Significant moments, unique circumstances reveal true self as senior year comes to close


Senior Tuulia Koponen looks forward to studying public relations at the University of Texas at Austin this coming Fall as well as making the most of what Austin has to offer. Photo by Tuulia Koponen.

By Tuulia Koponen

Business/Public Relations Manager


The one thing I always struggle with when starting a piece of writing is the opening statement. I always long for it to be something provoking, something people do not expect, something that grips people in.

When it comes to the story of how I managed to become a senior in high school after a pretty atrocious educational start though, I luckily do not have to come up with a thought-provoking start for it is one itself.

Five years old. Kindergarten classroom. Room full of kids speaking a language I cannot recall. I had just moved to the United States a year earlier and did not know a single word of English. The only thing wanting to come off the tip of my tongue is “mitä” or “what” in my mother tongue of Finnish. And even if I did say it, no one would understand me.

Senior Tuulia Koponen looks forward to studying public relations at the University of Texas at Austin this coming Fall as well as making the most of what Austin has to offer. Photo by Tuulia Koponen.
Senior Tuulia Koponen looks forward to studying public relations at the University of Texas at Austin this coming Fall as well as making the most of what Austin has to offer. Photo courtesy Inga Koponen.

But, with the help of my really lovely, kind English Second Language teacher Mary Mayrath at Lakeside Elementary and my parents decision to hold me back in kindergarten another year, I picked up the English language little by little it. I like to consider that first struggling year of kindergarten a significant moment in my life for it helped to make me, me and is one of those unique circumstances in the story of my life.

Come third through fifth grade and the terrifying Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests, my parents instilled in me a desire to succeed and the desire to earn that classification as “commended” when the results from those tests came in. And so I fought for it and considered it the greatest thing that I missed nothing and scored perfectly on the fifth grade reading assessment. And looking back at it, that was another one of those significant moments in my life.

At each award ceremony at the end of those three awkward years of middle school as we were all at the plight of our puberty and trying to develop into mature young ladies and men, I received the Cougar Pride award or the award that was given out to the 12 most well-rounded students in the grade. My dad still likes to remind me of how proud he was of that. And again, another one of those significant moments in my life.

High school was different and my report card became riddled with B’s, one or two A’s and a really lousy C here and there instead of my usual A’s and one B. I remember locking myself into my bathroom and crying whenever I received my first report card. It was a dark moment and a time where I felt like an idiot and like I wouldn’t come to be anything remarkable. It was terribly dramatic and looking back it I realize just how dramatic I was at something so miniscule in the long run as my report card. But, it was a significant moment.

The Sidekick challenged me in ways I had never been challenged, and I can recall many a time I desired to quit, many a time I cried, many a time I just wanted to give up and not produce anything at all. But, I went along with it whether it be that it was too late to drop out or that I kept thinking there were many more better days ahead than any of the bad ones I left behind (totally paraphrased a motivational quote right there). But, hey, it kept me going.

Throughout all of my darkest times, something kept me going whether it be getting a hug from my best friend, some tunes that were dark in nature yet somehow comforted me as well as peppy ones that did all the same, or even just my mom always offering a supportive hand when I ranted to her with tears in my eyes and me barking at her that she did not understand when she tried to offer support (sorry Mom).

This past school year has revealed to me that I actually can write decently, maybe well if I am brave enough to admit it, social media excites me in a totally nerdy way (especially when the notifications on Twitter completely blew up when I tweeted about the weird Texas winter weather), that writing about how beautiful you find your widowed grandmother will win you a beautiful tweet from your journalism teacher and some extra scholarship money (my essay was picked the best out of all the essays submitted for the scholarship by a lawyer who has read many writings before and stressed I should keep writing and that I have a talent).

Most importantly though, it has revealed to me that I am significant, that my life is significant, and I should not let silly, little things get to me like one or two C’s on a report card. It has revealed me you don’t need to be perfect to earn admission to a school like the University of Texas at Austin but to be real, show how real you can be and show that you go after something you want or believe in.

And all I have left to say is not only thanks to my Mom and Dad for always believing in me, pushing me, and giving me a plethora of opportunity by moving us to the United States (although I will always long to be in Finland instead), but also a thanks to the past me’s: the struggling five year old, the jubilant fifth grader, the stupendous middle schooler, the crying ninth grader, the anxious, stressed 10th and 11th grader and the 12th grader that was finally able to breathe and be and see her worth.

All those separate me’s have made me who I am today: confident, anxious, introverted, passionate, weird and someone who will always have a strong sense of self and never long to be anything else. In other words:

Someone always longing to be the hero of her own story – just as she has always been in her darkest, most anxious hours with the love of some helping hands. Here’s hoping there will always be some supportive, loving, helping hands – even if it is just my own.