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Seeing the Game of Life Differently

by Blair Weintraub

unnamedAs much as I remember my first seizure, my last one was even more memorable. I was 12 and it was one of the first times my parents trusted my sister and me to be left home alone. I was curled up in my bed watching a movie when I felt the familiar tingling of my body and numbness of my tongue, and I immediately recognized what was about to happen. I tried to grab my phone, but it was too late––the numbness enveloped my body and the twitching took over. Like always, my brain was fully conscious, but lacked control.

Focus on getting help, I kept telling myself, as I spent all my energy on unsuccessfully attempting to roll off the bed to attract my sister’s attention. Breathing was harder than usual. The severity of the attack was worse than ever. My doctors had promised I was seizure-free, yet I was feeling the same fear and hopelessness I remembered too well. It felt hours had passed until my sister finally rushed to my side. She stared at me with a look of fear and confusion then grabbed my phone and called our parents, who instructed her to put a cold washcloth on my forehead and to not leave my side until they got home. She held me and whispered into my ear, telling me to focus on breathing and that everything would be okay.

I had my first seizure when I was five. Doctors eventually prescribed strong medications that made me tired and dizzy. I could only play sports leisurely. My dreams of following in my mother’s footsteps as a squash junior champion were shattered because I would be unable to train. Reading and photography became my new outlets. I sat behind my camera as I photographed the sport games I so eagerly wanted to play. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone I had epilepsy because I thought it would make me different and, at that point, different was bad.

Ironically, epilepsy helped me to appreciate my life. I had to spend many nights in hospitals with kids much sicker than I was. These kids couldn’t go to school or socialize outside the hospital. We spent most of our time playing the board game Life. Unlike the game’s characters, many wouldn’t graduate college, marry or have kids. They lived through that board game. I once shared a hospital room with Eric, a boy my age who was near death. He would do nothing but stare at the TV all day, and sometimes cry.  He would never leave his bed, which made me see the frivolity of my complaints about lack of competitive sports or late bedtimes.

I have come a long way since my last epileptic attack.  When I was 15, I was officially declared healthy and was taken off all medications. I could finally play sports competitively. Now, I see the board game Life as a constant reminder to appreciate the opportunity I’ve been given to actually live.

To make up for all the school I missed battling epilepsy, and to compete against the kids who have been playing squash since they could walk, I often had to study and train twice as hard. It might be too late to have a top ten ranking, but this hasn’t discouraged me from being the best player possible. Having to face seizures and their implications as a child has made me stronger, giving me the fierceness to fight for what I want and the determination to overcome obstacles. I’m no longer embarrassed to tell people I had epilepsy. I no longer see being different as a bad thing. Whenever I feel disheartened after losing a big match or getting a bad grade, I remember the tingling feeling in my tongue, the lack of control over my body, and think about how far I’ve come since then.

 
Blair Weintraub, a 2014 graduate of the Brentwood College School in Vancouver, will be a freshman at Bates College in the fall.

The Courtroom Comeback

by Calvin Thompson

10525096_10152156810062413_940766063_nI had always been at home with a podium in my hands, the crowd hanging on my every word. I never feared speaking in front of people until one sobering moment last year. I waltzed into Newton North High School one winter day to deliver the opening statement against my rival high school’s mock trial team, and I choked. The sweat started to collect above my lips; I could almost taste fear. My face was glazed in a salt water sheen. For the life of me, I could not utter one sentence, except  “I’m sorry…I, I can’t do this…I, I uh, need to go.”  Not the best start for my first mock trial season.

My confidence hung around my ankles as I waddled out of the room. For two weeks, I questioned my answers on tests and I missed tackles in football. Even more difficult was facing my mock trial teammates. Failure was nothing new to me on the football field, but it confounded me in the courtroom because performance took on an entirely different form there. In football there is always another teammate on the field. Yet, I had to be almost entirely self-reliant in mock trial, which introduced the concept of team in a new and disorienting way.

In the past, no matter the context, a voice was never something I lacked. At eleven, I started my own Betty Crocker empire; baking then biking around the neighborhood using the gift of gab to sell my creations. Then in 8th grade, my history class faced a crisis: students completed less than 50% of the homework. At wits’ end, our teacher demanded to know why. I stood up and told her we felt disrespected. I suggested she encourage, not berate us. Immediately, she changed her teaching style. At graduation, she awarded me an Obama bobblehead as the “student most likely to occupy the White House.”

