• Topic

  • School


Sample Essays

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

Hiking Beyond Facebook and Xbox

By Alden Boldt

UntitledAfter reading only the first lines, I found exactly what I needed to defeat Obama. Yes, I’d clobber the candidate that my parents supported. Sprawled on my beanbag in the corner of my room, I opened my laptop, skipped Facebook and rushed to my new first stop –The Week. There it was, the headline: “Fast and Furious.”

Within minutes, I enter my AP US Government class as Romney, with a question that will stump the Obama camp. “You lose thousands of weapons to the Mexican cartel! Explain that, Mr President.”

All I see are blank, unprepared faces from Team Obama after I share the details from the article about the administration’s botched effort on the Mexican border. There are not any surprises from the Obama camp; its ammunition failing to go beyond class discussions. Voters (students outside the class) declare Romney the winner.

 

Initially, being assigned to Romney’s camp in the mock election horrified me. I was falling in love with my new boarding school life, and the engaging teacher in my government class was one reason why. But now I faced a new challenge: battle your beliefs and engage right wing perspectives at a school with a large population of liberals. I would love the challenge and discover a new infatuation — politics.

Before the election, I wouldn’t have looked beyond my distaste for the GOP. It would be unlikely to find me in my room, overlooking Facebook and my Xbox, searching the web for Mitt Romney’s speech to a gathering in Iowa.  “Corporations are people,” he said, defending tax cuts for the wealthy. I cringed. I actually think that cuts should go to the poor to stimulate the economy, allowing those with less money to buy things that they need and have been without. However, now I was on another team, and my competitive conditioning as an athlete transferred into my newfound passion for politics. I embraced Romney’s ideas for the moment.

Although my true political views haven’t tilted rightward, I enabled myself to challenge my opinions and grow as a writer by penning lines for Romney’s speeches, ripping apart my actual beliefs: “Everyone is entitled to life from the moment of conception and government should not enable killing the innocent!”

I was partially and inadvertently groomed for the challenge by a two-week hiking trip in New Hampshire at age 16. I had never spent more than a few days away from my parents. I was livid with them for forcing the trip on me. On the first morning,  I could barely even lift myself with the 60-pound pack strapped onto my back. Each night we shared our highs and lows of that day around a campfire. Further into the trip, I had trouble thinking of any lows. The group began to feel like a family. I stopped missing home and loved hiking. On the final day, I was elected to be our group leader. After the three weeks, my parents pulled up to the hikers’ tent where we were waiting in our last moment together. I felt the same way I had when my parents forced me out of the car on the first day: I didn’t want to leave.

I had a similar feeling at the end of the campaign. Fortunately, my interests in politics continue in and out of class. The next class project focused on a Supreme Court case. I was now Justice Alito, absorbing myself in his life and the Court in the same way I embraced Romney.

Now, my interest in hiking and politics are wedded into my life at Berkshire. I begin many days before the sun comes up, with early morning hikes before class. I share my love of sports with a new passion in politics. Bypassing Facebook for The Week and other political sites is my new normal.

Alden Boldt, a 2014 graduate of the Berkshire School, is now a freshman at Union College.

Merging Lenses: Humanities and Science

By Marcus Greer

10276036_10203599237324232_2346572052018785401_nI was in Egypt a year before the Arab Spring and saw deeply rooted social divisions well before the country cracked like an egg in January 2011. I stepped off of the plane into blistering Egyptian heat to meet my tour guide, Tarek. I admired his incredible passion and broad mind. In addition to his encyclopedic knowledge about the country’s history, he had volumes of criticisms about the Egyptian government. Between ancient monuments and inside archaic tombs, he allowed his contemporary protests to slip as whispers because, as he often said, “The walls have ears.”

Tarek’s ability to be so much more than his job title resonated with me. The versatility of his passions and his awareness mirrored who I am and who I am becoming. Tarek preached that Sadat was Egypt’s only great president, and that “like all great men causing change, Sadat was doomed to be assassinated,”  which led me to a very simple formula, like Leibniz’s energy equation. (rant = ½circumstance x frustration^2)

In his elegant rage, Tarek was more than a tour guide. He was a political philosopher, a storyteller, and a political activist and, inadvertently and ultimately, a model for my life. I have always been devoted to math and science, but this has never turned me off to history and humanities. In fact, I see the humanities as being imperative to my understanding of science. This inspires me to write English essays as parodies of scientific research, and Physics labs in the style of rich narratives. These combinations led to an unexpected discovery: imagining scenes with my physics material made it easier to relate to the subject, while a more systematic approach to literary analysis allowed me to more deeply scrutinize texts. The fact that a creative and a technical mind occupy space in the same brain seems an invitation to find ways to use them in tandem, not to build walls between them.

