• Topic

  • School


Sample Essays

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

Winning Without a Label

by Sydney Webber

11082549_10205536740953368_2880924316986633246_nI remember Fridays when I walked home from school with Eric, rushed to change clothes and headed across the street to his house to play.  At dusk,  I’d head home to shower and put on my black dress, stockings, and flats and return to Eric’s for Shabbat dinner.  I still remember the distinctive taste of Challah and tons of food that his grandmother cooked.   I never felt out of place as the only person in the room who didn’t understand the Hebrew prayers.  Then there were my Tuesdays, reserved for the playground with Uzuri and Hector, my friends from Nigeria and Colombia.  I always found time every week to hang with Sam, my Venezuelan best friend.

It all changed when I turned eight. My family left Maplewood, a town known for its diversity, for Morristown, where we were the only black family on the block.  On the surface, Morristown lacked diversity, especially considering my overwhelmingly white neighborhood that matched the makeup of the honors courses that I took in high school.  I spent years looking for a label to fit in besides “black girl.”  I would learn the irrelevance of labels in the spring of junior year when my name found it’s way to a ballot that read Bill, Phillip, Joe, and Sydney–the typical “hot guy”, the “jock,” the “class clown,” and me.  There was not a label for me, which, at first, made me think I must be crazy for running for class president.  The girls would vote for Mike, the basketball team for Drew, and Matt’s speech would make everyone laugh. Didn’t I need a label to win?

In Maplewood, there were not any two people who seemed alike so I never thought twice about being myself.  It wasn’t until I was placed in an environment where the white majority was dominant and seemed to be monolithic that I experienced a discomfort with myself.  I tried desperately to be like my friends.  I straightened my hair everyday to get rid of my natural afro I wore as a child.  I listened to the bands that my friends loved even though I hated the music. I wore Abercrombie, even though the clothes weren’t meant for my Beyonce-like curves.  I became secretly thankful for my light skin tone because it made me look closer to the majority than those with dark skin. Throughout middle school, I felt ashamed to be black because it differentiated me from everyone around me.

My family’s Kwanzaa celebration launched my journey to self acceptance.  When I was thirteen my mom invited our white neighbors to the celebration.  At first I was embarrassed to share this part of me with my friends.  I thought they might see me differently if they witnessed this hidden side of me. I feared it would accentuate the obvious differences I tried to escape.  At that moment I thought back to Maplewood and remembered its okay to be racially different. The girl who now believes Kwanzaa is for everyone became one who realizes the school is not just made up of labels.

I changed my definition of diversity beyond race and ethnicity. I saw that white people should not be defined by being white just as I should not be defined by a label of race. I also saw the superficial constructs of the labels my opponents wore and embraced.  I discovered I was not the underdog in the election and that lacking a label was my asset. I wanted to represent the majority of our grade that didn’t have a “title,” like those who do not like the lunchroom social world, those unafraid of being smart or being called a nerd, and those who value eclectic interests.  I had started to see my classmates and myself beyond superficial labels. Moreover I won the election because my classmates were able to see me beyond any labels while my opponents epitomized typical high school classifications.

Sydney Webber, a graduate of Morristown High School, is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.

 

An Education that Starts with Morning Rhythms

by Jordan Harris

 Jordan Harris - Class of 2014

A captivating rhythm draws me to five young boys drumming on plastic overturned buckets on the bustling streets of Downtown Chicago. I am on my daily commute to school. In one hour, I travel from a tree shaded suburban town to this rhythmic center of noise and motion. Moments that mirror my life often come alive on my commutes. For example, the drummers resemble the five siblings in the family I worked with during my first service trip to the Appalachian Mountains the summer before my sophomore year. I decide to drop money in the youngest drummers’ container and I see a joy spread across the boy’s face, reminding me of children I met on that trip.

School for me does not start in the classroom. My lessons begin the minute I leave my house. My commute now shapes my identity in ways I never imagined when I decided to attend high school in the heart of Chicago.

