Introduction, written by Timmy Stabler: This Senior is one of the busiest, highest-achieving students in the entire school. She balances exemplary classroom work with being a great sister, a highly coveted musician in MA music, and a close, even best friend to many. This remarkable initiative, one that many have lost by this point in Senior year, is a staple of her personality and a huge reason for her success in just about everything she does. She’s not afraid to try new things, like pick up creative writing Junior year, and she is now a published author. She’s also not afraid to keep doing old things, like watch New Girl and listen to Justin Bieber. Her lack of fear to take on lots of work and set a high bar for herself is balanced out by an intense fear of sharks. She’s highly cultured, an experienced traveler of the world, having second homes in Nicaragua and Israel and her world-view is consequently open-minded and thoughtful. Please help me welcome the dedicated, driven Blair Waldorf of Marin Academy, Sofia Friedman.
I wake up with my heart racing. Thoughts about a quiz or job interview fill my head before I even open my eyes. The day ahead seems like an impossible battle. At school, I am in a perpetual state of nervousness, distraction, and irritability. At night, I lay my head down, ending the day the same way I started it: heart and mind racing, dreading what tomorrow will bring.
This is a normal day for me living with anxiety. Not the kind you get before a test or performance; the kind that has prevented me from going to all but two MA dances and that required me to get picked up from every middle school overnight, only to be driven back in the morning, when I would wriggle back into my sleeping bag and hope no one noticed I left.
I grew up thinking that something was wrong with me and that I needed to be “fixed.” Countless doctors’ appointments, tests, and treatments led me to believe my anxiety was something I should conceal for the convenience and comfort of others, and that ignoring it would be easier than figuring out how to live with it.
But when big challenges arose, such as taking hours to fall asleep because I couldn’t slow my heart rate down, or my inability to finish math tests without anxiety attacks, I knew that I had no option but to speak up. Yet it felt like there were millions of hoops to jump through to get the help I needed, and as the process got longer and more frustrating, I became less convinced that I deserved help. It felt like nobody understood what I was going through, yet everyone felt qualified to tell me what I needed to do to “get better.” People said, “It’s your fault you’re so unhappy. Just stop being so negative” or “If you’re anxious about going away to college, you should just go to College of Marin so you can walk there from your house.” These comments ate away at every bit of self-assurance I had, because I literally cannot help but worry, stress, or care too much.
Then one day, someone said the simplest thing to me: “You can’t change the fact that you have anxiety. What you can change is how you let it define you.” From then on, I began to realize that “getting better” should not be my end goal. My anxiety is not an imperfection or a mistake, never something I should apologize for or feel ashamed of. It is a huge part of who I am, and defines me by shaping some of my biggest strengths: self-advocacy, resilience, sensitivity, and empathy.
It took too long for me to see this, and I never want myself or anyone else to feel alone, silenced, or incapable because of anxiety. So, I am calling upon all of you to help destigmatize mental illness at MA. It is a reality for so many people, and I hope that we can work to create a community in which both invisible and visible disabilities are seen as common identifiers like race or sexuality. I also hope we can reframe the discussion from one of disability to one of ability, so that it is not a question of what you cannot do because of it, but what you can.
I want to end with a few dedications. To anyone that has experienced my irrational worrying or seeming craziness first-hand, I am not sorry for how I behaved, but for not being honest about why. To anyone struggling with anxiety or any other sort of mental illness, please reach out to me. I definitely don’t have the answers, but have a lot of love and support to give. And lastly, for a bit of shameless self-promotion. From being a child who could not sleep away from home or leave her parents side, I am proud to say that next year I will be living thousands of miles away from home, traveling across the globe and seeing the world. And like my life so far, it will not be easy, but I know it will be worth it.
Mom, you are the weirdest person I know, in the best way. I know you read my texts to catch up on the MA gossip, watch New Girl over my shoulder even though you’re “washing dishes,” and pretend to be a bigger Biebs fan than I am (which will never be true, by the way). I am honestly embarrassed about how lost I will be without you next year. Love you.
Dad, the fact that this speech did not feel complete without you reading it over is a testament to how much I need you. You understand me more than anybody I know, and always know how to make me feel better. Thank you for being my other half. I love you.
SarBear, it is such an honor to be your older sister. I am so jealous of the fact that you can do a pull-up, know everything about Harry Potter, and are a computer science genius. Sorry that I never let you hang out with my friends… it’s because I’m worried that they will start making plans with you and not me. I can’t wait to see the amazing things you do. Love you.
Friends… When something good happens you are the first people I want to tell, and when I am sad, the first ones I want to hug or cry with. You are the most beautiful, unique, smart, compassionate individuals and I am so lucky to have each of you by my side. Love you all.
To my teachers: you are the reason that I want to teach. Thank you for inspiring me to follow in your footsteps.
Shoutouts to MA Music, Crossroads, Beliebers, Harry Potter, anyone who never played an MA sport, Mark’s advising, Brandesians, the time my ear blew up from an allergic reaction, and the unforgettable Class of 2017.