• Topic

  • School

My Tunes for Music and Life

My Tunes for Music and Life

by Morgan Thompson

Morgan ThompsonSomeone always blasts KE$HA or Bruno Mars – something excessively mainstream – in the student lounge. I die a little bit inside whenever I’m forced to hear the tuneless, overplayed productions my peers consider good music. Having idiosyncratically studied the cello since I was two-and-a-half, I stand alone against the onslaught of the same four chords and auto-tuned artists, asking for an inkling of talent (honestly, I’d be happy with Coldplay); alas, tyranny of the majority swallows my protests. However, one fated day, I was typing a French paper and there were only four people in the lounge. It was the moment I’d been waiting for: I smashed the system by playing some of my music for a change. Something passionate and a little stormy, but slightly humorous with a delicate melody. I searched “Shostakovitch 5th Symphony Scherzo,” on YouTube and pressed “Play.” For the next fifty minutes, we listened to nothing but Early Contemporary and French Romantic music. No one complained. In fact, my friend Ashley asked me the name of a Ravel piece she thought was “PRETTY!”

I revel in those moments when I interrupt the mundane with the spirit of nonconformity. I love the individual, so I’m not likely to jump on a band wagon simply because the featured band is the Jonas Brothers. I was born to be different. My mother, forty-three at the time of my birth, suffered several miscarriages and considered me a miracle. She almost named me Phoenix, saying I rose from the ashes of her previous losses. Our family’s precept was simple: form opinions and preferences through personal experience and experimentation. Whenever I asked about strange food my parents were eating, they would answer only by pointing their forks at me: “Try it.”

Their teachings backfired when I first heard the tooth fairy might not exist. My parents maintained that she did. So, to find out for myself, I put my tooth under my pillow without telling my parents I’d lost it. The next morning: no money, tooth still there. Thus, I refuted the existence of the tooth fairy. Sorry if I’ve slapped your inner child in the face.

My parents, who grew up when youth activism was at its peak, always reminded me of my obligation as an African-American and a woman to protect my right to be taken seriously; i.e., “represent.” Many of my peers of a different race with younger parents lack the pressure of this obligation. This is why, one day in English, I was the first to argue, “I find Paul Scofield’s reserved portrayal of King Lear more moving than Trevor Peacock’s excessively emotional interpretation,” when Ms. Brizendine and the rest of the class said the opposite.

Coming of age in the Sixties, my parents rebelled musically by listening to rock and roll. Now, inversely, I am the musical renegade by loving anything written before my parents met. Rather than rejecting the music of previous generations for the music of mine, I prefer Kabalevsky to Kanye.

My outspokenness faced its greatest test in 2010, when my dad suffered a brain injury during surgery. He was in rehab recuperating for several months. I’d always been loyal to my dad when he and my mom argued because he was more tolerant of my mistakes. Yet Dad became more and more despondent in the hospital and he wanted to come home. It pained Mom to see him suffering, but she couldn’t bring him home because he was so far from functioning independently. One awful day, Dad accused mom of wanting to keep him away, and quoted her wedding vows. To hear such ingratitude from my dad made him almost unrecognizable to me and I couldn’t bring myself to look at my mom’s reaction. Instead, I defended her. “Dad, of course she wants you home; we both do. She’s been checking the doctors’ work, she’s been dealing with lawyers to pay for your care, she’s been talking to your employer to keep your job and Grandma’s sick. All of this so that you can come home.”

It was a first. I’d never spoken a critical or reproachful word to my father, who spent a total of eight months in hospital and rehab away from home. It hurt me to see him in pain. After all, I owe my persistent independence to his influence. For years, I played my instrument when others were quitting largely to be an individual like my dad. Gradually, I grew to love the cello and the music. Self-improvement was the product of my rebellion. Now, I aspire to boldly go where nobody I know has gone and to bring everyone with me the second time around. My dad told me recently that he never liked classical music until I started playing it. It may be a parental reflex to suddenly like whatever your child does, but I was glad to have introduced another person to something I love. When I graduate, I hope to have had some impact on every activity I’ve done and every person I’ve met. I hope to leave Shostakovitch playing in every lounge.

Morgan Thompson, a 2012 graduate of The Spence School in New York. graduated from Columbia University earlier this month.

[Untitled]

by Morgan Thompson

Someone always blasts KE$HA or Bruno Mars – something excessively mainstream – in the student lounge.  I die a little bit inside whenever I’m forced to hear the tuneless, overplayed productions my peers consider good music. Having idiosyncratically studied the cello since I was two-and-a-half, I stand alone against the onslaught of the same four chords and auto-tuned artists, asking for an inkling of talent (honestly, I’d be happy with Coldplay); alas, tyranny of the majority swallows my protests. However, one fated day, I was typing a French paper and there were only four people in the lounge. It was the moment I’d been waiting for: I smashed the system by playing some of my music for a change. Something passionate and a little stormy, but slightly humorous with a delicate melody. I searched “Shostakovitch 5th Symphony Scherzo,” on YouTube and pressed “Play.” For the  next fifty minutes, we listened to nothing but Early Contemporary and French Romantic music. No one complained. In fact, my friend Ashley asked me the name of a Ravel piece she thought was “PRETTY!”

