During the summer between seventh and eighth grades, everything changed—or at least it seemed like everything at the time. We'd become teenagers. Kids were rapping along with Vanilla Ice and mastering yo-yo tricks. I was the boy who liked to sing his own songs at talent shows, and I was suddenly officially uncool.
Every day I lugged my backpack through the halls, waiting for the final bell. Then I'd race home and hole up in my room, playing the drums and the piano, composing music. I felt claustrophobic and terribly lonely. I had so much to express but no way to express it.
At the end of our eighth-grade year, a friend gave me a brochure for the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts—an audition-based public school where you study academics for the first half of the day and dedicate the second half to your chosen art. I had no formal training and no idea what I was getting into, but I was desperate for something other than the status quo. I auditioned and was accepted.
On the first day, I had to perform a monologue in front of the class. Afterward I was red with humiliation. I thought it went horribly. As I was leaving, a group of kids approached, and I wondered if this school would be even worse than the last—maybe instead of being ignored, I'd get picked on. Did people get beat up at art schools?
"Your monologue was awesome," one said. Another asked me to join him for lunch. As I walked to the cafeteria with my new friends, I could breathe. I had gotten to this place by doing what I loved, even when it meant I felt different and alone.
Since then I've been confronted with a lot of pressure to compromise. When I feel confused or depressed, I remember back to junior high and I silently repeat, "This, too, shall pass." Because I know that life is a journey I must accept and that pain and confusion are temporary. I know that if I follow my heart, it will lead me where I belong.