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Finding the Right Questions for My Own Discoveries

         By Rebecca Shaevitz

In third grade, my curious eye helped me catch a seemingly innocent, but unsettling dichotomy. All the black girls were in the step class. All the white girls were in ballet or tap. My desire to join the step class further exacerbated my confusion over this self-segregation. But I also recognized a line that I wasn’t supposed to cross. It was the first time I recognized my desire to understand complexities in my world as an innate part of my identity.

Since third grade, I’ve embraced opportunities to engage with varying perspectives and to understand difference in my world. In ninth grade, I traveled with my temple youth group to Selma, Alabama for three days to learn about the Civil Rights Movement. We met with Joanne Bland, a civil rights activist and the youngest person to march on Bloody Sunday in 1965. We marched with Joanne across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and as we reflected on the events of such a monumental day, she told us her story. She ended by saying, “As a human being, it is your responsibility to fix the world’s problems. Each of you must make a difference.” I pondered what I would have done had I been there; I hope I’d have marched alongside Joanne but I have no real way of knowing.

After these events, I once again found myself considering my place and whether or not I could be proud of my actions. I became aware that just as my New York City liberal upbringing has shaped me, those who have differing perspectives from my own were also shaped by their cultures. I grew weary of the anti-conservative rhetoric that permeated my academic environment. While I agreed with my peers’ social views, the condemnation of the other side made me feel as if I was denying myself the opportunity to understand other people. I had no expectation of assuming the perspectives of the “other” but I hoped to comprehend how their experiences had shaped them. Joanne had asked each of us to make a difference. The difference I would make, I decided, was to bridge a gap between my life and the lives of people from backgrounds far different from my own.

My desire to connect with the “other” motivated me to travel to the South this summer on Etgar 36, an educational program which brings Jewish students to activists on all sides of major social and political issues. Discussing abortion or gun control with a Pro-Life activist or an NRA representative was difficult because these individuals were so removed from my own understanding of these issues. However, this distance made my determination to understand the other person and the other perspective much stronger. As my self-awareness grew, so did my discomfort at my limited experiences. It was difficult to look inwards and realize that just as the “other” struggles to understand me, my own experiences or lack thereof can be roadblocks to understanding them. However, while I didn’t see eye to eye with the activists, I walked away having pushed myself to engage them.

I will continue to uncover my own prejudices in the hopes of building bridges with those who are removed from my reality. My curiosity provides both a lens through which to view myself and a basis for forming relationships with others. My desire to understand the complexities of my world began in third grade at a time when I didn’t have the vocabulary to address my confusion. Today, with the help of Joanne’s message, I know that the differences I face can be overcome with an open mind and a willingness to ask difficult questions.

Rebecca Shaevitz, a 2016 graduate of The Dalton School, is a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis.

Moving Characters from Stages to Stories to Real Life


By Mark Anthony Graham

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I don’t remember my first time dancing; my friends say you can’t truly love something unless you can identify your first time engaging in the passion. I firmly disagree. I don’t remember the first time I ate pizza, and trust me, I love pizza. I don’t remember the first time I met my parents, but I love them dearly. Like pizza and my parents, dance is so integral to my life that I feel as if I’ve been moving rhythmically forever.

Before I could walk, I watched my mother and sister in African dance classes at the Harlem School of the Arts. I listened as the beat of the drums surrounded me and influenced movement.

However, it was not until I fell in love with writing in ninth grade that I understood dance as a form of storytelling. My passion for sharing stories discovered two outlets for powerful narratives that influence my life in so many ways.

Have you ever read a story so immersing that you didn’t want it to end? I write stories that I don’t want to finish. I never want to end the moments when I am locked in the creations of my characters. The only way to free myself and end the story is to start another one.

I don’t always know where my stories are going when I sit at my computer while my fingers follow my mind. My adventures on the keyboard lead me into lives so different from my own. One character, Mateo, is set on an adventure bigger than himself. He believes he saw a ghost from his past, but unknowingly pursues a quest created by a mythical goddess who wants Mateo–and Mateo alone–to save her life.

I now see that the characters I create possess value far beyond storytelling. I made this discovery this year, when I became an ethics teacher for the sixth graders in my school’s Student to Student program. In STS we explore identities, communication, conflict resolution, and other issues that haunt adolescence. As a Cisgender Man, I was intimidated by the thought of creating lesson plans on gender relations. How could I create exercises that limited my inherent male bias and would be impactful for the girls in the class? As I struggled with this question, I remembered Brenda and Rachel. I created those characters for my story, “The Right Choice,” spending hours trying to write from a girl’s perspective while developing the story.

The mindset that guided me to create Brenda and Rachel in a very natural way helped me create a lesson plan in which I would facilitate but not dominate the conversation. I gave my sixth graders the information to help them unpack the social stigmas around gender on their own.

