Side view of a Latina teen coloring an illustration of reeds with marker on a white board beneath fancy-looking writing

They Were Right, Junior Year Sucks

Side view of a Latina teen coloring an illustration of reeds with marker on a white board beneath fancy-looking writing

Mariana Calvario is a junior at Kennedy High in Richmond. (Mitzi Pérez-Caro)

Editor’s note: After seeing a column in the L.A. Times by the parent of a teenager that claims “junior year is the worst,” we wanted to hear how actual juniors feel about their second-to-last year of high school. For one student at Richmond’s Kennedy High, junior year stress is compounded by worries about her and her parents’ future and lingering effects of the pandemic. Here’s what she had to say.

Commentary, Mariana Calvario

Since the beginning of high school, people have told me how difficult junior year was. I didn’t start to believe it until the people who I was surrounded by were complaining about junior year, while essentially being in it. But even then, I didn’t really think about it; it was an afterthought. Now, being a junior, I can see what they meant when they say that junior year, overall, sucked. The amount of pressure when you think about the future is horrible, because it is closer than you think.

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As meaningless as it sounds, I care a lot about my grades. People have said it’s unhealthy the way I care about them. What people don’t seem to understand is that I’ve always been like this — I’ve always cared about my grades to the point where sometimes I would even spend hours crying over one stupid test score.

People fail to realize that most first-gen (American) students are like this; they push themselves because of their parents until they physically and mentally get sick. Students will not tell you how much pressure they’re put under on a daily basis, but I can express to you how pressure controls my life. My parents have always pressured me to do well in school because I would be the reason why their sacrifice was even worth it. What I mean by this is that I’m basically their retirement plan, like so many other first-generation students are their parents’ retirement plan.

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The pressure has grown immensely over time, the older I got and the higher level of education I was in. This school year, I have put the same pressure — if not more — on myself about my grades, making sure I don’t get anything lower than a B. I am enrolled in four AP classes, and I work on the weekends. To be on top of everything, I have to give up an extensive amount free time, which I have realized is very unhealthy. Yet you’ll never find me without work in front of my face. Even when I don’t have assignments, I’m studying; when I do have assignments, I do them on my breaks at work. You can imagine how bad it is.

Another crucial obstacle that I have faced is grasping the fact that I am growing up. I am 16, in 11th grade, and I just have one more year to enjoy my youth before I have to go to college and actually have to worry about of all the financial issues that will be brought up upon me.

Considering that the COVID-19 pandemic started right before I was able to finish seventh grade, it didn’t allow me to grown mentally and socially since I wasn’t allowed to attend school in person for over a year. This is still affects me because now I could not care less about social gatherings. In fact, I hate them; I’d rather be at home studying or doing my homework. Quarantine is where I truly started to care about my grades. I didn’t want to be behind, so I would do anything possible to pass my classes. This would play a big role in my unhealthy study habits.

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I’ve always been controlling about my own personal life. I don’t like to be disorganized; it stresses me out. Thus, I’ve known what I want to do after high school from a very young age. But I didn’t really pick out what I wanted to do; it was pushed upon me, but I came to accept it.

My parents have always wanted me to become a lawyer. They wanted me to become powerful enough to help people like them — people who needed help the most but aren’t able to obtain it. Hearing this continuously growing up made me actually want to pursue being a lawyer.

I have been taking advanced classes not only to prepare myself for my future career but also to expand my knowledge. I have also applied for a summer Pennsylvania pre-law program, which will also help me prepare for law school. Although I do feel worried about choosing this path because it’s going to consume all of my life, I’m not as worried about it as I used to be. I truly believe with everything inside of me that this is what I want to do: I want to help other people and allow their voices to be heard. I want to help people not be afraid of living their daily lives. I want to change people’s lives for the better.

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