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Finding my true friends

1st place $50

By Courtney Lee, Arcadia HS

Courtney Lee (second from left) hangs out with the good friends she made on the Arcadia HS volleyball team.

It all began when I was caught in the middle of that awkward phase. The one where your two front teeth stick out, the one where you’re debating whether to ask your mom to buy you your first training bra, and the one where you still don’t quite know the difference between hairspray and hair gel. You are, however, old enough to know what it feels like to be self-conscious and aware that there is in fact such a thing as being labeled “cool” and “un-cool.” I’m talking about elementary school, fifth grade to be exact.

As cliché as it sounds, true friends are very hard to come by. It’s a trial and error process that can be as rocky and painful as mine was, or, for the lucky ones, quick and effortless. When I look back and reflect on my adolescent years, I can’t help but overlook the good times and mope about the sadness, hurt and drama that constantly surrounded me. The girls that I called my friends were not who I was meant to be with. They were just names and faces that I told myself I should look like, names and faces that I tried to be like. In fifth grade all I cared about was being in the so-called popular group. They were the pretty blonde girls decked out in Limited Too who always had their hair in perfect little braids. I remember I’d watch them with envy and think to myself every day, “Wow, I want to be like them!” So I did. I began hanging out with them during lunch, during recess and outside of school. I started wearing my hair in braids and bows and I completely changed my tomboy self into a girly girl. I did anything and everything possible to be around them so that I could look cool and popular, just like them. I stayed with this group for the rest of fifth grade and continued even when we entered junior high.

It was a whole new jungle. The campus was larger and the student body was older, meaning that the pressure to look cool was even more intense. This was when the problems really began. I would come to school not knowing if my so-called group of friends would talk to me. It seemed as if every day brought up a whole new fight over ridiculous things such as who bought a certain T-shirt first, or who claimed which boy before who. Even though I knew that I really didn’t care about these types of things, I frequently found myself caught in the middle or many times the target of it all. I would have liked to blame hormones for these constant emotional battles with my peers, but I know that puberty wasn’t the only culprit; it was my own distorted interpretation of friendship and how I had chosen to act upon it. It took me sitting down and really thinking hard about why I had stuck with this group of girls that I found I had little to nothing in common with for so long. It was my own fault for prioritizing popularity over true friendship. But when I asked myself what true friendship meant, I couldn’t define it. I had never experienced it. Despite this realization, I still stuck out the rest of junior high in this group of complete opposites at the expense of many sleepless nights and tears. Then it was high school.

The transition to high school was even bigger than junior high. There were now nearly 4,000 new faces and hundreds of activities that I knew I could join as a way for me to pluck myself out of this old group of friends. If someone asked me what one decision completely altered the course of my high school career, I would reply, “volleyball” without the slightest hesitation. The friends that I met in this sport did, and still do, amaze me. The best girls from the three local middle schools meshed to create a volleyball team like no other. Sure, we’re good, but what truly defines my high school volleyball experience is all of the constant laughter and pure companionship I find with my family. Yes, I call them my family. For the first time, I feel what it is like to say whatever you want and not be scared of being made fun of. For the first time, I feel what it is like to kick back and relax with day-old clothing and unwashed hair and still feel like a princess. For the first time, I feel what it is like to be in a true friendship. I would never trade any of these girls for all the Limited Too outfits in the world. These are my girls, these are my sisters, this is my family.     

I’m not alone anymore

2nd place $30

By Julius Gutierrez, Workman HS (City of Industry)

There is only one reason I am who I am today and it is because of someone I met. This person not only changed me, but also the people around me.

It started when I entered sixth grade at Grandview Middle School. Most of the people I thought were my friends in elementary school had changed, some of them acted as if they didn’t know me or they didn’t want to. I was alone, an outcast. I ate my lunch alone and spent most of my free time in class doing nothing but just sitting there quietly. Then one day I noticed someone in my class who was popular, well-liked and got along with everybody. I looked at him and envied how he was so popular and how everyone knew him. His name was Clifford.

