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The Long Journey to Moments of Pride

                       By Jaren Epps

Jaren EppsMy best friend, Jason, and I sit at a table in a ballroom watching a parade of 200 high school students, all one year my senior, march to the microphone. The men wear suits and white gowns drape the women. They announce their names, the colleges they will attend, and waltz to Glory. Chills run through my spine when I see seniors that I know reach the same microphone I will approach next year. Then they become graduates of Jack and Jill, an organization of black families.

This graduation did not resemble the pictures of blackness that once made me ashamed to be black. The mere word “slavery” once frightened me. In fourth grade I covered my ears, refusing to hear class discussions on plantation whipping poles.  I also shook my head or turned off the television when I saw news stories on black criminals. I did not want to be black.

My journey beyond this shame accelerated when a strange hand grabbed me and forced a blindfold around my eyes. Thrown to the cold floor, someone ordered me to get up and I felt chains on my ankles and heavy handcuffs squeezing my wrists. “I’m here to take pictures,” I fretted to myself.  Instead, I walked with 25 young men in discomfort through a wooded area to the sands of the rivershore. I heard an elder scream: “Try doing it again and I will throw you into the river.” Someone must have peeked through the blindfold.  

After trudging through the sand in 98 degree heat in a suit for hours, I heard the crinkle of the leaves and the clink of a metal key. My cuffs dropped to the floor. “Take off your blindfold,” an elder bellowed.  Our surprise simulation of slavery ended. Lifting the fold, I saw my friend Marcus’ black shoes. I found the courage to look up. Rows of benches surrounded a bright campfire. At 14, I graduated from Blue Nile’s Rites of Passage Program, which builds character in black youth.

The program featured movies like Roots, focused on the strength of blacks through the horrors of slavery. I found myself empowered, becoming a history buff. I had been a member of Jack and Jill for years, but I never valued the organization’s alternative narrative of the black experience until I embraced my heritage. There were bigger lessons beyond race in forming friendships through both experiences.  I saw the manifestation of this when my bestfriend, Jason, crumbled into my arms sobbing a couple of years ago. At the age of two, our parents threw us in the pool together to learn how to swim. We hung on to each other, crying. Treading water, we had to sink or swim. We always joked that, despite our floaties, it felt like the worst moment of our lives. We were wrong.

I was 16 when Jason sent the text.  

(3:07) – Bro, I have some really sad news. My brother Steven passed away today.

I couldn’t believe it: the same Steven who taught me to shoot a basketball and snowboard. A Harvard Law grad. Our role model.

My pain compounded in learning Steven committed suicide. In the midst of a huge Valentine’s Day snowstorm, I left boarding school to join Jason’s family.


At home, Jason called me downstairs to play video games. In the middle of
Call of Duty, he broke down weeping in my arms. There was nothing to say. I simply embraced him for as long as he needed, hoping my silence comforted him.  

Undoubtedly, Jack and Jill and Blue Nile strengthened my character in a way that helped me through the moment of a tragic loss. While both imparted an appreciation of my culture, they also conditioned me to see beyond self and value friendship through a challenging moment, a memory that will be with Jason and I when we approach the microphone next year.

 

Jaren Epps, a graduate of The Salisbury School, will be a freshman at Morehouse College in the Fall.

 