I was confounded and frustrated and it took two weeks for the sense of failure to begin to fade; only a conversation with my grandmother and the prospect of our next match roused me from my stupor. Grams reminded me that life is, in itself, a hail mary, and that feeling bad for myself and neglecting preparation would not help me score. She lost her house to a flood in 2002, and without hesitation my parents offered her a spot in our home. As a 6 year old, I could not possibly imagine what that would mean for my life, but as a 17 year old, I am beginning to understand. Inspired by her, I relentlessly prepared for my next trial. I incessantly read the witness affidavits about the murder case we were to try, and convened with my teammates to go over the most crucial information. After hours and hours of practicing and reviewing the case, I was ready to rectify my failure. Weeks after my collapse at the podium, I stepped backed into the courtroom prepared, though not overconfident as I had been before.

When called to open our case, I rose, and began to speak, knowing every contour of my address and our team’s case like the back of my hand. The words slid off my tongue effortlessly. I saw my coach in the back of the room pumping his fist in the air–a courtroom touchdown dance. I received the highest individual score of anyone in the whole match. Our team received the highest pointage in school history for a mock trial match.

My failure exposed weaknesses and my success demonstrated the necessity of preparation. I am grateful that Grams was there to witness them both. She passed on July 16, 2013, and while I wish I could ask her a million questions all over again, I will settle for the knowledge she bestowed unto me: rehearse tirelessly and adjust, since failure can strike the unprepared regardless of a strong past.

Calvin Thompson, a 2014 graduate of Brookline High School, will be a freshman at Duke in the fall.

Singing in the Snow: Storms Produce Strength

by Margarita Ren

mren_dartmouth

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.

Who says “Asians don’t play basketball”?

by Calvin Ng

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday Mornings Like Poetry

by Ryan Shepard

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I remember when Saturday mornings were like poetry: the rainbow colored fruity pebbles sitting in my spoon, a fluffy teddy bear brilliantly named Teddy, the sounds of Ahmad Rashad previewing the day’s NBA games, and the sounds of my brother trying to play basketball, indoors. Then there was the day’s biggest gift–my own personal gentle giant whom I called Dad, author of the poem. His everlasting line was that incredibly wide grin he wore across his face. He seamlessly presented Saturday’s poetry as smooth as the feel of his casket ten years ago. Today I am evolving with the memory of the poems along with the wide grin that travelled with him everywhere. Now they guide my definitions of comfort and confidence.

Seven years after I put his casket behind me, I picked up the pen, paper and microphone that were in front of me. My talents grew as wide as my father’s grin, but on my own terms. The younger me wanted to be just like him–part of me still does. Yet I’m more artistic than he could have ever imagined. Last spring, I filled sheet after sheet of paper, exposing innermost secrets by way of poetry and music. In doing so, I came to expand my own grin. On the stage of a packed ballroom at Disney World, I performed my poem, “17 Dreams”, which takes the reader into my visions of my future. With each line, I gauged the audience’s reaction, opening myself to new vulnerabilities but also becoming more confident and comfortable with myself. My grin became a bit wider, almost like my dad’s smile way back when.

Poetic memories of my father’s Saturday grins carried me from North Plainfield Middle School lunch lines into ninth grade at Choate Rosemary Hall. I suddenly found myself amongst those born with golden spoons or even famous last names. I questioned my place among them. Nonetheless, I grew to see the value of my Saturday morning spoon even more, thanks partially to Colin Lord, a mentor and admissions director at Choate who once detected a little self-doubt in me. He said, “We wouldn’t have brought you here if we didn’t think that you could handle it.”

My talents grew, but on my own terms. I became president of the Choate Afro-Latino Student Alliance and Slam Poetry clubs. I was also named Prefect, becoming a student mentor to freshmen. As a Choate elder, I now share stories of my experiences with others, such as my first track meet as a freshman. My legs pounded against the red pavement of the track during the first race. I was nearly fifty yards ahead of my only competitor, when it hit me: I had broken into a sprint too quickly. I was that young, naive freshman who thought he could sprint 400 meters. Meter by meter, I could feel the senior runner coming up behind me, ultimately beating me by a full 50 meters. As I neared the finish line, I heard the voices of both my parents: “It’s not the end all, be all.”

