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Small School Blues; Big School Hopes

by Jack Reiss


Prompt: Please provide a statement that addresses your reasons for transferring and the objectives you hope to achieve. You can type directly into the box, or you can paste text from another source. (250-650 words)

The addiction takes over at exactly 9:30 A.M. on business days. I hold my breath to see what phases the stock market. Could Pfizer skyrocket over 50 percent because of news for a groundbreaking cancer drug? Could McDonald’s dip 50 percent because of higher than expected trans fat in Big Macs? Or will it be a day like the one last March when Isoray, a cancer treatment stock I own, jumped more than 100 percent? The convergence of my interests in stocks, statistics, history and agriculture has influenced my decision to transfer to a school where I can strongly pursue these subjects, and also experience a broader, more developed and inspired social scene.

The stock market habit began a year ago, triggered by my love affair with my high school Elementary Statistics class and after my dad handed over control of my custodial portfolio. Don’t get the wrong idea, it’s chump change. But now I view stocks as closely as I watch baseball – which is pretty close – or a plant I grow from seed to flower.

I have fully engaged my interests at Trinity. My home at Trinity is the investment club where I am in the midst of preparing for a presentation on risk in health care company stocks. I want to build on experiences like this at a place with more opportunities and a more diverse population of students with similar passions or other intellectual interests that I have yet to explore. At Trinity, my grades are good and I look forward to my classes. However, I seek a university with a larger number of students who want to work and expand intellectually.

A broader social environment with stronger extracurriculars drives my search for a compatible school.  At Trinity, I attempted to join a whiffle ball intramural team, but there were not enough students to sign up so the club was cancelled. This one example indicates some of the limitations of a school with 2000 students. My hope is for a larger university with a more intellectually ambitious student body and activities and organizations that reflect that population.

I seek transferring to a school that offers inspired ways to explore

my interests and discover new ones. For years, I found many ways to engage my passion for botany. While serving as an intern horticulturist at the Central Park Conservancy in high school, I began to consider horticulture in the context of investing and the future. I lean towards companies that are committed to promoting health initiatives centered on organic foods, nutrition, and sustainability. Now that I manage my small stock portfolio, I conduct research companies like Whitewave, a pioneer health food conglomerate; it was the first company I chose to invest in and fits my criteria by intersecting agricultural, health food, and finance interests; plus it pays dividends!

My interest in statistics has helped fuel my fascination with stocks and their associated statistical models, especially volatile stocks with their sporadic graphs and possible inferences from them. I desire studying the market in ways that are connected to my academic work, including researching models for looking at the stock market as a way of creating communities through the identification of companies with interests that unite shareholders beyond profit margins. As part of this goal, I am in the process of obtaining Bloomberg certification through use of the Bloomberg Terminal system, which will be an asset to investing and complement my academic research. The certification will also expose me to information beyond the stock market. It will be a tool for exploring other subjects like history and a barometer for exploring the world’s markets and their resulting implications. I am excited by the opportunity of taking this certification into a new academic environment. It is just one of many possibilities that inspire me to transfer to a larger school.

Jack Reiss, a 2014 graduate of The Browning School, is now sophomore at NYU.

The Invincible Decision

by Jordan Atkins

IMG_9186I was one of the invincibles in eighth grade. Family, friends, and fans called us the “B5”– five talented black athletes within a predominantly white community. With 31 wins and 0 losses, we reached the goal of a perfect season while dominating our opponents and inspiring excitement in our community. We could make history if we continued to play with the same level of intensity in high school. It would be the first time in our high school’s 65 years that African-Americans would comprise the entire starting lineup in any sport. Our future high school basketball careers and prospects for a state championship looked as bright as the infamous “Fab Five,” Michigan’s 1991 recruiting class. There was one problem: I knew that basketball at the next level would consume all my free time and prevent me from pursuing other interests.

Community and friends versus my own heart: At the end of freshman season, I had to choose between succumbing to the pressure of pleasing others and following my true interests. In looking back, I tapped into the courage I found when I began to negotiate the boundaries of stereotyping.  It started in sixth grade, with friends often saying: “Jordan, you’re the whitest black person I know,” referring to my proper style of speech.  These comments were hurtful, and although said jokingly, I felt the stereotyping and disrespect inherent in them. I was born in the same suburb as my friends and had experienced a strong sense of community. Yet, I realized the powerful stereotypes of race and athletes. In the beginning of eighth grade, I built up the courage to confront those making such comments, and the jokes stopped.

