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My Global Gateway: Food

by Asha Hinson

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The aroma of sweet jerk chicken and oxtails consumes my nostrils, blocking any scents of urban pollution the second I exit the 2 train. I always feel at home in Flatbush during the afternoon rush hour. I immediately see signs advertising the best beef patty or roti in Brooklyn. People line up outside little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, waiting for their favorite Caribbean delicacies–even during the winter.

If Mom picks me up at the train, we join a line and I suddenly get a lesson in cuisines and cultures of places far beyond Brooklyn. Markets sell all kinds of meats and fish, which stir my curiosity. One day we stop at a restaurant without a name on the door but with a menu displayed on the wall.

“What are doubles?” I ask Mom.

“You have had doubles before; a sandwich with two deep-fried flat breads stuffed with a chickpea curry.”

I experience the diversity of my identity through food. I easily find my mom’s Grenadian-Bajan background in cuisines on Flatbush streets. On weekends, I explore my dad’s Southern roots. Grandmother Rita came to New York from Georgia sixty years ago. When I enter her Bronx apartment, I immediately face a plate of fried chicken and collard greens over lots of laughs at old pictures and stories of Daddy’s youth. On school days, I come from a comfortable bed in a Brooklyn brownstone to a Manhattan progressive school where food becomes part of our curriculum in studying the world. Last year, my friend, Mirwat, bought Kissan jam and shared stories from her native country, India. She described classes taking place on railroad platforms or in small cabins and students walking along a bamboo bridge to commute to school.

Food also helps me strengthen my bond with my summer brothers who live in Texas. As an only child, my four younger cousins–Quentin, Marley, Maxwell, and Cameron– fill my void of not having siblings. For as long as I can remember, I have spent a chunk of every summer with them in Dallas. Over barbeque, we experience the world of rodeos. I love taking them to aquariums, pools, and their favorite, amusement parks, in between feasting on Italian Ices.

My brothers teach me to treasure the differences in people the same way I appreciate varieties in food. Yet I also understand that some divides run too deep for a meal to bring the two sides to a toast. For example, rewind to an amusement park last summer: my six-year-old cousin, Marley, stares in awe at a monstrous structure before him. As usual, I try to imagine what is running through his mind. I see the fear in his face grow as he analyzes the bright blue slide, glistening in the scorching Texas sunlight. He is excited yet frightened.

A man tall enough to play Big Bird gives Marley terse instructions. “Lay down on your back, little boy, and cross both your arms and feet! Okay?”

Marley stares upward with wide eyes fixed on the impatient slide attendant.

“Hurry up, kid, we’ve got other kids waiting. Go down already!”

Food can not bridge this gap. I wish the giant slide attendant could read the articles I devour on Autismspeaks.org. If he understood Marley’s differences, maybe he wouldn’t be so impatient. Marley is on the autism spectrum and inspires my appetite to learn as much as I can about child psychology. I draw him close, bend down, and look in his eyes.

“Marley, don’t worry, there is nothing to be afraid of, I will go to the bottom and wait for you.”

Unfortunately, Marley chose to walk away from what could have been the ride of his life. If he faces the top of the slide next summer, I will try again to inspire him to try something new as easily as I sample a different kind of fish or meat in Flatbush.

Asha Hinson, a 2015 graduate of the Little Red Schoolhouse and Elisabeth Irwin High School, will be a freshman at Smith College in the Fall.

From Football to Squash, Politics and Myself

by Ian Batts

By the time that I reached Ninth Grade, my ten fingers each had a story to tell. I had broken them all in different football injuries. They recovered stronger, and I always returned to the sport. Football had become my life starting in sixth grade. As a player and a fan (I loved watching my Redskins on Sundays) it informed my social world and identity. It was so much of my life that I became frightened when I no longer enjoyed playing on the team.

Freshman year: I ignored the impulse to quit football. At training camp in August, a revered senior player said to me: Nobody enjoys football, including me.” Surely somebody does. At least someone knew how I felt then, but for years of work, what had he gotten out of football? Soon afterwards, an injury–not the fingers but a herniated disc–forced me out for the rest of freshman year. I was slightly relieved.

As a sophomore, I was back on the field, but I realized why that senior kept playing a sport that he did not enjoy: his friends were his teammates, girls came to see him play, the school appreciated football, and freshmen aspired to be him. On the bus ride from an away game, I sat next to a rowdy friend who recounted the game’s highlights. He sensed my lack of excitement.

