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Who says “Asians don’t play basketball”?

by Calvin Ng

UntitledI was the only Asian freshman to make the Junior Varsity basketball team. My teammates questioned how I even became a Running Rebel. “Asians don’t play basketball.” This didn’t anger me; it just compelled me to prove myself in the sport I love. A year later, I was named captain of the team.

In the final game of our season, I look at the freshmen on the bench. Unlike me, they don’t have anything to prove due to race. Yet, there is a yearning in their eyes. They want a chance to play instead of sitting helpless in the last game.

We fall behind in the second quarter. Our starters, frustrated, argue on the court, blaming each other for missed shots. Coach Barbin calls a timeout. He yells at me–the captain–and the other starters. I cut him off and ask him to play the freshmen. His face says it all–who in their right mind would put inexperienced freshmen in a game right now?

“The starters aren’t doing well at all and we’re down by ten. There’s nothing to lose,” I reason.

He agrees and benches all the starters minus me and picks the four freshmen. This is a completely new team I’m leading now. My teammates listen and move the ball around. Despite their inexperience, they cut, set screens, and shoot well. We win the game and I see the leader in myself come alive.

For years, everyone pointed to me as a good leader–everyone but me perhaps. At my middle school graduation, I expected to win an academic award but was shocked when my name was called to the stage for the leadership award. It wasn’t until I played on a basketball team that I really saw myself as a leader, which grew out of my tenacity and devotion to the sport. The summer before I became captain, I went to Crocheron Park in Bayside, Queens daily to practice and play. I had already overcome others’ doubts about me as a player due to my race, and would play full court pickup games with the older guys. Whenever I performed poorly, I pushed myself harder in drills to get better. After this regimen, I was able to shoot further, jump higher, and dribble better.

When I returned to school, my teammates saw the improvement, acknowledging me as an equal. Yet I struggled as leader of the team with the starters all season. They always played every game despite poor performances. Perhaps the true lesson in the moment I pushed for the freshman to play was directed at the starters. They never focused on the consequences of playing poorly, not seeing how their bickering affected the team. By contrast, the freshmen always looked for advice when they took bad shots. Rather than merely citing their mistakes, I offered ways they could improve as players. In doing so, I experienced what I loved most about leadership–helping anyone who wants to improve.

This central trait to my leadership–my desire to help people–continues to appear beyond basketball. I apply the lessons of leadership on the courts as a volunteer tutor at a community center. My first student, Vivian, a freshman who had difficulty in Algebra, was unsure in approaching problems, often mixing up operations when solving equations. I recognized this right away. I did not make her feel bad about her shortcomings. I looked for a solution to help her as I did with the freshmen players. I immediately created a guide sheet for her, writing all of the basic guidelines for solving equations.

In some ways I thank those who doubted my abilities as a player. They inspired me to push myself harder as a basketball player. In the process, I discovered the leader in me and realized the values of practice and tenacity. I know I will be able to apply these lessons to so many avenues in my future.

Calvin Ng, a recent Stuyvesant High School graduate, will be attending Cornell University this fall.

A New Life After Debilitation

A New Life After Debilitation

By Catharyn Watts-Battey

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“The pizzas are here!”
A stampede of hungry adolescents tumble over each other to get to their favorite food. I hobble behind them, aching under my armpits as the crutches dig into my sides and fall into small ditches in the grass. I don’t rush for the pizza, but simply make my way to a chair at the picnic table in my friend’s backyard. Since I am shorthanded from recent foot surgery, my mother brings two slices over. Immediately excited by the hot, cheesy pizzas, I folded the slice and had the hot marinara and heavy grease drip down my little hands, inspired me even more to dig in.
Parents left us to eat without them as we chatted about popular preteen topics: Spongebob, Nintendo, Jesse McCartney, among other things. Before I knew it, I was staring at an empty plate. I waved over to my mother to ask her for more. Her eyes dropped, heartbroken that she would have to say ‘no’ to her 11-year-old daughter. I was disappointed, but somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that this was best decision for me. I had to make the right choices to be healthy again.
Three months before this gathering, I underwent foot surgery and the recovery was the scariest time of my life. The preparation for surgery was four months with trips back and forth to the doctor for x-rays, check-ups and practice on crutches. Immediately after the surgery, I was woozy, lightheaded, and for months I couldn’t take care of myself. I had a growing need for independence. As a pre-teen wanting to be an adult, I didn’t enjoy my mother bathing, feeding and dressing me. Yet living through this recovery shaped my self sufficiency in ways I never imagined.

