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Essay of the Week: The Failure to Ask a Question

Essay of the Week: The Failure to Ask a Question

By Kyle Tyler Bason

I rush to the line for The Transformers attraction at Universal Studios. A fair haired boy stands next to me, facing the opposite direction. Then he turns around. I feel the sweat from my neck trickle down my spine. The Florida hot sun beams on my face and blinds me from fully reading his shirt. It feels like eternity. The awkward space between us seems to inch away farther and farther. His shirt reads “Confederate Flag” with the flag stamped right through the middle–on the day after a white gunman kills nine black worshippers at a black church in Charleston.

Poetry has been my saving grace since the fifth grade. Ms. Baytops, my English teacher, showed me that I could express my affinity for tolerance and justice through poetry. As a way to de-stress, to avoid anger and negativity, I create stanzas.

“Read this one,” she says to me one day, laying a sheet of paper on my desk. It remains one of my favorites– Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise:

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

The line advances a few paces forward. Without a pen or poem ready, I feel the void while standing in line for The Transformers. Who knew that a family vacation would produce a moment that stirs my thoughts similar to that time when I first read Still I Rise?

Within minutes, we reach the front of the line. The man in red stripes ushers both of us to the front row. I make my way to my destined seat next to the boy. We look at each other in silence. The buckles lock. We cannot exit the seat; the bars in front chain me down to the seat beating against my tropical shirt.

I manage to look over and murmur the word, “Hello.”

The word trembling out of my mouth surprises him, but he does not respond. I speak louder.

“How are you?”

His face lights up with a grin.

“I’m good, how are you?”

The conversation between Jordan and me continues as the ride races off. With drops and turns, the awkwardness between us seems to dissipate. Only moments of laughter at the unexpected dips overcome our fears of each other in the moment. After minutes of happiness and excitement, the ride ends. We rise from our seats continuing our conversation as we walk towards the exit.

I fail to ask him about his shirt and do not rise to the power of Maya Angelou’s words. Establishing a brief connection across the racial divide is a rudimentary step in the struggle for unity. If I could do it all over again, I would have asked him about his shirt in light of the Charleston attack. To tackle the problems of race in American life, one must have the courage to sacrifice superficial connections for direct and frank conversations.

As a poet, I am still trying to find my place within the general narrative. When I met Jordan, I wanted to surrender to the possibility of getting along with someone who, at first sight, struck me as an enemy. I jumped over the first fear–to establish a commonality with him. Yet I failed to foster a truly open conversation about race, perhaps fearing such a conversation would have shattered the momentary appreciation for one another that we shared. It was a missed opportunity.

If given the chance to engage someone like Jordan again, I hope to exercise more courage. When the adrenaline wore off, I reached for my pen and began this poem:

The ache in my heart pushed me past my fear,
A chance to show my true-self was near
Before the buckles and engine got in gear–

It was a poem I never finished.

Kyle Tyler Bason, a graduate of the Berkshire School, will be a freshman at Syracuse University in the fall.

