Senior Cheyenne Willis discovers safe haven in her yearbook family as she copes with the chaos of high school
Stadium lights glare down onto the field as senior Cheyenne Willis adjusts the shutter speed on her camera in order to get a clear shot of the maroon jerseys flying by. She barely hears the shutter click or the roaring cheers of the fans as they celebrate a historic win against the Atascadero Greyhounds; she is focused on the capturing that victorious moment before it flits away.
Willis, the Editor-in-Chief of PRHS’ yearbook, El Roble, initially chose to join the class her sophomore year in order to pursue her hobby of scrapbooking. She started out in the class as a regular staff member, and gradually worked her way up to a group leader her second year, and finally the editor.
“When I first joined yearbook, I never thought that I would be the editor or that I’d even want to. It’s actually a really hard class. Yearbook teaches you about responsibility, working independently, staying on track, social and teamworking skills, keeping up and meeting your deadlines, work on procrastination, setting up your schedule appropriately, and offering to help others,” said Willis, who has learned to not only act as a leader but as a friend to the rest of her staff.
Yearbook advisor Maggie Roberts had no doubts when appointing Willis as her new editor.
“Cheyenne is a strong person in the face of adversity, and that has carried over into [her] work as an editor. She doesn’t let anything stand in her way of producing a good book and leading the yearbook staff. She’s determined to be successful no matter what, and that was important to me [while considering her for the editor position],” said Roberts, who describes Willis as having an enthusiastic attitude and an infectious smile.
As any student would tell you, getting through high school can be tough. Finding a niche or hobby that you can stick to and form a family around isn’t an easy task. Throughout her three years on staff, yearbook became a safe haven in the chaos of high school for Willis, who describes it as her second home.
“I would talk to [the staff] about how they were feeling, how their classes were going, what was bothering them, and if there was anything I could do to help. They did the same for me, and I am so grateful for that. We are like a big, loving family, and we always will be,” Willis said.
Willis’ yearbook family has not only supported her through her academics, but they have also allowed her to branch out and become more outgoing.
When Willis was ten, she was diagnosed with Dystonia, a neurological movement disorder that causes involuntary muscular contractions. After three years of being misdiagnosed, she received deep brain surgery, where the doctors inserted wires that they ran down to pacemakers in her chest among other leg and foot surgeries.
Willis’ daily routine includes checking both pacemakers with a special remote as well as taking seven minutes to put on her leg brace. She is unable to pass through any metal detectors and has to check her pacemakers after walking in and out of a store. Due to the involuntary muscle contractions, Willis is unable to drive, and related that often times walking around campus draws unwanted attention.
“Having Dystonia, I sometimes feel that people don’t want to be friends with me, that it dramatically sets me apart from everyone else, that no matter how hard I try, people just shut me out because of my disability. The mental and emotional strain it puts on me is very great,” Willis said.
Although dealing with Dystonia has been a struggle for Willis, she explains that it has helped her realize how strong she truly is, how it has allowed her the opportunity to be an inspiration to others, and that given the opportunity, she wouldn’t change a thing.
“[Had I not been properly diagnosed from the start,] I never would have gone to this high school, I never would have met the people that I met, I never would have joined yearbook, I never would have found what I want to do career-wise, and I never would have had the experience that I had.
“I’ve become a little more outgoing, I’ve met a lot of new people and made new friendships, I find it a bit easier to strike up and keep a conversation, and [the yearbook class has] boosted up my self confidence a little because everyone in there accepts me for who I am. That’s all I could ever ask for,” said Willis, who will be attending Cuesta after graduating high school and hopes to later transfer to a four year university to major in photojournalism and multimedia in sports.