Luckily, by the time school started, I could move around a lot more on my own. Unfortunately, when I wasn’t studying mathematics, I was eating. I had always had problems with portion control. My parents’ sympathy for their temporarily incapacitated child made my condition worse. They made dinner plates overwhelmed by rice, vegetables and unreasonably large amounts of protein. I eventually decided I had to take charge for the benefit of my health, and I sought help from my doctor. After a stern conversation with my pediatrician, my parents and I made decided to make major changes to my diet.

I used my time sitting on the couch wisely by reading health magazines and researching healthy foods online. My life was on the verge of change. I scrolled through several magazines with my leg propped up as I viewed pictures of healthy women accompanied by stories of finding healthier lifestyles. As I read, I desired to make similar journeys. I wanted to be one of the women encouraging people to embrace healthy lifestyles.
I still remember important discoveries. I learned about unhealthy elements of my family’s diet, such as the abundance of white rice that was habitually eaten in my household, but not anymore–thanks to my research.
I also struggled with physical therapy and the fear that I might never be able to walk properly again. The gluttonous beast inside me wanted more food, but I fought against it by eating smaller portions. I fought hard at physical therapy and after about a year, I was walking without a limp or any pain.
This fight against my physical circumstances greatly influenced my choice of career. I built a passion that drove me to bioengineering, which combines so many of my passions– math, health sciences, and a genuine concern for the well-being of others. I spent my subsequent summers in programs introducing me to the world of bioengineering. Just as I have continued to make the right choices in living a healthy lifestyle, I know a career in bioengineering will offer the opportunity to influence others in immeasurable ways.

 

Catharyn Watts-Battey, a freshman at Cornell University, is a 2015 graduate of Newfield High School.

Ruling My World

by Robert Plummer

My back smacks the ground as all air escapes from my lungs. I lay on the floor gasping, beads of sweat rolling down my forehead. I have been clotheslined while going for a layup. I take a minute to admire the ceiling of the South Bronx basketball gym. I have played basketball in the suburbs for years, but playing in the intensely competitive city leagues is always a different, humbling experience. How long will it take for me to catch my breath this time? Strangely enough, all I can think about right now are the lyrics to one of my favorite songs “Viva La Vida,” in which the singer reminisces about the time he ruled the world. Clearly I do not rule the world here. My mind is overtaken by the complexity of the song until my teammate pulls me up, snapping me back to reality. This game marked my moment of truth. In those seconds on the ground, I realized that I would never feel complete until I acted on my passion for singing.

From early on, sports functioned as the main expression of my competitive nature. “The more the merrier” was my father’s philosophy when it came to participating in sports, and I agreed. I excelled in Varsity Football, Basketball, and Track & Field and was quickly labeled a “triathlete” by my family and peers. I had a natural propensity for sports, but my musical aspirations went unnoticed. Then came the school talent show in my sophomore year. The all-male acapella troupe performed “Hakuna Matata” from the Lion King. I realized I could no longer ignore my desire to sing and perform. The perseverance and strength I learned through multiple sports gave me the tough resolve to do something completely unexpected. One week later, I auditioned for acapella and made it! I was ecstatic, but my decision to join acapella faced a great deal of opposition.

When I told my father I made the troupe, he killed my excitement with a disapproving look. “Stop trying to act like your sisters,” he said. “You should be focused on your athletics.” My track and field coach was even more disturbed because I was supposed to be training for the upcoming National Championships in North Carolina. When I would leave practice early for acapella rehearsals, my coach would exclaim, “Is singing going to get you into college or is Track & Field?” At that point, my father and coach had yet to see the fruits of my labor. Despite these discouraging comments, I continued to trudge forward in pursuit of my goal—I was going to sing in that talent show, no matter what! Then everyone would be able to appreciate a side of my personality I had concealed my entire life.

