• Topic

  • School


Sample Essays

Click here to read all our essays and features on .
Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

My Kind of Brain

By Melck Kuttel

unnamedThrough the human eye, letters form up at attention, their ranks splitting off to make squads commonly known as words. Most can keep these letters at attention, preventing them from falling off the line. Yet, my page differs: the letters seem to dance. My eye lacks control, and my ranks fall into disarray. Words of grotesque nature form and then split off to form other unintelligible scribbles. I try hard but can only get the letters to make simple ranks for short periods, and then the renegades resume their crazed dance, defying my authority.

A child’s path to “readerhood” is crucial in helping him or her become a functioning member of society. Many children start the journey with clear skies and a calibrated GPS system, mastering key fundamentals at young ages. My journey was filled with snake pits and hailstorms. Many years went by and I was still battling the armies of vowels. After a semester of grade two in South Africa, a teacher recognized that I needed remedial help. I followed her recommendation to attend a school designed for kids confronting a difficult path to “readerhood.” I doubt I would be where I am today had I not followed this life-changing suggestion.

My journey as a dyslexic student has granted me the luxury of assimilating knowledge in different ways. After all, a curious mind can find answers in the most unexpected places. When I couldn’t rely on letters to conform, I focused on words spoken, landscapes traversed, cultures observed, and teachers dedicated to their trade. While I have become a strong reader, I am fortunate to have retained the ability to look beyond text and written words to find meaning.

Faces tell stories that are often in direct contradiction to the facts at hand. On a family trip to Kenya, we visited rural villages with people living below the poverty line on the global economic scale. Yet the joy and warmth radiating from those we met told a story of resilience and ingenuity. I saw, through the power of observation–the same intelligence beyond reading that I was compelled to develop when words would not join my army.

I have grown to have a certain level of affection for my dyslexic brain. How else could I accept the fact that a mistakenly inverted chemical formula meant to be a common household item, could end up causing a nuclear reaction? Only a dyslexic brain could easily discern the inversion.

It would take a versatile learning style, employing all my senses, to fully engage my global education. This style accompanied my dyslexia. I attended lower school in southern hemisphere sunshine in South Africa. School uniforms were mandatory, but shoes were optional. We played rugby and cricket, and had lessons in the shade of the canopy trees when it became too hot to be inside. On Flag Day we sang N’Kosi Sikeleli, and I carried an American flag on stage to sing “America the Beautiful.”
Then, at fourteen, I spent a semester at a ski program in Switzerland. I found myself gazing at the Alps wondering what possessed Hannibal to attempt them with his herd of elephant! This country with four official languages, had 450 different varieties of Swiss cheese, with further “variety within the varieties”, which the locals told me was a combination of vegetation and techniques passed from one generation to the next. We studied European history, and Swiss Mountain Guides taught us how to read snow and avalanche conditions. We watched weather to predict whether we would be skiing ice or powder from the way the crystals set up on our jackets. By then, I was a reader but reading comprehension alone could not have guaranteed success in these places. Thanks to my dyslexia, I had the foundation to employ multiple paths of engagement, which helped me draw as much meaning out of these experiences as possible.

Melck is a freshman at University of Southern California and a 2014 graduate of the Brentwood College School in Vancouver.

Pokémon to Mediation

By David J. Dent, Jr.

UntitledThe civil war intensified. My two teammates fired shots at one another. I buried my face in my palms, avoiding the crossfire. The battlefield was a dorm room at the California Institute of Technology two summers ago. Our mission, as students in a high school computer science program, was coding a game using the programming language, Python. We chose Lights Out, originally programmed by Steve Jobs. Yet our mission seemed impossible given the explosive arguments of my teammates, Goku and Vegeta.

Actually their names were Doris and Kim. Yet I can’t escape the memory of Goku and Vegeta fighting Majin Buu, the evil yet playful, fat, pink genie who turned people into chocolate in the action anime Dragon Ball Z. When I lifted my face to mediate the feud, I saw hints of Goku and Vegeta. If those two rivals, who hated each other, found a way to collaborate to defeat Majin Buu, then surely Doris and Kim could compromise. They merely disagreed on the way to grasp the game’s mechanics; Kim wanted help from professors while Doris demanded we code it ourselves.