Months later, it hit me. If I continued basketball, I would have limited time to improve football and baseball skills, explore my interest in business outside of school, or even volunteer in mentoring programs. Working with younger kids was a passion and skill that started when I attended a small private elementary school. In third grade, I began work with preschoolers, spending half of my lunchtime reading stories to them. Eventually, I helped those in younger grades with schoolwork. I never had time to pursue this kind of volunteering once I began playing basketball at an intense level. So, before the basketball season started in my sophomore year, I made the decision to walk away from the sport.

Without the added demands of basketball, I began participating in business competitions held by the Business Professionals of America. I spent countless hours taking notes and studying fundamental accounting, banking, and finance principles. The determination to dominate at these business competitions felt similar to the tenacity with which I used to practice my shots before game day. But rather than looking for external encouragement from coaches, I became self-motivated. In my first year, I qualified for nationals.

I always loved football, and could now explore that interest. At first, I faced discouragement from future teammates, since I hadn’t played on the freshman team. But again, I stayed true to my interest and ended up starting on both offense and defense my sophomore year. I am now a team captain for the varsity team. In some ways, my role resembles my elementary school mentoring, helping younger football players maneuver the grueling demands of football and academics. I also advise them on other off-the-field issues such as taking ownership for behavior in and out of school.

Quite honestly, I do miss basketball, and think about the missed opportunity for fame and heroism. But, I do not regret my decision. When my school’s team made it to the State’s “final four” with only three of the B5 as starters, I often thought and was told, “That could’ve been me playing.” Yet every good decision comes with sacrifices.

Jordan Atkins, a freshman at the University of Michigan, is a graduate of Adlai E Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois.

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.

Why Northwestern?

by Nicholas Jacobson

I grew up two blocks away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For me, the Met represents the mixture of sports and fine art, or even the beauty of brutality and culture. Throughout middle school, my friends and I gathered in the Met’s backyard to play a fun, yet competitive game of tackle football once or twice a week. The grass was green on “Met Field” when we first started playing in September. A couple of months into the Fall, the beautiful oasis became a vast wasteland of dust. Whenever I went on a class field trip to the Met, my mind struggled between admiring pieces of art and the upcoming afternoon of tossing the football around.

I don’t see a disconnect between valuing Matisse’s “Crockery on a Table” and, say, Drew Brees’ passes. I don’t think I would be alone in appreciating a good quarterback and a piece of art as per a comment of my tour guide on my first trip to Northwestern. He described Northwesterners as “the smartest normal kids in the country.” That comment secured my feeling that Wildcat Nation is the ideal place for me. Versatility is my norm, from playing guitar to football to combing New York City in search of the perfect burger. The tour guide’s remark perfectly describes the kind of peers and classmates with whom I want to share my college experience. In my view, normal and intelligent kids are not just high-achievers who are masters at balancing work and fun. These kids also possess versatility, and Met football is a microcosm of that balance.

I am also drawn to the flexibility of the quarter system at Northwestern. Taking four classes per quarter and twelve per year will allow me to take many classes outside of my major. My guide talked about his class on the history of hip-hop, which explored the politics of rap. I want to take a class like that, maybe a class about the progression of Greek architecture, or perhaps one on the psychology of bullying. I want to stretch myself and my academic interests throughout college. The Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences offers an innovative and well-rounded liberal arts education, but I also want to take advantage of the prestigious Kellogg Certificate Program later in my college experience.

Specifically, I am largely interested in economics. When touring Northwestern, I quickly moved over to the tour-guide who mentioned he was an economics major. I requested that he talk about the economics major for a little during the tour, and he really talked about it for more than just “a little.” He raved about the outstanding quality of professors, mentioning a professor named Joseph Ferrie in particular. I looked up Dr. Ferrie and learned that he taught the history of economics. I read one of his papers that examined the increased mortality rates in Chicago entitled “Death and the City: Chicago’s Mortality Transition.” The research paper examined the issue from an economic perspective, while analyzing the effect of the role of government. This particular research is the exact kind of academic work I am looking forward to. My innate abilities lie in math while my interests lie in history; Ferrie’s economic analysis combines both.

I have already begun to integrate mathematical and historical analyses in my studies. Last year, I wrote a term paper for history about the introduction of Jackie Robinson to Major League Baseball and the effect it had on professional sports, as well as society. Branch Rickey, the owner of the Dodgers, wanted to integrate the professional baseball by finding a spectacular black athlete to prove that blacks could perform at, or even above, the level that whites performed at. Rickey wanted to sign the best possible player, but knew that the recent history had not been kind to African Americans in the United States. It was a necessity for the chosen player to be composed in order to deflect racial slurs and criticism from white fans and players. As Rickey explained it, he must have the emotional stability to “armor [himself] against the daggers of prejudice.” Branch Rickey used statistics to determine the best player, but also referenced history to choose a player with poise. The choice of Jackie Robinson to lead the integration movement in baseball perfectly illustrates the type of research I want to continue to do at Northwestern.