“Why aren’t you having fun?” he said with surprise. “You played well.”

“I just have had a long day.” Please let me be.

“Yeah, I hate away games,” he said.

I thought aloud, “Do you like practice? What do you like about the season?”

I shouldn’t have said that. Well, I might as well say what I really think now: “I think I should quit.”

He warned that I would lose friends and respect. Our definitions of respect are so far apart; I will always respect football players for character, but never for being popular. How can I respect those who play without a purpose beyond popularity? Is that not the opposite of character?

I quit. I won my independence, and a new world revealed itself to me. One day, a classmate asked me to play squash. I would have never had this opportunity before. Although my friends won’t understand, I ought to try it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the game for its own sake; I had no external motivations. I signed up for lessons afterward. In my first squash lesson, the pro started off by teaching me that “you control the ball. The ball doesn’t control you.” This epitomized how I had changed my life. I did not fear my friends’ reactions to my debut in squash. Their arguments against anything that was not football, lacrosse, or soccer were weightless. Maybe it’s just me, but I wanted to try something new. For risking my social life, I found out that my closest friends, some of whom were most opposed to me playing squash, saw my happiness and were truly loyal. With a new passion and renewed trust in my friends, I began to see every day as an opportunity rather than a burden.

Letting go of football provided time for other interests like Model UN and other avenues to explore individuality. Most of my friends are devout Republicans. I followed my blue heart and became co-head of the Young Democrats this year.

Eventually, I saw a version of that old cliché: If you can’t beat him, join him, come to life. Seeing my happiness, some friends privately asked me if they could join the Squash Club. So I decided to start an official squash team at my school. I found the players, a place to play, and the coaches, but the school athletic director rejected the proposal, saying that squash would take students away from popular sports. He will never see a point in the proposal. I can’t change that, but I am so tired of people deciding what others ought to do. In a rare moment of insubordination, I suggested that students should be allowed to choose for themselves. He might have seen squash as a dead end or something obscure, but since that day I first tried squash, I realized that there are many ways to the same goal, football and squash being among them, and that each person might be fit for one or the other or something else altogether. In the end, the long process for me to define character, success, and fulfillment on my own terms produced the evolution of my individuality.

Ian Batts, a 2013 graduate of St Albans, will be a freshman at Harvard in the Fall, 2014, after a Gap Year.

Signs to Good Words

by Tess Jacobson  

My mother, father, andTess Jacobson brother vanished. What happens now? I lack the words to express my sorrow, my future and…  

Mid-sentence, I struggled to convey this agony. My imagination was congested. I tried to force myself into the mind of my protagonist, but couldn’t find the words. So I dropped my pencil and unfinished story. I turned to sign language. If I couldn’t write or speak the suffering, I could sign it and capture the words. With thought as the conductor, my hands obediently brought the scenario to life, forcing me to lace my feet into the shoes of the character and bring his feelings to life in the way I had imagined: authentic, yet silent. “The growing lump of panic in Collin’s throat suddenly choked him before plummeting to the pit of his stomach where it filled him with overwhelming desolation and absorbed all other traces of sentiment.” Sign gave me these words.

American Sign Language started with a casual comment from an eighth grade teacher. Visual learners tend to acquire skills in learning sign language. As a visual learner, I decided to give it a try. The more I engaged in this culture of people who, unlike me, are deaf, I couldn’t let go. So, I searched to find a way to learn this language on my own.

Sign complements another love of mine—writing. I didn’t begin writing because I was a naturally good wordsmith, but because I needed it. My imagination lusts for boundlessness and I credit my seventh grade English teacher for facilitating this discovery. She gave the class a five-minute required daily writing period with one condition: no one but the writer would see his or her scribblings.

At first, I wasn’t exactly producing masterpieces of originality. I scrawled on the pages not knowing what to write or, if I was feeling extra imaginative, I would describe the classroom. However, regardless of the topic, there was something liberating about taking part in an activity without limits or direct instructions to follow. As soon as I discovered my affinity for this independent, unrestricted expression, my imagination was released from its shackles and I produced work that compelled me to break the class rule and show my work to others.

Today I love to write—poems, essays, stories, lab reports, term papers. My fire for this art form is all inclusive. From analyzing Hollywood’s portrayal of America during the Great Depression to describing an original biology experiment on the psychological impact of color and light, I crave opportunities to speak my mind—soundlessly and tangibly. I’m enticed by most anything that makes me a better writer, which is one reason I’m drawn to sign language. Without the two, I would have been limited without ever knowing.