Finding a Place Like Home in Havana

By Alex Eisman

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I felt like I was on Mars, yet I was only 90 minutes south of Miami. I was a 15-year-old in Havana, two years before the United States restored diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Decaying buildings and streets resembled a ghost town, but people — not to mention intimidating anti-American propaganda — were everywhere. It was scary. However, once I arrived at Havana’s El Patronato Synagogue, I relaxed. The Director greeted me with a hug in front of a particle board filled with photos of Jewish-Cuban families.
“Bienvenido a mi casa.”
“Gracias.” Flustered that I could not communicate with her any further, I turned to the translator. “Please thank her for this incredible hospitality.”
She led me into the dining hall, pointing to a wall and speaking rapidly in Spanish. The translator said, “This is where we plan to hang your paintings.”
I had been invited to display six large abstract biblical canvases. My path to this moment started with an eye-catching infomercial and my everlasting persistence. At the headstrong age of six, I had become fixated with an infomercial of a middle-aged woman painting flowers. It looked so cool. I, too, wanted to paint pretty flowers. I managed to wear down my mother to take me to buy a how-to book, brushes, paints and canvases. Within a few days, my first flower appeared on my canvas.
I soon began developing my own style as an artist. My artistic style has since evolved with my observations of life as a series of shapes, forms and colors that lead to meanings, narratives, and journeys. My work has developed into explorations of the human body in multimedia.
Six of my paintings interpreting the biblical story of Joseph and Pharaoh hung at my brother’s Bar-Mitzvah a few years ago. A Jewish-Cuban artist saw them and exclaimed: “You must show in Cuba.”
I immediately said yes. Again, I wore my parents down. It was far more difficult to persuade them to allow me to make this trip than it was to convince them to buy art supplies years ago.
“Cuba? No!”
Still, I researched ways to obtain a visa, identified possible places to stay and finally convinced my own synagogue to sponsor the trip. Six months later, I entered El Patronato for the opening of my exhibit, feeling a wave of humidity. The air conditioner was broken but this did not diminish the enthusiasm of the audience of one-hundred. I was humbled by the crowd’s many questions.
“What does it mean to have your paintings displayed in a synagogue?”
Sweat poured down my face as I thought about that first question. I forgot my prepared answer, but I knew the experience was bringing me closer to my Jewish heritage. I was an agnostic in an atheist country discussing Judaism and the Bible. I walked into the synagogue as a stranger and left several hours later as though I had been there all my life.
I returned to New York and expanded my art into teaching. For the past two summers, I have volunteered to teach art to underprivileged children.
“Today we are going to be drawing sunflowers,” I said to my students.
I walked around, offering assistance. Then I stopped at Steven. He had drawn a man and a dinosaur fighting over a flower. “Steven, what do we have here?”
“The dinosaur grew the flower, and the man came, and . . .” He continued his story for another minute. It was incredible. He followed my model and directions to create his own direction, his own narrative.
“Continue, Steven!”
I push my students to develop the mentality not just to think outside of the box, but to create a completely new box. As a largely self-taught artist, I embody this mentality. Perhaps that is why I can feel at home in a place that feels like another planet.

Alex Eisman graduated from the Children’s Professional School last month and will attend University of Miami, where she was accepted Early Decision.

Challenging Routines with New Fears

By Anya Carter

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Let me paint the opening of my graphic novel: Five igloos stand tall against the whipping wind as girls huddle in their sleeping bags and gnaw on frozen Snickers bars. The High Mountain Institute is infamous for challenging students to live and learn within nature through expeditions in the Colorado backcountry. From afar, the idea of a semester school—a new environment, curriculum and community—seemed romantic. Yet, as I sat in a tent filled with Junior Olympic skiers and farming gurus, I could not help but feel like an anomaly. To me, Central Park was the Great Outdoors. So, as I watched girls scurry up boulders, I feared I was not cut out for this.

Flashback to my departure: “Flight #3675 is now boarding.” It was a phrase I dreaded for months. The voice on the intercom reverberated through my body. Trying to present my parents with the confident, fearless girl they raised, I gathered the strength to say goodbye. I entered the air bridge and with each step, and every nervous look back, my mother’s figure grew more faint. Enduring my first flight alone was manageable; enduring four months alone was unimaginable. “Worst decision of your life,” I wryly whispered to myself.

My easy smile and svelte posture suggest security, but deep down, some self-doubt lingers. Though a lack of confidence has never halted my love of reading or my evolution as a writer, in middle school, I struggled to receive praise without second-guessing its validity. Timidity prevented me from joining the swim team, traveling alone to Asia, and auditioning for our play, Annie.

By high school, I developed well-grooved patterns at home that soothed my self doubt; I would wake up, ride the M79 bus, meet friends for breakfast, and take a test for which I was more than prepared. I had conquered the routine that was my high school career. However, I soon realized that my comfortable rhythm was not the reason to stay; it was the reason to leave. My underlying fear was not the program itself—it was abandoning the predictability I knew.

I entered the igloo—my home for the program’s first fourteen days—hauling seventy pounds of food on my back. I proceeded to unpack my puffy coats, fleece layers and wool socks. Allowing the harsh conditions to cripple us was not an option. We danced to keep our feet from freezing, slept with hot water bottles, and consumed 6,000 calories daily to fortify our nervous systems against the cold.