At School in the World

At School in the World

By Benjamin Nicholas

ben-nicholasI arrive at Mercy College at 8:30 AM ready to destroy a classroom. When I enter the room, Donkey Kong tosses me aside like a rag doll. I push back, but he doesn’t move. After all, his nickname stems from his huge and muscular stature.
As the youngest worker by more than 9 years at this construction site, I endure a lot of friendly torment. Even Shorty, who stands tall in his 5’1” frame, sometimes knocks me around. Once our team of five is in the classroom, I grab my dust mask. Fooling around ceases. Hernan issues strict directions: “De ceiling es… basura. Break walls, take out de metal. Boom boom boom,” he says, pointing around the room.
We dismantle everything: lighting, ceiling and floor tiles, leaving hundreds of pounds of debris and dust. We haul all the garbage to the dump and then destroy another two classrooms before the work day ends at 3:00 PM. Or for me, Job One ends.
I rush home, jump in the shower and rinse off the dust that covers my entire body – minus what was protected by the dust mask. Then I comb my hair and throw on my khaki shorts and polo shirt, branded with the logo of Elite Pool and Fitness. By 4:00 PM, I arrive at my second job as a groundskeeper at the Bay Terrace Country Club.
I enter the front gate and face normal chaos. Late afternoon is the busiest time. The morning’s Early Bird members still occupy chairs, but after-work families want places to lounge. I immediately fetch chairs from storage.
Groundskeeping is a cakewalk compared to the physical demands of GA Industries. After setting up a family by the kiddie pool, I hear an order: “Hey, can we have 3 lounge chairs near the shallow end?” Before I respond, both parents are off in pursuit of their son, who runs amok with a water gun spraying everything in sight.
I dare not cross the intuitive boundary and help the parents. I chuckle to myself while sympathizing with them, considering my experience handling rebellious kids. Along with two summer jobs, I volunteer as a basketball coach for my local parish. My team of 11 hyperactive fifth graders are lovable but sometimes unpredictable, which teaches me to maintain control while handling the rowdiest kid.
Bill is by far the most defiant. He will try anything to entertain himself and hates to answer to anyone. Constantly bragging and taunting others, he wants everyone to know he is the best player on the team. As I instruct my players to run a three-man weave, I hear a voice that is not my own carrying on from the corner. I know it is Bill laughing about unrelated nonsense. I immediately stop him with “the look” and order him to run laps. Although he runs the laps, I realize neither of us learn anything. He will still fool around, and I will continue to instruct him to run—until I discover a better way to handle him. After some trial and error, I realize that a “one size fits all”coaching style does not work. Each child needs a different type of structured teaching, but the common goal in all the lessons is developing mutual respect and creating a non-hostile environment. Instead of blowing my whistle and screaming, I develop a more friendly relationship with each individual player. The more I become a big brother figure, the more players respect me. Even Bill becomes willing to exert 110%.
Through the diversity of my work and volunteer experiences, I have learned to communicate with a range of people and realize that education is not restricted to the school day. I actually bring my work and volunteer experiences to school where I do not demolish classrooms. Instead, I tear down mental walls that prevent learning from diverse experiences.

Benjamin Nicholas, a graduate of St. Francis Preparatory School, is a freshman at Syracuse University.

Detours from Pain to Social Justice

Detours from Pain to Social Justice

By Josh Horwitz


The entrance to the synagogue is a back alley. It is on a dark street with very little color–even on a beautiful day without a cloud in the sky. With bullet holes and old and decaying bricks and stones, the structure does not convey any sense of joy. Broken bottles and rotting garbage–either stuck to the base of the wall or at its feet–create a wretched cesspool. Cleaning would not help since many people come to the spot to purposely litter and sprawl the anti-semitic graffiti covering the walls, including small, red swastikas.

Why did the largest and oldest synagogue in the capital city of Madrid require passports at every service, even for members? Why would people deliberately attack and vandalize a place of worship? As a curious 11 year old, those questions haunted me.

In Middle school, my family relocated to Spain. I first attended a small public school. Being an American Jew with awful Spanish turned making friends into a battle. My Spanish was so bad that when I tried to say I was a jew, I ended up describing myself as a bean instead. I made friends with a guy named Daniel, who could speak English and was nice to me. While everyone else played soccer, Daniel and I would spin tops.

One day I saw Daniel struggling to retrieve his top from a group of taller guys. They were playing keep away, and laughing. I saw injustice happening around me and I remembered our teachings: “When you see your fellow’s ox away from his land, you shall not ignore it; you shall bring it back to him.” My attempts at yelling, “parar,” were lost in translation; the situation was escalating. After a moment of incomprehensible spanish, I was pushed, hard. I went sprawling face first into a metal goal post on the soccer goal. I hit with a loud crash and immediately tasted blood. It was all over everything, gushing out of my nose. I saw it on the pole, my clothes, everywhere. I collapsed in a heap on the floor, not knowing how to stop the blood until a teacher finally arrived. My aggressors claimed that I had walked into the pole myself. They were not punished. In that moment, I vowed to never abandon the fight for what was right, no matter what the cost.

At times, I was unable to be Jewish outdoors. A bus driver told me that wearing my Jewish kippa was highly dangerous because of past violence. This stifling of my Jewish identity inspired my desire to be a champion for Judaism and Jewish ideals wherever I travelled. While I have been to Israel three times, I truly developed my passion for Judaism in Spain, a country with a very minute Jewish population ever since its dramatic reduction in 1492.

Back in the US, I re-enrolled in my Jewish summer camp, and embraced the experience with more enthusiasm than ever. I was a camper until I was 15 and then became a counselor, blessed with the opportunity to inspire younger campers with Jewish spirit.

Camp was also a safe space to nurture new interests after Spain. Despite having never acted before, I won the part of Riff in our all-Hebrew production of West Side Story. Then, in my junior year, I reprised the same role at my high school, this time in English. While the school production was larger and grander, I cherish what I gained from the smaller staging in Hebrew–something I may not have appreciated without the Madrid experience.