The teacher changed the seating arrangement one day so that we could meet different people in the class and I was seated next to Clifford. At first we didn’t say anything to each other and just worked quietly, but after a couple of days we started to talk a little bit to each other. I found out that he was kind and easygoing and I guess that was the start of our friendship.

One day I was sitting alone eating my lunch when Clifford walked up with someone I didn’t know. I expected him to tell me that he couldn’t hang out with me that day. I thought I would have to be by myself during lunch for awhile or forever, listening to people having fun around me or looking at people who had many friends. But instead he introduced me to the person. I thought about how no one had ever introduced someone to me before and from that day on I never ate lunch by myself again.

The friends he had were all unique and each one had their interesting quirks. He introduced me to almost all of them. He had a lot of friends to introduce me to and I started to get the feeling that I was being accepted. Clifford and I started to have our own little place to hang out with all the people I had met and all of them wanted us to hang out together.

Knowing and meeting Clifford has changed something inside of me, something that was always constant. Clifford’s actions have helped me learn to trust people more than ever before in my life. He has given me hope for a future that is not lonely and never will be. Because of him I am the person I am today. I am no longer the person who walks around pretending to have somewhere to go. Clifford helped me see that.

Even to this day I am still with people I trust. I knew that when I met Clifford that day back in sixth grade that he would help me be a better person and I was right. He has given me hope to have a future with someone always by my side, someone who will make life better and someone who will help remind me that I am a human being.

My friends are important to me

2nd place $30

By Yana Pavlova, Hollywood HS

Meet my closest friends: Francesca, the one who’s really smart and ready to go to Harvard; Fahiya, who just won first place in a scholarship she applied for and wants to be a writer; and Brenda, with whom I practically share a brain. I don’t really know how we came together or remember how we first met. They were just some kids I would talk to in class so that I wouldn’t be bored. Next thing I knew, I was going to workshops for my AP classes and so were they, which proved to me they were responsible students who took care of their business. The surprise came when I discovered their familiar faces in the dance classes I was taking at Los Angles City College. It turned out I would be seeing them a whole lot more—just about eight hours a day every day. The first class we were taking was modern dance, the second was ballroom, with a one-hour break in between. We were together during the break and we would usually grab a snack at the grocery store across the street, harass the vending machines for some Baked Ruffles and volunteer at the Braille Institute.

Every time we were together different sides of our personalities would pop out. Francesca, who was usually quiet, would start up a high-pitched laugh in the middle of our calculus session and Brenda and I would follow, not even knowing why we were laughing. Then, just as the noise would subdue, something would happen out in the hallway, like a group of guys passing by trying to act cool. Brenda and I would look at each other at the same time and say, “weirdoes.” After the school bell would ring, we would meet up, all four of us, and walk to the metro singing Alicia Key’s “Fallen,” among other songs whose lyrics Francesca would carry in a big folder labeled, “Lyrics.” That was our usual daily routine. Our off-key voices sure made a lot of heads turn, but we didn’t care. That’s the thing too. We used to care. We used to be “proper” and “behave” and listen when people ordered us around, no questions asked. But not anymore. We’ve been through such incidents and received such insults that now it’s hard to do anything without asking questions or demanding an explanation. We’ve taught each other to finally step up to others and for ourselves.

Brenda and I were partners in ballroom class. For our final, we were dancing salsa and we had to have a routine, a good routine. If we needed more moves, I would say, “Hey, how about we try going like this?” and would show her a step I made up. Brenda would look at me funny and would answer, “I was just thinking that.” A couple of minutes later, Brenda would say, “You want to stay after and practice?” I would look at her and say, “I was about to say that.” Now I know that whenever I’m thinking something, no matter what it’s about, I don’t have to say it out loud if I’m around Brenda because she’ll already know what it is. Anyway, through our collaboration, our routine was finally finished and we practiced until we got it … well, I can’t say perfect, but presentable. We told Francesca since she couldn’t take the class with us because she had to work, that she absolutely needed to see it. We wouldn’t leave her alone until she promised to come with a reluctant “maybe.” Thursday morning she came up to us smiling. “I cancelled my job you guys. I’m coming to see you!!” Brenda and I were so excited. We had worked so hard and we would finally perform the dance we had so often talked about in front of her. Brenda, however, told me, “Don’t get your hopes high, she might need to go shoe shopping.” Francesca had left us once before to shop for shoes for a college interview. But this time is different, I thought. This time she has to be there. I mean come on, she even cancelled her work for us. What’s the worst that could happen?