It starts with a 15-minute ride with Dad to the Metra Station followed by a 20-minute train ride to the heart of the city. On the train, I witness an architectural transition as buildings become higher and closer together, complimenting the fast pace enveloping everyone.

I arrive downtown and my commute continues.  I now walk the morning rush with Chicagoans of all races and classes as I head to the CTA bus stop a couple of minutes away. The world becomes larger, then smaller with this walk.  By the time I reach the bus stop, I find classmates coming from different places for the final 15-minute bus ride.

On one ride, I smell liquor on the breath of a man sitting a few rows away. He is lanky with scruffy facial hair, wearing a green army jacket, and holding a brown paper bag.  It is the week after Christmas break. Tis the season to join classmates and complain about homework loads. I describe my long paper on the role of children in the Civil Rights Movement when the smell of the man’s breath comes closer.  He then begins scolding all the kids on the bus saying: “Ya’ll kids shouldn’t be complaining about homework. I didn’t do none of my homework when I was your age and look at me now. Do that homework. Stay in school. Graduate. Make something of yourselves.”

By then, I was a seasoned commuter.  If this happened before high school, I would have felt uncomfortable in my seat and searched for another one towards the front of the bus.  Instead, I nodded at the man’s helpful advice.

Some scenes of my commute are as entertaining as a movie, yet my imagination must write the script.  I was waiting at the bus stop one morning when I saw a businessman in a full suit and tie riding by on his scooter.  Maybe he was a creative entrepreneur, or just a man trying to save money rather than taking a cab.  I could only imagine a day in his life.

I never imagined how adaptable my commute would make me.  On one cold January morning, the bus broke down.  The driver said another bus would arrive in an hour. My classmates and I decided to walk so we would not be late for school.  A brisk wind hit our faces as it became harder to see, and the cold made our noses drip and turned our faces red. Too bad the man with the brown paper bag could not see our walk through deep snow in single digit temperature weather. It showed the kind of academic commitment that might warm his heart.

My commute has strengthened my independence and adjustment to new situations. I now go downtown not only for school, but for other events as well. Thanks to my commute, I have branched beyond a suburban bubble and become more aware of myself as part of a larger community.

Jordan Harris,  a freshman at Northwestern University, is a 2014 graduate of Saint Ignatius College Prep.

 

 

Saved by the Television Station

by Jack Bushell

jackIt was the first time ever that my classmates felt unsafe. The mood in the hallways was somber. However, my creation would transform the sense of doom into one of the most spirited moments I have yet to witness, and become a major accomplishment in my transition to adulthood.

The horror happened on a football field during homecoming, one of the biggest and most celebrated weeks of the year. Homecoming week brings the traditional powderpuff football game, when the junior girls play the senior girls in touch football. During the game, a fight broke out between two girls. Many kids have never seen two girls brutally fight. Later a video of the fight went viral, tarnishing our school’s strong reputation.

I saw this moment as a time to make an impact with a project I created for the school. Earlier in the year, I founded Redwood TV, a station focusing on the life of the school which I shoot, edit, and produce every two weeks. I have always been one to look at inspirational videos to change my mood or pump me up before a sports game or any other challenge I face. I have studied videos made for professional sports teams with Interviews, time-lapses, and crowds cheering in excitement. I wanted to share the feeling of the videos that motivated me with my classmates.

While the community was engrossed in sorrow over the fight, I filmed all the lunchtime events featuring the Homecoming Kings and Queens. I put together a video of all of the best things that happened at homecoming, ignoring the fight that stole the attention of the week. The program aired Monday, and the students’ attention left the fight and went to all the other activities that had been forgotten. In just those 4 minutes and 30 seconds, I changed everything.

Through my homecoming show, I saw what concentration and persistence could produce. The night before the homecoming highlights aired, I gathered together all the footage, making sure everything was perfect. As I put together the highlights that weekend, I pictured students smiling. I scanned through the newest music, deciding what mood I wanted to instill in the school that morning. I looked for something that puts smiles on people’s faces, lifts school spirit and makes people enjoy Redwood High School. For this episode, I chose “Burn,” by Ellie Goulding.

