ALUMNI VOICES: SABRINA WU ’16
I treated Greenhills like a big stage. I took up any opportunity to perform. I danced every spirit week in the Walk-Off. I tried stand-up for the first time at ACTivate the Cure. I performed my Forensics piece at an all-school assembly even though it was so dorky to do. I think I was desperate to feel seen.
Once when I was in sixth grade, I intentionally dropped my phone in a school recycling bin. I pretended it was on accident. No one was within earshot, but I nonetheless mumbled an “oops” after I let my new Samsung slip between my fingers and into a pile of used papers. I then flung myself head first into the bin. I remained upside down, pretending to search for my lost phone. I knew my legs were hanging out of the blue bin, so I swung them around high in the air, begging for someone to look.
Inside the bin, I started seeing stars. Blood was rushing to my head. I kept my resolve. I would stay put until someone approached me. I dreamed about who it would be. Somebody super cool, I hoped, like Selena Gomez or an eighth grader. Both were equally exciting options to me then. It ended up being neither. Señora Nazzaro, a former Spanish teacher beloved by her students, was the first and only to crane her neck and take a peek inside. I was thrilled to catch sight of her. I imagined telling her about my lost phone, feeling her pull me out by my ankles, and sharing a laugh about it afterward. In reality, she immediately demanded I get out of that damn bin.
She sounded angry. I scrambled to get back on my feet, tipping the bin over. I fell flat on my chest. The bin still over my head, I slowly and shamefully pulled my head out of its blue plastic shell. I felt like a snail, small and pathetic. I waited for Señora to reprimand me. “What were you doing in there?” she asked. I told her that I dropped my phone. She rolled her eyes, then said with a smirk, “Don’t push me Wu-Wu.” I realized then she wasn’t actually angry. She was just playing along. When she left, I felt heartbroken that our big scene was already over.
I was lonely. My parents and I have always loved each other dearly, but we were not close when I was growing up. They immigrated from China, where they adopted its cultural values. After moving to America, they had no idea how to make sense of me, their first child. I had a propensity to be loud, to overshare, and to doodle relentlessly in class. I was a huge tomboy and an out lesbian by my junior year. I went against a lot of what my parents believed to be right and good. In an effort to get along, we kept our distance. And as a result, I turned to Greenhills in strange ways.
In sixth grade, I threw myself in a bin. In seventh grade, I often bear-tackle-hugged my history teacher, Ms. Maher. In eighth grade, I spent lunch period gossiping with my health teacher Ms. Shima. Freshman year, I cried a lot to Caroline Huntoon and Mrs. Ebeling about how much I love their Forensics program. Sophomore year, before coming out to my friends, I came out as gay to Gary Lehman. Junior year, I gifted an in-class doodle to my favorite Spanish teacher, Sra. Ortiz. She said she wanted it for when I became a famous artist. Senior year, I hugged former school counselor Rochelle Flumembaum, and I prayed we’d keep in touch long after we both left the school. This is only a short list of all those I feel immensely and eternally grateful to.
When I reflect on my time at Greenhills, I think most fondly of the faculty, many of whom capaciously welcomed me into their lives, who made the effort to see me and support me personally and creatively even when I was being a total weirdo.
I believe their generosity forever changed the course of my life. I got to know myself as a teenager and was thus able to stay true to myself into adulthood. When I was really young, my parents and I would imagine 24-year-old Sabrina attending business school. In reality, I’m a comedian. For my job, I talk loudly on stage and overshare on the regular. I recently wrote and sold a TV script about a gay teenager at a Michigan high school. And last fall, I acted in an upcoming comedy movie, in which I had to throw myself into a wet bog — an upgrade from recycling bins, I guess. These days, I’m not so desperate to feel seen. The Hollywood machine sometimes tricks people into thinking that having fame is the same as feeling seen. It confuses notoriety with genuine connection. I’ve grown and I know the difference. I don’t seek notoriety. I seek community. I seek queer, POC, and other marginalized artists. I seek ways to uplift their voices alongside my own. I seek opportunities for us to express ourselves in our entirety. And I’d like to think that in doing so, I’m doing right by the same teachers who left their classroom doors open to students.
Originally published in the 2022-2023 issue of The Forum Magazine