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Discovering My True American Identity

by Zoe Armstrong

“Zoe,Zoe Armstrong you can’t sit here,”  Mark said.

“Why not?”

“This is a whites only row,” he replied

It was junior year and I just wanted to find a seat at play rehearsal. I played Baroness Schraeder in my school’s production of The Sound of Music while Mark played the self-assigned role of class clown. He laughed until he saw the shock and outrage on my face.

“I meant to be funny,”  said Mark, “You shouldn’t take things so seriously.”

Eventually, he apologized and I realized he genuinely had not anticipated the impact of his joke. He had crossed a line that he did not know existed. I soon saw that an angry or irrational reaction might be as bad as the joke itself. This moment called for education in clarifying cultural misunderstandings, which became a major part of my life when my family moved to Switzerland at the beginning of my sophomore year. Mark, a white child growing up in Basel, did not have the same understanding of race as an American teenager who grew up with a cultural history that includes segregation, discrimination, and the painful struggle of the Civil Rights Movement. He actually thought that I might find some humor in his joke. In the interest of education and community, I explained calmly why I did not laugh along with him.

In that moment of my junior year, I saw the American in my sensitivities. I lived in America for the vast majority of my life, but I never thought of my country as defining or vital in my personal construction of identity. However, being a part of an international school community of people from different parts of the world does not dissolve the idea of nationality. Instead, such international diversity has a tendency to make students more aware of their native lands. As a member of an international community, each student at ISB becomes a representative of their own country, which has made me more patriotic while simultaneously helping me become more globally aware.

Since moving, the idea of community has been totally redefined for me. This new definition produces greater responsibilities for me to learn about other cultures and to be open to educating people about my own. This may mean abandoning anger at a racial joke, while not entirely shrugging it off either.

When I arrived in Basel, I integrated myself quickly in the interest of becoming part of a new community. Shortly after my arrival, my classmates elected me to be a member of the group of student representatives who reported to the school’s administration. I also travelled far outside of my comfort zone to more adequately engage with Basel. I realized my private school existed in a bubble. So I joined a cheerleading team for the town’s football team to meet residents who attend other local public schools. Initially it was a challenge since I was new to the language. I often communicated with body language and occasional phrases in broken Swiss-German. Yet my teammates were welcoming and patient as I slowly grew comfortable with my German. Eventually I introduced team-building exercises to that I had learned back in the States, which not only boosted our spirit but also helped our routines run cleaner.

I have had my share of awkward moments in jumping into a foreign community. For example, when I went to lunch with my friend, Sophie.  A waitress took Sophie’s order in perfect German. I decided to show off how much German I had learned. “Gruezi! Ich möchte den Chicken Fried Rice, und können wir mehr Servietten haben?”  I asked.

The waitress replied in English: “Sure, I’ll be right back with your food.” Sophie could not stop laughing, calling my accent “obviously foreign.” I laughed, but still felt a little disappointed in the waitress’s reaction. Perhaps Mark had similar feelings in discovering that his joke was not funny but offensive.

Zoe Armstrong, a 2015 graduate of the International School of Basel, will be a freshman at Brown University in the Fall.

 

Class Clown to Class President

by Drew Crichlow

“Are you ready?”Drew Crichlow headshot

“Should I do it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signs to Good Words

by Tess Jacobson  

My mother, father, andTess Jacobson brother vanished. What happens now? I lack the words to express my sorrow, my future and…  

Mid-sentence, I struggled to convey this agony. My imagination was congested. I tried to force myself into the mind of my protagonist, but couldn’t find the words. So I dropped my pencil and unfinished story. I turned to sign language. If I couldn’t write or speak the suffering, I could sign it and capture the words. With thought as the conductor, my hands obediently brought the scenario to life, forcing me to lace my feet into the shoes of the character and bring his feelings to life in the way I had imagined: authentic, yet silent. “The growing lump of panic in Collin’s throat suddenly choked him before plummeting to the pit of his stomach where it filled him with overwhelming desolation and absorbed all other traces of sentiment.” Sign gave me these words.

