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A Brother to All

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.

Saving the Tempo

Saving the Tempo

by Kyndall Ashe

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 11.54.29 PM

“We’re leaving.”

“Leaving?”

“Leaving.”

His voice struck me like a bullet through a wall of glass, shattering the peace I felt in the beginning of my junior year.  George was the musical arranger and de-facto leader of Tempo Tantrum, the student-led a cappella group to which we both belonged.  Now he was taking two of our strongest members away to start another group. These three were the “glue” of the group. Without them, everyone expected Tempo to collapse. But I would not let this happen on my watch.

I was determined to save Tempo, fighting what seemed to be the inevitable end of our group. My attitude in this situation mirrored my determination to take the most demanding courses available at my school in lieu of taking the easy route through high school. My love for math and Latin kept me on the advanced academic track in school. Now my passion for music drove me to take a leadership role in keeping Tempo alive.

I trace this passion to moment in fifth grade when I nervously stepped up to the microphone at my school’s weekly Chapel service to sing the Star Spangled Banner. The rush I felt mid-verse was a incomparable feeling. In that magical moment, I felt confident yet serene, powerful and at peace, and I knew music would mean the world to me forever.

However, I needed more than my passion for music to save my group, so I drew on my leadership skills and thought outside of the box. The group would be losing members, so I decided to consider the potential of freshmen–a group of students traditionally excluded from Sidwell’s a cappella groups– in the audition process, which I organized. Initially no one thought Tempo could compete in the world of a cappella at Sidwell with a large number freshmen members. However these words of discouragement sounded shockingly familiar. When I was new to the school as a 9th grader, I decided to run for Student Government representative despite being told that my class–comprised of mostly returning students–had a deeply rooted dynamic that would prove to be difficult to decipher in one year. I defied the advice, delivering a speech before all of my new classmates about the power a fresh voice and a new perspective could have when it came to representing the class. Winning that election was an extremely eye-opening moment.

This experience showed me that even unseasoned freshmen could be assets to keeping Tempo alive. When our three most important members left, we also lost several of our remaining junior members. The most talented upperclassmen were already taken by other groups, and we didn’t have an arranger. So I quickly organized auditions open to freshmen, discovering great untapped talent, and took on the role of arranger.

I arranged the music for our first concert, but the performance was not indicative of  the potential I saw in our group. As the year continued the group improved, and though we struggled at times to keep the rowdy freshmen focused at rehearsals, it was certainly a learning experience for my co-head and me, and in the end our group was able to survive.

Now, in my senior year, not only does Tempo survive, but it also thrives. For our first concert of the year I discovered an arrangement by Pentatonix, a group whose sound Tempo has always desired to model. Using an already-made arrangement made it so that I was able to teach my fellow members their parts in a much more timely manner, and I was able to devote more of my time to directing. Our performances are now revered for recreating the sounds of popular music with just the voices of twelve high schoolers. After our Winter concert this year, I was actually approached by George with words of praise. I even detected a hint of regret in his voice.

Tempo is now considered one of the top performing groups in our school and region. Tempo’s survival and success came from the same tenacity and self-determination that have defined me throughout my school career. I drew on my identity as a leader unafraid of a challenge, and followed my passion to truly make a difference in my school community. I certainly plan to do it again!

 

Kyndall Ashe, a freshman at Amherst is a graduate of the Sidwell Friends School.

 

Supplemental Essays: Amherst and Duke

Supplemental Essays: Amherst and Duke
Write for the Future essayists Anton Kliot (left) and Calvin Thompson (right)

Write for the Future essayists Anton Kliot (left) and Calvin Thompson (right)

Amherst Supplemental Essays

By Anton Kliot

Amherst gave applicants the opportunity to respond to a quotation in an essay of not more than 300 words. The instructions stated, “It is not necessary to research, read, or refer to the texts from which these quotations are taken; we are looking for original, personal responses to these short excerpts. Remember that your essay should be personal in nature and not simply an argumentative essay.”

Anton chose the following quote: “Rigorous reasoning is crucial in mathematics, and insight plays an important secondary role these days. In the natural sciences, I would say that the order of these two virtues is reversed. Rigor is, of course, very important. But the most important value is insight—insight into the workings of the world. It may be because there is another guarantor of correctness in the sciences, namely, the empirical evidence from observation and experiments.”

Kannan Jagannathan, Professor of Physics, Amherst College

Sitting in the shade of a tree in Central Park with two close friends, I absentmindedly pick up a fallen leaf and begin crumpling it in my hands. With that, a seed begins to form in my mind. As I look at the tree overhead, I think of the immense amount of solar energy necessary to its growth—yet this leaf could disintegrate into debris with little energy input.

I look up at a crumbling, pre-war building a hundred meters away. Hours, days, months, even, of manual labor and tons of fossil fuels had gone into its construction; yet it would take only time and the persuasion of the elements to break down into dust. This, I realize, is free energy in action. To build things, natural or man-made, to move from chaos towards structure, requires energy. However, it is the tendency of the world–the universe even—to regress towards disorder.

When my professor initially taught the concept of free energy, I was perplexed. I vaguely understood that entropy stood for chaos, and enthalpy for energy, but beyond that I was stumped. What were these values? And why did they determine the spontaneity of reactions? I learned the equations provided, and how to tackle basic problems, but without grasping entropy’s role in the reactions of the world around me I found true understanding of the concept elusive.