I revel in those  moments when I interrupt the mundane with the spirit of nonconformity. I love the individual, so I’m not likely to jump on a band wagon simply because the featured band is the Jonas Brothers. I was born to be different. My mother, forty-three at the time of my birth, suffered several miscarriages and considered me a miracle. She almost named me Phoenix, saying I rose from the ashes of her previous losses. Our family’s precept was simple: form opinions and preferences through personal experience and experimentation. Whenever I asked about strange food my parents were eating, they would answer only by pointing their forks at me: “Try it.”

Their teachings backfired when I first heard the tooth fairy might not exist.  My parents maintained that she did. So, to find out for myself, I put my tooth under my pillow without telling my parents I’d lost it. The next morning: no money, tooth still there. Thus, I refuted the existence of the tooth fairy. Sorry if I’ve slapped your inner child in the face.

My parents, who grew up when youth activism was at its peak, always reminded me of my obligation as an African-American and a woman to protect my right to be taken seriously; i.e., “represent.” Many of my peers of a different race with younger parents lack the pressure of this obligation. This is why, one day in English, I was the first to argue,  “I find Paul Scofield’s reserved portrayal of King Lear more moving than Trevor Peacock’s excessively emotional interpretation,” when Ms. Brizendine and the rest of the class said the opposite.

Coming  of age in the Sixties, my parents rebelled musically by listening to rock and roll. Now,   inversely, I  am the musical renegade by loving anything written before my parents met. Rather than rejecting the music of previous generations for the music of mine, I prefer Kabalevsky to Kanye.

My outspokenness faced its greatest test in 2010, when my dad suffered a brain injury during surgery. He was in rehab recuperating for several  months. I’d always been loyal to my dad when he and my mom argued  because he was more tolerant of my mistakes.  Yet Dad became more and more despondent in the hospital and he wanted to come home. It pained Mom to see him suffering, but she couldn’t bring him home because he was so far from functioning independently. One awful day, Dad accused mom of wanting to keep him away,  and quoted her wedding vows.  To hear such ingratitude from my dad made him almost unrecognizable to me  and I couldn’t bring myself to look at my mom’s reaction. Instead, I defended her.  “Dad, of course she wants you home; we both do. She’s been checking the doctors’ work, she’s been dealing with lawyers to pay for your care, she’s been talking to your employer to keep your job and Grandma’s sick. All of this so that you can come home.”

It was a first. I’d never spoken a critical or reproachful word to my father, who spent a total of eight months in hospital and rehab away from home. It hurt me to see him in pain. After all, I owe my persistent independence to his influence. For years, I played my instrument when others were quitting largely to be an individual like my dad. Gradually, I grew to love the cello and the music. Self-improvement was the product of my rebellion.  Now, I aspire  to boldly go where nobody I know has gone and to bring everyone with me the second time around. My dad told me recently that he never liked classical music until I started playing it. It may be a parental reflex to suddenly like whatever your child does, but I was glad to have introduced another person to something I love. When I graduate, I hope to have had some impact on every activity I’ve done and every person I’ve met. I hope to leave Shostakovitch playing in every lounge.

Morgan Thompson is a freshman at Columbia University and a 2012 graduate of The Spence School in New York.

Why Columbia & Pitzer’s Values

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.