In a mere four months, I built an igloo block by block; waded through freezing rivers with ease; and skied for the first time, eating snow the first day, but shredding it on the last. I climbed Mount Elbert, a 14,000 foot peak, with skins on the bottom of my skis. Weighed down by a sled for ten days and ten nights, I learned the power of patience and mental resilience. If I can conquer nature as a city-girl, I can conquer anything.

The next time I sat in an airport was for my return flight. The fear which sullied my first departure was replaced by a sheer sense of accomplishment. Central Park now feels miniscule. If only I could tell the Anya of January 21st that courage does not mean being fearless—that the most transformative events happen in the wake of great fear. With the memory of Mount Elbert’s peak ingrained in my heart, I will not let self-doubt impede me; I will use it to fuel my ambition. So next time there’s a team try-out or an audition, I’ll be first in line. Next time I say I cannot write a novel, I’ll write two. And yes, I’m a bit frightened to enter this new chapter of my life, but I know a great story is waiting to be written.

Anya Carter, a 2016 graduate of The Dalton School, will be a freshman at Washington University in St Louis in the fall.

That Sweet Space of Art, Science and Life

by Kaira Mediratta

Kaira Mediratta

I bake all three layers of the cake and stack them. All that’s left is the frosting. I quickly dump the butter, vanilla, and powdered sugar into the bowl and turn the mixer on high. I take one look, and it’s clear I’ve made a mistake: I forgot to sift the powdered sugar.

It’s 12:26. Starting over on the frosting would mean racing to the store. Mrs. Low, who has requested this cake for her daughter’s birthday, is coming to pick it up at 1:00.

With its golden hues, the cake’s layers perfectly complement the rich, lemon curd filling. But who wants a birthday cake with lumpy frosting?

In sixth grade, I recognized my passion for baking: an art form that requires creativity and flexibility. Soon after, I began an informal baking business, producing countless cakes ever since.

I trace my love of art back to one afternoon, on a special trip with my Daduthe Bengali word for maternal grandfatherlooking out over a sea of Venetian rooftops. My Dadu starts sketching; the setting sun reflecting off the rhubarb tiles. He then pulls another sketchbook out of his bag and hands it to me: “Draw as much as you can, whenever you can.”

Although I lost that sketchbook years ago, his advice has influenced my development as an artist. A few months ago, I realized a lifelong dreamhaving a piece hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Artafter winning a gold medal through the Scholastic Art & Writing contest. Despite a bitter, cold snowstorm, my Dadu managed to get to the opening reception. We pushed through crowds of people to look for my painting. I could tell that he was surprised when he caught sight of it, because I hadn’t told him it was a painting of him. I’d finally found a way to thank him for fostering my creativity.

I always thought of myself primarily as an artistic person. However, as I matured, the dichotomy between art and science in my life faded. My interest in science bloomed when I started taking classes at the American Museum of Natural History in middle school.

I remember standing in the doorway of the ichthyology department, staring at rows of shelves, containing thousands of tiny glass jars. At first I’m stunned by the sheer numbers, but looking closer, I realize that each jar holds a different specimen, preserved in formaldehyde. Surrounded by species from every corner of the earth, I’m amazed by the vast collection around me. This sense of scientific curiosity would lead me to apply for, and ultimately work at, the museum in high school.

At the intersection of art and science, baking is a metaphor for my life. It demands exact proportions and procedures, but requires creative solutions. And through experience in the kitchen, I’ve learned math, chemistry, and patience. Most importantly, I’ve learned not to fear starting over. As I approached high school, after being at the same private school since kindergarten, I became hungry to engage the world outside of this bubble. After auditioning for art at LaGuardia on a whim, I was happily surprised to be offered a spot. Next stop – open house.

The elevator doors open, and a marching band blocks my path through the hallway. To my left two girls paint an elaborate mural, while to my right another student belts out a dulcet aria. The whole place is crazy, but in the best sense of the word.

After open house night, I make my decision to enter a school five times the size of my old one. I wouldn’t know a single person. As terrifying as that sounds, I embraced the change.

In the end, the choice was as simple as fixing the frosting of that birthday cake. I threw on my shoes, grabbed my wallet, and bolted out the doorand, somehow, the cake was ready at 1:00.

