Above, Stephen Sills reunites with Chief Academic Officer Frances Gipson, his former principal at El Sereno Middle School.
This is part of a series of stories about outstanding graduates of the Class of 2018. It is excerpted from an autobiographical essay.
By Stephen Sills
Wilson High School
Class of 2018
I was born in San Diego, and moved as a child to Steamboat Springs, Colo., where I attended a small Christian elementary school. When I was about 8 years old, the stock market crashed, and my family almost lost everything. Virtually overnight, we moved from the Rocky Mountains to Portland, Ore. My parents wanted me to learn Mandarin, and they enrolled me in an immersion school. They staked most of what we had to pay for school.
Over the next four years, we moved a total of 16 times. I was held back a grade, and for the remainder of my years in elementary school, I couldn’t help but feel awkward, given my size and age. I had to always watch my strength when playing with others, and I was bullied by some of the other students because of my timid nature. It was experiences like this that made me who I am today, giving me the resilience to succeed even when I couldn’t have more against me, and to accept my faults and learn from them the best I can. But for a time, all I saw in myself was failures and mistakes.
When I left elementary at fifth grade, I was enrolled in an online school and completed assignments from my laptop. I spent my days alone in my room with no one to talk to, no contact with friends, even with my own family. By then, I had lost all motivation to do well in school. I invested my time in things that would only grant me temporary happiness, video games as well as books. And every night before I went to bed, I would lie, telling myself that I would do better and complete my assignments the day after.
I had spent so much time in seclusion that I had forgotten what it really meant to be loved by another, and in that moment, I felt that love again. But how could this be? My parents had invested so much in me, and I had thrown much of that away. Yet, they were still here, and their love had never gone anywhere. It was I, rather, that had pushed myself away.
I could not remain the way I was, I had to do something with what I had been given. The next year, we moved to Los Angeles. I graduated from El Sereno Middle School and was one of two students awarded the Principal’s Scholarship, an honor for earning a 4.0 GPA.
As a boy, I had read a quote by C.S. Lewis: “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” At the time I didn’t think much of it. I couldn’t relate to such an outrageously optimistic quote, even if it was from a beloved author of mine. Then I learned how it was penned by C.S. Lewis to comfort an old and dying friend, fearful of the darkness that lied before her. Death is not the end, C.S. Lewis reminds her. Rather, death is the epithet of greater things to come.
Now, I stand as the salutatorian of my class, leadership representative, presidents of both the Debate and Bible clubs, and a potential graduate of the Stanford Class of 2022. And all of this resulted when five years ago, I experienced true love for the first time. I acknowledge the role that my troubles and past hardships have played in the realization of my future, and am comforted when I remember them.
C.S. Lewis was right after all.