes of the game before reemerging from the fortress. After all of the soccer team left, my sister and I would run across the field to give him a big fat hug. Eventually, we outgrew the tent, but we never outgrew waiting until the team had left to run over to Dad.

When I originally heard that my dad would be moving classrooms I had no idea that the “9th grade center” end of West even existed. A whole other half of West!? The most important thing about his room change, though…there would be air conditioning. But Mr. Kirpes was always Dad’s across-the-hall neighbor and moving meant that we wouldn’t see him as much anymore. We would always walk by his room or he would pop in when me and my sister were there to say “Hi.” He always had a good question for us to answer and we always enjoyed seeing him. Now, having Mr. Kirpes as a teacher feels so different because I only knew him as a “neighbor” before. A decade later on the first day of sophomore year, (then) Ms. Stumpff came up to me and said that she had been taught Spanish by my dad in the very same room that she was teaching me that day. I hadn’t even realized it was the same room because it all seemed so different. 

Today West seems so much less ginormous and intimidating than before. After Dad retired, I realized that this would be my last time at West, possibly ever. It’s a surreal feeling because West always seemed so far away, it was there for a brief period of time, and now it won’t be a part of my life anymore. Things I never expected to be a part of my life before like bowling and journalism have shaped some of my favorite life memories. West has always been “the next step,” but now that it’s finished it feels so distant in the opposite kind of way. If you’re reading this now, please don’t worry about the next step, appreciate everything you have for the time you have it. West High, thank you. I’ll miss you.

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About the Contributors
Yaya Orszula
Yaya Orszula, Sports Editor
(she/her) Yaya is a senior and this is her second year on staff. She is the sports editor and enjoys running cross country and track, making bracelets and rock climbing.
Nicole Lee
Nicole Lee, Opinion Editor
(she/her) Nicole is a senior and in her third year on staff and second year as opinion editor. You can usually spot her walking down the hall wearing her yellow Doc Martens, listening to Belle and Sebastian. Her interests includes watching niche movies and ignoring her to-be-read list.
Tessa Gibson
Tessa Gibson, Profiles Editor
(she/her) Tessa is a senior this year and this is her 3rd year on staff. She is the profiles editor and one of the social media editors. She loves reality tv shows and ice cream.
Defne Bayman
Defne Bayman, Communications Coordinator, Artist, Reporter and Photographer
(they/she) Defne Bayman is a senior this year, and has been on Print for two years and joined Web this year. They are the communications manager for all of WSS, along with an artist, designer, photographer, and reporter. When they're not in school, they're at work, out shopping, or watching a new niche movie.
Eleanor Weitz
Eleanor Weitz, Managing Editor
(she/her) Eleanor is a senior and this is her third year on staff. This year, she's the managing editor for the online newspaper. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hanging out with friends and going thrift shopping.
Jules Keranen
Jules Keranen, Entertainment Editor

(they/them) Jules is a senior and this is their second year on the West Side Story. They are the entertainment editor for the online publication. After school they spend most of the time with their cat, Baby, watching movies.

Muhammed Cikmaz
Muhammed Cikmaz, Tech Editor
Muhammed is so excited to be this year's Tech Editor. This is his second year on staff and he is a senior at West. In his free time, he enjoys making documentaries and coding.
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