I also pushed leading others towards social justice. As President of Jew Crew, we joined with another high school that has a Palestinian club to dialogue on social justice from Jewish and Palestinian perspectives. Just last season, we did a project removing anti-Islamic graffiti from a metro stop here in San Francisco. Tolerance, and a little poetic justice, is the key.


Josh Horwitz, a graduate of Lowell High School in San Francisco, is a freshman at Syracuse University.

G-Pa’s Lessons

G-Pa’s Lessons

by Tyler Mackenzie

2014-03-20-195972_10150124710702083_4149433_nI was a junior on the varsity basketball team and my minutes were decreasing to the point where I was barely in the game. I wasn’t used to that kind of playing time. I was livid. I was considering quitting the team. Then G-Pa strolled into the kitchen. A short, balding man, my grandfather stands at about 5’4 and has a chubby frame. He always wears his spectacles, dress pants and his polo button up shirt. He never wears shorts or t-shirts.

G-Pa grinned at me with his normal smirk and shouted:

“Wasssup, Big T!”

Seeing my reaction, he immediately realized I was unhappy. He pulled a stool up, and I explained what was bothering me. G-Pa had seen me play and insisted that I needed to be more aggressive in practice and in the few minutes I had on the court. “You just have to push yourself.” He also told me that life has difficulties and quitting is the worst possible way to deal with them. I guess I absorbed what G-Pa told me. A year later, I am the captain of the team.

When my grandfather talks about working hard, I listen. He was a Tuskegee airman and we spend hours discussing World War II. He sparked a lot of my interest in history and his advice has changed my life in many ways. For example, basketball and football had been at the center of my world for as long I can remember. They were always more important than school work, especially during my freshman and sophomore years. Then came G-Pa again. He wanted to know why I was taking so few advanced courses. “You are smart, and you should work as hard in your classes as you do on the basketball court.”

I took his advice and decided to take AP US History and Economics. I have had my best academic experiences ever in those classes. At first, they were very difficult. I still remember all the serious faces on my first day in AP history. I could not spend any of the period making jokes and talking to my friends. I could not pick up my Blackberry. Flirting with girls in the class had always been more important than what the teacher wrote on the board, since everything was so easy. The B+ I received in U.S history was so much more valuable than any of the A’s I received in my first two years.

I am frightened by the thought of what I would be if my grandfather had not moved in with us a couple of years ago. Ironically, I was angry when my father announced that his father, Patrick, was moving back from Guyana to our house. I was angry and selfish. I did not want to share food with a new resident of the house. Within a week, we became best friends. His greeting is always cool and warm: “Wasssup, Big T.”

I reply, “Wassup, G-Pa.”

He will most likely follow that up with a joke about how much I eat. Or he will ask me a question about history or current events. Or we will argue over football. G-Pa doesn’t understand the game as much as I do, but he still has a great time watching and cheering against what ever team I want to win. The real family fun begins when the Dallas Cowboys play the New York Giants. For some odd reason my grandfather has taken a serious liking to the Dallas Cowboys. I remember one cold November night the Cowboys and the Giants were getting ready to square off in a huge NFL battle. My grandfather sat right next to me and began his trash talking. Of course, I couldn’t just let my grandfather talk smack without any repercussions. I yelled everything I could at the screen about the Cowboys. Dallas won, but that didn’t matter. I still had fun with G-Pa.

Tyler Mackenzie, a junior at Syracuse University, is a 2011 graduate of Half Hollow Hills High School East.

Learning to Walk, Throw and Love

by Noah Douglass

I learned to walk again at 10, became a receiver at 14 and found a new love at 17. I love the challenges of discovering talents. Yet, for me, pain often precedes a good outcome.

The searing pain in my lower stomach forced me awake at 6:00 every morning. The pain wasn’t even the worst part of it. I was 10-years-old and could not walk.  I sat up and placed my feet on the floor but kept my hands placed on the hospital bed to serve as a platform. I made an effort to move one leg in the direction of the water but lacked the strength and coordination. I used every ounce of energy I had to return to my bed and began to cry almost instantly. The pain from the surgery was excruciating and I was helpless.

Most of my happiness came through sports. In fact, I was on the basketball court with my dad when I was hit with the pain in my stomach that led me to the hospital for the removal of my appendix. After surgery, I spent seven long days learning how to walk and a lesson about optimism that remains with me today.  I forced a positive outlook to get through each step over that week. Three years later, I carried that attitude to the football field as I became a receiver for the St Francis DeSales Stallions. Initially, I was frustrated as I dropped many balls. Yet I remembered what it took to take those few steps out of the hospital bed.