Seven days before flying off to the National Track and Field Championship, I boldly approached the center of the high school stage with my acapella troupe. My orange and white basketball jersey glistened under the headlights. I stepped forward and seized control of both the microphone and the direction of my life, serenading the audience with my “Viva La Vida” solo. I was singing to my father, coaches, and all who had miscategorized me before. Performing onstage freed me from the constrictive box that held me captive for years. I was consumed by pure happiness when the audience roared with thunderous applause. I had finally achieved the perfect balance between my two talents. Nothing will ever diminish my love for sports but joining acapella provided me with the opportunity to illustrate the depth of my character and personality. Finally, with my two passions coexisting in perfect harmony, I felt like I truly did rule the world for the first time.

Robert Plummer, a 2013 graduate of Scarsdale High School, will be a freshman at Cornell University in the Fall.

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

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.

Faith & Science: Stages For My Imagination

Faith & Science: Stages For My Imagination

By Laura Telfer

UntitledI take a deep breath, close my eyes, and unlock my imagination. I allow my mind and body to become one, harmonize with my surroundings, and enable myself to find that place where I am perfectly content. Exhale. As I recollect, I am drawn to a scene from a movie. I try to concentrate on that image, but various sounds overwhelm my senses. A patch of blue dominates my vision. Suddenly, I am submerged in water. My eyes sting, and my imagination consumes my body. Silence. When I open my eyes, my senses are enlightened by the ocean’s clarity. I lift my head and am greeted by two familiar faces, Marlin the Clownfish and Crush the Turtle.

All things Finding Nemo are scattered about my bedroom––posters, stuffed animals and even a night light. Their presence causes the best scenes to replay in my mind when I meditate. I let my imagination explore and relive the lessons Marlin learned through his journey. Marlin’s experiences renewed his enthusiasm; he became a passionate, lively, and risk-taking child again. I no longer see him, but myself, learning the value of a creative engagement with life.

Imagination is the infrastructure of reality. When I teach at my church, I use my imagination to craft puppet shows for the children to keep them engaged with the material. I put a screen between the door and place a puppet in my dominant hand. I usually play the role of Fireball the Dragon, who often gets himself stuck in sticky situations. With the help of Ponder the Blue Monster, Fireball and the children learn the importance of friendship and Christian values. It makes me happy when I see them laughing and listening attentively during the show. My imagination allows me to connect with the kids on a more personal level, which helps me expand their horizons.

My creativity has also helped me throughout my science career. Last summer, I was selected to work with NASA engineers on eight extensive web-based assignments, which included designing a lunar colony, a Crew Transport Vehicle, and a space shuttle. At the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, I helped wire a rover that had an external structure of Legos and cardboard. I suggested adding the radiation shield of aluminum foil. Team Curiosity and I programmed the robot to respond to the inputs of a control pad, and we entered a challenge that required our robot to pick up Moon rocks and water samples under timed conditions.

When the competition began, our rover refused to cooperate and went out of bounds many times. Even after reprogramming it and replacing its arm, Curious George still could not pick up the rocks and bring them back to home base. Our failure was disheartening, but I didn’t let this experience discourage me from pursuing a STEM career.

I turned toward science when my mom was diagnosed with Lupus. Her symptoms did not become obvious until I was in middle school, and she began having difficulty climbing the stairs by herself. A year later, she started chemotherapy. Watching my mom battle with this has been extremely difficult, and I intend to use my knowledge of Lupus to treat others that are struggling. I will use my creativity to design advanced medical machinery that will save lives and help patients cope with pain.

Some days I wish I could go back in time to the childhood days with the adventure and curiosity that my unbounded mind translated into an undying love for Finding Nemo.  While my movie preferences have changed, my imagination is still here and still constitutes the environments where I feel most content. I build robots, play with puppets, and find inventive ways to convey my visions. Science labs and church are just two among many stages where I perform, and my imagination is still the foundation of all my shows.