My dad’s grin, smile, voice, presence and spirit are still powerful forces in my life. My reality opposes all the studies that suggest I am lucky to be a part of the 4% of boarding school students who are African-American and not the nearly one million blacks who are incarcerated. These figures are mere background chatter to me. My father taught me well; his influence has weakened and trumped those studies. My goal now, above anything else, is to continue to grow into my own person and solidify my own incredible grin.

Ryan Shepard, a recent Choate Rosemary Hall graduate, will be attending American University this fall.

Tragedy and Treasures

by Allegra Neely-Wilson

Allegra Neely-Wilson photo

A magical Christmas starts with a pair of socks. At 12, I see only one gift on Dad’s dining room table. I unwrap it and find a pair of red and green socks. While trying them on, my right foot feels the scratch of a piece of paper. First secret code: 332. Dad has created a Christmas scavenger hunt. I travel the house, finding clues beneath pillows, under my bed and on page 332 of a book. A Harry Potter DVD is stuffed behind couch cushions, books hide in cabinets, and a soccer ball waits in the backyard. Dad and I spend the afternoon eating popcorn, watching movies, and drinking hot chocolate.

A year later, another hunt begins, reshaping my life. The day starts with a normal Eighth Grade morning. I wake up 10 minutes after my alarm, quickly dress and eat my bowl of oatmeal. A feeling grows in the back of my mind that something is wrong. At school, I am surrounded by friends and pretend everything is okay, though I can not shake that mysterious feeling of anxiety. I follow my usual route home. At my apartment, I am both eager and hesitant to enter, as I know something unexpected is behind those doors. I slowly build the courage to open the door and find Mom. Just by looking at her face I know my worst fear has come true. Dad has died of a heart attack. My life grows into a treasure hunt to capture Dad’s sense of adventure and optimism on my own.

The summer after his death, I begin a five day canoeing trip on the Connecticut River. Like me, most of my fellow campers had never canoed. The sun set upon our arrival at the first campsite. We raced against the coming darkness, unpacking canoes and unloading our belongings and food. I was starved, exhausted, and happy as we set up tents and cooked. My adrenaline turned the night into a challenge and opportunity, which I attacked with a smile as if I was searching for something in Dad’s backyard. Adventure!

Our ribs only saw ten minutes of fire. After the first bite, I relied on heavy sauce to cure my hunger rather than raw ribs. I fell asleep seconds after entering my sleeping bag but awakened by the rapid sounds of “pitter-patter” and a rush of water. We forgot to put the rain shield on the tents. Puddles grew. I jumped into action, quickly packing as much as I could to prevent things from getting even wetter. Shelter? I raced to the bathroom. Others followed. Huddled together near the stalls with our soaking wet clothes, supplies and sleeping bags, we cooked our eggs and ate them with un-toasted English muffins. Moments later, we loaded the canoes and continued down the river with the rain. The trip’s rough beginning meant things would only get better. Optimism!

I visited Dad on weekends in Long Island. His itchy grass was a nice change from the cement of Manhattan, where I lived with Mom during the week. Dad was handy. Instead of buying me a soccer goal for my tenth birthday, my present was making one with him. He often oversaw the lighting for shows at small theaters. It’s no wonder I never desired to audition for my school’s production of Cabaret. Instead, I built props for the show and loved it.

I have tried hard not to lose Dad, which inspires my engagement of new interests like there is no tomorrow, from feeling the rush and sweat of the final minutes of a tied game to the most intense part of a Bach cello suite. My camera explores different views of the world and my hands mold ceramic gifts for friends. In doing it all, I find parts of Dad in who I am becoming, and create my own personal treasure hunt to continue discovering myself.

Allegra Neely-Wilson, a member of the Class of 2014 at the Brearley School, will be a freshman at Connecticut College in the fall.

What’s in a Name? Becoming Samantha

by Samantha Weintraub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tale of Two Families

By Ryan Colella

2014-06-06-unnamedThe words “military” and “Indiana” scared me at first. I could not imagine myself in a state that felt foreign when my parents told me they were sending me, a lifelong New Yorker, to a military academy in Culver, Indiana. Eventually, the sweet words of a familiar, but foreign language, “Oofah! Cocoa Bella! Mangia!” would provide the foundation that helped turn Culver into a home.

