Essay of the Week: Piloting to New Destinations

By Zoe Akoto

“You’re really bringing that?”

I shout from the doorway, walking into the room as my brother packs his suitcase. In his hands, he holds about twenty gingham shirts, varying only in color and Vineyard Vines purchase date.

“These are good shirts,” he says, eyes to the floor, not looking up from his packing as he stuffs the shirts into his bag.

Alex was getting ready to leave for medical school this time. I was seven years old when he first left for boarding school, and eleven when he headed off to college. Now, at fifteen, I knew the routine: the packing, the kitchen goodbyes, the final waves from the driveway.

Growing up, my big brothers, Max and Alex, were my anchors. As the only girl in my family, I was an anomaly, signalling to my parents a deviation from the parenting style to which they were accustomed. While they accommodated my variance in kind, their established style used with my brothers still lingered. You could find me on the soccer field and in ballet class, tumbling in gymnastics and wrestling with my brothers in our living room. In exploring both the interests assigned to girls and boys, I found a confidence in my breadth of abilities, existing in an in-between space that allowed me to stand alongside my brothers.

However, when they both left home for boarding school, college, and beyond, my brothers’ absences and the knowledge of them outside our small town–not their permanency in my home life–centered me. They were experiencing and coming to understand the world around them; demonstrating there was more to the world than Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

Eventually I learned I could not fully engage the wider world solely from my brothers’ hand-me-down memories. By the time Alex left for medical school, I was pursuing my own dreams. Seeing the audacity of my brothers as explorers seizing new challenges inspired me to do the same. However, I did so on my own terms. I refused to go to boarding school when the opportunity arose and discovered passageways in my hometown to explore, such as a transformative position at my school’s literary magazine, Tapestry.

My journey to becoming editor of Tapestry isn’t heroic. It is not the uplifting tale of a student rising in the ranks until finally reaching the pinnacle of her high school literary career. In fact, it more closely resembles the account of a flight attendant who must take the helm of a crashing plane and narrowly but safely lands it, despite having no serious preparation or training. That’s what Tapestry was on any given day: a plane on the verge of crashing. And that’s what I was when the seniors all bailed and I, now the oldest and most experienced member, became the de facto editor-in-chief: seriously unprepared and untrained. As a junior, I was already determined to take on a bigger role with Tapestry, leading the push to collect posters and spread the word for submissions. Once we received all the submissions, the editors took lead, guiding the staff through deliberations on which pieces to put in the book and doing all the layout work to get the book together for publishing.

Suddenly, I was the sole editor of the magazine and had to take the lead on each step of the process, carrying a greater amount of responsibility than I had yet to face and doing the work of a junior editor-hopeful and current editor at the same time. My upbringing prepared me though, and the confidence and flexibility I’d developed early on became vital as I strained to pull my staff together to produce Tapestry.

Now, as I prepare to board to my next destination, I hold onto the lessons I’ve learned in Kennett Square, lessons that make the foundation on which I’ll continue to observe, learn and thrive, watching from a plane window headed to destinations unknown.

Zoe Akoto, a graduate of Archmere Academy in Clayton, Delaware, is a freshman at Amherst College.

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