Laura, a graduate from Jackson Liberty High School, is currently a freshman at Cornell.

The Choreography of My Dreams

By June Liu

juneAs I adjust my tutu backstage and stare down at my bare feet, the combination strikes me as odd. Doesn’t a performance of “La Esmeralda” always require ballet slippers? Can elements of ballet coexist with “Wild Dances,” a Ukrainian pop folk song––a far cry from Pugni? These unorthodox pairings are the result of a piece I choreographed in junior year that intersected ballet, jazz, and modern dance.

The creative risk-taking and the blending of disciplines exemplified in my dance mirror my versatile academic passions and how I hope to study them. I am drawn to the opportunity at Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences to design my own curriculum so I can immerse myself in economics, film studies, and classical studies.

My career goals will require this wide breadth of knowledge. I am interested in going into film distribution and starting my own production company. I plan on partnering my limitless creativity with my strong critical thinking and quantitative skills to help film companies finance inspirational projects. I believe Cornell’s Economics program will help cultivate my entrepreneurial spirit.

Behavioral Economics as a field and class intrigues me. While perusing the “Memorable Courses” webpage, I was fascinated by a blurb written about how the class taught the student to consider human decision-making in new ways. As a filmmaker, choreographer, and journalist, I am constantly looking at what influences people’s decisions in order to portray characters and their journeys vividly. I look forward to also exploring decision-making in a quantitative manner. The education Cornell would provide me is unique because of the different contexts through which I can study economics. Not only would I gain a broad understanding in CAS by taking foundational courses, but I would also be able to explore cross-listed courses between CAS and ILR such as Labor Market Analysis, where I would benefit from hearing the perspectives of ILR students.

I recognize that to become a film distributor it is important to learn about the medium itself. I was excited to find that film courses at CAS are interdisciplinary, overlapping with departments ranging from American Studies in the class “Americans Abroad,” to Computer Science in “Computing in the Arts.” These classes would enable me to study the influence and creation of films through multiple lenses, enhancing my creativity and adaptability.

Film is exciting to me because, like dance, it is a space where I can experiment comfortably and take creative and intellectual risks such as blending genres. This past summer, I incorporated a light tone into a dramatic film I wrote and directed that explores a teenage girl’s body image issues. My portrayal of the protagonist’s transition from a quirky, happy-go-lucky student to an insecure self-harmer ended up being much more powerful than a flat depiction of her would have been. This experience reinforced the significance of fusing together different styles, such as comedy and tragedy.

I am also passionate about classical languages and civilization because these areas of study help me make interesting connections to present literature and current events; they provide wisdom on how to approach the future. While reading the play A Streetcar Named Desire in English this fall, I was one of few students who understood that the street called Elysian Fields was an allusion to a section of the underworld in Greek mythology. My seven years studying Latin allowed me to gain a more stimulating reading of the play. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of CAS courses, I know I will be able to apply what I learn in my classics studies to film and economic theories. Pursuing the broad and personalized course load that Cornell encourages would serve me well as my passions and career goals require many different skill sets and types of knowledge.

June, a 2014 graduate of the Nightingale-Bamford School, is currently a freshman at Cornell.

Searching for My Identity and the Right House

Searching for My Identity and the Right House

WTFT logoMy ideal exterior is a plain and simple white wood frame, the perfect foundation. The grass is crisp, resembling another home for me—a soccer field. Yet the landscaping is lush, and, like my experiences, frames something modest into something original, versatile, and welcoming. I find my identity in houses I imagine and create. However, my ideal house is, like me, evolving.

I trace the desire for this house to Sims, a game that hooked me the minute I moved the mouse at age 10. Unlike most Sims addicts, I never created people. Controlling “sim”ulated, algorithmic lives cannot fulfill me. I was engrossed in bringing the house of a Sim to life and discovered my passion for architecture and design.

