Senior Send-off: Juan Zuniga-Mejia

What a Juanderful soul

Ky Watnick

HEAD COPY EDITOR

After four years of constant creativity, cursing, and chaos, fourth-year Juan Zuniga-Mejia is finally graduating from Whittier College. In addition to a Bachelor’s degree in English with a Creative Writing emphasis, Zuniga-Mejia will leave with an abundance of real-world experience and a lifetime of memories — afforded to him by two years in choir, two years working retail, two years at the newspaper, one year of student radio with KPOET, and one year with the running club. “Yeah, that’s all I got,” joked Zuniga-Mejia. “I was a part of a bunch of different, smaller groups, trying to find my little niche before I eventually found my way to the Quaker Campus (QC).”

For the last year, Zuniga-Mejia has served as the Features Editor for the QC. He has proven himself to be a great teacher to his assistant, a fantastic team member to the QC staff, and a wonderful friend to all. Working at the QC made a real impact on Zuniga-Mejia. “It has got me feeling like I actually belong on this campus, since I [had been] bouncing from place to place, trying to find where I fit. It felt like I didn’t really belong [at Whittier College] — like I was a ghost here,” he said. “I was telling [my friend] that my retail job was really stressful to my mentality, and I wasn’t really happy on campus anymore. She was like, ‘Oh, you should come to the QC, then, and become a copy editor.”

While many people are dragged into the newspaper by a dear friend, some find their own way to the paper through the Activities’ Fair. “I remember [in] my first year, I saw a booth for the QC at the Activities Fair, but I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to write newspapers.’ I don’t know why, but newspapers intimidated me my first year. Then, by [my] third year, I was like, ‘Heck it. I’ve been to several other organizations and didn’t find a place to fit in. Why not go somewhere where I write?’” said Zuniga-Mejia.

Photo Courtesy of Juan Zuniga-Mejia   Fourth-year Juan Zuniga-Mejia has learned to remain true to himself, and, in doing so, elevated the Features Section to new heights.

Photo Courtesy of Juan Zuniga-Mejia

Fourth-year Juan Zuniga-Mejia has learned to remain true to himself, and, in doing so, elevated the Features Section to new heights.

Over the last two years, Zuniga-Mejia has grown through his work at the QC, but he is not done growing just yet. After graduating, he will be taking a break from academics to find his confidence, gain some real life experience, and refresh his spirit. While he is uncertain what this next year will hold for him, he is sure of one thing: his career path. “What I do know is that, in the future, this boy will be working with high schoolers,” said Zuniga-Mejia. “That’s always been the goal because I believe that high school kids need a whole set of patience. Teenagers need someone to just listen, and I want to be that someone for them.” Working with high schoolers may not be a specific job title, but it is a goal that will provide Zuniga-Mejia a sense of direction as he ventures into the future.

Whatever he ends up doing, he has promised himself not to forget his passion for writing. Over the last four years at Whittier, Zuniga-Mejia has created an extensive fantasy world through his written work. “A simultaneous goal of mine is getting published; [that] is a heavy thing for me,” said Zuniga-Mejia. “I have a book that needs a lot of polishing, but is technically finished, and, within that book, there is a whole, entire fictional universe that I have developed over my time at Whittier. That means a lot to me, and I want to get that published and out there.”

As far as his future writing goes, Zuniga-Mejia has some big plans. “Everything is going to get gayer,” promised Zuniga-Mejia. “Growing up through Whittier College, I have learned more about sexuality . . . and everybody’s identity needs respect. That’s definitely going to be the goal when it comes to my fiction stuff — trying to portray some level of truth with different identities. I want to try [to] volunteer at the LGBTQIA+ Center in L.A. or somewhere closer, if possible.”

Zuniga-Mejia likes to write more than just articles and fantastical novels, though. “Working with [Professor of English] Tony Barnstone for two semesters alone has really let me see that [my poetry] is something that is really serious to me, too. Being able to vocalize and articulate all the thoughts that I have been building up and letting out . . .” said Zuniga-Mejia. “There’s a lot of writing energy that I have that I want to get out there because I feel like others could relate to it. That has always been the goal since I was in maybe eighth or ninth grade — writing so that other people can see it.” 

Sharing his voice is something that is abundantly important to Zuniga-Mejia. “I have always been the kind of guy that put other people’s needs before my own, or at least behaved the way they wanted me to behave, but, over time . . . I have become more assertive of what I need and the kind of personality that I want to put out there. If I want to be a flaming homosexual, I’m going to be a flaming homosexual because that’s my business,” said Zuniga-Mejia. “At some point I was like, ‘Why am I going to control the pitch of my voice with certain people? Why am I going to restrain my jokes?’ Maintaining myself because it is me is important, not what people perceive of me.” Wherever he may go, the world is in for a radiant talent and friend in Juan Zuniga-Mejia.