Kaira Mediratta graduated from LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts this week and, after a Gap Year, will be a freshman at Williams College

Creating the Dance to Power

By Amistad Cinque Meeks

Cinque MeeksEveryone’s wearing black — the outfits are paramilitary, inspired by the clothing of those who marched the streets in the 1960s — and we’re waiting for the lights to brighten. When I’m choreographing, clothing serves a similar function as Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit”: to instill a scene. We’re wearing black because that’s what people wore when they took to the streets to protest discrimination: black turtlenecks and khaki pants, a mix of power and class.

I had never choreographed a dance. Therefore, my class assignment to create an eight-minute-long piece seemed almost impossible. Yet, as a dancer, it was something I welcomed. I chose the Civil Rights Movement after reading an article about Lennon Lacy, a 17-year-old black male who was found lynched in 2014. This sparked the idea to connect the Civil Rights Movement to the contemporary, because I found the idea of lynchings still happening unfathomable.

To an untrained performer, keeping every inch of the stage alive is demanding. It’s imperative, however, that the stage never has dead space. Likewise, each movement must connect with the audience, must move them in some way. A dance should instill emotion, from inspiration to discomfort in the minds of those who watch. So I kept asking myself: how would I fill the stage and express my disgust toward lynching?

I made sure the dance conveyed my sense of the strengths and vulnerabilities of a Sixties protest, creating sections that were both sad and powerful. My dancers sometimes moved with tense arms and loud stomps, and, at other times, with long limbs and dragging demeanors. I created movement reminiscent of hangings and slavery as well as movement that spoke to today’s protests.

I grew up in a home recognizing racism in America. My father wrote a book about racial profiling in 2000 and, yet, when I was younger, I protested my parent’s orders to be careful when I’m outside. They often told me that society views black males as dangerous. I dismissed them because I always knew I was not dangerous. My dance communicated my awakening as I became aware of the many police shootings that happened this year, realizing that blacks don’t have to be dangerous to get killed.
An important step of choreographing is casting. To genuinely embody the Civil Rights Movement, I chose dancers of different races. I spent a lot of time trying to teach them how I moved. I met with them individually; I encouraged them to dance as I did. It was only after watching them during one rehearsal, watching as they went against their own instincts, that I realized my selfish attempt to make dancers in my own image. Doing so was taking away from the core values of the performance. I realized that choreography must allow dancers to add their own souls to the creator’s vision, like a protest movement. When watching protesters march, not everyone is the same. With different backgrounds and reasons for marching, they’re moving in the same direction. I let that sentiment complete my dance.

Afterwards, filling the stage came naturally. The actions of each dancer made them less a collection of individual and more a movement. Later, as I watched videos of my dance, I saw that not only was I watching a performance that encompassed the entire stage, I was watching a true protest movement, one that had different bodies moving in the same direction. I had accomplished my goal of accurately representing the Civil Rights Movement.

Everyone’s wearing black. The dance’s last scene is the same as its first: powerful, because it proves that despite all of the progressions, the movement has been circular. My hope — the point of this dance — is to teach the audience something: that the issues of fifty years ago are still plaguing our world today, but that the circle can one day be broken.

Amistad Cinque Meeks graduated from The Dalton School yesterday and will be a freshman at Brown University in the Fall.

Life Grows through a Screen Door

By Shaya Barry

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My little brother swings upside down from our tree. I guess anything can happen after a stranger races through our kitchen screen door without knocking.  

The new neighbor shows me her old rock climbing harness: “Can you use this?”

Within an hour, the neighborhood watches me strap my little brother in the equipment. As his shaggy hair bounces above me, the future unfolds in my mind—an extreme adventure camp for nine-year-olds in my backyard. Two months after my neighbor’s unexpected screen door entrance, I open my forty-eight-hour camp in my backyard and make four hundred dollars. For a twelve-year-old, that is a good profit.

Unlocked and unblocked, our kitchen screen door beckons anyone to enter at any time. Today, I arrive home from soccer practice as my sister’s sign language teacher enters. I hold the screen door so she can bring in her bags. I let the door swing shut, and it jumps right back open. A former prisoner of war and ex-San Francisco newspaper editor says, “Hi,” and rushes past me to grab extra SF Giants tickets off the counter.  My younger brother’s friend races through the door, gives me a nod, grabs two eggs from the refrigerator, and starts cooking. The screen door welcomes a variety of interesting people and exciting ideas into my life, which harness my determination to grow.

