Throughout her four years at Codman, Heyssis was a pillar of leadership, individuality, strength and professionalism. Like all students, Heyssis underwent her own journey of identity development and self-acceptance during her time in high school. What makes Heyssis unique, though, is that she turned around and used her own experiences to empower and encourage those around her.
At Codman, all seniors are required to give a senior talk, modeled after Socrates’ defense of his life. In these talks, students share lessons they’ve learned with the school community, in the hopes that students and staff can learn and grow from the truths they impart. In Heyssis’ talk, she spoke about the role hair played in her identity development, and how the expectation of having straight hair as a Dominican woman was restricting and limiting for her.
After boldly grabbing a pair of scissors and cutting off her hair, damaged by years of salon treatment and heat damage, Heyssis wrote:
Looking at the damaged hair, it was apparent that I had to shed that version of myself before I could embrace who I truly am: a bold and outspoken young Afro-Latina woman who is finally comfortable in her own skin. Little did I know at the time, my hair journey coincided with the personal journey to help me grasp my identity. I realized that everyone else’s perception of beauty should not affect mine. I am done letting others’ opinions dictate my beauty and affect how I view myself.
Rather than keeping her personal journey private, Heyssis had the courage to share her story. She used her experiences and her voice to empower herself and other women to break the mold and explore beyond the expectations that society places on us.
No matter who or what tries to pin me into a narrow definition of normalcy or beauty, my perception of who I am will never waver.
Like the most powerful activists and leaders throughout history, Heyssis used systems she found oppressive to propel her forward. She used her story of combatting societal beauty standards to empower other women and girls in our community to do the same. Heyssis’s story, along with her boldness, intelligence and honesty, and will leave an impact on our Codman community for years to come.