Halfway through the day, Francesca got a call on her cell phone. Her interview with Harvard was moved to Friday—the next day—and she still had no formal outfit to wear. Just then, the volunteer coordinator at the Braille Institute where we volunteered for that one hour in between dance classes, who was already a close friend of Francesca’s said, “C’mon. We’re going shopping.” It was almost time for our final, and we knew Francesca wasn’t coming because she was going to go shopping. For shoes. Precisely as Brenda had predicted. Brenda and I ran to the bathroom on the second floor in LACC and cried for a good 10 minutes. Fahiya, who thought we were crying because Francesca was going to Harvard, tried to negotiate with us. “It’s not that,” I said. “It’s ‘cause … Francesca’s like my big sister. I always wanted to have one, you know. And I wanted her to be proud of what me and Brenda did. She’s not here, and … I don’t know.” Eventually, we stopped crying, washed our eyes, did our salsa final and the day was over.

I was scared about going to class on Friday because I would have to face her and I was still mad. She came in the room all dressed up and I could barely hold in my “How’d you like your shoes?” I didn’t talk to her the whole period. I felt so bad. I was wondering how the interview with everyone’s dream school had gone, but my pride was holding me back from asking. When Brenda and I left for the metro, only us two this time, for the first time, Francesca said words I’ll probably never forget. “Bye … I know you hate me.” I gave her a fake smile and walked off. I wanted this to pass already—all friends go through fights right? This wasn’t even a fight. It was a little … thing, a little obstacle, and I hoped it would be over soon. That way we could go back to laughing our hearts out, singing on the metro or eating lunch together.

I didn’t have to wait long. The next day was the day of the academic decathalon competition. At noon I got a voicemail and from who else other than Francesca? She wished me luck and knew I would do fine. I texted her a quick, “thanks so much, I love you, ditcher!” and smiled to myself.

The next time we saw each other, we spent an hour eating and talking at the Chinese food place across from our school. We went over everything that happened on that crazy Thursday: I told her how I felt and why I didn’t talk to her and she finally told me how the Harvard interview went. I really hope she gets in. She deserves it.

What can I say? Nowadays I miss all of them when I don’t see them on the weekends or when there’s a school holiday. All the experiences I’ve had with them have turned me into the person I am today. Because we’re all mixed, we look like a melting pot in action when we walk down the street, and most importantly, we’re proud of who we are. I actually do housework now because every time I call Brenda she tells me she’s cleaning or cooking or washing dishes. I’m looking into colleges because Francesca’s huge SAT prep book was passed down to me. I’m trying to fund my way to college by applying for scholarships after Fahiya proved to me that winning them is not impossible. Those three are the most amazing people I have ever known and I’m just hoping they don’t forget me once they get all famous. 

ESSAY CONTEST—What’s your favorite day of the week?

Some days are better than others. We at L.A. Youth love Saturdays because it’s when we have our staff meetings and everybody gets together to talk about what’s going on in our lives and in the world. Maybe you like Thursdays because that’s when you have soccer games and forget about your worries while you’re on the field. Sundays might be fun because you always have a big meal with your family after church. Or, you might actually like Mondays because you can’t wait to get back to school and see your friends. What is your favorite day? What happens on that day that makes it special? What makes your favorite day of the week better than the other days and what does it mean to you?

Write an essay to L.A. Youth and tell us about it.

Essays should be a page or more. Include your name, school, age and telephone number with your essay. The staff of L.A. Youth will read the entries and pick three winners. Your name will be withheld if you request it. The first-place winner will receive $50. The second-place winner will get $30 and the third-place winner will receive $20. Winning essays will be printed in our March-April issue and put on our Web site at


L.A. Youth 
5967 W. 3rd St. Ste. 301
Los Angeles CA 90036

DEADLINE: FRIDAY, April 18, 2008