And over time, the squeaky screen door has never stopped. A few years ago, I heard a scream as loud as any camper. “Anyone home?”  It was Maddy, my friend who had moved from China, coming over to play guitar for a couple of hours. As we played, I developed the idea to perform at an open mic the following night. Hours turned into an all-nighter. I was determined to perfect the song . . . and to keep Maddy awake. The next night, we received roaring applause at Sweet Water.

Music comes through our screen door a lot.  As I walk in, I see Brittany, my deaf sister, and Sean Forbes, a deaf rapper. They are signing to the latest Imagine Dragons video.  Sean, my sister’s mentor and friend, brings music to the deaf and hard of hearing. I talk to him about ways to get my friends and classmates to attend his fundraising concerts for the organization, Deaf Performing Arts. I rally everyone to support him at his show, where we experience not only music, but a vibrating stage, exotic light patterns, multimedia text-based videos and a combination of sign language and dance movements—all for a cause.  This body-shaking experience and excitement I see in Sean awakens my determination to contribute to my community.

Not long after, David, a tall stranger, enters. He sees me in my muddy soccer cleats and long socks after a grueling tournament win. David helped build Positive Coaching Alliance, which teaches life lessons through sports, and encourages me to apply for the organization’s National Student Board. I instantly relate to PCA values like making my team, the game, and myself better. My dedication to bringing PCA’s message to other kids is relentless as I organize a fundraising drive. After contacting PCA members to figure out how I can best contribute, I discover music is the answer. I decide to write and perform a song called “Hold Your Light High” that communicates PCA’s message of leading by example.

I call a Nashville songwriter, who is a family friend, to help me through these uncharted territories. She gives me hours of phone lessons to prepare me for the recording studio. PCA execs recognize my devotion and ask me to speak at the National Coaches Awards dinner.  In the end, the song reaches one hundred million people, and like that summer camp or performance with Maddy, it all starts with the opening of the screen door.

 
Shaya Barry graduated from Redwood High School last night and will be attending University of California at Berkeley.

CLIMBING AND CONFIDENCE

by Dexter Zimet

Dexter ZimetI feel alone on the football field of my team’s biggest rivals. Yes, it is just me, the only player on the field against the other team of eleven. They all run for me and the only line of defense is myself.

I get that feeling in many of my classes at Dalton. I am a rare libertarian amidst extremely liberal teachers and students. My economics teacher called on me to speak recently and, before my mouth opened, I felt the vicious glares of my classmates beam towards me as if I committed blasphemy. “I think trickle-down economics work,” I said. The stares grow into eighteen shouting voices: “How can you say that?” and “You’re wrong!” My resistance to censor myself forms my persona as a strong risk taker and defines my independence. Yet speaking my truth comes at the cost of some peers ostracizing me. However, taking risks prepares me for my dream to become an entrepreneur. The people in my life always warn me that the majority of start-ups fail, but I do not fear failure or risks.

Perhaps it all starts with living in a city with millions of opinions surrounding me. Everyday people attempt, in a New York manner, to push me to adopt their beliefs, whether they beg me to occupy Wall Street or argue that JG Melon’s makes the best burgers in the city or that the Yankees define the best in baseball. I happen to, dangerously, be a Mets fan.
In baseball, football, wrestling and snowboarding, some of my risks have produced consequences: three broken hands, two broken wrists, a torn right shoulder labrum, elbow tendinitis, a forearm stress fracture, shattered left elbow, a concussion, traction apophysitis, planter faciitis, shattered finger joint, two dislocated shoulders and two broken pinkies. Not bad for a seventeen-year-old, right? Through all the trauma I experienced, I had a smile knowing I had taken a risk doing something I loved. After all, if I survive physical therapy three times, I can make it through disagreements with my friends and teachers.

The test of this confidence came two summers ago. My friend’s dad invited me to climb Mt. Rainer. He warned that I needed to train extremely hard during the two months prior to the climb in order to prepare my body and mind. I kept telling myself that I would regret it for the rest of my life if I did not take this risk. The idea of not taking advantage of every opportunity was more frightening than actually climbing the mountain. I was galvanized. I began to eat healthier and I decided to never drink soda again. During baseball camp, I woke up everyday before everyone else to work out prior to the day’s activities. In Italy, I ran along the coast on narrow roads every night as strange looking cars zoomed by. With my dogs by my side, I sprinted up and down the rolling hills engulfed in the backwoods of our summer house. During these moments, I reflected on my mission to succeed by standing out on the field and in the classroom; risk was my vehicle.

