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The people on the journey

Grad with grit: Citra Sagritalo

East Grand Rapids – Citra Sagritalo wants to be an animator someday and maybe work on movies.

So she doesn’t hesitate when asked about her favorite animated films.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” is her immediate reply.

It came out when she was in middle school, and she loves both the quality of the animation and the depth of its storytelling.

The plot centers on Kubo, a 12-year-old boy with one eye who takes care of his ill mother, but then sets out on a dangerous quest.

“It’s really so amazing,” Citra said. “It’s a beautiful piece of art with animation that brings out the emotions of the characters. It’s a self-discovery kind of film, but it’s not a real-life world. It’s dangerous, there are monsters, the kid is trying to survive and find themselves, and he meets all these people on the journey, and they become his family.”

Citra smiles when asked if there are parallels between her life and Kubo’s.

“Obviously my story is not as dramatic as Kubo’s but definitely, I have had to go on my own journey,” she said, hands folded in her lap, head down.

Then she lifts her head and looks her visitor in the eye.

“I’m transgender and that’s definitely a big deal,” she said. “My existence is a political debate. So, yeah, maybe some similarities.”

From Crisis to Coping

For Citra, one of the big monsters was a dangerous depression.

In the spring of 2021, she spent a week doing inpatient therapy.

“I was depressed, I was suicidal, I was very confused and anxious,” she said. “When I realized I was transgender I thought I could manage it. It became terrible to manage. I felt like I was lying to my parents, and I didn’t want to disappoint them. Inpatient was definitely a good thing for me.”

Last year, as a junior, Citra was 100 percent online and male. This year, as a senior, she came back to in-person learning transitioning to female.

“I’m excited for the future, for art school, for my career… I’m excited for college and for city life. I am glad I can finally be myself.”

– Citra Sagritalo

“When I came back for my senior year I came back as a different person,” she said, and she means not only how she presents but also where she is mentally, spiritually and emotionally. 

She said inpatient therapy helped her move from crisis mode to a place where she now has some skills to cope with her emotions, but she admitted that coming back for her senior year as a female was risky.

“I didn’t know how teachers would be with it, or other students,” she said with a smile. “I find it pretty good here. You’re always going to have problems with people who don’t understand, but I have found more people who stand by me than don’t.”

Support From Peers, Adults

Citra resurrected the school’s Gay Straight Alliance and regular contact there with like-minded peers has been an important support as have her friends in the art club and robotics club. Her parents also have been a huge support, she added, as have East’s teachers and counselors, including animation teacher Patrick Reed and counselor Elle Burgess.

“Mr. Reed has been very accepting and understanding, but he also pushes me to be my best,” she said. “I really appreciate him a lot. And Ms. Burgess, her office is always open. I’ve definitely come to Ms. Burgess for a lot of things. She’s nice, caring, thoughtful, understanding. I think a lot of people can benefit from someone like Ms. Burgess.”

“I work to provide a safe, non-judgmental space for students.”

– counselor Elle Burgess

Reed, who, in addition to classes in animation and game design also teaches drafting, engineering and architecture classes, has known Citra since her sophomore year when she took her first animation and game design class.

He said Citra is an easy student to both support and push.

“I have been very lucky to have Citra as a student,” he said. “Citra never just goes through the motions looking for a high mark. She truly cares about her work and what she creates and holds herself to a high standard in all her animations. She has talent, so I want to see her expand and develop those skills, especially since that can lead to a very rewarding career. I think she will make an outstanding animator.”

‘Team Citra All the Way’

Burgess is equally effusive about Citra, whom she has known since ninth grade.

“I am so proud of her, words can’t describe,” she said. “From where she started to where she is now and to where she will go. The fact that she had agreed to be featured in a School News Network article regarding her journey is very telling of her growth. To share one’s story can be nerve-racking, leaving you to feel very vulnerable, but she is ready and wanting to help others by sharing her experiences. Team Citra all the way.”

Burgess said she had weekly check-ins with Citra this year, and that it was important for Citra to know she could come to the counseling office anytime, “no questions asked, whether it was to talk or just take a break from the ‘noise.’”

And, she added, what she tried to provide for Citra is what she tries to provide for each and every East student.

“I work to provide a safe, non-judgmental space for students,” she said. “I try to listen to understand, not listen to respond. I also try to help them uncover their true potential, restore hope and be their biggest cheerleader through all things, during the good and challenging times.” 

‘I’m transgender and that’s definitely a big deal. My existence is a political debate.’

– Citra Sagritalo

Citra has been accepted to the College for Creative Studies in Detroit where she will study animation and art education. She can’t wait.

“I applied to only a few colleges because I knew what I was looking for in an animation program,” she said. “I ended up choosing CCS because of the quality of their program and the scholarships I received from them.”

College Acceptance an Emotional Moment

Getting her acceptance letter was an emotional moment, she said.

“Honestly, I cried when I found out I got in. I have always had some harsh expectations from myself. It was a huge relief to see that such a nice art school would see the passion behind my work.”

Citra said being at East was a plus in the process.

“My counselor helped me understand transcripts and applications, and so many of my teachers were willing to write letters of recommendation because they saw my passion for animation that I had shown through the years.”

Before Detroit, though, comes graduation and the conclusion of what Citra said has been the best year of her life so far.

“I’m excited for the future, for art school, for my career,” she said. “I’m excited for college and for city life. I am glad I can finally be myself.”

And though Kubo is the hero of her favorite movie, she chose the name Citra from a book series she loves called “Arc of a Scythe.”

The first installment in that series is called simply “Scythe” and introduces readers to two teens, Rowan and Citra, who become apprentices and must make their way in the world of a dystopian future, even as they fall in love with each other.

“I was able to see some of my ideals and values in her character,” Citra said. “And the Scythe series is very progressive and included trans representation, which definitely helped me understand who I am as a person.”

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Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan covers East Grand Rapids and Kelloggsville and is the lead reporter for Grand Rapids. He hails from Exeter, Ontario (but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985) and is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop. Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both journalism and public relations, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level for almost a decade. In the summer of 2019, he began his own writing and communications business, de Haan Communications. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children. Read Phil's full bio

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