An Entrepreneur’s Hunger for Understanding

An Entrepreneur’s Hunger for Understanding

by Francesca Polycarpe

2014-04-25-file0002038379783The radiant sun shone on my face as I moved through a swarm of people at a street fair. I squinted in a desperate attempt to see the colorfully dressed contortionist who stood before me. At five, my height and the overbearing sun made it difficult for me to see him folding into a small box. Yet, I continued to look, pushing my head through the crowd to see. Neither the overwhelming brightness nor the tall people could stop me.
My drive to comprehend the world produces passions that surprise others since the diversity of my interests does not fit neatly in the box of a unified resume. Three summers ago, I told my friend Christie that I was taking screen-printing classes and working with the treasury office at Hebron, the Haitian church my father attends. Stunned, she replied, “Well that’s weird; what an unexpected combination.”
Last summer, I discovered why such a combination was not “weird” for me when taking an entrepreneurship class at Summer@Brown. It clicked when Professor Ramos said innate entrepreneurs constantly “strive to understand the world around and beyond them with great depth.” I understood why I squinted to see the contortionist and why my combination of interests is so diverse. In order to create and invent, entrepreneurs must be consummate students of the world. I aspire to be an entrepreneur and my path to that goal turns me into a scientist, a writer, a photographer, a mathematician–the list could go on.
As a young child, I searched for understanding through my world of make believe enterprises. My beloved American Girl Doll, Tiffany, was not only there for me to dress. Since I never had the chance to take her to the spa at the American Girl Place, I started a spa for both people and dolls, and she was a VIP patron. I also employed Tiffany at my card shop. After receiving intricately crafted birthday cards every year, I decided to make cards of my own that I sold to family and friends, both real and imaginary. I strove to make my ventures as realistic as possible, such as the Silver Cradle Restaurant. I had seen others around me cook, and therefore I learned to prepare the toast for my restaurant with perfection. I wished to learn business techniques as well. At seven, I drafted my own version of the spreadsheets, charts, budgets, and graphs customized for each of my businesses.
When I outgrew the world of make believe, I became a sponge for a diversity of information– everything from medieval bookbinding to conducting research with a professor of epidemiology to learning about Filipino culture from a newfound friend. My unending drive for understanding has turned biology and chemistry into strong passions. During my first successful titration in chemistry class, I performed a series of precise measurements and eagerly waited for my pink sample of nitric acid to turn clear. It happened in an instant, but when it did, I felt myself smiling. I finally saw something from a book actively occur in front of my eyes. My desire to witness science in the real world has led to internship opportunities where I spend time learning about war veterans, mental health care, and the impact of psychoactive drugs on human research patients.
In my sophomore year I discovered photography, as I was amazed at what I can learn about a person through movements, facial expressions, and stances in a picture. In one photo of my sister and her two friends walking, all three have their right foot forward and left arm to the side. This pattern creates rhythm within the photograph. In another photo taken at Occupy Wall Street, a man leads a rally. He stands with his feet firmly planted on the ground, arms completely spread, and mouth wide as he yells. His movement is dynamic, yet for the moment it lives in the still of a picture.
Somehow, I expect the world of photography to find itself in an entrepreneurial venture of mine one day. Yet who knows what I will ultimately create: A bite size food franchise? A social entrepreneurship venture? I do not have to decide at this moment. For now, I will just keep learning about the world.

Francesca Polycarpe, a 2013 graduate of The Dalton School, is a freshman at Columbia University.

Home on Stage

By Schuyler Van Amson

Theatre rescued me from my own insecurities which developed after one traumatic moment, one week before starting second grade. My family was traveling to Connecticut for a short vacation. I sprinted down the staircase of my apartment and made a beeline towards the car when something struck me. Stunned, I looked from side to side, not comprehending that the yellow cab that hit me was still speeding down the street. Then I looked down and saw my foot hanging limply from my leg. Suddenly, the shock left my body and I began to feel all the pain, like a million knives stabbing my ankle. A large group of people began to gather around me, as I cried out in confusion. When the ambulance arrived, I could only think of the searing pain in my leg.

In the back of the ambulance I felt every bump and turn we made, until I blacked out. I awoke to white walls and doctors, and a massive cast swallowing my entire leg. The doctors told me I would be confined to a wheelchair for up to six months. As the physical pain subsided, I did not have any idea of the emotional impact of this accident on my life.

My limited friendship circle grew even smaller. Instead of my trekking down the stairs to the cafeteria every lunch period, a security guard would bring me food. I ate alone in the classroom. My inability to walk confined me to that chair for the better part of a year. When I got out of the chair, I weighed twice as much. I was in no condition to play sports. My isolation made me insecure, which explained why I was so scared to go to summer camp for the first time at the end of third grade.

I am glad I lost the battle with my parents, who refused to grant my wish to avoid camp. I found my passion for theatre at Camp Waziyatah. The play was Grease: I was cast as Sonny. I was the only non-teenager to get a lead role in the play–something that had never happened at the camp. It did not stop there. For the next seven years,  I  played the lead in the camp plays; my characters ranged from Tony in West Side Story to Simba in The Lion King. Throughout those seven years, I did not just grow as a performer, but as a person. Acting is not only my safe haven, but also the catalyst that helped eliminate my self-doubt. I not only accepted myself, but began to appreciate who I am. I finally welcomed the music that always played in my head and the rhythm that my feet could never shake.

Now I see the world as my stage, literally–even beyond my roles as Lysander or The King of Hearts. Two years ago, a fellow thespian and I decided to dress up as characters once a month. We have been everything from pirates to farmers to hipsters to circus freaks. Our exercise comes with the realization that life is a performance and one does not have to leave the energy and vibrancy of life on stage. Acting is more than an art form: it is the way I live. I live to act. I act to live.

