How have you changed?

Seniors+Mariana+Lopez%2C+Mason+Wright%2C+James+Kostomiris%2C+Johaan+Salgado+and+Melissa+Pani%2C+pictured+as+freshman+and+again+now.

Photo by Adan Villa

Seniors Mariana Lopez, Mason Wright, James Kostomiris, Johaan Salgado and Melissa Pani, pictured as freshman and again now.

By Adan Villa, Editor

Change can be one of the scariest experiences known to mankind, but it can also be beautiful.

As I said farewell to West Chicago Community High School and the Wildcat Chronicle, I had the honor to interview five amazing seniors – Mariana Lopez, Mason Wright, James Kostomiris, Johaan Salgado, and Melissa Pani – to see how they have changed since freshman year and to learn more about their experiences in high school. These were their answers.

Mariana Lopez

Looking back at her first day of high school in 2018, Mariana Lopez remembered “being overwhelmed. There were so many kids and it was a very loud and hot day. I also did not like freshman orientation.”

Lopez felt she had grown a good deal since that fateful day.

“As a freshman, I feel like I was very uptight, I never gave myself the liberty to have the fun I deserved, and had a fixed mindset. Now, I feel like I am more open-minded and flexible. I have grown to let myself enjoy things more and know when it’s okay to take a break or slow down,” said Lopez.

Throughout high school, Lopez has committed to keeping good grades, working, and being involved in many clubs and extracurriculars, including as ROAR, Pep Club, and tennis, to name a few.

“WeGo Global has been something I have been a part of for all my four years and been unconditionally proud of,” said

Senior Mariana Lopez (third from the right, in red) alongside WeGo Global members. (Photo by Mariana Lopez)

Lopez.

Good friend and former Wildcat Chronicle reporter Gloria Gonzalez said, “I’ve known Mariana since kindergarten, and she’s always been a very motivated person with goals. I always knew she would have accomplished everything she’s accomplished so far, and I know she will accomplish so much more in the future.”

“My biggest accomplishments I would say would be my consistency, I am consistent with my interests, either that being studies, extracurricular activities, or some other knick-knack I have found curiosity for. I think being consistent is a good but difficult thing to maintain and I am glad I developed and sustained it throughout high school,” said Lopez.

She intends to go to DePaul University and major in history and Spanish in the fall, as part of the class of 2026.

Lopez said, “Piece of advice for incoming freshmen: get involved as much as you can. There are so many different opportunities and extracurriculars for you to thrive in, and if you don’t find one, make one. At the end of your high school experience, you’re going to regret the things you didn’t do as opposed to the things you did do.”

Mason Wright

“I remember wearing a terrible outfit that made me look like a complete idiot… to this day I still do not know why I chose to wear what I wore, but then again, who really knows why we do the things we do? I was also very nervous going into the high school, since there were so many people I didn’t even know and had never seen before. But other than that, I thought the school was pretty cool, since it was a new environment, and I really enjoyed it,” said senior Mason Wright of his first day of high school in 2018.

Since then, Wright has come a long way. Now a senior, Wright has excelled in football and track, earning Varsity spots for both sports for the past 3 years. More recently, Wright considered offers to play football in college from schools such as the University of Saint Francis, Quincy University, Lake Forest College, Benedictine University, Greenville University and, North Central College before deciding to fully commit to Lake Forest College, where he will attend in the fall, aiming to graduate in 2026.

As for a major area of study, Wright is going in undecided.

“I am mostly looking forward to being able to spend time with my friends and being able to have freedom in college while also being able to play a sport I love. Football has impacted me a lot through high school: it has made me very

Senior Mason Wright during one of his 2021 games at West Chicago Community High School. (Photo by Nicole Fields Photos)

excited to go to college, and also very excited to be able to play football in college which has been one of my longest dreams,” said Wright.

Lake Forest College is Division 3 for football, as well as a member of the Midwest Conference, in which they hold 6 conference titles.

Although he is a notable wide receiver now, Wright started off as “a shy guy, to say the least.”

Over the past 4 years, Wright has developed confidence and built relationships.

“Now, I am a very vocal person with many friendships that I intend to keep as I go off to college. I used to be worried about talking to people and making friends, since I didn’t know what people would think of me. I was worried that people would think I was really weird, and I would never make any friends, but once I got over that I was able to make so many amazing friends.”

Moving forward, Wright said, “The biggest piece of advice that I can give to incoming freshmen is don’t care or worry about what people are going to think of you: people will like you for who you are.”

James Kostomiris

“My first day of school, I remember the intercoms coming on before the first hour, talking about the tragic death that happened a few weeks before school started. I remember being scared hearing about that, but I can promise you West Chicago is not that bad,” said senior James Kostimiris.

Senior James Kostomiris giving a handshake to a former teammate during Senior Night. (Photo by James Kostimiris)

Kostomiris has excelled in high school while also working a part-time job and playing basketball for the high school for the past 4 years. “Basketball has taught me a lot of dedication and responsibility, since I would have to manage work, school, and practices every day,” said Kostomiris.

Senior and fellow teammate Baqar Khan said, “James has always been a hard worker for as long as I’ve known him, and I am glad to call him a true friend of mine.”

