Student Voices: 2016 Graduate Speaker Aspen Romrell

Utah Connections Academy

When I was a kid, I was bombarded by the ideals of society; on the screens of television, in the words of books, and through the people that made their way into my life.

Society is a difficult thing. Such a huge percentage of it is made up of people like me—people who are different—and yet those people get lost in the scream of a somehow bigger voice. A voice that often drowns us out, a voice that struggles to conform us to their ideas of “normal”.

And as a child you have no idea what you should be. A little voice inside of you is leading you one way, and yet the bigger voice of society leads you another.

You can be ripped apart by these two opposing voices. And sometimes you need a neutral voice, a voice that tells you that anything you choose is okay.

I found that voice at school. Utah Connections Academy (UCA) was sort of like Hogwarts for me—it was a place that felt like home. I didn’t destroy horcruxes or defeat Voldemort, but like Harry, Ron, and Hermione, I did grow up and find myself.

UCA was a place that I didn’t feel pressured anymore. I’d met a lot of kids growing up that teased me for being different than them. And that teasing kind of broke me. I let it affect me when I really shouldn’t have. I became insecure. I became afraid. Afraid to be myself.

When I entered my early teen years, I was so utterly afraid of other teenagers that I couldn’t talk to them. Because I knew that I was weird, and they were “normal” and that they would never understand me the way I needed to be understood.

I entered a stage of heavy depression because I hated myself. Isn’t it so awful, the idea of it? I mean, here I was, this good kid with a strong mind and big heart who threw myself at the world for who I was, only to have the world spit me back out. It is so sad, so terrible, that we live in a world where our children drink the poison society provides them—a posion that fills their veins with the ability to hate themselves.

I’ve seen it over and over again. Kids who are so good and strong and beautiful being told by society that they are bad and weak and ugly. And because they are told that, they believe it.

But as soon as I came to UCA, all of that changed for me. I remember coming to the very first social event, and I actually talked to another teenager. That was a huge achievement for me. And I talked to another one, and another one, and another one….. and the remarkable thing was, they were like me. These kids, they were different. I remember watching them in awe—they were different, like I was, but they wore that banner proudly. They spoke out to the world bravely, unabashedly showing the world who they were. And in this moment, in this small group of kids I’d found, the world wasn’t spitting us back out. The world was accepting us.

And that felt beautiful.

I was so inspired by these kids, by my new friends. And I was inspired even more by my teachers. I found such a family in my teachers. I can really never truly thank them enough. I care about each one of them so strongly, because they didn’t just teach me what I was learning in school. They helped me learn so much about my life. They helped me grow—as a student, as an individual, and as a human being. They helped me not only accept others, but also to accept myself.

And as I stand here now, I am such a different person than I was when I first entered the school. I’m no longer scared to be myself. I’m not scared to talk to other people, because frankly I really don’t care what they think of me. This is who I am. And I am so proud to be that person.

If I had to name the one thing that was the most important thing I learned after coming to UCA, it was my ability to accept.

I learned to accept any kind of difference that I find in other people, because I never want them to feel scared and alone and depressed like I did. I want everyone to be able to find a place like UCA; a place where they can learn and thrive and grow. As a student and as a person. I want everyone to find the place that feels like home.

I realize that we are all people, and we are not the same. We come from different places, speak different languages, identify with different genders, believe in different (if any) religions, find passion in different places, fall in love different genders, act in different ways; but way down deep in our core, we all have the same hearts.

I look upon my fellow graduates today and I realize something. We have the power to change. We have to power to make sure that no one ever has to feel alone or scared or powerless or terrified to be themselves.

We are the next generation.

We can set a standard for the rest of the world. A standard that says; yes, I am different. And different is normal.