Throughout most of my first two years in high school, sports dominated my life. My family and friends labeled me as a tri-athlete. My principal thought I should stick to sports when I approached him with the idea of Redwood TV, telling me, “Redwood TV will end up being a waste of your time and the school’s time.”

I proved him wrong, and he is now one of the strongest supporters of the station, joking that he does not want me to graduate so the station can continue. After being spotlighted at a state leadership conference for the Oregon Association of Student Councils, Redwood TV is known as one of the best high school television stations in the country .

Redwood TV has grown into a must-see at my school, with students often asking me when the next episode is airing and sharing exciting things in their lives that they hope can be featured. Today, when I enter a school event with my camera, I am bombarded with students approaching me, hoping they will be featured in Monday’s episode. Yet now I have a new mission: I am looking for a successor to train so the station can live beyond my graduation in June.

Jack Bushell is a freshman at Emerson College and a graduate of Redwood High School.

 

First Job Blues: Battles and Lifelong Lessons

by Diamond Grady

ArundelBayArea_MD_Senior_Grady_DiamondIt was the beginning of the shift. My first table of the evening just sat down. It was a couple I had never seen before in the the restaurant where I worked at a retirement living community. I was eager to meet them. I picked up my water pitcher in a great mood and headed to the table.  When I arrived, I poured the glasses of ice-cold water, and introduced myself. “Hello, my name is Di-” was all I could muster before the gentleman rudely interrupted with the demand that I bring him an iced tea, without even looking at me. Instantly my mood changed, and it took every ounce of my being to swallow my pride. I took the high road as this job has taught me to do and kindly said, “Yes sir.”

Add more living to your life. This is the motto that attracts residents to the community, and ironically, describes what it’s like to work there. I would know — the residents will certainly liven your day during mealtime. This is my first job and it has forced me to mature in ways I never imagined. I have learned to remain calm in the face of so much disrespect from the people that I serve French toast and eggplant Parmesan on a weekly basis.

If being outgoing ever becomes something that can be measured and sold, I would easily become a millionaire. I love to go to social events, interact with different personalities, and socialize with a mixture of diverse people. In high school, my people oriented personality developed into an interest in marketing, a field I intend to explore in college. During my high school years, I never fit into any one clique or limit myself to one group of people. I work very well with others and have always easily got along with most people. Given my personality, I never thought being a waitress at a retirement community restaurant would pose such a difficult challenge.

Treat others the way you want to be treated. At a young age, my parents instilled this lesson in me as well as taught me to always stand up for myself and treat others fairly. Working at the restaurant has exposed me to people who do not always treat me with the same respect that I deserve and show. As a waitress, I can’t stand up to them and demand respect in the way my parents nurtured me to do. This inner conflict has been difficult to navigate. Over time, I have become a more disciplined person as I curb my impulse to say something disrespectful to the rude people I serve. To prevent myself from snapping, I have learned to pause. Breathe in and out.

I have also learned to appreciate and focus on the good rather than allowing the bad to consume my experience at work. The optimist in me has grown. For example, Mr. Jones, a resident who dines at Atrium every day, takes care of his wife, who is diagnosed with early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Though he is always requesting extra food, and therefore making my job harder, he is extremely polite and always has a smile on his face even when dealing with his wife. Almost every time he asks for something else, he always says, “ I do not mean to trouble you but…”This simple comment instantly puts a smile on my face and softens my mood.

I am now more tolerant of others and realize that having the last word is not always important. Sometimes kindness and a smile are the best ways to handle a tense situation. “Kill them with kindness,” as the saying goes. I learned this lesson up close at work. As a result, I have grown into a stronger person as I make my transition into adulthood.

Diamond Grady is a 2014 graduate of Seton Keough High School in Baltimore and a freshman at Spelman College.