I analyzed them beyond their arguments. Doris, proficient in coding, believed Kim was lazy. Unbeknownst to Doris, Kim, despite her strong math skills, struggled with coding and was thus insecure. After Doris stormed out of the room, I decided to privately teach Kim the mathematical aspects of Python. The game required two pieces of code, graphical and mathematical. As she became more confident in coding, I supervised Kim’s work on the mathematical side, while working with Doris on graphics.

The professors lauded our project. Perhaps we owe our success to those nights when I rushed home to catch anime on Toonami. Anime was the gateway to my passion for studying links between people, cultures, and ultimately, mediation. I was fascinated with the details, such as the strange “white donuts” Pokémon characters ate. When I got my first laptop, my wanderings discovered that these weird snacks were rice cakes, a Japanese delicacy. I continued diving into Japanese history and discovered inspiring figures like Oda Nobunaga, a daimyo who unified Japan in the Sengoku period.

My cross-cultural exposure went beyond cartoons to real life immersion in third grade when my family spent six months living in Rome. I attended AOSR, an international school where 50% of the students were Italian. Like me, the other half hailed from many different countries including Nigeria and Malaysia. I formed strong relationships with all classmates, learning to relate to people from different cultures by finding common ground. Little did I know, I was becoming a mediator.

My fascination with classical eras grew through visiting Castel Sant’Angelo and Paestum on field trips, and typical family tourist runs to the Colosseum and the Vatican. I returned home and began an eight-year journey in Latin in the fifth grade, drawn to the classics for explorations of how people resolved conflicts, and often comparing Japanese and Roman cultures. I would become the first to enroll when Browning later offered ancient Greek.

I realized I’m a connoisseur for the differences that make people unique when I faced the new challenge of high school. I left a coed school, which I attended since kindergarten for a much smaller boy’s school with a socially divided grade of 30 strangers. Despite my initial reticence, I felt like I was back in Rome at AOSR on the first day. I was comfortable, easily translating culture reading to social dynamics. Within weeks, I was friends with ostracized “nerds,” college-crazed “preppy” kids and Yankees-loving athletes. I rarely lift weights, but Janak, a bodybuilder who never watches anime, was my first buddy and remains one of my best friends. What I originally imagined would be a negative high school experience was rewarding and helped me to develop into the true mediator who resolved the battle at Caltech.

David J. Dent, Jr. is a graduate of The Browning School and a freshman at Northwestern University.

Challenging the Uneasy in Real Life and Fiction

By June Liu

juneI stroll toward Phillip sitting alone on a sofa, and his red and puffy eyes startle me.

“He called me a faggot,” Phillip mutters.

“Who is ‘he’?”

“Ken.”

I first met Ken and Phillip the night before at a gathering in the Leopard Lounge of the Norwegian Gem Christmas cruise. The gathering seemed almost too good to be true. Eight teenagers began the evening as strangers and, within minutes, we were talking comfortably.

Phillip and I discovered we both love dance, and he invited me to ice cream in the dining hall. I was perfecting the swirl on my cone when Phillip tapped my shoulder.

“Can I tell you something kinda personal?” he asked.

My ice cream cone wobbled in my hand as I nodded.

“I’m bisexual,” he said.

“Cool!” I replied.

Yes, so cool to a New Yorker like me — a screenwriter and journalist in search of intriguing stories and characters. Yet, this story evolved beyond “cool” in complicated ways as my morals and values forced me to challenge Ken, who had also become a friend. It was easy for me to play the role of comforter to Phillip. However, confronting Ken, who attended a conservative Christian school in rural Pennsylvania, was emotionally demanding.

My heart raced as I approached Ken. I didn’t know what to expect when I entered Phillip and Ken’s story as a new character. I didn’t have lines prepared or any idea how the scene would unfold. I acted on my values of tolerance, sharing them with Ken. I also listened to him: “There aren’t any gay people where I come from.” Ultimately, I convinced him to apologize to Phillip. However on the cruise’s final night, Ken calls Phillip a faggot again. Phillip smashes Ken’s face into the elevator, telling me with a disturbing satisfaction: “He got what he deserved.”

I was saddened that my impact on Ken was so minimal, but learned that confronting controversy often produces complicated and unsatisfying results. A few months later, I volunteered to write a spoof about Mr. Smith, a controversial biology teacher, for the humor issue of the school newspaper. Some Nightingale girls objectified Mr. Smith, saying, “Oooh, his pants are so tight.” There was also a video on Facebook of him dancing at a school party. My piece touched on his clothing and dancing in a satirical way. The faculty advisors cut my article for “sexualizing a teacher.” The censorship outraged me since I did not find the article offensive. However, it occurred to me that my innocent joke was inappropriate to the advisors, due partially to generational differences. Likewise, I found Ken’s description of Phillip offensive, while those in Ken’s world may have found it harmless because of cultural differences. Through both experiences, I discovered I am one to consummately question and analyze, refusing to allow my frustrations to paralyze my explorations of what drives people to act.

