“What do you plan to do after graduating?”

It's the most common question asked of high schoolers, especially during their senior year.

From elementary school to senior year, I was asked where I wanted to go to college and what I wanted to study, as well as what career might pursue. It always felt like an impossible query to answer. There are so many different dreams to chase in life, and an infinite way to pursue each one, so committing to a single way forward was, for a long time, a terrifying prospect.

As cliché as it sounds, the most helpful strategy in finding my path was joining clubs and organizations at Santa Fe Indian School. I was involved in a lot of different groups, from bike club to student council, trying to find what sorts of things interested me most. Of the handful of organizations I participated in, two organizations, in particular, made a significant impact in helping me grow into the person I am today before taking off for college.

Going into freshman year of high school, I was very shy, quiet and didn’t know where I belonged. In my search to find a community, I came across the Born Braves Society, which is Santa Fe Indian School’s gender-sexuality alliance. The club was only a year old but was incredibly informative about the many identities within the LGBTQ+ community, with stories of hardships and ways to celebrate each aspect. It was especially impactful to hear stories from LGBTQ+ people of color, specifically indigenous people of color, and have the chance to discuss their experiences.

While I originally entered the Born Braves Society to simply make more friends and learn how to be a good ally, I ended up finding a safe space among my peers to explore my own identity and concluded I am bisexual. Joining this club, and eventually becoming its president, had a huge impact on how I perceive myself and others, as well as on my leadership abilities. It showed me that no matter where I go, I will have a strong community to support me.

My involvement with YUCCA, or Youth United for Climate Crisis Action, also changed my life for the better.

During my high school years, I because progressively more and more interested in social justice. I read about the activists in Parkland, Fla., the water protectors of Standing Rock and the people uniting globally in the fight against the climate crisis, and I was inspired to get involved at the local level. Though I had participated in social justice causes to a certain degree during my sophomore and junior years, the creation of YUCCA in the summer before my senior year impacted me like nothing else.

Consisting mostly of people of color, YUCCA is a youth-led organization that centers the voices of marginalized communities. YUCCA was created to last beyond just one action or one year and required me to step up in ways I never imagined. In helping to plan and lead actions such as protests, demonstrations, community gatherings and more, YUCCA required me to get outside of my comfort zone. I began to do more public speaking, learned how to analyze and think critically on legislation and policy, and discovered the many different pieces that come with mobilizing people. I learned so much more about the government and the people in office, what each official has the authority to do and the election process in general.

I’ve grown to be a completely different person in the year since YUCCA was formed. YUCCA gave me the tools to use my voice — and the platform to do so — and helped me realize the difference an individual can make in the community.

Not only am I much more confident in my abilities as a speaker and organizer, but I feel more certain about what I want to do with my life. I plan to study political science in college to continue my work in social justice.

While I don’t know exactly what I will do after I’ve earned my college degree, the organizations I have been a part of empowered me to find my voice and aided in developing the skill set to use it. If I could offer one piece of advice to students, it would be to get as involved in one’s community as possible because doing so can make one’s world truly open up.

Seneca Johnson is a recent graduate of Santa Fe Indian School who will attend Yale University in the fall. Contact her at senecasjo@gmail.com.

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