American Sign Language started with a casual comment from an eighth grade teacher. Visual learners tend to acquire skills in learning sign language. As a visual learner, I decided to give it a try. The more I engaged in this culture of people who, unlike me, are deaf, I couldn’t let go. So, I searched to find a way to learn this language on my own.

Sign complements another love of mine—writing. I didn’t begin writing because I was a naturally good wordsmith, but because I needed it. My imagination lusts for boundlessness and I credit my seventh grade English teacher for facilitating this discovery. She gave the class a five-minute required daily writing period with one condition: no one but the writer would see his or her scribblings.

At first, I wasn’t exactly producing masterpieces of originality. I scrawled on the pages not knowing what to write or, if I was feeling extra imaginative, I would describe the classroom. However, regardless of the topic, there was something liberating about taking part in an activity without limits or direct instructions to follow. As soon as I discovered my affinity for this independent, unrestricted expression, my imagination was released from its shackles and I produced work that compelled me to break the class rule and show my work to others.

Today I love to write—poems, essays, stories, lab reports, term papers. My fire for this art form is all inclusive. From analyzing Hollywood’s portrayal of America during the Great Depression to describing an original biology experiment on the psychological impact of color and light, I crave opportunities to speak my mind—soundlessly and tangibly. I’m enticed by most anything that makes me a better writer, which is one reason I’m drawn to sign language. Without the two, I would have been limited without ever knowing.

The words to describe the unfathomable emotional situation in my short story seemed unattainable because I had never experienced the circumstances. Sign guided me to go below the exterior of explaining “how sad” something could be and helped me extract the visceral aspect of grief, allowing me to connect with the character, and making him a part of reality—not just an imaginary sketch. Sign forced me to reach the core of what my character could have felt, not just the mere essence, giving the words the aesthetic animation that speech cannot provide. The captivating gestures embedded in sign language are almost as riveting as the feeling that comes with giving vocabulary a physically moving existence.

After these two interests integrated into my world, I realized how they capture my psyche. Sign springs a glimpse of another culture into my life, teaching me to constantly imagine and view the world from different angles. Writing empowers me to channel those interpretations into my voice as a writer. I’m not sure if I have a way with words, but I have my own way with words.

Tess Jacobson, who became a graduate of  The Trevor Day School today, will be a freshman at Tufts University in the fall.

A Brother to All

by Brandon Medina

brandonmedina“Would you like to hold your sister?”

Mom’s question frightened me more than the zombies in that haunted house last October. I was a six-year-old without experience holding a precious, delicate and fragile life.  I wondered: “She is so small. She is related to me?” Gabrielle. All of a sudden, I loved the name I once hated. All the ill-feeling from arguments with Mom about the baby’s name were instantly exiled. I joined the family circle of lovestruck faces. It was my awakening to responsibility and trust. After some coercion, I surrendered to the urge. I picked Gabby up. She immediately started to cry.

Since that day, my role in the family has always been clear. I was big brother to three boisterous little sisters. Instead of competing with their constant chatter, I became reserved. I was full of many ideas, but just couldn’t get any airtime. I became more comfortable as a speaker in the classroom with students I had known since kindergarten. At school, I was at home as my favorite subjects, Latin and Classics, became passions.

My comfort at school unravelled when I came to the Lawrenceville School in Ninth Grade. The new environment felt as unfamiliar as that moment with Gabby.I saw many of my peers finding their own places in football, academic clubs, and the arts. They all seemed content, and I made it my mission to find my own comfortable niche at Lawrenceville as I had at my previous school.

As a sophomore, I joined Cleve House, one of six communities for male students. Since most of my fellow Clevies were athletes, I thought the best way to fit in was to squeeze into their world, so I shocked everyone by signing up for House Football. The sweltering September days felt even hotter under the shoulder-pads and helmet that weighed down my body, despite only playing as a five-second substitute all season. Clearly, I was not cut out for football but, to my surprise, my House brothers cheered me anyway. I didn’t learn how to tackle, but I did learn how to support my House.