The words to describe the unfathomable emotional situation in my short story seemed unattainable because I had never experienced the circumstances. Sign guided me to go below the exterior of explaining “how sad” something could be and helped me extract the visceral aspect of grief, allowing me to connect with the character, and making him a part of reality—not just an imaginary sketch. Sign forced me to reach the core of what my character could have felt, not just the mere essence, giving the words the aesthetic animation that speech cannot provide. The captivating gestures embedded in sign language are almost as riveting as the feeling that comes with giving vocabulary a physically moving existence.

After these two interests integrated into my world, I realized how they capture my psyche. Sign springs a glimpse of another culture into my life, teaching me to constantly imagine and view the world from different angles. Writing empowers me to channel those interpretations into my voice as a writer. I’m not sure if I have a way with words, but I have my own way with words.

Tess Jacobson, who became a graduate of  The Trevor Day School today, will be a freshman at Tufts University in the fall.

Singing in the Snow: Storms Produce Strength

by Margarita Ren

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Titanium poles and I stand on a deserted Manhattan street corner. My parents, neighbors, even taxi-drivers, are inside, freezing despite roaring generators, as they wait for the blizzard to pass. Outside, I am wet, quivering as winds whip through triple-layered socks. I’ve forgotten circulation. The sixteen-inch snow, illuminated by street-lamp glow, forges an aurulent midnight sky. Here, I am at my warmest. Though quivering in the cold, my senses are forced open to the vibrancy around me. I am galvanized and secured by the adrenaline of the unique discovery: in vulnerability lies strength.

I find similar comfort in my volunteer work in Mount Sinai’s in-patient Recreational Therapy, for the hospital is a constant storm. I’m struck with the building’s vibrato in the white walls and constantly-moving wheelchairs and stretchers. The doctors stride through collected, inspired, but the patients only wait for everything to pass.

One of them is Jamie. When we first met, she was applying fuchsia lipgloss through tired eyes. A loud pink teddy-bear sat on her windowsill exhibiting her successful entrepreneurship while the hospital’s Billboard Top Ten playlist cycled carelessly in the background.

“Last Friday Night” plays as I wheel Jamie into her room.

“Should I call your nurse?”

“I can get into bed myself.” She tries to push herself up, but falls back into the seat, crying.

“Let me find help.”

“You know, I don’t have it that bad,” she mutters. “There’s metal in my legs from the crash–just–God, this place!”

She looks up. In her amber eyes, I see despondency, not fatigue. Noticing the pink teddy-bear, a symbol of her previous life as a prosperous businesswoman, perceiving the thoughtless lyrics around us, I blurt out, “We’re having a concert; you should come.”

 “Music is the universal language,” Chris Shepard, the conductor of the Dessoff Choirs, once reminded us during rehearsal.

I remember the first time I sang solo in public: open auditions for The Voice. Despite waiting six hours for this one decision, I realized that the strength in my voice couldn’t be measured by a baggy-eyed executive’s judgement. I sang, quivering in pride, not fear. Before leaving, a seasoned auditioner stopped me, expressing admiration for my courage and potential. She listened, my music resonating with her in the same way.

Jamie, however, is not listening, because Billboard beats just aren’t her music; she cannot “dance on tabletops,” as such songs say. The hospital shouldn’t be alienating but allow for vulnerability, creating new paths to undiscovered strength. I keep that in mind while organizing the concert for patients.

The day of the performance, Jamie smiles, eyes still unfocused, shoulders draped in a crimson shawl.

I begin with the piano. I can’t stand to fly; I’m not that naive. She blinks.

I sing to Jamie, finding her voice in my notes, “Find a way to lie about a home I’ll never see.” She stares at me, eyes unclouded now. Lyrics in forte place the metal pole that crashed down and her metal femurs before her eyes. Her fuchsia lips quiver in acknowledgement: despite her display of colors, she cannot avoid her physical state.“Even heroes have the right to bleed…”

An hour later, we arrive at the last song.

“They shoot me down, but I won’t fall.”

While singing, I’m reminded of the warmth in discovery; these hospital rooms can swell like frosty street-lamp-lit skies. Being vulnerable allows me to discover this unique perception in my environment. My voice is explicit, unwavering: “I’m bullet-proof, nothing to lose.” Jamie’s vulnerability shows her this strength that is not restricted by physicality. I see Jamie place her hands firmly on the wheelchair armrests. “I am titanium.” She straightens slowly, respiring deeply. “I am titanium.”