I faced the first big test on a clear morning in late August. Our plane glided past the snow-capped monster and into Seattle. Qualms arose, as my pen scratched the release form. During training, we learned potentially life saving techniques, and I quickly realized other people were going to depend on me. I was responsible not just for my own life, but also the lives of seven others tied to my rope. The second day we climbed 10,000 feet and made camp. Lying in my sleeping bag, the sounds of howling winds and falling rocks kept me awake and pushed my nerves to thoughts of quitting. At 1:00 AM, we started the climb. At many moments, I wished to turn around and head back with the 20 out of 30 climbers who decided the trek was too much. At 11,000, then 12,000, then 13,000, my mind kept telling my body that we could do this. If I were to fail, I would regret it for the rest of my life. As I trudged the last few hundred feet, the pain withered. When we reached the summit the satisfaction and joy I felt was indescribable as I saw both the space needle and the Pacific Ocean. Since that climb, I am in constant search of that feeling of achievement. My hunger for success has grown. I constantly crave the sensation I experienced in that last step to reach the top.

Dexter Zimet graduated from Johns Hopkins University last week and is a 2012 graduate of The Dalton School in New York.

Beyond Tickling the Keys

By Christien S. Williams

Christien Williams“Let’s briefly go over how the code works. We don’t want to lose our audience…”
Audience? Is that really me–the kid who once feared center stage– leading a group at Caltech with the prescription for the perfect presentation? My journey towards valuing audience and setting my own stage goes back to Dad’s prodding: “Christien, go tickle the keys.”
That was Dad’s way of saying practice the piano.
The younger me preferred dreaming of inventions–a hoverboard or a version of Tony Stark’s “Jarvis.” Science and discovery consumed me. Piano seemed irrelevant to plans to be an innovator. However in seventh grade, piano propelled me beyond that narrow lens.

“Would you be interested in playing during town meeting?” Mr. Sepkowitz, the middle school principal, startled me with this question.
Swallowing the lump in my throat, I replied, “Sure.”
Behind my gleaming 12-year-old eyes, a voice yelled, “Don’t do it!”
My terrified mind raced with the thought of hitting a wrong note in the middle of a piece, and being unable to finish.
I chose a piece I knew well: Guitars of Seville, and began practicing tirelessly. Then Mr. Sepkowitz checked in about the performance: “You’ll probably be playing two pieces, right?”
My heart skipped a beat. I thought, I’m reluctant to play in the first place, and now –two songs? After a brief pause I replied, “Yeah, of course.”
I could not rely on the crutch of a familiar song. I selected Clementi’s Sonata in C, Opus 36, Number 1, a more challenging piece. I practiced relentlessly after school every day. Lagotto here, with the sustain pedal; then staccato, no sustain, then lagotto again; now a crescendo; finally a ritardando.

Before I knew it, performance day arrived and Mr. Sepkowitz announced, “…Christien Williams will be playing for us this morning.” Descending the bleachers and sitting at the piano, I masked my anxiety.

My fingers overcame their tremors and glided across the piano, not missing a key.
When I hit the final key, the crowd erupted in a standing ovation, with some in the audience even crying.

I later realized that my performance transcended piano. A year later, I carried this new confidence to my interest in student government. Walking onto the stage, not to a piano stool but to a podium, I delivered my election speech –the first of many– to become student body president. I was slightly intimidated, yet prepared. I began with my slogan: “My name is Christien Williams, and I’m here to do what’s right!”

The 7th grade performance that once ignited stagefright became my catalyst to occupy podiums and preside over student government meetings. From freshman class rep to student body president, I journeyed through high school student government positions requiring me to learn from being on center stage. Soon, I married my knack for student government with my love for math and science, which helped me pursue my interests in engineering.

Still a dreamer in high school, I acted on those dreams by pursuing inventions every summer. At UVA, I programmed computers to make digital images that turn geometry into art. At East Carolina University, I worked in a lab to autonomously control a robot with human thoughts. Then there was Caltech, where I was on a team of students that programmed our own version of the snake game. Through each project, I sometimes found myself drawing on those lessons from the piano and the podium.