Journalism and writing have grown to become my platforms for those explorations. Phillip and Ken emerged in my conscience when I penned a script in my screenwriting class a year later. My script follows a girl playing soccer on a boys’ team. Her teammate Gabe opposes her presence and humiliates her on the field. Although Gabe is the “villain,” I delve into the insecurities driving his actions. Ken partially inspired Gabe’s character. The two may seem despicable, but I tried to understand them by digging into the forces that motivate their actions. Similarly, a victim or “good guy,” like Phillip, can be motivated to do “bad things,” like smashing Ken’s face.

There are few easy rights and wrongs. Regardless, I still consider Ken’s comments to be troubling, think Mr. Smith would have enjoyed my article, and believe Gabe should welcome his new teammate. Moreover, I am driven by a passion to address the “uneasy” in real life or fictional universes.

June is a graduate of The Nightingale Bamford School and a freshman at Cornell.

At Home with Aging Books

By Alexandra Young

UntitledThe smell of the aging paper, sweet and musty, almost instantaneously invigorates my senses. With the aroma alone, I can sense a history. When entering used bookstores, I look for the most veteran books. The more yellowed and thinned the paper, the better.

My love of used bookstores started with a walk with friends. We were killing time before the late-night showing of a movie. We came across a billiards parlour, but weren’t allowed to play because we were all 15.  Then I saw it: a calvary of wooden carts on 12th street. As I came closer I realized that they were full of old books. I was so intoxicated by them. After 15 minutes of my chirping about how many books were there, Sarah suggested that we go inside. “There is an inside?” When we walked in the store, I was surprised to see how many people were there at this untimely hour. It was methodically chaotic; full of people, like me, hiding their true voraciousness. For 30 minutes in this place, nothing could distract my focus. I forgot about the movie until I was almost-forcibly dragged out of the store by my friends, who were entirely jaded by this scene. But for me, my appetite was not close to satiated.

I love used books for the same reason I respect Grand Central Station in New York City or the Cathedral de Notre Dame in Paris. They themselves are buildings with a purpose, a train station and a place of worship. However they are not just facilities, they are landmarks with a history and beauty. These edifices are visited, photographed and studied but are not sedentary. Used books are beautiful as entities; even the most worn out paperbacks are exquisite. They represent, to me, humans as we are, emotional souls rather than flesh beings. I am like a used book because I contain a story; the chambers of my heart are on their way towards yellowing with my own history. I am Alexandra.

I love history, and reading allows me to explore my passion for studying the past. Through both reading and history, I realize my own strengths are not solely based in my abilities, but in my desire to know more and the excitement I feel when stepping out of my cognitive comfort zones.
Second hand books provide a dual benefit: they contain the treasure of a story or piece of knowledge, and themselves are physical specimens of someone’s past experiences. It’s an added bonus if there are traces of the books’ previous owners — a name, a date, a location. While leafing through the pages, I am in fact giving the book a new life.

Why collect used books? Why not coins, stamps or some other collectible? It’s because I love reading. I crave to enter different worlds and leave with new perspectives. Even the most seemingly rudimentary text can provide me with a better historical, scientific or philosophical understanding of the world. As Betty Smith wrote in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, “the world was hers for the reading.” Exploring the situation in Afghanistan through a fictionalized account of a young boy’s experience in Khaled’s The Kite Runner, gave me the understanding that no newspaper article or scholarly text could ever provide. Reading allows me to learn and love many different things. Every book helps me break into the stiff pages and rigid spine of the book of Alexandra.

Alexandra is a graduate of The Hewitt Schools and a freshman at Tulane University.

Living the Opera

By Giorgi Ben-Meir

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 9.20.16 AMHand in hand, I walked with my older brother Sam into the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York City. He was twenty-four and I was five. We were there to see Georges Bizet’s masterpiece, Carmen. Sam had secured some tickets all the way at the back of the main auditorium, but none of his friends could make it. At my parents’ suggestion, he took me.