“Going back up?”

“Actually, I’ll stick around. Someone’s starting Monopoly, and moping around alone is getting boring,” she laughs.

Walking out the hospital afterwards, I am smiling, hood down, head uncovered to raw, glorious February air.

Margarita Ren, a 2014 graduate of Hunter College High School, will be a freshman at Dartmouth in the fall.

Losing a Friend and Learning

by Chloe Mondesir

She was more than a best friend. As an only child, she was the sibling I never had. I lost her on my third day of high school. I wasn’t ready for her death but at 99 she moved on anyway. I found myself alone and against the world in the foreign place called high school. But in the years since, I reminisce on the unique influence of my great grandmother’s presence in my life then and even now. Her death devastated me but the experience of pulling myself up from my grief prepares me for my future more than anything else.

Her name is Mildred and I can still see her in my present. Her smile, slowly opening up leading the way to the rest of her golden face; her plump, petite body relied on her wooden cane but her impact on our family for generations was larger than life. I would walk into a room: “Chloe darling,” she’d say. No one ever made me feel so special just by saying my name.

We played every game together: dolls, and dominoes. We went many places together, from grandma’s backyard to Atlantic City. Today most of my high school friends see me as an older, wiser soul. I need not wonder why. It grows out of the experience of having a close companion, or really a girlfriend, so many years and three generations apart from me. Mildred’s influence touches the lives of so many people I interact with today. My friend, Brittany, came to me last year more stressed than ever. Her father died as she was juggling junior year academic pressure with comforting her mom who, after the death of her husband, didn’t want to be left in the house alone. “Brittany darling, we’ll work it out.” The Mildred in me spoke loudly as I helped Brittany face her own grief while brainstorming hobbies and activities that would help her mother get beyond the pain.

Yet I was trying to grow beyond my own pain without Mildred. I felt like I was starting life over. In my sophomore year, I was still numb. Where was my passion? I was a dancer since three, yet I was not moving in the same way anymore. Always on honor roll since elementary school, I suddenly found myself at rock bottom upon receiving a letter for summer school registration to retake trigonometry. Clearly things decayed to their worst. “Chloe darling,” I thought to myself. I refocused my life and decided to join the school’s bereavement group and I became a new person. If summer school was an opportunity to get back on track with my work, I wanted to give myself the opportunity to address my grieving. I didn’t want to hit rock bottom again. I know the roots of a great part of this wisdom flows from my best friend.

In the beginning of my junior year, I sat in a room full of strangers. “So everybody go around the room and introduce yourself and share who you’ve lost.” I felt like everyone stared at me. Again, even amongst a group of people in similar circumstances I felt different and alone. I uttered something. I can’t remember those nervous words to this day. I just wanted to get through the moment.

The first few sessions were slow. By mid year, I was comfortable and the question became “So how do you feel about your loss now?” Finally after some time, something seemed to change for me. “I feel like this has helped me. I no longer feel as burdened being able to just talk about her as before. I feel better about the loss now.” I could see everyone was taken aback, as was I. In that moment, I suddenly saw the value of time and therapy. I knew then that the entire time I struggled to be comfortable in this group of strangers was necessary for me to reach this fluid stage in my life. I found my future, ambition, and passion in that room. I want to be a psychologist.

Shortly after the confidence boost set in, I found myself dancing again, expressing emotions that were sometimes just unexplainable. I tried out for the dance team. However, this dance team wasn’t in my comfort zone. I grew up with powerful art forms like ethnic dance. Now I needed to master the refined technique of Ballet in weeks. It was overwhelming but I quickly realized the fight inside of me for so long. I would be the only push I would need to get through the audition. First in my beginning stance, and suddenly in my last, I knew I had done what I needed to make the team. Sure enough I found my name in the last spot of the new dance team’s roster. This was the finish line of all my experiences thus far, from loss to struggle, and from struggle to success.

Every source of pain and resentment that I once felt, I learned to fuel for my growth indefinitely. I understand the importance of sharing with people, being honest with myself, and the significance of commitment in everything I do. I am better, stronger, more able and willing to grow. Now here I am, ready to share it all with you.

Chloe Mondesir began her freshman year at Spelman College in September. She is a 2012 graduate of St Francis Preparatory School in Queens.