Tarek’s ability to relate seemingly unrelatable concepts helped me see how important considerations of the human heart and mind are in relation to technology. Pointing to a complicated ancient sword called a khopesh, he told me it was an excellent tactical device, but it rarely brought the Egyptian army success because its soldiers had no idea how to use it. “Technology is the way of the future, but only when you create it with people in mind,” he said, almost foreshadowing my experience in the Lemelson-MIT program. There, I am helping to design a GPS watch that will help caretakers keep track of Alzheimer’s patients, who tend to wander off and get lost. I am on a team to provide a scientific solution to a human problem. In designing the product, we talked with people with early onset Alzheimer’s. I saw they had a common fear of being trapped in their own minds. I presented to the team that we should strive to make our product empowering for the patient rather than making the watch seem like an invisible leash. I want the patient to look down at his or her wrist and think: “I have the freedom to safely leave my house.” We continue to keep in mind these human fears and desires as we design the device.

As a person trying to gain a comprehensive understanding of the world, I cannot just stop at science. If science is the study of the universe and the humanities are studies of our place in it, is it not logical for me to have an appreciation for both? The two disciplines are inextricable. Still, some people prematurely dismiss my arguments for versatile interests and say, “Oh, so you don’t know what you want to be?” That’s fine. I just respond, “Oh, no. I am both an aspiring engineer and an aspiring renaissance man.” The world is not made for people with one track minds, and I’m going to continue embracing this reality.

Marcus Greer, a graduate of Tenafly High School, is currently a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University.

Searching for My Identity and the Right House

WTFT logoMy ideal exterior is a plain and simple white wood frame, the perfect foundation. The grass is crisp, resembling another home for me—a soccer field. Yet the landscaping is lush, and, like my experiences, frames something modest into something original, versatile, and welcoming. I find my identity in houses I imagine and create. However, my ideal house is, like me, evolving.

I trace the desire for this house to Sims, a game that hooked me the minute I moved the mouse at age 10. Unlike most Sims addicts, I never created people. Controlling “sim”ulated, algorithmic lives cannot fulfill me. I was engrossed in bringing the house of a Sim to life and discovered my passion for architecture and design.

Intrigued by my Sims addiction, Dad challenged me: “Design your ideal house!” After countless houses in Sims communities and smudged, penciled floor plans in notebooks, I still search and create. I constantly try to improve and reinvent as I also grow as a person—from the only girl on my soccer team until I was 11 to the social middle-schooler doubling as that kid on the school bus, not socializing and instead staring aimlessly out the window. In that spot, I forsook gossip for views of authentic brownstones sandwiched between the new high-rises. The contrasting structures were so incongruous that a roller coaster track atop each one would displace Six Flags. Rainbows of graffiti animating stark brown townhouses echoed my pixelated Sims homes. What a perfect seat to begin my journey.

In my dream house, there is always a playroom and a quiet space, as I value teammates and the individual. There is a room highlighting the unexpected, since I create homes in unlikely situations. For example, I transplanted the concept of team, another home for me, from sports to chemistry. The teacher was also my coach, but this class was initially a soccer lover’s nightmare. My team for class projects sat at a table in the back of the long, narrow room: Nick, hiding answers on the calculator between cupped hands; Sam, faking ignorance, laughing when we discovered answers scribbled on corners of his papers; and Oliver, always texting under the table. As the team’s only girl, I am not surprised that my reminders to the boys of the competition to outdo other tables (and boost our grades) synchronized our pivotal gears. Finally I felt at home on this team.

One year later, the mouse became my hands and feet as I squished and stomped prickly hay into clay to make bricks. My classmates and I planned and built a bathroom in Peru. I dug channels for the plastic pipes leading to the water source, realizing that I had never considered plumbing or electricity in Sims houses. Now, I insured that the channel avoided both the native Cantutas in the garden and tattered electrical cords.