While living in Chicago last summer and interning at the Chicago Recording Company, I visited the campus numerous times and fell in love with the ivy-covered buildings, the beauty of the lake, and even the vibe I got from standing in the cafeteria. I cannot envision myself going to school anywhere else. However, beauty alone is but a small factor in my decision to apply early to Northwestern.

I have looked at all aspects of Wildcat life. I have studied the list of clubs and know that I will not have difficulty in finding clubs to join. In fact, the challenge will be choosing from the rich options, such as the Happiness Club and Mee-Ow Comedy Troupe. Then, there are the traditions, which also reflect the fun loving nature of the school. I yearn for the chance to paint my entire body purple and jingle my keys during kick off in preparation for the Wildcats whooping Iowa at Ryan Field. I want to study hard for finals and then go outside and scream as loud as I can, just because I can. I want to be a part of the Northwestern ritual of painting the rock and guarding it furiously despite the fact that it is ten degrees and snowing. I crave the opportunity to dance until my legs fall off to raise money for charity.

I validated my initial sense of the University when I visited the school and stayed overnight in the fall when classes were in session. From the moment I stepped out from the cab onto Sheridan Road, I knew my decision had been finalized. The school spirit was tangible as students were walking around in purple with “Wildcats” written on their clothes. Between watching hands turn into Wildcat claws during the game against Michigan, talking to economics majors about the economics department, eating at Lisa’s, or just hanging out in the dorms and ordering from Buffalo Wild Wings, I knew that Northwestern had “Nick Jacobson” written all over it. Northwestern has something I call the “intangible factor”; I felt in my gut that this place was for me. I have not visited another school in any part of the country where kids have expressed the same enthusiasm for their school. At Northwestern, I got the feeling that everyone just wants to be there and loves it. It’s not that they even want to be there. They would do anything to be there. For me, Northwestern will combine fun and learning, as Met football once did in my life. I know I will benefit from everything the school has to offer and thrive in the academic and social environment of the school. I can say with conviction that Northwestern is the place for me — a place where I am well suited to spend the next four years of my life.

Nicholas Jacobson is a Freshman at Northwestern University and a 2012 graduate of The Dalton School.

Class Clown to Class President

by Drew Crichlow

“Are you ready?”Drew Crichlow headshot

“Should I do it?”

Incessantly egging on my friends and warming up my audience, I ask again, “Ready …? Here we go!” As I squat, I position myself to execute my next escapade. Today’s task: exploding a juice box.

There was always something inexplicably attractive about receiving attention, so throughout my childhood, the sound of laughter was my muse. I had an appetite for approbation (clearly not from teachers, but from my peers), and nothing was more satisfying than earning the missing-tooth smiles of my immature friends.

Seated politely at their desks, my poor classmates were trying to enjoy lunch peacefully, but what is a meal without a show, I thought. And with that, I plopped onto my juice box. Unfortunately, my stunt failed; the juice simply poured out of the container without creating the mushroom cloud of beverage I had envisioned. Despite this disappointment, my friends reacted just as I had expected, jumping to evade the anticipated blast radius, screaming in disgust, and the odd few, giving me the drug I desired most: laughter. The high was incredible, but my ecstasy was short-lived. Searching for smiles, I turned to see a less-than-pleased teacher who, hearing the disruption, summoned me with a beckoning finger curl. After being reprimanded, my antics led to another level of attention I had not anticipated. She chronicled my behavior in an email to my parents. Needless to say, my juice box bomb awarded me an ill-flattering but well-fitting behavioral report reflecting the day’s escapades.

In middle school, I could no longer get away with such blatant misbehavior. Instead, I disrupted class with lackluster jokes, only provoking laughter because of their inappropriate timing. But, I was soon struck by the gravity of being the class clown: my reputation was outweighing my innocence, defining my experience as a student, and compromising my academic life, despite my intelligence. The repercussions of my behavior were no longer worth the reward of a few chuckles. This recognition defined my maturation and freed me from my self-imposed shackles; I would no longer be a slave to laughter. It was time for the next chapter in my life, one defined by academic focus and exemplary school citizenship. This chapter (entitled “Self-Improvement”), was lengthy, but by the next chapter (“New Beginnings”), I emerged as a redefined character, one whose hunger for attention and laughter evolved into a thirst for knowledge and service. The more I focused on academics, the more I enjoyed learning; the more my peers and teachers believed in me, the more I wanted to give them a reason to keep their faith.