The power of insight lives in its ability to grow outside of the normative places where we expect to foster revelations, such as classes and labs. Ultimately, it was that day in the park, as much as any classroom experience, that  bolstered my understanding. My passion for chemistry comes not from solving equations, but from the insight into the workings of the world I have gained, both in and out of the lab.

Duke Supplemental Essays

By Calvin Thompson

1.) Please discuss why you consider Duke a good match for you. Is there something in particular at Duke that attracts you? (Please limit your response to no more than 150 words.)

I love many things, but learning and sports top the list. The moment I stepped onto Duke’s campus, I leaned over to my mother, gasping, and said, “Whoa,” even before beginning my tour. I was stunned to immediately see signs of my loves everywhere. My dreams of tenting in K-Ville for the annual Duke-UNC game almost made my mouth water. As for learning, the cross-disciplinary study options that Duke offers ignite my passions. I have always loved business, and as I have aged, I discovered a deep interest in education. At Duke, I saw the opportunity to combine these two interests in many ways. I would love to initiate lunches with Professor Elizabeth Garcia, whose work focuses on educational motivation, and Mark T. Brown, Director of the Management Communications Center. Exploring commonalities in business and educational spheres would be uplifting, and will engage all of my most profound interests.

2.) Please discuss one of your extracurricular activities that has required a particularly significant time commitment or that has played a meaningful role in your personal development. (Please limit your response to no more than 150 words.)

I struggled academically in middle school. So, in my sophomore year of high school, I started a tutoring program for 6-8th grade African-American and Latino students, who, like me at their age, were experiencing difficulties in school. I noticed at the high school level, I was among a tiny number of students of color taking honors and advanced classes. However, this problem  clearly started earlier. To solve it, I thought about what I wished I had in middle school: privacy and attention. I provided this so my students could receive help without feeling like they were “idiots” compared to their peers. Since beginning the program, I have tutored the same kids for 3 years. All my students have improved their grades and are on track for honors level classes in high school. Watching them work hard and succeed has been the most gratifying experience of my life thus far.

Wrestling with Collaboration and Individualism

Wrestling with Collaboration and Individualism

By Anton Kliot

UntitledI struggle against a murder of crows flying around in my belly. They grow with the calm confidence of my opponent, Alex. I can’t stop staring at him. He jumps around cooly, warming up. His smooth movements resemble the slow, calculated grace of an apex predator stalking his prey.

Well, I can jump too. I nervously hop and throw on a tough face, subconsciously (or maybe not) imitating him. However, I lack that little secret he seems to hold which bolsters his confidence. Welcome to my first high school wrestling match.

Butterflies are not new to me. I’ve played guitar in a band for years, but any stage fright I feel dissipates with a joke from my bandmates who are also close friends. When I glanced at my wrestling teammates on the bench, no one smiled. I could not rely on them to outline the match and let me fill in the gaps, as my bandmates could do with a song; the other wrestlers had their own opponents to face.

On the mat, Alex took charge; I reacted and was not aggressive enough. Alex wrote that song, and I lost that match. But that loss ignited a spark, pushing me to take command of my own life.

For years, community had been ingrained in my intellect; from the progressive schools I attended to the band I was a member of, collaboration had been key. I played in a five-member band with three guitarists. I wasn’t Alden, our lead guitarist who played like a young Chuck Berry, with psychedelic melodies and wicked solos. Nor was I Jack, overlaying chords with his golden voice. With a song’s outline in place, I added my sound. Years of playing this way taught me to value silences; to add harmonies which augmented our sound, creating a whole greater than its parts, rather than just a din. I did not have to take charge or create an entirely new song; I just had to fill the space left for me.

When thrown onto a wrestling mat, I realized my collaborative skills would not save me; I had to face challenges individually. Yet I found this individualistic focus did not have to clash with my collaborative habits. Instead, I transformed my life by integrating these collaborative skills with the confidence and individuality wrestling demanded.

I pursued other interests, from film and military history to running and vaulting without being defined by any one. I worked hard, becoming a straight A student, but no one would call me a nerd. A three-sport athlete, I could not be labeled a jock. I refused to let anyone else define me as Alex had that day.

I became more proactive with my teachers. Not only did my grades improve but my interests deepened. In my junior year history class, I delved into the subject as my professor, also an advisor and a friend, helped me target my studies towards my areas of interest. Assigned China for a year-long nation project, my meetings with my teacher helped focus my study on censorship of film in China. The sophistication of these censors shattered my preconceptions of this oppressive system, with my research taking me beyond the Western media’s simplistic portrayal.

By junior year, I had lost and won many matches, and gradually the crippling nerves had disappeared. Instead of sitting alone before matches, I was free to laugh and joke with teammates, mimicking my mood before a show. In last year’s tournament, I cooly began warming up, moving and stretching in ways that have become second nature for me. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed someone staring at me. I realized it was my next opponent. I recognized his fearful gaze as the one I had once directed at Alex. With this realization I smiled, and appreciated the changes that loss two years ago had produced.

Anton Kliot, a 2014 graduate of the Dalton School, will be a freshman at Amherst in the Fall.