That evening ranks as one of my earliest and most cherished memories. I still remember the seemingly endless stairs I had to climb, the feel of the red velvet on my chair, and the awe the performance inspired in me. As the curtains drew back and the overture began, beautiful music reverberated throughout the hall and I was transfixed. After that evening, so my brother tells me, I pestered him endlessly to take me again. And so the opera became a way that my brother and I, separated by two decades and two different mothers, grew close.

At seven, I saw The Marriage of Figaro and was awed by Susanna, the countess’ maid. My dreams of singing her arias at the Met had already been my retreat from the unpleasantness of first grade, when my teacher was fired for mistreating students. I managed without her, since it was the opera that taught me to read, and I was inspired by Susanna, who manages all that comes her way. I would pore over the pamphlets detailing the season’s offerings, pointing at the titles I could “sound out” phonetically. Lincoln Center punctuated my weeks as often as Sam could find affordable tickets. The music of the opera became my solace and retreat.

At thirteen, I wanted to become fearless and independent like Carmen, and I already knew her arias well. Just like her, I yearned to be free. I felt disconnected from my peers, stifled in an academic environment that had little musical outlet. I wanted classical music to have a larger presence in my life. I wanted to study its technical aspects and theory. I researched schools that would let me do just that, which led me to LaGuardia High School for Music and Art and the Performing Arts. My skeptical parents finally let me be part of 350 strong contingent of students competing for the 15 available spaces at LaGuardia. I auditioned with one of my favorite Italian songs, Se Tu M’Ami (If You Love Me) and was accepted.

My audition piece includes the line “Non perché mi piace il giglio, Gli altri fiori sprezzerò” translated as “Nor because I love the lily, shall I other flowers despise.” Though this teasingly referred to the ability to have more than one lover, in a sense, it spoke to what I learned at LaGuardia: to be open to other things beyond my first love, music. Surprisingly, my intensive daily musical study made me more attentive in other subjects, and consequently, my academic performance strengthened overall. I discovered a particular passion for history, which complemented the music I was learning and gave me an historical context for the pieces I sang.

I know that my love of music will continue to inform and expand my life, leading me to new interests as it does at school. I continue to go to the opera with my brother whenever we can. And though the stairs at Lincoln Center are less daunting now, I am even more astounded by the operas I see there as a young adult than when I was five. Unlike my younger self, I now love the opera not just for its innate beauty, but in the way it helps me expand my thinking and appreciate the world.

Giorgi Ben-Meir, a 2014 graduate of the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, began her freshman year at the University of Southern California with her first semester in the University’s study abroad program in Paris.

The Incarnations of Leadership

By Parris Lloyd

UntitledFive different people were calling my name. No, six people. Backstage, one of the singers was on the verge of a meltdown, screaming for the person in charge. The talent was getting restless. Onstage, a dance group was forgetting the choreography. Everything deteriorated from being completely organized to disastrous in what seemed like two seconds. I had 48 hours to pull together the 8th grade talent show alone; my partner quit in realizing the level of intensive work that the show required.

My class elected me to do this, so I couldn’t abandon my responsibilities. With that in mind, I closed my eyes for a second and took control of the chaos. I re-organized the acts so that everyone would have enough time for costume changes. I helped the dancers with their choreography. I ran a CD on my laptop at practice instead of waiting for the tardy tech crew members. The day before the show, I called a meeting to bring everyone to the same page.

I did it without screaming a word. To my peers, I looked calm. Yet I felt completely drained, and insanely proud in the end. The show did go on flawlessly to loud applause at its conclusion.

It was the start of my reputation in my school as a leader who is calm and who gets things done, no matter what the circumstance. I was elected president of my class as a sophomore and chosen to coordinate fundraising among 16 sister schools to provide clean water for African villages. Given my record, I was considered the frontrunner in the election for president of my senior class. I envisioned the position as climatic of my high school experiences in leadership. I had compiled a list of plans for the class. However, the campaign turned into my first major failure. I lost the election.

For days after the defeat, I thought about the campaign. New teachers had created new regulations forcing students to get faculty approval for their speeches. “No promises” was the new rule and the faculty censors edited the life out of my speech. Through any failure, it is important to explore what could have prevented the loss. In doing so, I imagined myself fighting the censorship with the calm, signature style of my leadership that I displayed in pulling the talent show together. I could have gone to the administration to fight for my speech, explaining why such censorship compromises elections. Perhaps, I could have been more creative in finding alternate ways to make my ideas shine through my speech, instead of focusing on what we were no longer allowed to say. Most importantly, I could have found alternative outlets to show my classmates why they should elect me.