What’s in a Name? Becoming Samantha

by Samantha Weintraub

photo-16-e1347573891574“Do you go by Sam, Sammie, or Samantha?”

That is an inevitable question when I meet people. I started as Sammie the New Yorker who couldn’t stop dancing. I was completely alive as Clara in The Nutcracker or Charlie Brown in a tap production. I longed to explore personas of characters from another world. There was so much unknown, and everything I did as Sammie was an attempt to make the world a little clearer, or to see it from another perspective. When I was applying to kindergarten, I had to take long tests. Out of curiosity, I asked the proctor why she was watching me put together puzzles. She thought I was being rude, and my questions almost cost me acceptances to schools. She misunderstood me, however. I was genuinely curious. Years later, as Sammie the reporter, I would address that strange testing situation in one of my blog posts.

It was that same curiosity that sparked my excitement when my parents announced that we were moving to Seattle. I was excited to take on the brave new world, until that first day of fifth grade. My twin sister Blair and I were the only new students. I longed for commonality with my new classmates, so I followed most of the girls by joining the soccer team and trading in my frilly dresses for jeans. I wasn’t Sammie anymore. I became Sam. I wasn’t happy in my new skin. I never excelled on the soccer field the way I had on the dance floor. I didn’t feel my friends liked me for who I was, and they certainly didn’t have my back when I was cyber bullied in seventh grade. My friendships were as false as my identity.

The only hints of that curious Sammie came out on the road trips with my dad to the mountains around Seattle. Speeding down a highway in the middle of nowhere in the company of my dad, I felt safe enough to bring Sammie back. My spirit to question stayed alive through my relationship with my dad. We would have conversations about everything, from the creation of the earth to the cause of the stock market crash.

I became Samantha when I returned to New York in the Tenth Grade. I recaptured my individuality through creative expression in fashion journalism, which I have explored through several internships. My experiences interning are an extension of the younger me playing different characters in dance recitals, and my personality as Samantha is a stronger, more mature version of Sammie. From a magazine to a fashion PR firm to a retail store design company, each position has opened my eyes to different parts of the fashion industry so I can understand how they all come together. At each internship, my supervisors noticed my curiosity and invited me to sit in on meetings. Seeing the senior staff at work was my favorite part of each job. Those meetings prepared and motivated me to assume my leadership role as Editor-in-Chief of my school’s yearbook.

To many, fashion has a connotation of obsession with materialism and vanity, but fashion taught me the importance of individuality. I created a blog to convince my readers to see fashion as identity, self-expression, and confidence – not materialism. Through fashion journalism, I found Samantha. I don’t need faraway road trips to feel comfortable in my own skin. As Coco Chanel said, “To be irreplaceable, one must always be different.” As Samantha, I will never again pretend to be someone I am not, even if it means I’m different than everyone else.

Samantha Weintraub is a graduate of The Hewitt School and will be a freshman at NYU in the Fall.

Who says “Asians don’t play basketball”?

by Calvin Ng

UntitledI was the only Asian freshman to make the Junior Varsity basketball team. My teammates questioned how I even became a Running Rebel. “Asians don’t play basketball.” This didn’t anger me; it just compelled me to prove myself in the sport I love. A year later, I was named captain of the team.

In the final game of our season, I look at the freshmen on the bench. Unlike me, they don’t have anything to prove due to race. Yet, there is a yearning in their eyes. They want a chance to play instead of sitting helpless in the last game.

We fall behind in the second quarter. Our starters, frustrated, argue on the court, blaming each other for missed shots. Coach Barbin calls a timeout. He yells at me–the captain–and the other starters. I cut him off and ask him to play the freshmen. His face says it all–who in their right mind would put inexperienced freshmen in a game right now?

“The starters aren’t doing well at all and we’re down by ten. There’s nothing to lose,” I reason.

He agrees and benches all the starters minus me and picks the four freshmen. This is a completely new team I’m leading now. My teammates listen and move the ball around. Despite their inexperience, they cut, set screens, and shoot well. We win the game and I see the leader in myself come alive.

For years, everyone pointed to me as a good leader–everyone but me perhaps. At my middle school graduation, I expected to win an academic award but was shocked when my name was called to the stage for the leadership award. It wasn’t until I played on a basketball team that I really saw myself as a leader, which grew out of my tenacity and devotion to the sport. The summer before I became captain, I went to Crocheron Park in Bayside, Queens daily to practice and play. I had already overcome others’ doubts about me as a player due to my race, and would play full court pickup games with the older guys. Whenever I performed poorly, I pushed myself harder in drills to get better. After this regimen, I was able to shoot further, jump higher, and dribble better.