Teaching middle schoolers and creating characters in my stories have forced me to look at life from the perspective of others. Most recently, however, dance expanded my sense of narrative by compelling me to look deeply at myself as a character. My whole perspective on telling stories changed last year through “Blood on the Leaves.”  This piece, choreographed by a classmate was an artistic expression of the Black Lives Matter movement.  This dance embodied the passion, pain, and sense of solidarity associated with the movement. Unlike Mateo, Brenda, or Rachel, the characters and story of the dance were not from my imagination, but were representations of my own life. The dance changed my sense of storytelling because I was sharing the weight that I carry around with me every day through the fluidity of dance. The sensations and emotions of the piece came naturally to me.

Narratives are eternal in my life and support my natural empathy. They force my natural inclinations to watch, listening, and observe the lives around me as my own story unfolds–whether these stories move on stage, sit in a computer screen, or inform the way I teach others.

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Mark Anthony Graham, a 2016 Graduate of the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, is now a freshman at Villanova.

Dancing to the Future

                      By Sadiya Ramos                         

Sadiya RamosI race on stage for my first pose, my head facing down. I rush to the boys who lift me up and look to the audience: 62,000 people swaying. They lift their lighters as Mr. Stevie Wonder sings, shaking his dreadlocks to the sound of his music just a few feet from me: “If my eyes were to see, let them be a witness to a world that is color free.”

I have not lived in such a world as a black ballerina, but after years of hard work, I arrived at this surreal moment: performing in the Special Olympics on the same stage with Stevie Wonder.

I was just three when Mom noticed me mimicking the liturgical dance routines she  created for our Baptist church. I had the long legs, the turned out hips—but mostly the passion. Mom saw my happiness when she enrolled me in ballet programs. Yet I was always the different one. I lacked the blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin to be Aurora or Cinderella. No matter how hard I pointed my feet or how high I kicked my legs, I was placed in the back. At 11, I refused to be buried in the shadows. I wanted to shine. I started dancing like I was the only one on stage, and taking additional private lessons to strengthen my weaknesses.

Weekends with Grandma inspired me to be fearless in the face of adversity. She detailed  her five-mile walk to school in the burning sun. She struggled to keep her books tight to her chest while wiping sweat from her brow, praying that the Alabama red dirt would not stain her shoes. She could not stop counting the buses of white children speeding down the road.

At 17, she zipped up her white, silky dress and walked down the aisle to say “I do” to Granddaddy. After her first two children, my mother and uncle, she made a mother’s ultimate sacrifice—giving away her children. Fearing they would be endangered by the violence toward blacks in the South, she sent them to live in Indiana with her sister, hoping to spare them mistreatment that she encountered. Because of my grandmother, I was born in a different place. And because of where I was born,  I now have the opportunity to move ahead of the shadows.

At 17, I won the opportunity to perform at the 2015 Special Olympics. On the eve of the performance, I was restless, for my excitement robbed a couple of hours of my sleep. I woke up anxious, but also very tired. Between washing my hands next to Eva Longoria and dodging Secret Service, I was simultaneously flustered and excited. The gravity of where I would be performing settled within me. As the announcers called the names of the countries in alphabetical order, I began to pace, back and forth. I walked to a corner to stretch and then sat and meditated.  

After the performance, we exited stage right and witnessed the First Lady enter from stage left. Backstage, we began to sob with tears of passion, satisfaction, and happiness. I had never felt anything like this.  

Performing at the Special Olympics will never slip from my memory’s grip. I earned an opportunity that makes the roles I was denied seem measly. I learned that things will not come right away, even if you put your blood and sweat into them. Sometimes the struggle is generations long, as my grandmother’s story shows me. I had to wait for my time to shine. On her strong shoulders, and through my willingness to endure, my time came. When I found myself lifted in the air by my fellow dancers, to Stevie Wonder’s soundtrack of equality and harmony, I was suspended in an aspirational hope that we are getting closer to witnessing a world that is color free.  

 

Sadiya Ramos, a 2016 graduate of the Academy of the Holy Angels, will be a freshman at the Boston Conservatory in the Fall.

 

 

The ‘Dirty’ Line that Conquered A Great Fear

                            By James Ng

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“I love it when you talk dirty.”
I want to run from the sentence my mind cannot escape: “I love it when you talk dirty.”
I went to bed replaying and dreading those words. They ruined my morning, as well. As usual, I left my house at 6:45 for the 40-minute train ride to school. I wanted the ride to last forever. I wanted first period Mandarin to go on all day. I did not want to leave second period history. Then butterflies burst from my stomach with the third period bell.
It was Dad’s fault. I did not want to take acting. He suggested I sign up, feeling the class could cure my extreme shyness.
I now find myself trapped in the first week of scenes. My assignment: William M. Hoffman’s As Is, a drama about a gay couple facing the realities of having AIDS.
My partner for the scene, Brian, is the opposite. He’s an outgoing guy who lives for the drama. He volunteers us to be first to perform.
I try to clear my mind and begin. As I recite the lines with fear of that dreaded sentence, I hide my fear. The bomb nears. I tuck in my gut and somehow find the courage to proudly say to Brian:

“God, I love it when you talk dirty.”
I quickly glance up at the class expecting lots of laughter. Other than a few slight chuckles, no one laughs. The students follow the scene seriously. I feel my peers’ growing attachment to my character and his feelings. This character-audience link helps me realize that there is nothing to be afraid of when performing. All of my pre-performance worries disappear because I finally understand that no matter how embarrassing something seems in my head, the people around me may not be laughing. In this case, the audience even seems impressed with my courage and riveted by my performance.