Good Habits Live Long

by Griffin Harris

griffin

My identity and story are built on passions and habits. For example, something in my mind and body prevents me from falling asleep without reading the hard copy of the front page of The New York Times every night. If necessary, I will search through the trash to fetch the paper before going to bed. I have always found comfort in the crisp creases and familiar smell of its pages.  I realized the value of this habit as a sophomore in Mr. Greenside’s history class when he asked, “Does anyone know more about John Edwards than what late night shows are currently joking about?” I immediately raised my hand, which was the only one in the air.  Mr. Greenside called on me and my understanding of the dynamics of Edwards came together in an informed response, understanding of the rise and fall of the man.  An epiphany followed this moment—the first time I saw the benefits of all those nights of reading the NYT.

I have always been a man of habits as an athlete and student. It started in fifth grade when I became more aware of my passion for history. We were studying the American Revolution and I was riveted by the social, political, religious, intellectual and economic levers that drove America to become independent.  I searched and found books and documentaries that fed my thirst for the topic and formed habits around researching and connecting the ideas behind conflict, immigration, independence and technology. I loved learning all I could through different investigative passions. My habits grew into a necessary companion to my love of history.

Passions cannot live without supporting habits. History reinforced this rule in my life. In Mr. Greenside’s class, I learned the value of refined routines as the backbone for something that excited me—understanding world events. I have been equally passionate about hockey since I was six and grew to be the accomplished player I am today by developing habits – learning the physics of how a puck moves on ice, stick angles that produce the most accurate shot and feeling my teammates positioning without seeing them.

History and current events became the hockey of my academic life around eighth grade. Friday was my favorite day—current events. From Haiti’s earthquake in 2010 to the Republican takeover of the House, I started getting to know the world as well as I knew the hockey rink by reading the paper every night.

I am reminded of the value of my addiction to the Times when I least expect it.  In my junior year I interviewed to be an intern for the International Rescue Committee, an NGO working to help political asylees and refugees rebuild their lives in America.  In explaining why I wanted the job, I drew on my awareness of global challenges and discussed immigration issues with confidence.  Just like I hit the ice with conviction, knowing I have taken my fingernail and scratched the edges of my skate blades to make sure they are sharp, I was able to tackle my interview with confidence, thanks to my nightly ritual with the Times.

As an intern, I was assigned to be a counselor for children of refugees from all over the world—Egypt, Tibet, India, Nepal, Cameroon, Guinea.  I served them well, knowing the deep roots and context of their fears.  Amr is 10 and worried about family members still in Egypt.  My job was to try to take his mind off the stories that may stir his fears, as well as to understand him and those fears.

I never know when a good habit will become the source of comfort to a 10-year-old like Amr, or lead to a great moment in class, or a strong job interview. I am certain that I will discover new passions and thus develop more habits. For now, I also know that my college roommate will learn not to throw out the trash with the day’s New York Times.

 Griffin Harris, a graduate of Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, is a freshman at American University.

Twin Views of George Washington University

unnamed

by Brandon and Parris Lloyd

I am not dining at Le Diplomate on 14th Street in Washington DC or Dominique Bouchet on the Champs Elysees. I am 12 years old, sitting in Applebee’s. I begin speaking to myself–in French.  I translate as much of the menu as I can before my friends arrive.

It was Love at the First Class. I started studying French in Sixth Grade and it became my passion. Whenever I was alone, I spoke to myself in French. Eventually, thinking in French became second nature. French classes were not enough. I started listening to audio tapes. When I made my first trip to Paris at 14, my passion for the study of the language and culture grew even stronger.

At George Washington, I would hope to participate in GW’s Paris Business Studies Program. In fact, I am drawn to George Washington since it combines my love of French culture with my interest in business in a specific program. During my tour, I met students with passions for various languages and different cultures, which made me feel at home. I see the community itself at GW as interconnected and diverse. Having students in class from different parts of the globe will be an eye opening experience for me, allowing me to become more cosmopolitan in my thinking and academic approaches.