When I returned to school, my teammates saw the improvement, acknowledging me as an equal. Yet I struggled as leader of the team with the starters all season. They always played every game despite poor performances. Perhaps the true lesson in the moment I pushed for the freshman to play was directed at the starters. They never focused on the consequences of playing poorly, not seeing how their bickering affected the team. By contrast, the freshmen always looked for advice when they took bad shots. Rather than merely citing their mistakes, I offered ways they could improve as players. In doing so, I experienced what I loved most about leadership–helping anyone who wants to improve.

This central trait to my leadership–my desire to help people–continues to appear beyond basketball. I apply the lessons of leadership on the courts as a volunteer tutor at a community center. My first student, Vivian, a freshman who had difficulty in Algebra, was unsure in approaching problems, often mixing up operations when solving equations. I recognized this right away. I did not make her feel bad about her shortcomings. I looked for a solution to help her as I did with the freshmen players. I immediately created a guide sheet for her, writing all of the basic guidelines for solving equations.

In some ways I thank those who doubted my abilities as a player. They inspired me to push myself harder as a basketball player. In the process, I discovered the leader in me and realized the values of practice and tenacity. I know I will be able to apply these lessons to so many avenues in my future.

Calvin Ng, a recent Stuyvesant High School graduate, will be attending Cornell University this fall.

A Christmas Miracle

by James Thompson

James Thompson (3)

I felt like a 12-year-old Danny Ocean or Robin Hood when I pulled off the most amazing Christmas heist. Maybe you can’t really call it a heist. I didn’t rob a bank, rip off a toy store or even steal anything physical, but things were stolen: the idea of my parent’s omnipotence, along with fragments of my innocence.

It all started when my younger brother, Calvin, requested my help to defy our parents.  To a bystander this might have sounded like: “I’m sick of mom and dad telling us we can’t get an Xbox. We should buy one ourselves.”  To me this sounded like: “I’m sick and tired of gravity, we should fly!” So to be clear: My brother asked me to help him do the impossible.

We plotted a Christmas miracle: to buy an Xbox, wrap it, and sneak it under our tree as an anonymous gift to the two of us. We began the normal holiday ritual on December 23 with the four-hour drive to my Aunt Debbie’s house in Yorktown Heights, New York. Once there, Calvin and I immediately went to work, with adrenaline as our companion throughout the entire process. Disbelief bathed my parents’ faces when we opened the final gift on Christmas morning. Mom and dad spent the rest of that Christmas in astonishment; guessing and re-guessing which relative could possibly have defied their expressed contempt for video games.

This was quite the moment for me, a guy who always enjoyed being a nerd. Even today, that n-word doesn’t bother me. I had been an obedient child, but was growing bored with my allegiance to my parents. The Xbox was the symbol of victory for my emerging tween rebellion. It became the first time I saw my parents defeated, and immediately a new fear emerged: How could those who couldn’t even stop me from buying a game console protect me from the world? It was a frightening and empowering moment.

The heist happened around the time I awakened to a new interest: film. In the Seventh Grade, I took a media literacy class, which captivated me as we studied the power of the media over the mind. We looked at commercials and explored the rigor entailed in creating 30 seconds of film that influenced such wide audiences. I was amazed to learn that such a large team of professionals invested so much intellectual capital on a commercial or a film–so much more energy than Calvin and I employed on the Christmas miracle. I did not draw this connection so neatly then. Yet looking back, I see how the two experiences shaped my coming of age. The heist demonstrated the power of my creativity while film would become the way for me to exercise that power in a constructive way.

My interest in film continued to grow with me and I convinced my parents to send me to a one-week intensive at the New York Film Academy the summer before my junior year. We learned to make short films with each student producing a two-minute silent film. My film focused on a college student who knew he was shortly going to die and how he chose to spend his final day.

The thrill of staging a world and sharing it captivated me. My nine hours in the editing room felt like nine minutes. I couldn’t get enough of shooting the best footage and editing a story, which turned out to be incredibly difficult. I relished the challenge. I felt like I was boxing with Mike Tyson and dodging every punch he threw sometimes even sending him through the roof with an upper cut.