Rather than sob over the defeat, I know there will be more opportunities for me to employ the lessons from this loss. I also realized being a leader is more than winning an election or holding a title. My loss doesn’t ban me from having an impact on my class or engaging my leadership skills in other causes. My failure gave me the chance to step up in other extracurricular activities. For years, I have been involved in the Breast Cancer Awareness Club at my school. I became President of the Club this year. I still continue as a member of Student Council and I joined its Transfer Student Welcoming Committee and the Senior Class Gift Committee in hopes to leave a lasting impact on my school after I graduate. I know I will experience other failures throughout my life. Fortunately I will always have a strong model of how to guide myself to new successes after any failure.

Parris Lloyd, a freshman at George Washington University, is a 2014 graduate of the Ursuline School in Westchester County.

Saving a Piece of a Family Portrait

By Alyssa Morgan

1452520_10201917096982408_1181538280_nIt’s raining when I go into the subway station, but snowing when I exit. When I see the flakes I immediately reach for my camera, snapping as many pictures as I can. The flurries make the air smell crisp and my breathing loud, since the snow quiets the noisy streets in New York. I shoot it all–pictures of the snow falling through the air. The snow on my jacket. The snow on cars. The snow up against tires. I’m documenting it for my younger brothers because they live in Florida and have never experienced snow.

My brothers, Justin, 11, and Joaquin, 6, live with my mother in Fort Lauderdale year-round. I spend the school year with my father and stepmother in Brooklyn, and summers with my brothers and biological mother. My biological parents do not speak to one another. Their distance and divide inspires me to work tirelessly to protect my strong bond with my brothers.

My devotion to my brothers can create challenges. I fear heights, but climbed an ancient tall wooden tower at our favorite beach two summers ago because I wanted to protect my brothers. From a distance the tower seems to stand still but up close it sways the tiniest bit on wooden legs that have weathered many hurricanes. My brothers were excited to be up high in the tower since most buildings in Florida are very close to the ground. They insist I go up with them. I feel I must since the tower is dangerous.

They race up the steps, but I tell them to go slowly with me. The first step isn’t so bad, the ground is right there, I’m safe. The next few steps have me gripping the railing as the ground falls away and the breeze picks up. I’m terrified once I feel the tower moving and I want to go back down, but I don’t want my brothers to get scared because I am. They urge me to hurry up because they want to see the view at the top. I try to go a little faster but the ground is infinitely far away and I’m terrified. The tower sways sharply and my stomach drops.

I finally reach the top and the view is breathtaking, but I’m too scared to breathe. I can feel the vibrations of my brothers running around looking from all sides. The beauty makes me thankful that my brothers inspired me to conquer my fear.

“It’s time to go back down,” I tell them.

With every step down I feel more relaxed. When we are back on the ground, all my worries have disappeared.

My brothers are motivators even when they are not around. I am always carrying that camera to document memories I want to share with them. However, there was one story I couldn’t tell until I figured out the ending. In my sophomore year, I failed my first math test ever. I was devastated. I threw myself into trigonometry to set an example for my brothers. One day I could tell them how I fell off the tower in math, but climbed back to the top.

I don’t like the divide between my biological parents, but I love what the discord has inadvertently given me–my strong commitment to my relationship with my brothers. My brothers have helped develop my sense of responsibility in many ways. For example, my grades were back up in Precalculus junior year and one project required planning lives as young adults. We had to get jobs, pay taxes and bills, including student loans for college. I found a high-paying job, but my bills were high, so I decided to live in a studio to have a little extra money. My teacher loved my project. It was the most organized and responsible he’d seen: “You considered every detail.”

That’s what a big sister does, I thought.

Alyssa is a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School and began her freshman year at Cornell last week.

Fit for Me

By Marlena Rubenstein

IMG_0414At 12, I could barely run across the gym without gasping for breath. So if someone had predicted that I would one day run 3.1 miles continuously, I would have rolled my eyes and mumbled, “Yeah, right.” That image was as plausible to me as the idea of playing “Ode to Joy” on the moon.