I am also attracted to GW largely because of the School of Business faculty. I am excited by the opportunity to take classes such as Global Focus, Business Law and Ethics, and Investment and Portfolio Management with such accomplished professors, including a senior economist for the World Bank to a business studies language expert in charge of the GW CIBER Business French module. My interests in French and business would lead me to seek the vast research opportunities for undergrads, which provide additional ways to learn from such a strong faculty.

My visit to the George Washington campus demonstrated many other appealing qualities. The location in Washington DC is ideal as it offers many opportunities, such as meeting with government officials through off-campus events or brown bag luncheons. My social interactions with students during my visit showed firsthand the qualities of students drawn to the energetic atmosphere and close-knit community. The students noted that student organizations and clubs play a significant role university life. I would become involved with the Civic House program, GW French Club, and the GW Finance and Investment club. These clubs would build on my high school extra-curricular activities. Currently, I am involved with the White Plains Youth Council, the White Plains Youth Court, and many other community service programs.

George Washington University– from the extra curricular offerings to the academics–is the ideal place. I have toured many schools with impressive programs. Yet when I consider what I want from a college education, George Washington is best suited to my interests.

 Brandon Lloyd, a graduate of White Plains High School, is currently a freshman at George Washington University along with his twin, Parris.

UntitledWhen I started my college search, I opposed looking at any urban campuses. I wanted to be surrounded by the ‘rolling greens’ seen in college movies. That changed when I visited George Washington in March, and my view of the ideal college was redefined by the historical sites in DC and the blending of cultures—political, urban and academic. I am drawn to GW for the model ways that the school immerses itself within the cultures of Washington DC.

At GW, I will get the best of both worlds: a city campus and a green campus as well. If DC life ever became too much, I could always go to the Mount Vernon Campus, where I can imagine my lungs consuming the scent of freshly-cut grass as I walk. On another day, I see myself eagerly racing to Cross-Cultural Psychology or Developmental Psychopathology. Afterwards, I go to a Class Council meeting to put the finishing touches on plans for an upcoming fundraiser. Then I go to my Women’s Leadership program meeting to explore ways to grab our peers’ attention to the issues important to our organization. At the end of my day, I’ll be exhausted, but fulfilled, knowing I’m taking advantage of what GW has to offer academically, residentially, and extracurricularly.

GW provides a plethora of opportunities for me as a psychology major. I was excited to find a research requirement, and opportunities to be part of cutting-edge research even as a student. By making research a requirement, the school demonstrates its devotion to making sure students are proactive in their fields.

The connections that GW has made with surrounding embassies and corporations make for internship opportunities I haven’t seen at other schools, which will allow me to be even more proactive in my field. I am excited by the fact that GW offers internships for any focus, which will allow me to start building work experience as early as freshman year. While visiting, I met a student interning with the American Psychological Association. He said GW helped him find the internship.

Diversity is important to me, and I want to go to a school where diversity isn’t just black and white—where the culture of the university is influenced by many ethnicities. GW does more than accepting students of different backgrounds; it encourages those students to share their culture with others. Beyond its worldwide connections, GW is a global community because of the various multicultural clubs, groups, and activities that thrive on campus.

I am drawn to GW for its academics, opportunities, and location in our nation’s capital. What really sold me was my overnight experience. I met so many students who love the GW community and fully embrace the friends they have made. Observing the GW students made a lasting impression on me.

 Parris Lloyd, a graduate of Ursuline High School in New Rochelle, is a freshman at George Washington University along with her twin, Brandon.

Like Uncle, Like Brother

by AJ Zerka

zerkaAt six, Uncle Dan lost his left eye in a freak accident, which led to many surgeries. Doctors called him “Superman” because he never cried. I always felt strange calling him uncle because we’re only nine years apart. He is more like the brother I never had since I’m an only child. We have been inseparable since the time I was old enough to walk and talk. His courage in the face of challenge influences the way I handle adversity. Considering the story of my life, Dan has been, without a doubt, one of the greatest influences.