Still, I wanted to share what I really loved with others. By junior year, I started expressing my deep interests in acting to any Cleavies willing to listen. Surprisingly, they reacted to my tales of the grand set, striking costumes, and melodious musical with warmth and interest. They came to see me perform in Oklahoma! and in small one-act plays. In return, I watched sports with my new brothers and supported them at their games. The more of me that I shared, the more comfortable I became. My crowning moment came at the end of sophomore year, when I was elected “Cleve House Fact Man:” the comical emcee of Thursday lunches.

While acting, my characters became my messengers. From a cowboy in Oklahoma to an old gardner in The Secret Garden, I expressed different parts of myself. With this comfort, I also began finding ways to share my love for Latin and Classics. When I realized that they were not widely taught in other elementary and middle schools, I raised hundreds of dollars for a Latin program to teach to Trenton middle schoolers.  Eventually, I taught my curriculum to the students.

I learned to accept others for who they are just as my housemates learned the same lesson. This realization that I could be as different as I wanted led me to other pursuits, like writing.  The standard for “good writing” at The Lawrence are high and I was a latecomer as a junior when most writers started as freshman. Yet somehow I became the most prolific staff writer of the Opinions section.

As a brother to strangers with different interests, I drew on my experiences with sisters. After all, Jillian was the athlete, Sydney was the artist, and Gabrielle was the dancer. Eventually I became myself at home and at Lawrenceville–writer, actor, brother and friend.

Brandon Medina graduated from the Lawrenceville School last week. He will be a freshman at Amherst in the fall.

Why Columbia & Pitzer’s Values

untitled-6423Why Columbia

by Victoria Van Amson

Since my days at Greenhouse Nursery School, art on Columbia’s campus has engaged me. Whether it is taking form on the Quad or at Baker field, the Scholars’ Lion enlightened me to the kind of institution to which I wish to contribute over a lifetime. The core curriculum is a significant manifestation of the Lion’s remarkable ability to unite Columbia’s community with shared motivation. I have diverse interests which make the foundation of a liberal arts education necessary for the full explorations of my passions. On Columbia’s relentless education of generations of students lies the edifice upon which the wisdom of Alma Maters’ owl, and the perspective of The Curl rest. Throughout my high school career, I enjoyed giving speeches and facilitating dialogue on topics that are not normal to classroom discussions. One-sided mindsets challenged me as I encountered classmates without interests in looking at issues from multiple angles. Many of my peers blast our beloved society, choosing to ignore our abilities to profoundly improve our culture and democracy. This potential is inherent in everyday actions. Columbia would surround me with the values of others who understand my admiration for what the owl and The Curl represent to me; wisdom and perspective. Columbia understands that there is a stark difference between diligently standing before a metal sculpture that one may acknowledge as aesthetically pleasing, and taking the time to walk around it and conclude that it embodies something deeper and possibly more intense. Columbia would satisfy my hunger to master the quest to go beyond the surface of facts.

Victoria Van Amson, a 2011 graduate of the Nightingale Bamford School, received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology with a concentration in Business Management from Columbia University last week.

image1Pitzer’s Values

by Cameron Carr  

Prompt: Founded in 1963, Pitzer College was built upon four core values that reimagine the purpose of a college education in a progressively changing world. These values are social responsibility, intercultural understanding, interdisciplinary learning and student autonomy. Almost 50 years later, our students feel that our founding values help prepare them to address the issues of their time. How do you feel these values will help you find solutions to the evolving challenges of your generation? (Maximum of 4000 characters)

Malcolm X sits in the corner of the boxing ring with two coaches tending to his bruises—Barack Obama and Dr. Martin Luther King. They stand over him as he waits for the bell. I created this drawing a year ago and struggled with which of the three men should be the fighter and which should be the coaches. My strong affinity to Pitzer is tied to my confidence in the institution’s compatibility to wrestling with a question like: Which man has an inner character and belief system that would make it necessary for him to enter a boxing ring and fight against inequalities in society?