Back on Earth, lunch in a middle school cafeteria is hell by definition; my classmates made it worse. Carrying a plate filled with questionable-quality cafeteria food, I passed girls sitting at bare tables. As I silently scarfed down my food, I overheard nearby conversations: “Well, since I’m going to a party tomorrow, I’ll look better if I don’t eat anything today.” I opened my mouth to correct the error of their thinking…and then immediately decided to stay quiet. I knew that these girls didn’t want my input, and I wanted to avoid conflict.

I endured endless bullying throughout middle school because of my weight. The advice I always received was: “Don’t let the bullies get to you,” but in following that advice I disregarded the origin of the bullying – my size.

I cannot remember a single visit to our family pediatrician that did not include a lengthy, worried lecture about my weight; and though I agreed, I wanted someone to wave a magic wand and solve the problem for me.

In 10th grade I realized that my fairy godmother wasn’t coming, and that my health deserved my full time attention. So I flew across the country to spend six weeks in the summer at a place that helps kids like me, and I returned home forever changed.

My typical day at Wellspring began at 7am with ‘Mama’ Christine, my favorite counselor, knocking on my door. By 7:30am, we were downstairs stretching on the grass for our pre-breakfast hike. In addition to the standard goal of reaching 10,000 steps per day, we went around the circle and gave a personal goal, which had to be S.M.A.R.T. – simple, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Whether we were running laps or kickboxing, we kept moving until lights out at 10pm. Silently, we would each walk to our rooms, close the doors, and collapse on our beds.

The end-of-camp 5K was on the day before my 17th birthday; it was mandatory to complete, but campers set their own paces.

The gun boomed, and dozens of people shot down the track. I jogged slowly, my breathing in time with my footsteps. I saw those who had sprinted off slow down or stop entirely, gripping their sides and heaving. I steadily passed them all.

At the 1 mile mark, my nutritionist Mia stood at the water table where runners stalled their inevitable return to the monotony of jogging. “Looking great, Marlena! Wanna stop for some water?”

“No thanks, I’m not slowing down. See you at the finish line!” I called out over my shoulder, more determined than ever to make it to the end. I completed the 3.1 miles in 36 minutes and 50 seconds, and have never felt a stronger sense of accomplishment. This race put the sugar-free icing on the fat-free cake of my transformation at Wellspring.

I did not change my life because others said I should. I made my decision in my own way, and crossed the finish line as a new person. Every aspect of my life has changed because of the discovery of willpower that I never knew I had.

On the plane home, I worried that others wouldn’t see the new Marlena. To my delight, I was wrong. Walking through the door, my little brother enveloped me in a hug and exclaimed with genuine surprise: “Marlena, I can wrap my hands around you now!”

He would soon realize that my change in size was only the tip of the iceberg.

Marlena Rubenstein, a 2014 graduate of The Hewitt School, will be a freshman at American University in the fall.

Being Thrown and Getting Back Up

By Molly Klein

MollyGraduationpicI felt like I was at a funeral, not in English, my favorite subject. My peers grew more solemn with each of Ms. Ginsburg’s steps. I saw circles in red, angry ink bleeding on papers as she passed out the first graded essays of the semester in Honors Junior English. Laughing faces turned into frowns. It took forever for her to reach me, returning a 72 on a piece about Who’s Afraid of Post Blackness? This grade threw me as hard as my horse Braun had thrown me out of my tack.

Self Resuscitation! After falling, I have learned to get back in the saddle with a determined spirit. I grew up riding horses at New Canaan Mounted Troop, which instilled this spirit in me. I couldn’t just show up, get on a pony, ride and leave. New Canaan students must take care of the facility as well as the horses, and my training was steeped in the barn’s motto: “It is never the fault of the horse, always the rider.” That lesson was now with me in Honors Junior English: I can’t blame the teacher for my 72.

Seeing The Lesson: It was an October day that felt like December at the Ridgefield Horse Show. Braun can be very sensitive to conditions in the ring, and I should have known that the wind and rain would rattle him. The course was full of jumps and sharp turns, which I forced Braun to do as if it were a perfectly calm, sunny day. Approaching the end of the course, he took off at full speed and leapt into the air, throwing me hard onto the ground. As I hobbled out of the ring, I saw my trainer’s disappointed face. She muttered the Troop motto as I led Braun to the trailer. She was right; I failed as a rider. I had not adapted my riding style to the conditions confronting Braun.