Our bonding time comes largely through travel. We both enjoy the adventure of new places, including Spain, Mexico, Florida, and California. In February, we were lost in Paris for our first trip alone. Neither of us speaks French. We were in a subway station trying to manage our way to the Eiffel Tower, and neither of us knew where to go. Finally after a joint effort, we found our way to the top of the Eiffel Tower. When we finally got to the top it was getting dark and we felt the February wind. We saw the city’s lights slowly twinkling on and laughed that a whole afternoon had gone by in our confusion.

For me, school has not produced the kind of challenges that Dan faced. His resolve inspires me; in particular, his ability to navigate school. School administrators and students treated him like an outsider because of his learning disabilities, while I am a guy that can get along with mostly anyone. He has been told “no” his whole life, whether it was school, driving, or work. Yet he has persevered. Dan has a license, and works 16 hours a day at the airport trying to realize his dream of becoming an airplane mechanic. His work ethic motivates me to push myself in school and at work. When homework assignments pile up and I feel like procrastinating, I think of him and keep going.

Dan, being very shy and quiet, doesn’t usually defend himself. This compels me to be more assertive. When we are together, I often have to step up and take a leadership role. A couple of years ago we were together in a clothing store. “Sir, can I help you find anything?” an employee asked Dan. My uncle wasn’t able to process the question quickly enough and the employee snickered at the long pause. I had to speak up. “Excuse me, what’s the problem? Not everyone has the same abilities as you. There is no need to laugh.” The clerk quickly apologized. Without expressing it, I knew Dan appreciated my actions.

My sensitivity to others has grown up alongside my relationship with Dan. Seeing the effects of bullying has made me more aware of my own actions and words. When I start to lose patience with someone, thoughts of my uncle often come to mind and I become more understanding.

I also witnessed my most terrifying moment in his presence. Recently, when sleeping over at my house, Dan had a seizure for the first time ever. I had never witnessed one before and was frightened. I could only imagine the worst. Considering the possibility of life without him was painful. As a lifeguard, I am certified in first aid but was too traumatized to act. Thankfully, the paramedics came and he survived. Although I was too numb to act in the moment, I have pledged to myself that I will be ready to act if anything like this happens to anyone around me in the future.

Through Dan, I have learned that compassion isn’t inherited, or taught at school, but rather something that is gained through experiences with people. My experiences with him have formed my appreciation of others and my ability to see the unique gifts of individuals.

AJ Zerka, a graduate of Ardsley High School, is a freshman at Fairfield University.

The Football Way

by Bryce Joyner

10666034_10202843399074053_6872100357619113165_n

Whether I’m creating campaigns for Marriott to reach Generation Y, or selling solar water heaters in impoverished African villages, I view the challenges in my life as if they were playing out on an imaginary football field. Football isn’t my only sport. Yet, looking at my life, the thoughts of downs, tackles, and touchdowns parallel the narrative.

Let’s start at third down. Ball on our one-yard line. My coach signals I can initiate a cornerback blitz if I want to take the risk, or stay on my receiver and play it safe. I take the risk.

My foundation as a risk-taker was shaped as a child in Baldwin, New York. On weekends I played big games of hide-and-go-seek with my pack of friends. In finding my spots to hide, I anticipated my seeker’s motions just like I would a receiver’s routes. It looked like he was running a slant. I noticed the quarterback’s eyes, and immediately jumped into the passing lane.

“Ready or not, here I come!” My friend Brandon finds friends one by one, but where was I? My hiding spot was Mr. Emory’s backyard. He was a cranky man without children. No one would think to search there out of fear. I win that round.

1st and 10: I was in 4th grade, loving life. My utopia was on the verge of termination. “I’m going to marry Jacques. We’re moving to Ridgewood, New Jersey to live with him,” my mother tells me. I receive the handoff and fumble.