I am an artist and an aspiring entrepreneur who is committed to social justice and capitalism. At Pitzer, those identities would be nurtured, challenged and expanded in the classrooms, dormitories, internships, study abroad programs and countless clubs. I do not see a divide between the pragmatic and intellectual components in my college education and life beyond.  Pitzer values blends between liberal arts foundations and pragmatic views of the world. It is inherent in its progressive mission that brings a Postmodern version of the Dewey model of education, which is why I am drawn to an innovative institution like Pitzer.

My attraction to Pitzer extends from my commitment to the idea that diversity brings people together as a community and allows them to educate each other about their own unique backgrounds – leading to an atmosphere where a group of people can embrace differences. I pursued this mission by coordinating diversity workshops in high school. Once diversity becomes a comfort zone of a community, education reaches an ideal that carries the mission of exposure and growth at multiple levels. I want to join the Pitzer community because the schools fosters values centered around that ideal of growth through engaging diversity through academically innovative classes, creative extra curricular activities and social experiences. I want an education that challenges me to learning more about  myself and “the other.” In the process, I will continue to wonder which man is best suited to box and which two would be the best coaches?

Cameron Carr, a 2011 graduate of The Ethical Culture Fieldston School, received his Bachelor of Arts from Pitzer with a double major in Media Studies and Visual Arts.

The Giant Deception of a First Impression

by Brandon Scotland

brandon2I sat there silently, swinging my legs, watching them bounce back and forth off of the couch. I was only 5 and my lack of words and eye contact produced an eerie awkwardness as I met my first babysitter. I shocked my dad with a question: “Daddy, is she a monster?”

A monster is defined as a creature that is typically large, ugly, and frightening. A five-year old doesn’t need a dictionary to know that meaning. But what must one do to be seen as a monster? Spur genocide? Ruin a life or two, perhaps?

My Mrs. Bessie did none of that. She was around 70 years old that day when I first met her. She was about 5’4″, caramel complexion, long black hair, but had only one finger on her right hand—the middle finger.

I regret those first impressions and the first moments of embarrassment when she picked up from my private school. It took only a week for her to become my best friend. She was also a loyal advocate, and a large foundation of my morality. I recall being upset one day because I knew I couldn’t finish reading a science book I enjoyed by its due date; Mrs. Bessie used the one finger she had on her right hand and re-wrote the book with pictures while I was gone that afternoon.

After four years of steady babysitting, she developed a minor, but persistent cough. My mother suggested that she see a doctor but she always politely declined with the same rationale. “If I go to the doctor, who is going to take care of Brandon?” Ironically, I would soon feel like the monster when my mother shared the news. 
“Brandon, I want you to know that Mrs. Bessie has lung cancer and she may be fine, but she might not be as well.“

I watched my life disintegrate in front of my eyes. Dumbfounded, I sat there and reminisced on past memories and the peculiar cough she wouldn’t get checked out specifically because of me. I prayed for her to be healthy again. For the first time in my privileged world of caring people, tragedy ensued and I experienced my first taste of the real world. She was hospitalized and wouldn’t eat any food at all unless I fed it to her. I came to the hospital to feed her everyday. It was hard seeing her weak while living by her motto, “don’t worry, be happy.”

My final moments with her were powerful and indomitable. I felt all the strength of her character flowing through me as I was called up to the podium to deliver my words at her funeral. At 10 years old, I read my poem titled “don’t worry, be happy” to a crowd of hundreds at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

She died nine years ago yet her influence is still alive. Her tenacity was my model when I started a clothing line two years ago. Her legacy accompanied me throughout the years I attended a summer enrichment program held by the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth Program. In the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school, I went to Lancaster, PA to take an accelerated Physics class through the program. In three weeks, we explored and completed the syllabus covered in the typical high school A.P. Physics class.

As my father drove close to the school on the first day of the program, I wondered if we were traveling in the right direction because of the barren surroundings. Yet I approached Lancaster like I approach all new experiences: with an open mind and the intent of meeting new people and learning something new. I owe that perspective to the influence of Mrs. Bessie.

As we arrived and began unpacking, I was stunned by the looks of some students. Had they ever seen anyone with dreadlocks before? Some had seen few African-Americans in their lifetime; others just marveled at the sneakers I was wearing. Either way, I was judged. It was awkward at first. But I maintained an open mind and would meet some of my closest friends to date. Many of these new friends shared their shock that I was such a nice and fun guy who did not view them as lame or limited because they were white with rural backgrounds.