A short time ago, Kostomiris fully committed to Loras College, a Division 3 school, to play basketball. But, sometimes in life, there are different paths that people must take to be able to make the most out of their situations, and so Kostomiris “recently decided not to continue to play basketball in college.” He will focus on his studies, and plans to major in physical training in the fall, a program that will take up to 8 years to complete.

“While it hurts me to leave something I worked so hard to accomplish, I feel like I have other things planned for me in life. My coaches were pretty disappointed that I decided to not continue my basketball career, but I want to take time to enjoy life and focus on school. The late Coach Williams always encouraged me to be a good person and to do what I wanted to do, and I feel like this is what is right for me.”

For WEGO’s underclassmen, Kostomiris said, “The best piece of advice that I can give incoming freshmen and even anyone, in general, is the things you regret the most in life won’t be the things you’ve done. They’ll be the things you didn’t do, that you wish you did. Take risks.”

Johaan Salgado

On his first day of high school, now-senior Johaan Salgado’s mother drove him to WEGO. He remembers, “My brother was with me since he was not driving at the time also. He was a sophomore. I remember I was wearing a nice red Polo Ralph Lauren polo shirt. My first day was definitely weird, since we had an assembly the first day, and I kept getting lost. It was like going into a strange environment.”

Since that day, a good deal has changed for Salgado.

“I was a completely different person back then. I didn’t know anyone, so I would feel really secluded since there were so many people there. I didn’t even know who to talk to. I am definitely more outgoing now” said Salgado of his first day.

Salgado has subsequently made a name for himself in music, uploading videos of himself playing guitar to TikTok and Instagram, which led attracted the attention of many influential musicians. In January, he played alongside

Senior Johaan Salgado alongside Ivan Cornejo before his show at V Live. (Photo by Happily Shoots)

singer Ivan Cornejo, and now, he looks forward to playing guitar on Saturday, June 25 in Los Angeles, California, at the “Viva L.A.” festival alongside Latin band Los Aptos.

“I am very proud of all the hard work and dedication Johaan has put into what he does and I am very excited to see what the future has for him,” said older brother Javier Salgado of Johaan’s accomplishments.

Johaan plans to continue his music career after high school.

“Music has impacted me so much, since I am doing what I love, and it also supports me financially. It also gave me a stronger relationship with my mom because when I first started going to gigs, she would always come with me. There was never a gig she missed,” said Salgado.

He explained that he also admired Danny Felix, a regional Mexican musician highly regarded in the industry.

“Throughout my whole career, a lot of the inspiration I got was from him. Still, to this day, I can distinguish his guitar playing from anyone else, and it really inspires me because I want people to be able to hear my music and know that that is me playing just by hearing it.”

As he reflected on his 4 years at West Chicago Community High School, Salgado said, “The best piece of advice I can give incoming freshmen is to be prepared, be prepared, work-wise and social wise because when you come into high school you can meet people who are not the right group for you and even people that will inspire you to do better in life. Don’t EVER change yourself to be a people pleaser because, at the end of the day, you should only do what makes you happy.”

Melissa Pani

Heading into freshman year, now-senior Melissa Pani worried that the seniors would harass the incoming students.

“I remember being told a rumor that freshmen get pennies thrown at them. I was so scared that I would be walking around getting pennies thrown at me… I can promise that that does not actually happen,” said Pani.

“I also remember wearing a nice outfit that I had laid out on my bed, my mom used to take me shopping a couple of days before school so I would have a brand new set of pants and shoes so I could look fresh.”

Pani strived to achieve high marks academically throughout high school, even earning membership in National Honor Society (NHS). She was also involved in volunteer work, and captain of the girls’ Varsity soccer team her senior year.

“I’ve been playing soccer for nine years, and plan on playing in college, but originally, I didn’t want to. I feel like a big accomplishment I’ve made was becoming the team captain,” said Pani

Senior Melissa Pani during one of her last soccer games as a student at WCCHS; Pani was team captain her final year of high school. (Photo by Melissa Pani)

After high school, Pani plans to attend Olivet Nazarene University, hoping to major in biology/pre-med, and eventually go to nursing school. She genuinely cares for her fellow classmates, and wants to help those in need.

“I feel like I am a genuinely good person, and I am outgoing. I try my hardest to make sure people can fit in,” said Pani.

Senior Daniel Zlataric said, “I have noticed that she likes to include everyone, especially when she sees people being left out of a conversation or even in class.”

As Pani now says goodbye to West Chicago Community High School, she offered up the following advice to incoming freshmen: “Enjoy your time in school. It goes by way faster than you would expect.”

From the Editor

After 4 years of hard work, determination, and dedication, the kids who once walked into the high school – and feared fitting in and making friends for the first time on August 18, 2018 – are finally graduating. Through both the good and hard times they have all faced, the class of 2022 has evolved, endured and even triumphed. The future is a mysterious thing, but one thing I do know is that everyone in this graduating class will make the best out of their lives and future.

As the great philosopher Kanye West once said, “If you have the opportunity to play this game of life, you need to appreciate every moment. A lot of people don’t appreciate their moment until it has passed.”

It has been a pleasure knowing all of you, and I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. Good luck and goodnight, Wildcats.