Sofia Vela

What is my purpose? What am I doing here? These are the types of recurring questions that I faced at the start of high school.


Now, let’s rewind some years. I had always been a particularly independent child. At the age of four, I decided to let my personal stylist go, a.k.a. mom, by explaining bluntly that I did not need her to do my hair or pick out my outfits anymore, that I was perfectly capable of brushing and styling on my own. To help “lighten” my mom’s workload, I took it upon myself to lay out my big sister’s outfits, as well as make sure she was groomed and looking presentable for the day. By age nine, Mom quenched my thirst for independence by sending me off to the best summer camp there is. Summer at Santa Catalina became my home away from home. I felt safe, loved, and best of all free! Free from nagging parents, free from chores, and free to be whoever I wanted to be. One summer turned into two summers that, before I knew it, added up to five summers spent at Santa Catalina. During my last summer at camp, the summer going into freshman year, as Nikki and I paid our daily visit to Mrs. Reyes and her basket of chocolate, I noticed the collection of names on her cabinet, some familiar and others not. These were the names of the class of 2017 and this was the moment that planted the idea of attending Catalina in my head.


At the end of my eighth grade year I was ready to be unleashed! Anticipating the long road ahead of me, along with every twist and turn I would encounter as if I knew. Soon after this train of thought ran its course, the realization set in that, once again, I had gotten ahead of myself. Taking a few steps back–more like 50 steps back, actually–my parents and I began narrowing down which high schools would be the best fit for me. Attending high school at Catalina was a dream that I never once considered coming true, so it sat anxiously waiting to blossom in the back of my mind.


I spent my freshman and sophomore years at a school called Gross Catholic High School. I did well there and got involved. However, by sophomore year I felt that I needed a little something more. I had visited and toured Catalina freshman year, which solidified my desire to someday transfer and, on the other hand, further terrified my mom of having to let me go a few years sooner. Sophomore year I began dropping subtle hints to my mom, indicating to her that I was ready to move on to bigger and better things. By the end of the year, and way too many hints later, she fed into the idea and helped it grow until finally my dream became my reality. After many discussions, lots of decision making, and what seemed like endless paperwork, here I am, eternally grateful for the sacrifices my family has made in order for me to be here.


If it weren’t for my parents’ continuous support and undying faith in who I am and who I am becoming, I physically and mentally would not be where I am today. The opportunities and experiences presented to me through Catalina are beyond what I could have imagined they would be. I have grown so much in mind and spirit, thanks to Wednesday chapel services and Sunday masses. I have experienced what true friendship is and know what fake friends look like. I have matured through each struggle and stare confidently in the face of hard or seemingly scary tasks. I recognize that there is a chance that I may never again be in the midst of such incredible, intelligent teachers who actually care about me the way Catalina teachers do. What a gift. Every single teacher I have had has helped me grow in one way or another and most of them make me feel smarter just by being in their presence.  There is so much truth in the comments I hear about the Santa Catalina community being unlike any other I’ve ever experienced.
With all of this and more under my belt, I feel ready to tear into the next chapter of my life but have to admit that I will miss my home away from home. So, for those who are like me and can’t wait to know and experience what’s next, every now and then give yourself a second to stop, take a deep breath, and remember these wise words by Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” For those of you who can’t relate to that, here’s some advice that I know every Catalina girl could use: in times of stress, whip out that list of things you have to do or that assignment notebook I know each of you has and just take it one step at a time. I promise you, it will all get done.

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