By Bekah Wright
As June draws near, 17-year-old Sarahi is preparing for a rite of passage. It’s the month the Norwalk-native will be graduating from Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe Springs. Making the event even more momentous – Sarahi is one of her high school’s valedictorians.
Sarahi’s eyes are already on the path ahead – entering UCLA in the fall as a freshman neuroscience major. This has also been a time of pondering the road that led here. One that involved being a WriteGirl mentee. A full-circle moment occurred when Sarahi was at the WriteGirl office working on her college entrance essays. She recalls, “When someone asks you to write about your life, it’s rare to do that at school, so you have to take a few steps back and reflect on which events in your life shaped you as a person.”
It was the death of twin cousins who were born prematurely that made Sarahi determine early on that she wanted to pursue a career in neo-natal pediatrics. As a result, her academics had been geared toward math and science.
At 15, Sarahi won a scholarship from Norwalk’s Soroptimist Village, an organization the provides support for women and the elderly. The honor brought with it an introduction to Marilee Stefenhagen, a former Soroptimist president, as well as a WriteGirl mentor. As it turned out, Stefenhagen was searching for a Norwalk-based mentee. “She chose me,” Sarahi says, pride shining through her voice.
It wasn’t love at first sentence for Sarahi, when it came to writing. “I was ambivalent,” she remembers. “English isn’t my first language, Spanish is. It’s not that much of a barrier any more, but at the time, I was still insecure.”
Between her time with Stefenhagen and WriteGirl workshops a new world of writing opened up for Sarahi. “I didn’t know I could be so liberated when writing,” she says. “I learned how to use my voice better, which is something I’d struggled with.”
Indeed, the structure of the program was something out of the norm for the high schooler. “We analyze literature and do rhetorical analysis, but at school we never had the freedom to write creatively.” What Sarahi discovered? “I was putting words together in a way I never thought I could.”
One such instance occurred during a WriteGirl Songwriting Workshop. Sarahi was thrilled when her song was performed. “It was a form of poetry I hadn’t explored, so to see it come to life was really amazing.”
Over the years, both the passion and empowerment Sarahi experienced at WriteGirl deepened her love for the program. “As young females, we’re going through a roller coaster of emotions and life events. WriteGirl offers the opportunity to lead one another through growth in our writing,” she says. “I’m grateful to have been a part of that; it’s something I’ll take with me.”