• Student Spotlight
Ben Vanelli and Sasha Tymchyshyna

This “bittersweet” article by newspaper seniors Ben Vanelli and Sasha Tymchyshyna brings readers a deep look into what each author learned during their years at Perkiomen. 

Ben Vanelli

Alright, so let’s be honest— “senior editor of the school newspaper” isn’t really a very glamorous title. I haven’t been Class President, nor have I ever desired to. I don’t have the physical size nor the athletic ability to lead a varsity team to a league championship. And I definitely don’t have the discipline or math skills it takes to be Valedictorian. But I’m the senior editor, and that’s enough for me. Call me easily impressed with myself and you wouldn’t be wrong.

Freshman year: it was an entirely new group of people for me. I was pretty uninspired, really. At that age, not knowing anyone in the school, it was easy to be content with a tiny group of friends (not so much friends as acquaintances), and to cruise through simple ninth-grade classes. But I was getting to be more and more discontent; impatient. I’d go as far as to say I was genuinely disappointed in how high school was turning out for me. I wasn’t really sure why— I mean, I didn’t really have a niche. But I was nice… right? Why wasn’t I making the friends I saw other people making with ease? 

Well as it turns out, I really wasn’t as awkward or boring as I convinced myself I was. I just never put myself out there. Luckily for me, by the final term of the year, I had made friends, who I still consider my best friends to this day, by just hanging around them. But I still wasn’t putting myself out there. There was no new exposure, no attempts at trying something new, no confidence that I wouldn’t fall flat on my face in failure.

And then the next year, there was.

Sophomore year was a great time for me. I played JV soccer, which was one of the best times I’ve ever had at Perkiomen, concussion excluded (don’t head the ball eight times if you don’t know how.) Over the course of the year, my friends taught me how to be more involved in things. Suddenly, I wasn’t scared to talk to new people anymore, but it was more than that. I didn’t want to be with a small group of people. I wanted to talk to new people, see if we clicked, and make new friends. Also at this time, I discovered how great the art of storytelling is, in large part thanks to Mr. Longstreth’s own countless stories and fondness of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, which is now one of my favorite films. Speaking of— my interest in filmmaking grew as well, I joined the school newspaper (which was not at all as well-conceived as it is now), and got, for the first time, comfortable. It was like I was discovering who I was and what I wanted to be, just by exposing myself to new opportunities that the school provided.

Of course, high school has its low points. It’s not a learning experience without hardships and adversity— you never learn anything if there aren’t. But the friends I made and the confidence I’d gained helped me get through pretty much everything that went wrong. I’m a very lucky person to have had people around me who’ve always been able to help me, and through their personalities alone, encourage me to put myself out there. 

So I guess if I had to say what I’ve learned from high school, it would be that exposing yourself to new situations helps you grow as a person. Next: be impressed with yourself. You can’t do everything. If you accomplish something, feel good knowing that you put in the effort. And finally, I’ve learned that “don’t sweat the small stuff” is such a dumb phrase. Do yourselves a favor, and sweat the small stuff. Live in that moment. Let yourself learn no matter how trivial the problem may be in the long run. Feel the stress of your test tomorrow. Worry about the three brand new cuts on your face that appeared while shaving two hours before Prom. Let it happen! You won’t even remember half the problems that seemed like the end of the world in a year from now, but what you will remember are the skills and the strength it took to get through them, and the problems you do remember will probably seem hilarious.      

Now I'm even getting sick of myself. Let’s get some fresh perspectives, huh?


Sasha Tymchyshyna 

Hi! I’m Sasha and I’m in the category, “the other seniors…” or, so I thought. “The other senior”— that pretty much describes how I felt coming to Perkiomen. You, Ben, say it was hard coming as a freshman to high school and that you had to learn how to put yourself out there. But imagine coming to a high school that is 7,000 kilometers away from your home, as a senior who already graduated from high school during a pandemic, two months after that school began, while you’re already enrolled in a university back home. Oh, not to mention you’re used to a different education system and school values. 

Yeah, it’s confusing. Believe me, I know, because I had to do exactly that.

So let’s start from the beginning, approximately two years ago. 15-year-old me visited the US for the first time. To say the least, I was impressed. That’s when I set myself a goal to study at a university in the USA. Because in Ukraine we graduate from high school at 16-17, and we only have 11 grades, it was easier for me to apply to 12th grade in an American high school to get used to how things are done here. Then I’d apply to college and, hopefully, get accepted into a good one. I had a plan B too: I was already enrolled in a university in Ukraine. So as you can guess, Perkiomen was supposed to be a middle point of my journey; not important in the bigger picture. I was so focused on the future that I forgot to enjoy life as it is.

I was focused on studying and getting good grades because that’s what you do to get accepted into a prestigious university in Ukraine. Logically, that’s exactly what I planned to do at Perkiomen. I didn’t want to put myself out there. I wanted to study, get good grades, apply to a university, then probably— maybe— enjoy life. This mission was failed successfully. Unfortunately, or should I say, fortunately, Perkiomen became my reevaluating point. I wanted to be “the other senior”: the one that was there, but not really. (A little side note: at that time I didn’t actually understand seniors, juniors, and sophomores, and when asked, I just said that I’m in 12th grade. Usually, I got a response something like “Oh, so you’re a senior,” to which I just said yes, hoping that I didn’t agree on selling my soul to the devil.)

The “other senior” option was the safest for me. But Perkiomen— and I have to do this, there’s no way I’m skipping on such an opportunity— made me take risks! I was getting out of my comfort zone. Presenting in class in English?! Terrifying... I did that. Playing team sports?! Waste of time... Perk changed my mind. Now I’m looking forward to the practices. Participating in sports games?! Carrying responsibility for a team's success?! What? No way.... Did that! Maybe not so good, but I’m trying to do my best. Share something in advisory?! I’m sorry, what even is advisory?... Now my advisor is my friend.

I came from an extremely different school with different values. I’m not saying that my previous school was bad, it just cared about other things. Perkiomen, in comparison, is a small, close community where everybody enjoys the victories together and supports each other through defeats. Even having morning meetings with the whole school makes you feel like you’re a part of the seniors, not the “other one.”

Yes, I agree that this year had its lows, too. And you cannot even imagine how annoying it is to quarantine for 14 days and do countless COVID tests every time you’re going home for a break or returning to Perkiomen. But they’re nothing compared to what Perkiomen taught me and who I became during this year. As a senior, I want to advise others to enjoy life, be proud of little accomplishments, step out of their comfort zone, and most importantly, concentrate on the present, and not the possible future. That’s how you’ll grow and learn.

Take risks, Panthers!