My view from the top of an Andean Mountain overlooking Peru inspires the sense of height in my dream house as a quasi-escape. My deck opens to the chaos of reality, recalling those mountains that fence in the pristine blue sky but fail to appease the crazed, barking stray dogs chasing my bike on the trail. I master riding without hands, which I fill with rocks swept up from the red clay trails to fend off wild dogs. Nobody sees the chaos within this mountain fence, but only the perfect peaks. The scene within is most visceral to me—the chaos of the dogs, the security of the rocks, and both the fear and calm I feel in the unknown.

The unknown path in Peru is as liberating as my view of the future. I am excited with the feeling of not knowing where I am going. The foreign is as comfortable as the familiar. Thus, I am satisfied not knowing my dream house since I will keep creating it as I continue to evolve.

The author of this essay is now a freshman at Cornell.

A Mile in Nana’s Shoes

By Niles Ellis

10309198_10204289810262428_4090038177506235581_nI slide out of bed around 5:25 a.m., the sun still preparing for a long day in the sky. It’s pitch-black, except for the faint light at the end of the corridor, which leads upstairs to Nana’s house. This illumination is my sunrise every morning. As my foot touches the cold tiled floor, I arrive at my early morning sanctuary. I turn left into the kitchen and see the little old lady cooking breakfast: delicious grits, cheesy yellow eggs, crispy, tangy veggie patties.  This daily routine brings new conversations, new stories, and more lessons.

At 13, I bring her my latest complaint: mom babies me too much by driving me to school. Nana just nods. When I finished my ranting, my grandmother asks if I want to hear a story.

“When I was a little girl, even younger than you, I used to have these flatties. My two sisters and I all had the same size shoes.”

What do shoes have to do with this?

“In those flat shoes, the three of us walked the entire three and a half miles to and from school daily. In those days, Scotland County had no busing for black students. We lived across town from the black schools. On those long, 90-degree summer-like days, we walked. Feet burning from our flatties, school clothes near ruined from sweating up a storm, but nonetheless, happy to make it to school and learn some more and happy to be alive. An opportunity not many blacks had in the South.”

I was speechless. From that day on, my grandmother’s story has always remained with me.

As a point guard, I must see the game from everyone’s angle and encourage everyone to appreciate their opportunity. Nana’s story provides the model for me to do this. In my first high school JV game, I felt like I couldn’t miss a shot, but my teammates played as if they were in the bleachers.  I looked up at the scoreboard; we were losing. One man can’t make a team. So I became a general on the court, spreading the ball around. Everyone found opportunity. We won.

Nana’s stories help me to value opportunities. When I was 16, I was nominated for People to People. I needed to raise money for this opportunity to travel across Europe with 20 other students for 20 days. By spring, after a long winter of work, I had raised the $4,000 for the trip. I did odd jobs like shoveling snow, taking out my neighbor’s trash, and created a website to sell eccentric rubber bracelets.

Everything was set to go; I was to represent America as a teenage liaison and also tour Cannes, Italy, visit the remarkable Monte Carlo, and explore Barcelona. Then a bubbling apprehension began to boil over me the closer we neared the summer. Every day I wondered if I was actually ready for this trip. I had never traveled without my parents and this would be my first trip outside the United States. I feared the language barrier and I knew nothing about the Spanish homestay family. The fact that my money and effort would be lost did not drive me to overcome my fears as much as Nana’s story.

I had to go, considering the story of that little girl in the South who only knew Florence as a city in South Carolina. I would be a kid from Brooklyn seeing parts of the world some members of my family didn’t even know existed. Without Nana’s story, my perspective would have been completely different. Sometimes, I think back on that little girl in the small town, 65 years ago. She seized her opportunity and never looked back. Well, my opportunity is coming, and I’ve learned from my mistakes. The only time I’m looking back is over my shoulder to see that little girl’s face–smiling at me.

Niles Ellis, a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School, is now a freshman at Vanderbilt University.

My Kind of Brain

By Melck Kuttel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pokémon to Mediation

By David J. Dent, Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenging the Uneasy in Real Life and Fiction

By June Liu

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

“He called me a faggot,” Phillip mutters.

“Who is ‘he’?”

“Ken.”

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

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

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

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

“I’m bisexual,” he said.

“Cool!” I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

At Home with Aging Books

By Alexandra Young

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living the Opera

By Giorgi Ben-Meir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Incarnations of Leadership

By Parris Lloyd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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