Ironically, being a class clown may be one of best things that ever happened to me. It shaped me into the person I have become, and helped me to develop my new muse: leadership. Leadership supported my maturation, as I began to realize I could positively influence my peers. My classroom antics gave me confidence and a voice to embrace public speaking – even though at the time, it was in a negative light. Being the class clown gave me the foundation I needed to be elected class president three consecutive years, and ultimately, president of the student body. Now, I am confident enough to represent the student body as its spokesperson to school administrators and make recommendations to improve the experiences of all students at school.

The transformation from class clown to class president was not easy, but revealed my full potential: I learned that actions speak louder than words, and new actions speak louder than old ones. In truth, I still appreciate laughter. However, I now recognize there is a time and place for everything, because integrity and citizenship take precedence over laughter. So while I am more mature, I will remember my class clown episodes as a souvenir – and as a roadmap for the rest of my life.

Drew Crichlow will be a freshman at Yale in the fall and just graduated from Montclair Kimberley Academy.

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.

Singing in the Snow: Storms Produce Strength

by Margarita Ren


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.

Ruling My World

by Robert Plummer

My back smacks the ground as all air escapes from my lungs. I lay on the floor gasping, beads of sweat rolling down my forehead. I have been clotheslined while going for a layup. I take a minute to admire the ceiling of the South Bronx basketball gym. I have played basketball in the suburbs for years, but playing in the intensely competitive city leagues is always a different, humbling experience. How long will it take for me to catch my breath this time? Strangely enough, all I can think about right now are the lyrics to one of my favorite songs “Viva La Vida,” in which the singer reminisces about the time he ruled the world. Clearly I do not rule the world here. My mind is overtaken by the complexity of the song until my teammate pulls me up, snapping me back to reality. This game marked my moment of truth. In those seconds on the ground, I realized that I would never feel complete until I acted on my passion for singing.

From early on, sports functioned as the main expression of my competitive nature. “The more the merrier” was my father’s philosophy when it came to participating in sports, and I agreed. I excelled in Varsity Football, Basketball, and Track & Field and was quickly labeled a “triathlete” by my family and peers. I had a natural propensity for sports, but my musical aspirations went unnoticed. Then came the school talent show in my sophomore year. The all-male acapella troupe performed “Hakuna Matata” from the Lion King. I realized I could no longer ignore my desire to sing and perform. The perseverance and strength I learned through multiple sports gave me the tough resolve to do something completely unexpected. One week later, I auditioned for acapella and made it! I was ecstatic, but my decision to join acapella faced a great deal of opposition.

When I told my father I made the troupe, he killed my excitement with a disapproving look. “Stop trying to act like your sisters,” he said. “You should be focused on your athletics.” My track and field coach was even more disturbed because I was supposed to be training for the upcoming National Championships in North Carolina. When I would leave practice early for acapella rehearsals, my coach would exclaim, “Is singing going to get you into college or is Track & Field?” At that point, my father and coach had yet to see the fruits of my labor. Despite these discouraging comments, I continued to trudge forward in pursuit of my goal—I was going to sing in that talent show, no matter what! Then everyone would be able to appreciate a side of my personality I had concealed my entire life.

Seven days before flying off to the National Track and Field Championship, I boldly approached the center of the high school stage with my acapella troupe. My orange and white basketball jersey glistened under the headlights. I stepped forward and seized control of both the microphone and the direction of my life, serenading the audience with my “Viva La Vida” solo. I was singing to my father, coaches, and all who had miscategorized me before. Performing onstage freed me from the constrictive box that held me captive for years. I was consumed by pure happiness when the audience roared with thunderous applause. I had finally achieved the perfect balance between my two talents. Nothing will ever diminish my love for sports but joining acapella provided me with the opportunity to illustrate the depth of my character and personality. Finally, with my two passions coexisting in perfect harmony, I felt like I truly did rule the world for the first time.

Robert Plummer, a 2013 graduate of Scarsdale High School, will be a freshman at Cornell University in the Fall.

A Christmas Miracle

by James Thompson

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. 


Climbing and Confidence

by Dexter Zimet

I 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 is a freshman at Johns Hopkins University and a graduate of The Dalton School in New York.