“This place gets people to where they need to be. Whether it’s through socializing or through music, and it’s made me more passionate about music,” said Lori Grace, Denver Online High School senior. For her, it’s all of the above.
The grungy quaintness of the 7th Circle Music Venue became a special place where Grace volunteers now weekly. “A big reason why I started coming here by myself…I have really bad social anxiety. And it’s hard to be around too many people at once,” a struggle that’s only crescendoed since kindergarten.
“I used to get bullied a lot. I didn’t really have a lot of friends because of me getting bullied, or I would get bullied because I didn’t have any friends. Like, it was either one of those. And I built up these walls, like I was too scared to get close to people because they are going to end up just like these bullies who have hurt me for years,” she said.
“I’m more passionate about how the music functions, and how it can make, it can make or break people. You know, it brings people together or it can break people apart,” a theme that’s also showed itself throughout Grace’s education.
“I was actually a really good student back in middle school, regardless of all the bullying. I would get all of my schoolwork done. I was really close with all of my teachers. I had this foundation for what would have been a really good student, and then high school came and it hit me like a train. It reminded me that no matter how good you are previously, you might not be good enough now,” Grace explained.
Depression, eating disorders, and bad relationships broke her down, flunking three classes within the first semester of high school.
“At the end of my junior year, I had been told by my counselor that he wasn’t going to help me get into college because I wasn’t good enough for it. There was no way that I would survive in a college environment. So at that point I just pushed it out of my head, and I hadn’t even thought of going to college my entire high school career because of how much I was flunking, but the fact that it was verbalized from someone that you hold in such a high position that is supposed to help you and doesn’t, that just really hit me, and I had no hope for myself for the future,” she said.
Dropping out began to feel like a real option.
She described her sinking feeling, saying, “I was so low that I actually ended up trying to kill myself, and at that point I was like I need to crawl back up out of this hole because this hole is poisonous, and I don’t want to be stuck here the rest of my life.”
And so she did, crawling her way back up, and eventually finding a new home at Denver Online High School.
“I’ve worked most closely with [Principal] Ian [Jones], and he’s been the one who has really been pushing me to go to college,” a goal that Principal Ian Jones knows the teen can accomplish, her determination to succeed already proven within the first few months after coming to Denver Online.
“My family ended up getting evicted. We had two and a half weeks to move,” she described. Fresh to online education, Grace quickly was forced to learn the art of time management, balancing schoolwork around her new work schedule.
“After we moved, we were paying twice as much at our new apartment, and I had to start working forty hours every week,” working for minimum wage, paying up to $400 a month depending on her family’s needs.
“It teaches you life lessons and how to budget, and I’m glad I was taking financial literacy at the time because man that class taught me how to budget really quickly,” she laughed.
Despite every hardship, the senior will graduate this year from a school where she has felt supported and safe to grow.
She described her senior at Denver Online High School, saying, “I don’t think I would have been able to graduate or make friends or be the person that I am right now just in terms of all of the depression and everything, because it takes a toll on you after a while. And with social anxiety and having to break through it, you build up these walls, and you keep them up for so long, and you want to break them down as much as possible, but you’re too scared to remove the brick by brick. And I got to the point where I was like, ‘screw it, I’m just going to knock the whole thing down and see what happens from there.’”
Because some students have walls in their way. Big ones. And it’s up to educators to help try and break those down so that students can move forward, whether that’s to pursue a career in music, go to college, or simply walk across a graduation stage.
Grace is excited to not only walk at graduation but also giving a graduation speech to her peers as well. “A lot of my family is coming in for graduation, because I’m pretty sure a lot of my family thought I wasn’t going to graduate. But a lot of them are coming in, and I’m really excited for them to watch me walk a stage.”