2nd and ten: The challenge of adapting to Ridgewood is the next play, and it’s a long one. Ridgewood was different from Baldwin in many ways. Baldwin was ethnically diverse, while I was one of the few African-Americans in Ridgewood. Ridgewood kids listened to different music and communicated through iChat. Sports became my social savior.

3rd and two: By 15, I’m comfortable in Ridgewood. I’m a respected athlete and don’t feel racially isolated. My mom pushes me out of my comfort zone again, forcing me to apply to the Leadership Education and Development program. I caught the ball at the University of Maryland in College Park, the site of the program. LEAD was my 761 Vertical. My quarterback hit me in stride, and so did LEAD.
Our big project was creating social media strategies to attract more Generation Y customers to Marriott hotels. We spent long nights working on our presentation skills to get ready for the judges, who were actual Marriott employees. In the meantime, I took classes on marketing, supply chain management, and finance.

3rd week, Presentation day: This was the big competition that we all had come to win. I presented the competitors’ social media strategies and our main idea to enhance their app for smartphone users. I nailed it. I learned a ton about business. A good start to the drive.

1st and 10, Ball on 35-yard line: I applied for another LEAD Program, but this was in Cape Town, South Africa. My group’s assignment was to present a sales pitch to sell solar water heaters in impoverished villages. We met the entrepreneur who created these water heaters and traveled to a village where they had become an absolute necessity. This was a sad place. I witnessed two little boys playing with a handgun, running around pretending to shoot each other. When we gave our presentation days later, our professor complimented my animated sales tactics. The risk I took in making this second LEAD trip confirmed my desire to study business. My quarterback hits me for a gain of 12. We call a timeout. Our kicker comes onto the field.

He lines up. The ball is snapped. The ball goes up. I’m busy fixing my helmet and can’t tell if it went through or not. All I know is that it’s halftime. Time for us to make adjustments, just like I will in college.

Bryce Joyner is a freshman at Tufts and a graduate of Ridgewood High School.

The Life of a Commute

by Jourdan Espeut

jourdanimage

When I bound out of my house to begin my 75 minute commute every morning, the neighborhood is dreary and empty. I find comfort on my tree-shaded block of well-kept row houses. Since birth, I have lived in the house Mom has called home since she arrived in Brooklyn from Panama 45 years ago.

I try to picture Mom’s stories of the good old days in East New York, as I leave my block and pass the massive housing projects in front of the bus stop. I never bother looking at the schedule. The bus comes as it pleases so I leave extra early. I crave iced coffee, but can’t find a good cup until later.

It is a speedy ride to New Lots Avenue where I catch the 3 train.

“Hey girl, whatcha readin’?” says today’s suitor, as I bury my nose in The Invisible Man.  

Like, do you even care what I’m reading? “Not interested,” I respond.

I should actually thank those guys that hound me every morning. They give me great practice in maintaining composure in challenging environments. Take the basketball games when I am greeted by snarky comments from rival cheerleaders: “Your uniforms suck.”

I ignore them just as I dismiss those baffled by my cheerleading. My friends at the Writing Center, where I was selected to serve as a tutor, argue that cheerleading is “superficial.”  I disagree and keep cheering.

A screeching halt brings me back to reality.  After a handful of stops on the 3 train, I’m onto the 4 train at Utica Avenue. The doors open with a loud bing. I’m instantly shoved in all directions. Finding a seat is like animal feeding time. Standing or sitting, I read or daydream.

I remember when Mom used to ride with me to The Little Red Schoolhouse, as my train stops in Lower Manhattan. I was one of three African American students in my grade. In those innocent days, I never felt different. I left Little Red for public middle school, where most of my classmates were black and Latino.  Many of them hated me. There was the girl who wrote “Oreo” in sharpie on my locker. I drove myself to get strong scores so I could attend a high school with students that would not equate good grades with whiteness. My hard work paid off with admission to my first choice: Eleanor Roosevelt (ELRO).

My commute now extends to the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Knowing it is almost over once I reach 42nd street, I dart across the platform and squeeze myself into any space that’s left on the 6 train.