Junior Year: I am expecting a lot more playing time when another completely different problem arose so similar in severity to not being able to walk. My father’s new job means I am leaving the Stallions in Columbus, Ohio for a team I did not know in Montclair, New Jersey. I felt choked in the 4th quarter by the move.

My first day at Montclair High was going to be my last. Or at least, that’s what I told myself. After school, I was going to get my belongings together, hop on a flight, and return to my real home in Ohio. I was going to return to my friends, my football team, my house, and resume life there as if nothing happened. I would daydream about this fantasy through each class but unfortunately obvious questions such as “hey, you’re the new kid?” snapped me back into reality.

My love for the sport overshadowed my defeated outlook as I caught an interception during the first day of football practice. Like learning to walk and becoming a receiver, my optimism propelled me to adapt to a new home.

At first, I was going to write my essay on learning how to walk at age 10. Then I thought about telling the story of my football team winning the state championship this year. After I settled on writing about the similarities of learning how to walk at 10 and becoming a receiver at 14, I decided to expand the topic to include my steamy affair. I hated her. I liked her. Now I can’t live without her–writing.

I’ve always had an interesting relationship with her. There would be times throughout my years of school where I absolutely dreaded the sight of a pen and paper. Now sitting down and letting my thoughts run wildly on paper comes easily and I actually feel great while doing it!

It started in my junior year at the new school I dreaded. There I changed my feelings about writing forever. It started in my 8th period class, no, with my 8th period teacher Mr. Aquavia who inspired the change in those feelings forever. He is arguably one of the best teachers I’ve had and he constantly pushed me to be a better writer. He allowed me to see that writing is simply a way of expressing your ideas on paper. Seeing literature in this perspective intrigued me and I often found myself tagging along after class to perfect papers and strengthen my relationship with my new friend, my new love, Writing.

Now in my senior year, English is my favorite subject. I never thought I would find a new love at Montclair High School, after I spent months dreading the move here. Yet, for me, a little pain often means something great is on its way into my life.

Noah Douglass, a freshman at Syracuse University, is a 2013 graduate of Montclair High School.

Why Syracuse?

Who or what influenced you to apply to Syracuse University?

by Douglass Holloway

The wind was brutal. It slapped my face and sent my body into a shiver the minute I stepped out of the car for my first visit to Syracuse University. I was not expecting Bahamas weather, but there was something about the snap of that first Syracuse wind that awakened my mind and body to a new day. I saw the smiles on the faces of students walking together and obviously enjoying their conversations. I wanted to pull out a video camera and begin shooting a series: Smiling Through the Engaging Winds of Syracuse Life.

My creativity was so comfortable within the cold world of Syracuse. I love to ski and felt like I was on my favorite slope as I toured the campus and learned more about the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, specifically of the Film/Television/ Radio program. I began imagining a life of classes that will compel me to study content in new ways. I envision assignments in which I create content that stretches the limits of different genres of film and television programing. I also appreciated the opportunities to study other subjects such as history and literature.

I had heard the Syracuse spin from many alumni and friends from my high school who attend the school. They say all the good things that loyal students and alumni celebrate about any good school: great faculty, a challenging curriculum, accomplished alumni, good sporting events, school spirit, engaging and quality campus experience, yeah, yeah, yeah. However, I saw the wonders of the alumni and student’s descriptions on my tour and in the classes I visited. By the time I was in the car on the way home with the heat blasting, I had acquired a strong taste for a new color. In fact, at breakfast the next day, my orange juice was not too sweet but not at all bitter. It was just right!

Douglass Holloway, a freshman at Syracuse, is a 2013 graduate of Scarsdale High School.

Who Is The Person You Dream Of Becoming?

Syracuse University: Who is the person you dream of becoming and how do you believe Syracuse University can help you achieve this?

by Tyler Mckenzie 

Michael Vick walks into my office. A few minutes later, an animal rights activist enters. I bring the two of them together and convince them both to work together for the cause of safety to animals. My education at Syracuse will give me the tools to produce that dream. I want to become a sports agent and the solid program in business and the culture of sports at Syracuse will provide the tools for me to pursue my goals. Syracuse also has an overwhelming support for sports as evidenced by a great fan base that really shows enormous love for Syracuse athletics. Playing basketball at Syracuse is a goal of mine, which will also be great training for my long- term goals.  I also dream of becoming a more well rounded person intellectually and Syracuse has many opportunities to help me achieve this.

Tyler Mckenzie, a 2011 graduate of Half Hollow East High School, Dix Hills, New York, is a sophomore at Syracuse University.