By David J. Dent, Jr.
The 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.