Intrigued by my Sims addiction, Dad challenged me: “Design your ideal house!” After countless houses in Sims communities and smudged, penciled floor plans in notebooks, I still search and create. I constantly try to improve and reinvent as I also grow as a person—from the only girl on my soccer team until I was 11 to the social middle-schooler doubling as that kid on the school bus, not socializing and instead staring aimlessly out the window. In that spot, I forsook gossip for views of authentic brownstones sandwiched between the new high-rises. The contrasting structures were so incongruous that a roller coaster track atop each one would displace Six Flags. Rainbows of graffiti animating stark brown townhouses echoed my pixelated Sims homes. What a perfect seat to begin my journey.

In my dream house, there is always a playroom and a quiet space, as I value teammates and the individual. There is a room highlighting the unexpected, since I create homes in unlikely situations. For example, I transplanted the concept of team, another home for me, from sports to chemistry. The teacher was also my coach, but this class was initially a soccer lover’s nightmare. My team for class projects sat at a table in the back of the long, narrow room: Nick, hiding answers on the calculator between cupped hands; Sam, faking ignorance, laughing when we discovered answers scribbled on corners of his papers; and Oliver, always texting under the table. As the team’s only girl, I am not surprised that my reminders to the boys of the competition to outdo other tables (and boost our grades) synchronized our pivotal gears. Finally I felt at home on this team.

One year later, the mouse became my hands and feet as I squished and stomped prickly hay into clay to make bricks. My classmates and I planned and built a bathroom in Peru. I dug channels for the plastic pipes leading to the water source, realizing that I had never considered plumbing or electricity in Sims houses. Now, I insured that the channel avoided both the native Cantutas in the garden and tattered electrical cords.

My view from the top of an Andean Mountain overlooking Peru inspires the sense of height in my dream house as a quasi-escape. My deck opens to the chaos of reality, recalling those mountains that fence in the pristine blue sky but fail to appease the crazed, barking stray dogs chasing my bike on the trail. I master riding without hands, which I fill with rocks swept up from the red clay trails to fend off wild dogs. Nobody sees the chaos within this mountain fence, but only the perfect peaks. The scene within is most visceral to me—the chaos of the dogs, the security of the rocks, and both the fear and calm I feel in the unknown.

The unknown path in Peru is as liberating as my view of the future. I am excited with the feeling of not knowing where I am going. The foreign is as comfortable as the familiar. Thus, I am satisfied not knowing my dream house since I will keep creating it as I continue to evolve.

The author of this essay is now a freshman at Cornell.

Challenging the Uneasy in Real Life and Fiction

Challenging the Uneasy in Real Life and Fiction

By June Liu

juneI stroll toward Phillip sitting alone on a sofa, and his red and puffy eyes startle me.

“He called me a faggot,” Phillip mutters.

“Who is ‘he’?”

“Ken.”

I first met Ken and Phillip the night before at a gathering in the Leopard Lounge of the Norwegian Gem Christmas cruise. The gathering seemed almost too good to be true. Eight teenagers began the evening as strangers and, within minutes, we were talking comfortably.

Phillip and I discovered we both love dance, and he invited me to ice cream in the dining hall. I was perfecting the swirl on my cone when Phillip tapped my shoulder.

“Can I tell you something kinda personal?” he asked.

My ice cream cone wobbled in my hand as I nodded.

“I’m bisexual,” he said.

“Cool!” I replied.

Yes, so cool to a New Yorker like me — a screenwriter and journalist in search of intriguing stories and characters. Yet, this story evolved beyond “cool” in complicated ways as my morals and values forced me to challenge Ken, who had also become a friend. It was easy for me to play the role of comforter to Phillip. However, confronting Ken, who attended a conservative Christian school in rural Pennsylvania, was emotionally demanding.

My heart raced as I approached Ken. I didn’t know what to expect when I entered Phillip and Ken’s story as a new character. I didn’t have lines prepared or any idea how the scene would unfold. I acted on my values of tolerance, sharing them with Ken. I also listened to him: “There aren’t any gay people where I come from.” Ultimately, I convinced him to apologize to Phillip. However on the cruise’s final night, Ken calls Phillip a faggot again. Phillip smashes Ken’s face into the elevator, telling me with a disturbing satisfaction: “He got what he deserved.”