I had heard those words every Sunday for as long as I can remember. The words signal a Sunday lunch at our grandparent’s home in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. Relatives would come from all over the tri-state area to eat lunch with my grandparents. It never mattered how many people were at the table; everyone would be served and barely able to finish their meal. As soon as I arrived, I would poke my head through the door of the house, and my nose could immediately sense the pungent smell of mothballs. This rancid smell would startle most people, but to me, the odor triggered a smile and sniffs of comfort that were matched with the sounds of varied accents throughout Bensonhurst. First generation Italians were shouting in Barese, a southern Italian dialect, while the second generations were speaking in a loud, nasally Brooklyn accent. The third generations of relatives understood every word, but were only able to converse in English. Those family luncheons helped form my adaptability, which led to my inevitable acceptance of the new cultures at Culver.

My parents thought that a military school in the Midwest would broaden my perspective on life. I was alone and frightened when I arrived at Culver, enduring six weeks of new cadet training in the blistering summer heat of Indiana. However when the weather began to cool down, so did I, and my unit began to feel like my Tri-State Italian family. Yet the new family gave me something that I had never had before, brothers. I am an only child, so the idea of brotherhood seemed exotic. The memories that I had bonding with my Italian family resembled new moments with my Indiana family comprised of 17 new cadets. We not only ate every meal together, but also worked together by shining shoes and inspecting each other’s rooms to ensure that we would all be accepted into the unit.

My life had been significantly altered in a beneficial way. What I used to call soda was now considered “pop”, and what I used to refer to as cursing was now “cussing.” When I ate lunch with my grandparents every Sunday, I was exposed to only one culture. However, when I came to Culver, I ate dinner with people from Texas, Nigeria, Ohio, Indiana, Mexico, France, and Wisconsin, all at the same table. I still missed my Sunday lunches in Brooklyn, but I now realize that I discovered something just as significant in a new family that broadened my perception of the world.

As my Culver success progressed, I started to change major parts of my life. I used to be a diehard baseball fan, but I decided to put all of my focus onto one sport, which was football. Culver gave me the opportunity to be more independent, but my Italian family made me feel comfortable making this decision, which was so important and crucial to my progressing independence. The football team became another way that I built a community at Culver.

I still miss my Sunday lunches in Brooklyn, but I now realize that I discovered something just as significant in with my new family. Now, when my Brooklyn family members visit me in Culver, we always order a large pizza and feast in our hotel room together. It isn’t the same as the family meals that I cherished in Brooklyn. Yet it is a reminder of what Culver has taught me: family bonds come in many forms.

Ryan Colella is a graduate of the Culver Military Academy and will be attending Elon University in the fall.

The Answers Always Lead To New Questions

by Justin Sapp

2014-05-30-IMG_0010“Justin, come down for breakfast.”

I hated my brother’s impersonation of Mom’s morning screech. He seemed to think he was the third parent. Moreover, I’ve never even liked breakfast and, no matter how fast I rushed downstairs, my baby sister would get the first plate.

Yet I loved my morning routine once I pushed my brother’s voice out of my mind, and a series of questions easily awakened me to the excitement of the day: Why am I never hungry in the morning? Why doesn’t my esophagus function early? Why could I barely pull myself out of bed with arms and legs that didn’t listen to me? Why did my date of birth determine my familial role? What made my parents behave differently towards each one of us? What goes on in the human brain to trigger parental preferences?

I am a student with a passion for finding answers tied to mysteries of the brain and body. Raising questions is never enough and merely ignites my journey to explore the complexity of different organs and tasks they fulfill. I am consumed with studying the breakdown of cells and organelles performing different functions. A simple question asked about breakfast or birth order stirs my curiosity in the factory we all have inside. As I learn different reasons for my biological processes, the explanations draw me in like a yo-yo–always wanting to come back to learn more.

The search for answers is challenging. In AP Biology this semester, I was assigned to take on what seemed like an easy question in a lab: How do temperatures impact cellular respiration? I recorded a lot of data during my lab period, but none of it made sense and my lab partners gave up at the end of the period. However I spent that night combing over books tied to the question and the ways we recorded data from the experiments. I was the first person at school the next day to get into the labs, waiting for the security guard to open the doors. “A little too early today!” he said.

