What to do when the “best and the brightest” are anything but

At my high school, Stacy’s blue hair and Zach’s sexual orientation aren’t the gossip on everyone’s lips like they may be in traditional high school setting. ACPA, the small charter school I’ve called home since my sophomore year, has a mission to create a climate and culture based on virtues such as safety, inclusion, and diversity. Now, I’m a senior at ACPA, and in the past three years I have learned much more than I would have learned at my neighborhood school. Having a diverse population results in a diverse education, and ACPA students come from different neighborhoods and cultures. Students at my school do achieve academically with graduation rates and test scores at the top of the state, but I believe the success is the result of not having the social anxieties of attending school. With a no-bullying policy, a caring and accepting environment, and teachers who go above and beyond their duties to help each student, ACPA provides a high school education you can’t receive at a large public school. Having the opportunity to attend such an incredible place, sometimes I forget the rest of the teenage population doesn’t behave the ACPA way.

Buckeye Girls State is a program that gives young women the opportunity to take part in simulated government for one week the summer before their senior year in high school. The young women chosen are said to be the best and the brightest of Ohio. My experience at the program was anything but the best and brightest, and it left a lasting impact on my life.

As I drove to the campus a couple hours away, to say I was nervous was an understatement. This being my first time away from home without any friends or family, it was a big step for me. Within moments of stepping on the Mount Union Campus, surrounded by tall, blonde, Caucasian girls, short, brown-haired, biracial me felt like an outcast. As I unpacked my suitcase, I met my roommate, Jennifer*. An uncomfortable silence consumed the small dorm room. Our dorm’s silence was thankfully broken with an announcement for our floor to join an ice breaker game. We introduced ourselves, shared our interests and a curious fact about us, like how I collect fortune cookie fortunes. Hearing the other girls discuss their lives consumed of sports, outings, and boyfriends made my heart pound. I knew then our interests were dissimilar, and I began to wonder if the only thing we had in common was our age.

Until attending ACPA, I’ve always felt like an outcast around others my age. My mother raised me in her clothing store, where I spent more time with adults than with children. I’ve always been complimented on being mature for my age, as well as for my advanced communication skills, fashion style, and interests. What people don’t see is, when you’re a mature child who has more in common with adults, it’s pretty difficult to know how to talk to people your own age. When preteens in middle school were out kicking the soccer ball or gossiping with their friends, I was often found reading books or researching on the Internet. Today, I’m still the type of girl who loves to learn, but now I’m not nervous about expressing my love of knowledge, whether it’s through writing, drawing, dancing, or discussion. Being a progressive person and thinker is how you thrive at ACPA, but at Buckeye Girls State, I was an outcast.

While doing desk work in my government position of County Auditor, I began to get to know the girls and I hoped it would be the start of friendships, but I was wrong. Girls began to ask about my race, and Katie* even said to the group, “Biracial people are really annoying because they always talk about their races.” Over the course of the program, I heard more racist comments, some as extreme as wanting to assassinate the president. Since I was the only person different from the pack, I was shunned from the conversation any time I spoke up with a different opinion. I longed for Sunday, to be home with my family and friends who were capable of seeing beyond my race.

The last night on campus, many girls were awake past midnight, partying, yelling, and laughing. All I wanted was to sleep after the long week. “Bang, Bang, Bang!” I woke up in confusion late in the night: Three girls were outside the door, and I heard one utter, “Why can’t Aja just be normal?”

Buckeye Girls State taught me lessons on government, but also that even the best and the brightest girls of the state need growth. When Carolyn* said, “Michelle Obama is the most uneducated woman in the country,” I was reminded of the racism and prejudices that continue to persist. The experience gave me the passion to spread positivity that I’ve learned from ACPA. Difference is a good thing, and, as a society, we must work to give it recognition. If I hadn’t attended Buckeye Girls State, I wouldn’t have the dedication to spreading equality that I do now. After all, pioneering TV personality Carson Kressley knows, “It’s really important to share the idea that being different might feel like a problem at the time, but ultimately diversity is a strength.” This quote motivates me to spread the message of equality that I am enthusiastic about, so if one day I choose to have a daughter she will not face the same experiences I did.

*  – names changed

Aja (pronounced Asia) Miyamoto is a motivated student in Columbus, Ohio with a passion for writing. Between writing, studying, volunteering in her community, and working as a barista, she can be found pinning outfit ideas on Pinterest. Follow her journey of self-expression on Instagram and on her blog.

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