I was saddened that my impact on Ken was so minimal, but learned that confronting controversy often produces complicated and unsatisfying results. A few months later, I volunteered to write a spoof about Mr. Smith, a controversial biology teacher, for the humor issue of the school newspaper. Some Nightingale girls objectified Mr. Smith, saying, “Oooh, his pants are so tight.” There was also a video on Facebook of him dancing at a school party. My piece touched on his clothing and dancing in a satirical way. The faculty advisors cut my article for “sexualizing a teacher.” The censorship outraged me since I did not find the article offensive. However, it occurred to me that my innocent joke was inappropriate to the advisors, due partially to generational differences. Likewise, I found Ken’s description of Phillip offensive, while those in Ken’s world may have found it harmless because of cultural differences. Through both experiences, I discovered I am one to consummately question and analyze, refusing to allow my frustrations to paralyze my explorations of what drives people to act.

Journalism and writing have grown to become my platforms for those explorations. Phillip and Ken emerged in my conscience when I penned a script in my screenwriting class a year later. My script follows a girl playing soccer on a boys’ team. Her teammate Gabe opposes her presence and humiliates her on the field. Although Gabe is the “villain,” I delve into the insecurities driving his actions. Ken partially inspired Gabe’s character. The two may seem despicable, but I tried to understand them by digging into the forces that motivate their actions. Similarly, a victim or “good guy,” like Phillip, can be motivated to do “bad things,” like smashing Ken’s face.

There are few easy rights and wrongs. Regardless, I still consider Ken’s comments to be troubling, think Mr. Smith would have enjoyed my article, and believe Gabe should welcome his new teammate. Moreover, I am driven by a passion to address the “uneasy” in real life or fictional universes.

June is a graduate of The Nightingale Bamford School and a freshman at Cornell.

Saving a Piece of a Family Portrait

Saving a Piece of a Family Portrait

By Alyssa Morgan

1452520_10201917096982408_1181538280_nIt’s raining when I go into the subway station, but snowing when I exit. When I see the flakes I immediately reach for my camera, snapping as many pictures as I can. The flurries make the air smell crisp and my breathing loud, since the snow quiets the noisy streets in New York. I shoot it all–pictures of the snow falling through the air. The snow on my jacket. The snow on cars. The snow up against tires. I’m documenting it for my younger brothers because they live in Florida and have never experienced snow.

My brothers, Justin, 11, and Joaquin, 6, live with my mother in Fort Lauderdale year-round. I spend the school year with my father and stepmother in Brooklyn, and summers with my brothers and biological mother. My biological parents do not speak to one another. Their distance and divide inspires me to work tirelessly to protect my strong bond with my brothers.

My devotion to my brothers can create challenges. I fear heights, but climbed an ancient tall wooden tower at our favorite beach two summers ago because I wanted to protect my brothers. From a distance the tower seems to stand still but up close it sways the tiniest bit on wooden legs that have weathered many hurricanes. My brothers were excited to be up high in the tower since most buildings in Florida are very close to the ground. They insist I go up with them. I feel I must since the tower is dangerous.

They race up the steps, but I tell them to go slowly with me. The first step isn’t so bad, the ground is right there, I’m safe. The next few steps have me gripping the railing as the ground falls away and the breeze picks up. I’m terrified once I feel the tower moving and I want to go back down, but I don’t want my brothers to get scared because I am. They urge me to hurry up because they want to see the view at the top. I try to go a little faster but the ground is infinitely far away and I’m terrified. The tower sways sharply and my stomach drops.

I finally reach the top and the view is breathtaking, but I’m too scared to breathe. I can feel the vibrations of my brothers running around looking from all sides. The beauty makes me thankful that my brothers inspired me to conquer my fear.

“It’s time to go back down,” I tell them.

With every step down I feel more relaxed. When we are back on the ground, all my worries have disappeared.

