My dad taught me the most important life lesson I’ve ever learned. Growing up, he taught my siblings and me about empathy in the best way possible. My brother is two years older than I am, and my sister is three years younger. On many occasions, a younger sibling’s problems were ignored or pushed aside. She’s struggling with division but my algebra homework is way harder, so who cares?

We were taught that, at any point in time, every person is going through the absolute most they can handle. We are not given more trials than we can endure. Maybe her homework seems easier than mine, but it’s still the hardest she has right now. That lesson carried on through high school, too. Nothing seemed fair. Why is my life harder than everyone else’s? But that was never really the case.

The girls I wanted to be so bad? The boys who got on my nerves? They were all living through their own personal ordeals that I couldn’t see.

Over time I came to realize another important lesson, this time on my own. If I wasn’t there, or directly part of a situation, it’s better to keep my opinion to myself.

Too many people, especially in high school, do not quite yet understand the importance of having this approach. This is mostly related to what I’ve encountered from the effects of gossip and people in my life. Some people think they’re entitled to speak about you, your experiences, and your feelings. In some real world cases, all opinions are relevant. But speaking about someone’s personal life, issues, or drama — when you don’t know the truth — never does any good. Even if you think you know the truth, in high school, you probably don’t.

Situations like those hurt me during my freshman through senior years, and I’m sure they’ll continue to. But at the end of the day, I find comfort in knowing that those other people don’t know what they’re talking about. If someone else believes what others are saying about me instead of just directly asking me, that’s on them. I spent so long feeding into what was said about me and my family, until I realized that all of these little high schools rumors meant nothing, especially considering how far from the truth they were.

With the little exposure I’ve had to the “real world,” this problem doesn’t entirely go away. I guess some adults don’t even know these things, and that’s OK, because they will in their own time. You can only control yourself. But worrying about people and/or things you can’t control only causes you more unnecessary stress. I’m working on this every day, but realizing it has helped me tremendously.

This year was my first and only year in Unleashed, and a lot has changed since I joined. I turned 18, graduated, started to learn how to drive, got a job, got into college, and more. My life is quickly changing and shows no means of slowing down.

However, writing has kept me grounded, and I’ve learned so much about my future in journalism through Unleashed. Thank you all for a great year.

Karlee Van De Venter is a 2019 graduate of Eisenhower High School. She plans to enroll at Eastern Washington University this fall to double major in journalism and political science.