Grown-ish star Yara Shahidi has been playing Zoey Johnson for the past six years. During that time, Shahidi has graduated from high school, started attending Harvard University, and become an outspoken and inspirational activist. Similarly, her character has grown and evolved, especially in the transition from ABC's black-ish to the colorful, college-set Freeform spin-off. As Zoey prepares to celebrate her 21st birthday in tonight's grown-ish spring finale, Shahidi is grateful for her time in this role because it's been a learning opportunity.

"Being Zoey for the past six years has been fun," Shahidi told EW when she and grown-ish costume designer Michelle R. Cole dropped by EW's studio at SCAD aTVfest last week. "But I think in that time, I feel like what’s been evident, especially in grown-ish, is that growth is not linear and it’s okay being okay with that."

She continued, "I wouldn’t consider myself a perfectionist, but I do like to learn a lesson once and move on, and Zoey has shown me that sometimes it takes multiple learnings of the same lesson, but that’s just a part of being human. I love the fact that we get to watch her go through those moments of, yeah, she has to learn something 10 different ways and sometimes she just finds those areas where she already naturally thrives, and I like the fact that I’m allowed to revel in that imperfection, especially being a young girl of a similar age kind of going through the same thing she is."

Credit: Mackenzie Stroh for EW

Cole, who has worked with Shahidi since black-ish began, is similarly proud of the young woman Shahidi has become. "I've seen this growth from the moment she came into black-ish," Cole said. "When she first walked in, she had a thick book and I’m like, 'What?' I remember her telling me that [it was Pride & Prejudice] and I’m thinking, 'You’re 13!' to see her now come to work with a book this thick from Harvard. So she’s grown a lot from being 13 to 20. She’s come a long way."

Watch the video above to hear more from Shahidi and Cole. Grown-ish airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Freeform.

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