After several experiments before class, I discovered how cold temperatures hinder the rate of cell respiration. From labs to my life, so many other questions send me on the mission to discover. I had signed up for the chemistry and psychology clubs as a freshman. Why did I not go initially? This answer was simple: None of my friends would go and I didn’t want to go alone. Again: Why? I would discover that the answer was entangled in a question that had been with me since elementary school and was becoming more pressing: How does the guy who was the short and scrawny kid prevent friends from manhandling him? I laughed off the friendly punches for years. By freshman year, I was tired of it. What could end it? I heard wrestling would make me “brawlic.” I tried wrestling for a year and fell in love with a new set of questions it raised: What was wrestling’s impact on my body? The soreness in my muscles was worse than breakfast calls. I raced to science journals online and books to learn how chemical irritants were interacting with my pain receptors.

I became more confident to stand up for myself and to join clubs without friends. During sophomore year, I gave up wrestling to devote more time for activities related to my interests in science, joining the psychology and chemistry clubs.

I now spring out of bed every morning ready for experiments in chemistry club meetings at 7:10. My mom has stopped making breakfast for me, yet there are still many questions stirring my mornings, making me feel like a yo-yo, always coming back for new discoveries. Except unlike a yo-yo, progress comes with entanglement, especially when I am wrapped up in a biological question.

Justin Sapp will be a freshman at Duke University in the Fall and is a member of the Class of 2014 at Oak Park and River Forest High School in Oak Park, Illinois

Stereotypes: Black Muggers, Brown Terrorists; a Young Liberal’s Challenge

by Curran Dhar

2014-05-23-10168197_10151966188332132_8827411258487239017_nI slammed myself for being a racist the second after I felt the impulse to walk away from the sight of two African American men. They stood huddled together in my view on the approaching subway car at the Wall Street train station. I first imagined they would jump me if I sat in “their” area, so my impulse was to run to an entrance of another subway car. I then scolded myself. After all, how could I fear them, since I too have been a victim of racial profiling and even once called a “brown terrorist?” I pushed myself to just walk into the train where they stood.

When I entered the subway car, a man obstructed my path with a concealed weapon in his sweatshirt. He used it to push me backwards. It was the same man who I feared earlier. He was indeed dangerous. I looked to my left, but it did not provide a safe route away from the danger. Two other men who were on the train blocked my path to escape. A fourth man emerged—the same man who stood beside the original man. Before I knew it there were four muggers and one victim. The men cornered me against a wall and demanded that I give them all of my possessions–my iPod touch and my wallet with the $80 I had saved to buy a gift for my mother.

At first, it was irresistible to fall into the trap of identifying with people I previously would have considered obnoxious Americans—the kind of people who would not have thought twice of running in the other direction of the two black men I saw on the subway. Initially my new allies in thought were the kinds of people who would have safely fled to another subway entrance without any self-scolding. Shouldn’t I now be one of them? As the old saying goes, “a liberal is just a conservative who has not been mugged yet.” But I now have my own saying: A true liberal realizes that individual experiences are not an excuse to be a racist. I am proud that I criticized my first impulse at the sight of the black men, and am now even more disgusted by the idea of holding a race of people accountable for the actions of four immoral men. Why? First of all, I abhor people who immediately associate me with Osama Bin Laden because of my brown skin, as I am Indian American who has been mistaken for an Arab or Muslim terrorist.

Two years ago I was traveling to Florida with my friend, Ian, and his family, who are all white. We were all going through the security check when I was pulled aside from the group and asked to participate in a “random” security search. I obliged, and of course they found nothing but apologized for the delay. During the course of the search I clenched my fist and thought to myself how racist the white security guard was for picking me out of the group at “random.” His apology for the delay also seemed like a nonchalant version of saying “sorry I mistook you for a terrorist.” It felt humiliating to be treated differently than everyone else. Ian’s family looked the other way and said nothing, while Ian joked “Random my ass.”

It is also too easy throw a stereotype into the equation of a fight when the color of one’s skin has nothing to do with the battle. I saw this on the soccer field in a school match. An opponent tackled me maliciously as we were both trying to get control of the ball. I got up and went face to face with him as our tempers rose, and after a couple of seconds he told me that I was “just a brown terrorist.” I don’t believe he realized the gravity of what he had just said, but to him it must have seemed like a petty way to attack me.

I don’t think the liberal stronghold on my perspective is totally tied to my encounters with racial profiling. I was raised in the liberal enclave of downtown New York. I also have two Indian parents who have friends of several different races. My attachment to liberal family values has remained strong. No matter what happens it seems impossible for me to escape those hard-core liberal roots that discourage racist thinking and provide the foundation of how I see the world.

Curran Dhar, a graduate of Poly Prep Country Day School, transferred to NYU after two years at Gettysburg College.