At Caltech, studying functions and loops consumed my days while I prepared for my team presentation. Emerging as the leader of my group, my leadership skills emanated in preparing our presentation. I pushed the team to focus on audience. The overwhelming nerves that preceded my 7th grade moment were absent when I presented to Caltech professors. Perhaps the biggest lesson of all, innovation cannot carry itself without communication and presentation skills. Maybe playing the piano was more than just tickling keys.

Christien S. Williams graduated from Charlotte Country Day School last weekend and will be a freshman at MIT in the Fall.

A Mind that Travels

by Lynnette A. Dent

Lynette Dent The bullet pierced my chest. I fell and struggled for life in an Iraqi desert. Blinding sand flew everywhere as soldiers kicked the dirt. I tried to get up but could only crawl over the blood that soiled the ground. Many fell to death around me. Then, something happened. The scene changed. I realized I was not on a battlefield but actually in a red leather chair staring at the stage with my dad next to me as usual.

You can’t stop my imagination, which has grown up with my passionate love for theater. For as long as I can remember, my dad has taken me to plays on Broadway a couple of times a month. After a few quick slices of pizza, we search the billboards around Times Square for the right show. This time it is Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, but the mission is different. I am not here to merely enjoy the show. I am a junior conducting an honors project on the portrayals of politics in Broadway plays and Bengal Tiger is one of the three plays I am reviewing.

I try to watch the play from a distantly academic point of view but my imagination will not allow it. I can’t detach myself from the characters. My senses easily go beyond reality and travel with the adventures of the two marines, the Iraqi translator and the smart tiger.

Not coincidentally, I’ve always loved books and I feel like I’m in a different place when I read and interact with characters: like a maid who loves someone above her station or a vampire. The library has always been my nesting place. Yet it sometimes feels too solitary so I always join theater productions where I can share my imagination with others in roles big and small. In the first grade, I was a little angel at a Harlem School of the Arts holiday production. I also played Ivana Trump in Miracle on 51st Street at St. Bart’s Church in Fourth Grade. I was in the chorus of Pinocchio in Fifth Grade at the American Overseas School of Rome when my family spent six months in Italy. Two years later, I was Cynthia in a film I produced at a summer camp in Zell am See, Austria. Even as a senior, I portrayed a nurse in my school’s production of Dracula. These are just a few of my roles.

I do not expect to be a professional actress or theater critic after college. Yet I see the ways theater and my imagination will serve me at times I least expect. For example, I spent three weeks in the LEAD Business program at the University of Michigan. My favorite moment was meeting an executive from British Petroleum who led one of our sessions. She was a theater major in college and she inspired me so much. She divided us into groups: My group was an American company collaborating with a Chinese company. We researched the ways to orient our conversations to appeal to the Chinese business people. I had to play a convincing role — something I knew how to do — to make a deal.

A few months earlier, I was an intern at the New York Historical Society. With my fellow interns, we studied the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. We were divided into groups and, with my leadership, my group wrote a theatrical debate and recorded it. Looking back on that day, it was clear to me why we chose to re-enact this event through performance; theater was such an enthralling way to comprehend the perspectives behind this historic event. I served as a Northern representative and I easily imagined myself in nineteenth century New York struggling with an issue that sent our country into war.

I have always seen history, my favorite subject, through the lenses of theater and imagination. Yet this year, I learn to use my imagination in math, the subject that gives me the most trouble. In my Advanced Topics in Mathematics class, we explore math through complex case studies such as elections, business scheduling and sorting. Now when I tackle a math problem, I imagine myself as the congresswoman elected in a newly created district because of population changes. Or I am a CEO of a small company arranging employee work hours in a way that saves on the bottom line. All of a sudden, math becomes a different kind of challenge that I welcome. Whether in math, history, or business, the intersection of my imagination with theater often means my whole world is indeed a stage in which the coming acts are an exciting mystery.

Lynnette A. Dent, a 2012 graduate of the Little Red Schoolhouse and Elisabeth Irwin High School, graduated from Wheaton College a week ago.

My Tunes for Music and Life

by Morgan Thompson

Morgan ThompsonSomeone 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, a 2012 graduate of The Spence School in New York. graduated from Columbia University earlier this month.