As I've just finished my last ever high school musical, and as I wrap up my senior year of high school, I can't help looking back on my experiences of the past four years. Wins, losses, successes, failures, and everything in between. My greatest successes can be attributed to my time spent with my school's arts department. I'm forever grateful for the experiences I've had, the friends I've made, and how far I've come as a person as a result.
When I walked into my high school freshman year, I was a shy, anxious mess, and I didn't know anyone. I was almost always unhappy, and I was afraid of talking to anyone, always afraid of saying the wrong thing. Now, I'll talk to anyone, and, to the irritation of my friends, I never shut up. It's a major improvement and I'm incredibly proud of myself for it, and I have the arts to thank.
I made one of my first and best friends in high school in my horrible freshman Spanish class. We were both equally awkward, and got along well. She was really into theatre, so thanks to her crash-course immersion into the world of obscure Broadway musicals, and after seeing other other friend in our school's fall play, I decided to go with her to audition for the annual winter one-acts festival. That was hands-down the best decision I've ever made.
I had only ever been in one show before, my eighth grade spring musical, a school tradition almost everyone participates in, so I didn't know what to expect. The only other arts activity I had ever participated was one year in middle school band, playing the trombone poorly. I wasn't a terribly good actor either, I was mediocre at best, so I was super excited when I saw that I had gotten cast, but I was extremely nervous when I saw that my only two friends that had auditioned with me were both in different shows than I was. I didn't know any of these people, and I didn't know what they would think of me. Those rehearsals ended up being the most fun I've ever had. I felt so welcome. How rare it is to be a random new freshman and have upperclassmen make you feel so at home. I'm forever grateful to that entire cast.
I didn't realize it then, sitting silently against the basement wall at the first cast party, but I had found my family.
That first incredible experience with my arts department set the path for my entire high school experience. When it came time for our spring musical, I auditioned again, alongside more friends this time too. I had found my friends in the members of theatre, band, and chorus, and I had found my place.
Thanks to the encouragement of these new friends, when Sophomore year started I was in an acting class, in Marching Band as a part of Color Guard, and in Chorus. I found another friend here, one who would become another one of my closest. I was still not particularly good at any of these activities, but despite the struggles involved, I loved them. I was in it for the fun of it because I loved the people. I ended sophomore year by working backstage for our spring musical instead of acting, and found where I belonged even more.
Although after that year and that friend's graduation I left Color Guard, but I continued working with tech in her place. Working with theatre tech is really where I found most of my confidence. Freshman year I was anxious to talk to anyone, but now I can shout down from the lightbooth into the theater without a second thought. I'm so grateful for my theatre director for providing me the opportunity to really take lead. Lots of high schools's technical theatre aspects are majorly adult-directed with minimal student involvement. Mine really let me be in charge. I've been entirely in charge of costuming and lighting all the productions we've had for the past two years, only needing final director approval. It gave me so much confidence and made me feel so accomplished.
For senior year I ended up impulsively re-joining marching band, although this time playing trumpet. I tried so hard the entire season, spending so many mornings at school 40 minutes early trying to practice with my band director, but I just majorly sucked ass. I was horrible. I finally stopped trying. I just couldn't do it. Finally in a band rehearsal one day my band director stopped one day and just came back with a new instrument for me, one that he thought I could play better. That gave me so much hope. I really wanted to be able to play, I just couldn't. With so little time to before we were to go on our school band trip, I really worked at this new instrument, the baritone. I wasn't great at it, or even very good, but it was a significant improvement. I feel far more confident and far less hopeless playing it. When it did come time for our band competition, I know I wasn't great, but I felt more like I knew what I was doing, that I had really tried. How I actually probably sounded is a different matter, but I was proud of myself, and I'm so grateful for my band director for that. Pride has been a rare feeling for me.
My last high school musical was such a bittersweet experience. I'm so grateful for everything I've experienced there and for all the friends I've made along the way. I spent so much of it crying, still unsure of what it's going to be like next year without so many of those people.
However, I can confidently look to the future, knowing that my time spent with arts in high school has given me so many tools and so much confidence to go one into adulthood as a stronger person than I was just almost four years ago.
I wish I could go back and tell my weird, nervous freshman year self that everything would be okay. That the best is yet to come. But I feel somehow that if I hadn't come from the place that I had, nothing would have meant the same as it did. And I don't know what that would mean for me today.
All I know is, I'm so grateful for the opportunities that I've had, and I can't thank all of my performing arts teachers enough.
So many of my friends had such different experiences, yet such similar ones. Please support the arts. Go to shows, concerts, donate, do anything you can. Schools need art departments. It breaks my heart to see the decline of the arts in so many schools. The arts are a safe-haven for kids like me. Kids like me need the arts. I don't know what I would be like right now without them. We cannot let kids be without them.