‘No matter what life throws at us, we grow, like flowers’

Elizabeth Walski

Elizabeth Walski can’t decide whether to study psychology in college or pursue certification to become a tattoo artist. Talk to her for a few minutes and it won’t be difficult to imagine that if there’s a way to do both, Lizzy, as friends call her, will likely figure out a way.

Said counselor Elle Burgess, who is impressed by Lizzy’s positivity in the face of numerous challenges, “If anyone has shown they have grit, it’s her.”

An often volatile home life that drove her to move in with a friend’s family, then her grandparents, occupied much of her attention last school year, and she was failing most of her classes.

“My grades have never been what I would call the greatest,” she admits, “but when all that was happening, I just felt nowhere. My grades were pure garbage.”

A drawing by Elizabeth Walski

What’s more, she sometimes suffers severe bouts of anxiety she calls “a tornado of thoughts.”

“It scares me because I never know when it’s going to happen. Sometimes things will be going just fine and I just start thinking and building my own tornado.”

Doing poorly in school was disappointing, she said, because apart from math, she truly enjoys it — especially English and art. She credits English teacher Thomas Kawel, whose class she took during freshman and sophomore years, as an inspiration.

“I don’t think he realizes the impact he’s had on my life, because I was never his A student,” Lizzy said. “He was just so funny, and the way he taught, he’s so passionate. He read the whole ‘Odyssey’ to us. He’s so found his niche, and I saw myself in that, having that kind of passion.”

Lizzy also sees a therapist regularly. Her outlets include competitive swimming and drawing.

Making Steady Improvement

This year the grades are coming back, and Lizzy meets with “amazing” math tutor Barbara Cone during lunch three times a week.

“She told me there’s no time limit on figuring out what you want to do in life,” Lizzy said. “It gives me a different perspective.”

Burgess, her counselor, says Lizzy’s determination and focus have helped her overcome her challenges, and will serve her well going forward.

“Even through all of the life changes she has experienced in a short amount of time, she’s been a positive advocate for herself,” Burgess said. “Lizzy has not given up on her goals for one second; she is constantly fighting for what she wants and deserves. Her tenacious spirit will carry her far in life.”

On Lizzy’s forearm is a tattoo of poppies — for her birth month of August — and a sunflower, her favorite.

“Whenever people ask me what it means, I say ‘from the lowest we grow,’ like, no matter what life throws at us, we grow, like flowers. Having (the tattoo) makes me feel more confident.”

Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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