I was excited about high school.  Finally, people who won’t judge me for loving academics. Yet I went from being “too white”  in middle school to, ironically, “too black”  for many at ELRO. I endured every stereotypical black joke in the book: “If you had a superpower it’d be flying through the air with a noose around your neck.”

However, I stopped listening, dismissing those comments as if they came from a morning suitor. I made a diverse set of friends and jumped into writing, student government and, yes, cheerleading.

My daydream ends.  I finally get out at 77th street and it’s a breath of fresh air.  Trendy boutiques and Starbucks stand on every corner. I happily order my regular iced coffee and talk to the staff. Suddenly, I’m not traveling alone; I’m flanked by friends on each arm, and I feel confident.

Both ends of my commute produce my sense of security.  When I arrive on my block after the ride home, I see Miss Peggy, a neighbor I have known forever who loves to share books with me. Her greetings are always a reminder that where I come from is not at all negative; it has helped shape me into the resilient, driven individual I am today.

Jourdan Espeut, a graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School, is a freshman at The New School.

The Character of My Boat

by Jack Bushell

jack

Boats are like movie cameras and can grow into films or stories themselves. When you think a boat’s life is over–dead, think again; its ending grows into a new beginning. Boats can have many lives, as long as their captain has a dream and a good work ethic.

A couple of years ago, I purchased my first boat ever. My mom thought it would never see the life of water again, and was fit for a dumpster. Yet I am a dreamer and a filmmaker who saw another story resting in the old wood.  At first glance on Craigslist,  I dreamed beyond two quarter-sized holes, rusty brown metal bolts and peeling dusty chips of paint. I called the owner and bargained him down from 275 to 100.  In one day, I turned it into my dream with a freshly coated white outside and a clean black line that outlined the sides of the boat like a ribbon. The inside was sky blue, meshing perfectly with the outside.  I named it Reel Time.

I know dreams do not come true without hard work like sanding Reel Time for two hours. Once ridding her of the old dry paint, I added two coats of black paint on the bottom for protective coating. This completed a rebirth and created a new life for Reel Time.

Boats and fishing have been my passions since 5th grade. My love of film unfolded when I started my school’s television station last year.  Yet I can’t always divorce my attraction to film from the sea.  Last year, my English class read The Sound of Waves, which tells the story of a boy coming of age with the dream to captain his own fishing boat. As I read, my own dreams compelled me to bring the story to life in a film.

I visualized my camera following someone on a boat rocking up and down with a fishing pole.  I dreamed of shots of the harbor and the water reflecting in the sun. The next morning, I wrote the script after finishing my scrambled eggs. A few days later, my best friend, Zack, became an actor and the star of my film. Zack had never driven a boat, so I was driving and filming at the same time with the waves bouncing the boat up and down and the wind blowing the hat off my head. After two days of shooting and two nights of editing, The Sound of Waves came to life as a four-minute film.

While I love boats, I also tell stories through film beyond the water and live much of my life away from the sea. Yet fishing and boating influence my work ethic at school and as a three-sport athlete. Boating has nurtured my patience and persistence. While I don’t win Lacrosse games by holding a fishing rod, the lessons from the sea sail with me on the field, and set a model for the rule that hard work produces results.

Reel Time can also become a big story when she hits the water. Take Independence Day 2012. The story starts with a clear blue sky–ripe for fishing on Long Island Sound. I don’t have my camera, but I directed my own slideshow in my mind. As always the water and weather are major characters in the story. At one moment, I feel the sun’s heat. Five minutes later, the sky darkens. A new scene:  I dart towards Connecticut’s shores to avoid the storm. The waves were still crashing over the front of the boat and I was still getting sprayed with salt water. Within seconds, the water formed 2-foot waves, knocking our boat around. I paused to beat out the storm until it was safe to return to dock and end this story. Certainly Reel Time will help shape many more narratives in both my life and hers.

Jack Bushell, a freshman at Emerson College, is a 2014 graduate of Redwood High School.