My Rules: Rather than blaming others, I live by the rule that I am most responsible for my fate. If my teacher or my horse bestow a tough lesson, it is something that I must learn. For me, disappointment is a signal that I have to take responsibility and fix whatever is going wrong in my life. Blaming others won’t help me to grow as a student, athlete or person. Some classmates spent the year complaining about Ms. Ginsburg’s tough grading. Despite temptations to join them, I was drawn to Ms. Ginsburg’s enthusiasm and knew I could be a better writer by spending my free periods with her. By the time we read The Awakening, in the spring, I was bringing home 90′s in Honors English.

Thrown Again: On the first day of my Personal Finance class I waited patiently for another girl to walk into the room, but the sea of boys continued to flow in. Our teacher told us to select a partner for creating stock portfolios, and no one would partner with me. I was left alone. I thought back to my travels through Turkey when I saw women in Burkas. The oppression was so foreign to me at the time. Now, the oppression became real. I was being treated differently because of my gender, and I was motivated even more to excel in the class full of boys. When selecting class usernames, I chose “onlygirl”. It was a proud moment when the stocks I had carefully chosen had boosted my portfolio into first place.

Final Reflection: Why was I consistently strong in Personal Finance, but slow starting in English? I started English with the confidence that I bring to the stables. Being an underdog from the beginning in Personal Finance gave me a bit of a head start in knowing I needed to gear up for the challenge. Underdog or not, I value high expectations that compel growth; so thanks Braun, and Ms. Ginsburg.

Molly Klein, a graduate of Darien High School in Darien, Connecticut, will be a freshman at Colgate in the fall.

Wrestling with Collaboration and Individualism

By Anton Kliot

UntitledI struggle against a murder of crows flying around in my belly. They grow with the calm confidence of my opponent, Alex. I can’t stop staring at him. He jumps around cooly, warming up. His smooth movements resemble the slow, calculated grace of an apex predator stalking his prey.

Well, I can jump too. I nervously hop and throw on a tough face, subconsciously (or maybe not) imitating him. However, I lack that little secret he seems to hold which bolsters his confidence. Welcome to my first high school wrestling match.

Butterflies are not new to me. I’ve played guitar in a band for years, but any stage fright I feel dissipates with a joke from my bandmates who are also close friends. When I glanced at my wrestling teammates on the bench, no one smiled. I could not rely on them to outline the match and let me fill in the gaps, as my bandmates could do with a song; the other wrestlers had their own opponents to face.

On the mat, Alex took charge; I reacted and was not aggressive enough. Alex wrote that song, and I lost that match. But that loss ignited a spark, pushing me to take command of my own life.

For years, community had been ingrained in my intellect; from the progressive schools I attended to the band I was a member of, collaboration had been key. I played in a five-member band with three guitarists. I wasn’t Alden, our lead guitarist who played like a young Chuck Berry, with psychedelic melodies and wicked solos. Nor was I Jack, overlaying chords with his golden voice. With a song’s outline in place, I added my sound. Years of playing this way taught me to value silences; to add harmonies which augmented our sound, creating a whole greater than its parts, rather than just a din. I did not have to take charge or create an entirely new song; I just had to fill the space left for me.

When thrown onto a wrestling mat, I realized my collaborative skills would not save me; I had to face challenges individually. Yet I found this individualistic focus did not have to clash with my collaborative habits. Instead, I transformed my life by integrating these collaborative skills with the confidence and individuality wrestling demanded.

I pursued other interests, from film and military history to running and vaulting without being defined by any one. I worked hard, becoming a straight A student, but no one would call me a nerd. A three-sport athlete, I could not be labeled a jock. I refused to let anyone else define me as Alex had that day.

I became more proactive with my teachers. Not only did my grades improve but my interests deepened. In my junior year history class, I delved into the subject as my professor, also an advisor and a friend, helped me target my studies towards my areas of interest. Assigned China for a year-long nation project, my meetings with my teacher helped focus my study on censorship of film in China. The sophistication of these censors shattered my preconceptions of this oppressive system, with my research taking me beyond the Western media’s simplistic portrayal.

By junior year, I had lost and won many matches, and gradually the crippling nerves had disappeared. Instead of sitting alone before matches, I was free to laugh and joke with teammates, mimicking my mood before a show. In last year’s tournament, I cooly began warming up, moving and stretching in ways that have become second nature for me. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed someone staring at me. I realized it was my next opponent. I recognized his fearful gaze as the one I had once directed at Alex. With this realization I smiled, and appreciated the changes that loss two years ago had produced.

Anton Kliot, a 2014 graduate of the Dalton School, will be a freshman at Amherst in the Fall.