My brothers are motivators even when they are not around. I am always carrying that camera to document memories I want to share with them. However, there was one story I couldn’t tell until I figured out the ending. In my sophomore year, I failed my first math test ever. I was devastated. I threw myself into trigonometry to set an example for my brothers. One day I could tell them how I fell off the tower in math, but climbed back to the top.

I don’t like the divide between my biological parents, but I love what the discord has inadvertently given me–my strong commitment to my relationship with my brothers. My brothers have helped develop my sense of responsibility in many ways. For example, my grades were back up in Precalculus junior year and one project required planning lives as young adults. We had to get jobs, pay taxes and bills, including student loans for college. I found a high-paying job, but my bills were high, so I decided to live in a studio to have a little extra money. My teacher loved my project. It was the most organized and responsible he’d seen: “You considered every detail.”

That’s what a big sister does, I thought.

Alyssa is a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School and began her freshman year at Cornell last week.

Who says “Asians don’t play basketball”?

Who says “Asians don’t play basketball”?

by Calvin Ng

UntitledI was the only Asian freshman to make the Junior Varsity basketball team. My teammates questioned how I even became a Running Rebel. “Asians don’t play basketball.” This didn’t anger me; it just compelled me to prove myself in the sport I love. A year later, I was named captain of the team.

In the final game of our season, I look at the freshmen on the bench. Unlike me, they don’t have anything to prove due to race. Yet, there is a yearning in their eyes. They want a chance to play instead of sitting helpless in the last game.

We fall behind in the second quarter. Our starters, frustrated, argue on the court, blaming each other for missed shots. Coach Barbin calls a timeout. He yells at me–the captain–and the other starters. I cut him off and ask him to play the freshmen. His face says it all–who in their right mind would put inexperienced freshmen in a game right now?

“The starters aren’t doing well at all and we’re down by ten. There’s nothing to lose,” I reason.

He agrees and benches all the starters minus me and picks the four freshmen. This is a completely new team I’m leading now. My teammates listen and move the ball around. Despite their inexperience, they cut, set screens, and shoot well. We win the game and I see the leader in myself come alive.

For years, everyone pointed to me as a good leader–everyone but me perhaps. At my middle school graduation, I expected to win an academic award but was shocked when my name was called to the stage for the leadership award. It wasn’t until I played on a basketball team that I really saw myself as a leader, which grew out of my tenacity and devotion to the sport. The summer before I became captain, I went to Crocheron Park in Bayside, Queens daily to practice and play. I had already overcome others’ doubts about me as a player due to my race, and would play full court pickup games with the older guys. Whenever I performed poorly, I pushed myself harder in drills to get better. After this regimen, I was able to shoot further, jump higher, and dribble better.

When I returned to school, my teammates saw the improvement, acknowledging me as an equal. Yet I struggled as leader of the team with the starters all season. They always played every game despite poor performances. Perhaps the true lesson in the moment I pushed for the freshman to play was directed at the starters. They never focused on the consequences of playing poorly, not seeing how their bickering affected the team. By contrast, the freshmen always looked for advice when they took bad shots. Rather than merely citing their mistakes, I offered ways they could improve as players. In doing so, I experienced what I loved most about leadership–helping anyone who wants to improve.

This central trait to my leadership–my desire to help people–continues to appear beyond basketball. I apply the lessons of leadership on the courts as a volunteer tutor at a community center. My first student, Vivian, a freshman who had difficulty in Algebra, was unsure in approaching problems, often mixing up operations when solving equations. I recognized this right away. I did not make her feel bad about her shortcomings. I looked for a solution to help her as I did with the freshmen players. I immediately created a guide sheet for her, writing all of the basic guidelines for solving equations.

In some ways I thank those who doubted my abilities as a player. They inspired me to push myself harder as a basketball player. In the process, I discovered the leader in me and realized the values of practice and tenacity. I know I will be able to apply these lessons to so many avenues in my future.

Calvin Ng, a recent Stuyvesant High School graduate, will be attending Cornell University this fall.