I carried my passion for film back to school my junior year when I noticed a problem: a clear divide between white students, who are mostly residents of Brookline and students of color, most of whom are bussed to our school. I thought film was the best way to address this issue. Rather than write a paper for my Race and Identity class, I produced a film on the conflict by interviewing students from all races. As one of the few African American students who live in Brookline, it was easy for me to gain the confidence of both residents and bussed-in students.

I approached the documentary with a romantic view of film and the medium’s potential to help bridge the divide. When I finished the film, I was proud, yet underwhelmed and sobered by its limitations in solving the problem. I had a similar feeling after completing the Christmas Day heist. Both the film and the heist were driven by excitement but ended with my confrontation with harsh realities. The film didn’t solve the problem, it just illuminated it by highlighting the unintentional prejudice against students of color at my school. I could only expose a problem–not fix it. But exposure is a big part of progress and the first step to finding any solution. Six years ago, I learned that lesson through a Christmas miracle.

James Thompson is a freshman at Hampshire College and a graduate of Brookline High School in Brookline, Mass. 

 

[Untitled]

by Morgan Thompson

Someone always blasts KE$HA or Bruno Mars – something excessively mainstream – in the student lounge.  I die a little bit inside whenever I’m forced to hear the tuneless, overplayed productions my peers consider good music. Having idiosyncratically studied the cello since I was two-and-a-half, I stand alone against the onslaught of the same four chords and auto-tuned artists, asking for an inkling of talent (honestly, I’d be happy with Coldplay); alas, tyranny of the majority swallows my protests. However, one fated day, I was typing a French paper and there were only four people in the lounge. It was the moment I’d been waiting for: I smashed the system by playing some of my music for a change. Something passionate and a little stormy, but slightly humorous with a delicate melody. I searched “Shostakovitch 5th Symphony Scherzo,” on YouTube and pressed “Play.” For the  next fifty minutes, we listened to nothing but Early Contemporary and French Romantic music. No one complained. In fact, my friend Ashley asked me the name of a Ravel piece she thought was “PRETTY!”

I revel in those  moments when I interrupt the mundane with the spirit of nonconformity. I love the individual, so I’m not likely to jump on a band wagon simply because the featured band is the Jonas Brothers. I was born to be different. My mother, forty-three at the time of my birth, suffered several miscarriages and considered me a miracle. She almost named me Phoenix, saying I rose from the ashes of her previous losses. Our family’s precept was simple: form opinions and preferences through personal experience and experimentation. Whenever I asked about strange food my parents were eating, they would answer only by pointing their forks at me: “Try it.”

Their teachings backfired when I first heard the tooth fairy might not exist.  My parents maintained that she did. So, to find out for myself, I put my tooth under my pillow without telling my parents I’d lost it. The next morning: no money, tooth still there. Thus, I refuted the existence of the tooth fairy. Sorry if I’ve slapped your inner child in the face.

My parents, who grew up when youth activism was at its peak, always reminded me of my obligation as an African-American and a woman to protect my right to be taken seriously; i.e., “represent.” Many of my peers of a different race with younger parents lack the pressure of this obligation. This is why, one day in English, I was the first to argue,  “I find Paul Scofield’s reserved portrayal of King Lear more moving than Trevor Peacock’s excessively emotional interpretation,” when Ms. Brizendine and the rest of the class said the opposite.

Coming  of age in the Sixties, my parents rebelled musically by listening to rock and roll. Now,   inversely, I  am the musical renegade by loving anything written before my parents met. Rather than rejecting the music of previous generations for the music of mine, I prefer Kabalevsky to Kanye.

My outspokenness faced its greatest test in 2010, when my dad suffered a brain injury during surgery. He was in rehab recuperating for several  months. I’d always been loyal to my dad when he and my mom argued  because he was more tolerant of my mistakes.  Yet Dad became more and more despondent in the hospital and he wanted to come home. It pained Mom to see him suffering, but she couldn’t bring him home because he was so far from functioning independently. One awful day, Dad accused mom of wanting to keep him away,  and quoted her wedding vows.  To hear such ingratitude from my dad made him almost unrecognizable to me  and I couldn’t bring myself to look at my mom’s reaction. Instead, I defended her.  “Dad, of course she wants you home; we both do. She’s been checking the doctors’ work, she’s been dealing with lawyers to pay for your care, she’s been talking to your employer to keep your job and Grandma’s sick. All of this so that you can come home.”