My shyness has always induced a fear of speaking in front of people. A few weeks before my scene, my legs shake uncontrollably and my face turns redder than a tomato. I am presenting an analysis of George Washington’s Farewell Address to my U.S. History class. I begin, take a quick peek up and see 30 pairs of eyes watching me, including the stern, dark eyes of my teacher. Fearing for my life, I immediately bury my face into the paper, reading the words instead of presenting them.

I now wish I had completed acting class before that presentation. Acting class helped me feel more comfortable in front of strangers. Throughout the semester, the class required us to be foolish and overdramatic in front of each other. Some days we were on the verge of committing suicide; on other days, we were gorillas at the zoo. After that first scene with Brian, I enjoyed the class, laughing more than I panicked. I learned to speak with, not to, the audience. The scene with Brian conveyed this belief, as we helped the class experience the same sorrow we expressed through our characters.

The summer after the class, I attended Cooper Union’s MakerSpace STEM program. Groups were required to give weekly presentations on their projects in Cooper’s Rose Auditorium. Unlike my former self, these presentations did not phase me. Sure, I felt some jitters, but I did not fear speaking to the crowd when I stepped on the stage and in front of the podium. In fact, I even took command of my group when a presentation began to go astray. I was no longer alone on stage because it no longer felt like a stage.

James Ng, a graduate of Stuyvesant High School, will be a freshman at New York University in the Fall.

From an Outcast to the White House to Journalism

 

    By Isabel Dibble

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I felt like an outcast. But my journal became my refuge.

My journal explored the challenges of moving from Chicago to Potomac in sixth grade– from a school filled with friends and a diversity of outfits to a place where “normal” wardrobes consisted of skinny jeans and Ugg boots in the winter and really short shorts and tank tops in the summer. I wrote about being a tomboy and being bullied. I remember two awful boys who stole my orange Chicago Bears’ hat off my head during recess. I chased them, while they laughed and tossed my hat back and forth. Finally bored, they dropped my hat on the ground and left.

I must thank the movie, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl, for the birth of my journal. I was 10 and shy like the main character, Max. He made his dreams come true through “Sharkboy and Lava Girl.” He invented them in his journal and joined their adventure to save the planet he created. Inspired by Max, I started writing in my little black book resembling his diary.

I told stories in my journal that preserved my memories. I wrote about Chicago’s skyscrapers and chocolate croissants from Medici. My writing also included experiences with family friends from Chicago that I felt the need to document. One day in eighth grade, I was hanging out with Malia and Sasha at the White House. President Obama entered the room to say goodnight, wearing a suit with a red tie. Malia asked him why he was so dressed up so late. “I need to do a work thing,” he responded. Of course, we didn’t have any idea that he was minutes away from announcing that Osama Bin Laden was captured and killed. Realizing the magnitude of what I just experienced, my eyes were immediately opened to world events. In my journal, I described how I felt inspired to be someone who delivers stories and information with the same kind of magnitude.

Little did I know, my days of journal writing prepared me for journalism. My love of writing led me to join the newspaper staff in Tenth grade. At first, I wrote “light-hearted” stories such as movie reviews. But by junior year, my comfort level and desire to find more interesting stories grew. I enjoyed digging into mechanical problems at my school such as a broken heating system, which is still broken in my opinion.

I began tackling more controversial issues that interested me. I remember holding my pen and reporter’s pad waiting for Mr. Brown, the head of the science department, to show up. I was on a mission. When he finally appeared, I asked about the excessive numbers of students seeking exemptions from exams.

“I’ve heard students brag about it,” I shared with him.

Whitman and other high schools have an average of 12 exemptions each year compared to Churchill’s 96 students exempted in one year. Why are so many Churchill students exempted? Did he care to comment?

Brown’s irritation showed in his curt responses. I was not deterred. After rolling his eyes, he refused to go on record. I then located the principal for an interview.

After my article appeared, the school decided to abolish exam exemptions. My article played a part in this new change.  

Those days of bullying are long gone and I now stand up for both myself and truth as a reporter. With the new, world-changing experiences I’ve had and writing for my school’s newspaper, I’ve shifted my focus to a broader scope of issues that I hope to tackle as an enthusiastic, aspiring journalist. My journal was my first step into writing and my first step into journalism– though definitely not my last.

 

Isabel Dibble, a graduate of Winston Churchill High School, will be a freshman at Stanford University in the Fall.

 

The Long Journey to Moments of Pride

                       By Jaren Epps

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

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

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

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

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

I was 16 when Jason sent the text.  

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

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

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


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

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

 

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

 

Finding a Place Like Home in Havana

By Alex Eisman

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

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

Challenging Routines with New Fears

By Anya Carter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Sweet Space of Art, Science and Life

by Kaira Mediratta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating the Dance to Power

By Amistad Cinque Meeks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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