Her legacy accompanied me to high school with one of my toughest decisions ever: to leave a private school in 11th grade for a public school. As the recession hit in 2008, my family decided the public school experience was a better option.  I remember walking into school on the first day, and being amazed at the diversity in the hallways. Initially hesitant to participate through pure shyness, I soon became more engaged than ever. I met people of all shapes, sizes, religions, and ethnicities and I wanted to meet them all; I even wanted to meet those labeled weird or odd simply because I saw their differences as distinctions and not as flaws. Leaving an overly nurturing environment was a challenge, but lessons from Mrs. Bessie gave me the ability to view the new world of public school with optimism. I expect to face many more transitions in life and, without a doubt, Mrs. Bessie will be with me through them all.

Brandon Scotland graduates from Penn State University tomorrow.

Ask ‘Why Cornell,’ and My Answer Starts With an iPod

by Calvin Ng

calvinI start the day with country, say “Won’t Back Down.” Then I move onto rock, “Charlie Brown.” Yet, I can’t finish my 45 minute commute to school without hip hop. “The Other Side” is often the lift I need for the day. My versatility does not end with my iPod–it trickles into my academic life from history to math. I am drawn to Cornell’s College of Arts and Science for the opportunity to explore my diverse academic interests.

When I think of math and history, I can’t escape an engagement of Greek and Roman culture. The two civilizations had similar gods, similar governments, and similar architecture that reflects the evolution of mathematics in many ways. Yet, the two are so different, and I questioned how the Romans could have become tyrannical and made so many poor decisions. It was as if they had not learned from the Greeks at all.

At Cornell, I picture myself sitting in classes such as Cultures of the Middle Ages: Medieval Frontiers Societies or The United States in the 1960s and 1970s. Since the scope of these courses is small, relative to World History or U.S. History, I’ll be able to learn more of the smaller details within the periods. The in-depth background information, which Professors Oren Falk and Kohler-Hausmann will provide, will change the way I think about these eras.

At Stuyvesant, I have taken the most advanced math courses available. Each semester, as I took a new course, I wondered how topics such as integrals or derivatives could apply to real-life situations. I knew that all small businesses used basic math for buying, selling, and pricing products or services; most jobs need some type of math. My father always mentioned how finance and math were heavily linked, especially statistics and calculus. The fact that there are numerous ways to find the same solution to a problem fascinates me. I wondered how companies choose methods to achieve their goals. Does everyone in a company approach their equations in the same way, or is there room for creativity at that high level?

My unyielding interest in mathematics paired with my newfound interest for history, taking me through different avenues of cultures, lifestyles and religions, but they seemed so unrelated. During senior year, I realized that economics was the perfect discipline to combine both my interests of history and mathematics. On the first day of Macroeconomics, my teacher gave a lecture comparing and contrasting the Great Depression and the Great Recession of 2008. As she talked more about the economic circumstances and actions taken during the Depression, I began to think about what economists in 2008 had suggested to do about the recession. How much did economists learn from the Depression and how did they apply it? That first day of economics showed me an application of history in a modern day scenario. As the course progressed, my teacher warned the class of complicated calculations, but that didn’t matter to me. I had found an application of mathematics that would tie into my interest in history.

Cornell’s College of Arts and Science will be the perfect environment for me to further my studies in economics. Being personally affected by the Great Recession, I want to help companies and banks make decisions that are less likely to negatively impact the country. Cornell’s extensive range of economics courses can provide me with what I need to gain a broader understanding of the discipline, with courses that are specified to tackle different economic fields as they relate to various historical contexts. Cornell will provide me with numerous challenges to further my studies in courses like Topics in 20th Century Economics History, International Finance, and Macroeconomics. I am drawn to Cornell for the prime opportunities it offers to further my exploration of math, economics, history, and other disciplines.

Calvin Ng, a graduate of Stuyvesant High School, is a freshman at Cornell University.

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.