It was a first. I’d never spoken a critical or reproachful word to my father, who spent a total of eight months in hospital and rehab away from home. It hurt me to see him in pain. After all, I owe my persistent independence to his influence. For years, I played my instrument when others were quitting largely to be an individual like my dad. Gradually, I grew to love the cello and the music. Self-improvement was the product of my rebellion.  Now, I aspire  to boldly go where nobody I know has gone and to bring everyone with me the second time around. My dad told me recently that he never liked classical music until I started playing it. It may be a parental reflex to suddenly like whatever your child does, but I was glad to have introduced another person to something I love. When I graduate, I hope to have had some impact on every activity I’ve done and every person I’ve met. I hope to leave Shostakovitch playing in every lounge.

Morgan Thompson is a freshman at Columbia University and a 2012 graduate of The Spence School in New York.

Keys to My Passions

by David Webster

I stare from afar at the big beast that stands in my living room, intimidated by its beauty, and uncertain of what may happen if I touch it. Yet its sight is so striking and inviting. I want to touch it to produce the tunes that my mother plays occasionally. One day I climb on the bench, my feet innocently dangling over the ground. I place my small, chubby fingers on the off-white keys. Beautiful noises flow, varying from high to low, soft to loud. I control all of it; I feel like the God of the keys.

If I had not engaged with that mysterious contraption when I was six-years-old, I would have lost the chance to develop a passion, piano. Today my relentless pursuit of passions and interests go beyond the piano. They have been nurtured by the inescapable resolve and independence that grew up with the taunts of two big brothers. I remember the Christmas when I was ten.  My older brothers were 15 and 17– too old for toys but not quite beyond the magic of Christmas morning.  “What did you ask for?” they nagged.   I ripped open an intricate blue rapper as they waited anxiously. It was just what I had wanted, the software  “Landscape Architecture and Design”.  They traded a glance and burst out laughing simultaneously like the hyenas in The Lion King. “That’s what you asked for?” they queried.  They always made jokes about my eclectic interests; from the time I opened my framed Monet paintings at 6, to my light box and my 3D animation tools at 8.

There is nothing like the bit of fun teasing from big brothers to prepare you to confront bigger challenges. Last summer, I concluded the NYU Summer Institute of technology program knowing that our required final performance would be difficult. I would not be performing on the piano, which I have done every year since I was six. My job was to perform the rap lyrics in a song that my group wrote and engineered. Yikes. I stood backstage, awaiting the erupting audience applause that would signal the end of the preceding groups. I didn’t want to leave the homey little room backstage, which didn’t pose any opportunity to fail. My heart raced. My hands were sweaty. My stomach was locked in knots. Yet I took that first step onto the ominous stage, with two hundred eyes staring at me from the audience. I walked into the blinding stage lights facing the crowd and performed. Our performance wasn’t perfect. Although we could have used a second sound check (ironic for a music technology program), I still walked offstage, head held high, knowing that what I had personally accomplished went far beyond what the audience had seen.

Did I hate being so nervous? Absolutely. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

However not every experience or challenge overcome is immediately gratifying; some involve lessons that unfold over time.  Take, for example, the gray day that I ended my teams’ chances for progressing through the county tournament.  I was a young freshman who, until then, had warmed the bench on the varsity team. It was the bottom of the seventh inning.  Our slow but hefty catcher had just been walked to first base.  I heard the coach’s voice. “Webby! You’re in” My feet trembled within my loosely tied cleats as I jogged nervously to first base. “Hopefully he just wants me to run the bases,” I thought. But when the sign to steal came, I had to go.  The silence as I ran tensely was one of the loudest noises had ever heard.  The first baseman had the ball, and a look of monumental accomplishment on his face. With great precision, he threw the ball to the second baseman, which applied a tag that seemed to slam me deep into the sand. I had been picked off, and it was the last out of the game. The easier option is always to linger on base. But still, there is something that gives me the courage to push myself and go all out to second base.

I am sometimes apprehensive in the face of new challenges, and I am initially reluctant to partake in activities that force me to exit my niche of familiarity. Yet I overcome the reluctance to face the risks of unknown as I have become well acquainted with challenge.  My experience with it is irreplaceable and will only help in the time ahead. As I conquer a new hurdle, I will always feel my swinging toes, microphone in hand, dashing through the sand towards new opportunities.

David Webster will be a junior at Williams College in the fall and is a 2011 graduate of Newark Academy in Livingston, New Jersey.