- Sponsorship -

This senior’s secret: Learn how to embrace change

Grad with Grit: Sarai Calderon

Godwin Heights — Senior Sarai Calderon freely talked about her plans to attend Albion College this fall, where she will major in English and minor in philosophy with the goal of eventually studying law.

“It’s gonna be really different because I’m so used to the city,” Sarai said. “I was raised in the city, and Albion, basically, is like a small town. … I will have to get used to the fact that I might not know anybody there because it’s such a small school. I feel like compared to when I transferred from Union to (Godwin Heights), I’m way more confident in myself and my self-esteem, (and) that I’m going to be able to … find the people I can be comfortable with.”

Sarai, who graduated from Godwin Heights High School last month, is the first to admit that it seems strange for her to be talking about, much less attending, a college that is two hours away from her home. That’s because it was only a few years ago that she barely survived the seven-minute move from her former home in Grand Rapids to Wyoming.

Finding Her Squad

Sarai, who previously attended Grand Rapids Public Schools, said she made friends easily and life was going quite well until COVID-19 came along.

“(The pandemic) for sure impacted me grade-wise … it was right before I was gonna finally graduate from eighth grade,” she said. “So I didn’t have a ceremony or anything, and I started high school virtually freshman year and it was a very weird situation.”

Although she was enrolled at Union High School, many of Sarai’s friends had selected different schools; making new friends in a virtual setting proved to be difficult, she said.

It was Sarai Calderon’s junior year when she decided to push herself by improving her grades to graduate with her classmates

“I didn’t really enjoy freshman year that much because of how isolated it was and how virtual it was,” she said. “It was really hard to make friends in general because you were just showing up on the Zoom call just trying not to fall asleep, which I did a lot.”

Things were looking more promising for her sophomore year as many districts moved back to more in-person learning, until her mother made the announcement that the family was moving. Sarai would now be attending Godwin Heights.

Up until that time, Sarai said her grades were good, but moving to a different district was difficult and she started to fail classes. 

“I hate to admit it, but I didn’t really talk to anybody or anyone for the first two or four months,” she said. “I was pretty isolated for a while.”

She barely managed to pass her sophomore classes, mostly due to attendance, Sarai said; in one class she received a D- with an extra minus for her poor attendance. 

‘What I loved about teaching Sarai was her willingness to share her thinking to help move class discussions forward.’

— math teacher James Rex

The following summer, in June 2022, Sarai lost one of her role models when her grandmother was killed in a car crash.

“(My grandma) was someone who also raised me in a way, because my mom is a single mom of three and she usually did third shift, so my grandma and my grandpa would usually take care of me and my little brother,” Sarai said. “We had a really strong connection. So it affected all of us as a family.” 

But things started to turn around for Sarai in her junior year. For starters, she had made a friend who introduced her to two other friends. Before Sarai knew it, she had “a solid 15 different people that I would consider friends.”

Embracing the Challenge

It was also in her junior year that Sarai recognized she needed to step up her academic game if she planned to graduate and go on to college. She recommitted to focusing on school and bringing up her grades.

That commitment caught the attention of math teacher James Rex, who had Sarai in class for two years and said she actually became an overachiever. Math was not a subject that came easily for Sarai, he said, but she was resilient and willing to embrace the challenge.

“What I loved about teaching Sarai was her willingness to share her thinking to help move class discussions forward,” Rex said. “Even as the content became increasingly challenging, she remained one of the few students willing to raise her hand and offer an idea or interpretation.”

With her renewed focus, Sarai discovered her grade point average, then a 2.9, was just short of college scholarship qualifications. She decided to try to eliminate that extra minus for attendance from her sophomore year by not missing more than five days in the first semester of her senior year. Doing so helped her raise her GPA to a 3.1 — and with that she started receiving scholarship offers.

Her senior year was not without its challenges: Her mother was diagnosed with kidney cancer (but is doing better now) and an ACL tear ended her high school soccer career two games into the season. 

But she did not let any of it detract from her goal to graduate and go to college. 

Changing Her Outlook

Looking back on her four years of high school and ahead to her next adventure at Albion, Sarai said she’s not so resistant to change anymore.

“Some change is good,” she said, noting she is one of the first family members to attend a four-year college. “In reality, life is gonna obviously have obstacles, but … you have to open up to other people that you’re comfortable with, because if you don’t, then you’re gonna have to struggle with that on your own.”

She also had some words of advice for those continuing or just starting their high school journey.

“Take it seriously with the grades. But don’t always think that a letter grade can basically define your smartness,” Sarai said. “You can be smart in other places. Like, you could be street smart, you could be socially smart. There’s just so many other ways that people may be smart, and it doesn’t always have to be academically.”

Read more from Godwin Heights: 
Making music makes this junior feel ‘fulfilled, proud’
Senior shines on the soccer field, looks toward the future

- Sponsorship -
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio


Related Articles

- Sponsorship -

Issues in Education

Making Headlines

- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You Live WGVU