Conventional wisdom holds that maturity can only come with age, so that makes Gonzaga Prep senior Rebekah Manikowski delightfully unconventional.
Manikowski’s success story is definitely not run-of-the-mill, and even she acknowledges that her life experiences add up to insights that defy her age.
“I think that, inside, I’m about 37 years old,” she said. Thinking it over, she confirmed, “Yeah, 37.”
Rewind to when Manikowski was 6 years old, one of five children in her family. She describes her life then as chaotic, although she didn’t realize it at the time. She’s short on specifics, except that she remembers being hungry a lot.
“My brain doesn’t want to remember a lot of stuff,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll have vivid recollections of different things, but for the most part I think not remembering is my way of protecting myself.”
She and her siblings were removed from their home and placed in various foster homes. When she was placed with Shari Manikowski, her life started over.
“My mom fell in love with me right away,” Rebekah Manikowski said. “The way I was loved changed, and I fell in love with her, too. My mom wanted me to experience everything she thought a 6-year-old should do, and I was part of her family right away.”
Her foster placement wasn’t meant to be permanent, and social services typically urges parents to do the work they need to do to get their kids back. That didn’t happen for Rebekah Manikowski, and she considers it a blessing.
“That’s the best gift my birth parents could have given me, relinquishing their rights. And after that, Shari and I adopted each other. I was 8 years old then.”
Her life has been an ongoing adjustment to the circumstances of her youth, but she considers those experiences to be fertile ground for personal growth and the opportunity to help others.
“For a long time, I was kind of too old for my age. I had problems defining what family meant, and I thought I had to pick one over the other. I was really resentful and angry toward my birth family for a long time, probably until the last year.
“I’m in occasional communication with my birth parents. I mean, we’re never separate from our past, but I don’t feel the need to re-attach emotionally.
“One of the things I learned as a kid was a survival instinct. Now I surround myself with people who make the same moral choices I do, and I choose friends who make me feel secure. If I have one friend who really believes in me, that’s enough.”
Manikowski hopes eventually to become a film director and will begin her post-secondary career next fall at Scripps College in Claremont, Calif. At G-Prep, she’s been very involved in theater arts, acting, directing and working backstage in a variety of roles.
She attributes much of her growth to her experiences there.
“The Jesuits say, ‘Take care of the whole person,’ and that’s what Gonzaga has done for me,” she said. “They want to help you become whoever you’re going to be, and to realize that process doesn’t stop when you graduate. That’s what I’d like to do for others.”