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  • By a Lake Forest Love Writer

Annie Swift: 'I Would Not Be the Person I Am Today Without CROYA'

Annie Swift of Lake Forest won the Spirit of CROYA Margot Martino essay contest. She read her speech (posted below) at a meeting of the Lake Forest City Council recently. She graduated from Lake Forest High School this spring. CROYA is summer. You may be wondering how a little, red brick building tucked away in our little town could be described as “summer” but if you stick with me, you might just find out. To me, summer means a break from real life, endless fun, fresh air, a bright sun and spending time with the people you love. Summer is a time in your life you hope never ends. CROYA is the same. You've probably heard people say CROYA is their outlet; it's a step away from the stresses we all experience as high school students. I, as well as various others can attest to this. The second you walk through the door, you are greeted with the most loving, authentic and truly a one-of-a-kind group of people. It's a breath of fresh air, a light in people's lives and the reason closing this chapter of my youth feels nearly impossible.

Annie Swift (front row, second from left) gets together with her CROYA friends outside of City Hall. I can wholeheartedly say that I would not be the person I am today without CROYA. This community has taught me everything I need to know about what it takes to be a good person. I've learned that it's okay to take off the smiley mask we all wear, you never really know what someone is going through, but most importantly, it's okay to not be okay. CROYA has allowed me to see the value behind the saying we all know as "never judge a book by its cover" because everyone has a few chapters they don't read out loud. Through the guidance of CROYA, I understand the importance of sharing those chapters because in order to truly love who you are, you cannot hate the experiences that have shaped you. My chapter began as a freshman, admiring all the upperclassmen shine their light on anyones who seemed to be dim and share their fiery passion to anyone who was willing to listen. It seemed as though they had a never-ending supply so I followed their light which led me to CROYA. I wanted in on it too so I decided I needed to attend the infamous retreat in the fall of my freshman year. It wasn’t too long into the retreat that I realized my peers had failed to mention one thing; The course of my life would completely change. I was once eager to peek over the wall everyone has built so high but after that weekend, it felt as though I was gifted a ladder to reach the other side.

Annie Swift reads her winning CROYA essay at City Hall. It was the exact moment I realized who I wanted to be. I wanted to be summer. I wanted to be the sun, the fresh air, the outlet. I felt this urge to be the light in others' lives and give them something to look forward to. Inevitably, I soon found myself watching all the people I had looked up to, writing their last chapter and eventually shed their light elsewhere which led to some rainy days. The sun didn't shine, the air felt scarce which made me believe it was finally my turn to be summer. It soon became evident this task was quite literally impossible- I put myself at fault for not supplying the warmth everyone so desperately craved. I felt guilty for having rainy days, walking around with a cloud over my head, leaving me unable to be everything I had hoped to be. I would wonder how all these people I had idolized kept their sun shining when I couldn't seem to get mine out. Life gained a whole new meaning when CROYA taught me that rain is just as important as the sun because if there's no rain, flowers would not bloom, grass would not be green and rivers would run dry. The sun will always come around but, if you force it out and make it constant, it loses its meaning and becomes ordinary. I learned that life is full of unexpected ups and downs, but it's impossible to appreciate one without the other, just like how summer wouldn't be summer without fall, winter and spring. Even on the rainiest days, I can still find the sun, not always my sun, but all of yours. As we know, the sun is illuminating and rain can be discouraging but, it takes both to create something so extraordinary which is why I title my final chapter “Rainbow”. With only a few pages, cramming in as many memories as possible, left wishing I could flip back to chapter oneI've realized that in between all the lines, I've gotten the pleasure of watching all of you blossom into the most beautiful and unique souls, each to their own. I will forever hold summer close to my heart and will make it my purpose to help others find their summer. I cannot wait to see all of you shine bright but, only now, from afar

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