Schuyler Van Amson, a 2013 graduate of the Trevor Day School, is a freshman at Columbia University.

 

Coming of Age with a Duality

by Victoria Van Amson

I was truly a rarity at my first debate tournament. As a sophomore, I was one of the youngest competing. I was also the lone African American and contended against all white males. The prep room was cold and concrete, from the walls to students being addressed by their assigned numbers. I sat alone at my table but took note of students who blatantly stared in my direction, presumably because I was the only female in the room. Who knows? Who cares? I was prepared to compete because of the conditioning from two cultures—one of which, Jack and Jill, was probably unknown to my competitors.

Since kindergarten, I have been a student at Nightingale Bamford, an Upper East Side all girls school. Since I was three-years-old, I have been a member of Jack and Jill, an organization of African American families. Both the cultures of Nightingale and Jack and Jill shaped my character. They gave me the confidence to lead. At Jack and Jill meetings, I debated black males about misogyny in hip-hop. At Nightingale, I defended diversity programs at the school in a controversial article in the school paper blasting my classmates’ refusal to welcome a speaker promoting racial tolerance. They thought they were more than tolerant already. Both Jack and Jill and Nightingale created many growing pains that strengthened me. So why would I would become a damsel in distress at a debate tournament? I see my ascension in debate as only natural. I became captain of the debate team in my junior year.

Those two corners of my life—Jack and Jill and Nightingale—have a lot in common. Adults—largely mothers–drive the engines of both and create separate villages to provide the best educational and cultural exposure for their children. Both comprise a bit of elitism, welcome a lot of intellectual curiosity, and shape my moral compass through passionate commitments to community service. Yet they are separated by the social construct of race.  One corner is barely integrated racially as I am one of three African Americans in my grade. The other one is fully segregated.

I remember when it hit me that Jack and Jill was an African American organization. I was seven years old when I entered a room of people in which I was not the minority. Lost in a sea of dark features, I was more than just the majority; everyone was African American. It was overwhelmingly beautiful but frightening at the same time. I wanted to leave. My mother refused to take me home. This is my first memory of Jack and Jill.

For years, Jack and Jill produced a classic mother-daughter battle. I objected to attending the Jack and Jill events my mother so loved. In middle school I asked her if it was racist for a national organization to exclusively invite African American families to join. I was outraged when my best friend, who is white, came with me to a basketball game sponsored by Jack and Jill. Many other teenagers and parents looked at me as if I didn’t belong because there was a Caucasian with me. My friend felt uncomfortable as people stared and I was ashamed.

Yet ironically, Jack and Jill provided the roots of my engaging experience at Nightingale. So often, our society looks at being black as a disadvantage. But my involvement in Jack and Jill shows the strength that comes from the black experience that can ultimately sharpen performance. For example, when I was a freshman, I ran against three seniors to lead Nightingale’s Social Events Board. At the time, a first term senator strove to shatter over 200 years of American history by becoming President of the United States.  So why couldn’t a first semester freshmen make some difference as a leader at Nightingale.

I won the election and my victory is largely rooted in the lessons of a Jack and Jill meeting. The Friday before I was to deliver a campaign speech for the position, my mother coerced me into attending a strange gathering of teenagers at her friends’ brownstone—a Jack and Jill teen meeting. I remember my anger as she picked me up after school and I had to miss my dance practice. When we arrived at the woman’s house, there were twelve other African American boys and girls seated in a circle. A friend of mine in the group nominated me as the event coordinator. On the spot, I spoke extemporaneously on why I thought I was qualified for the position. I won. More importantly, after the vote, we went around the room and shared critiques of each other’s speeches. I was instructed to articulate my ideas more clearly and to make more eye contact. This advice stayed with me the following week when I delivered the speech for the social events board at school. Teachers noted I was the first freshman in memory to ever beat that many seniors. Without the exposure to Jack and Jill, I may have lost that election.

Both Jack and Jill and Nightingale challenge me in everyday life. That does not leave me bitter. I have grown to appreciate what I learn and gain from each environment and how that knowledge compliments my participation in the two worlds. Both communities give me the tools to explore my identity in ways that benefit the search for the elimination of walls that separate us all. My dual identity grows from these separate communities that have allowed me to witness the ways we are all more alike than we think. This realization was the source of my strength to be comfortable and unafraid of standing out at my first debate tournament. I knew every student in the room shared the common goal of analyzing the same topics. The duality in my life has given me a perspective that can help others eliminate fears of difference. This emboldens my mission to bridge some of the divides that do not serve to embody the true values of American democracy and culture.

 

Victoria Van Amson is a sophomore at Columbia University. She is a 2011 graduate of The Nightingale Bamford School in New York, NY.