Posts Tagged ‘essay of the week’

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Climbing Life’s Ladders

Climbing Life’s Ladders

by Erich Perry Siebert

erichsiebertA burst of light blinded my eyes for a few seconds as I climbed out of the darkness of the dusty wooden attic. A soothing breeze brushed against my face as I stepped off the ladder after climbing 10 feet. It was a sunny day so clear that I could see castles in the distance just like the one where I was standing. Just as I absorbed the rich blue skies above large green hills, I turned to find two out of five people in my group removing their equipment.

As an eighth grader, I was the youngest in the delegation of People to People Student Ambassadors travelling through the United Kingdom. We scaled the ladder together for the opportunity to rappel down the wall. Two turned back. I kept going. Since then, I have drawn on the drive of that moment.

Three years later, I decided I had to exert the strength of that moment while facing the challenges of ADHD. The more I agonized through three months of therapy and four different types of medication, I realized that there was not a magic pill for me and my life completely turned around. After much thought, I decided to create an independent study on the impact of holistic well being including mental, physical, and nutritional health on the ADHD experience. I set out to actually live the study with a healthier lifestyle, involving a more plant based diet, high intensity workouts, and practiced meditation.

The creation of the plan took the level of dedication I carried through the tall, stone passage, carrying heavy nylon harnesses in my arms a few years ago. It was quite dark and the whole inside of the castle was built with solid brick. Two guiding lanterns replaced any natural light. I didn’t feel nervous, but I was very excited.

Yet, it was a long climb that seemed like it would never end from the spiraling wooden staircase to the ladder. At the top, we stopped to prepare for the trip down the wall. When my name was called to descend, I felt startled. I cautiously made my way to the rope. The closer I came to the edge, I began to feel more and more nervous. I fastened my helmet and one of the instructors opened the trapdoor from the cherry wood ceiling. A ladder fell down to us.

As I finally reached the edge of the castle, I looked down and stared 90 feet down.I could feel my heartbeat throughout my whole body. Every sense in my body kept telling me to walk away, but I couldn’t. I knew if i had made it this far, I was not quitting, no matter how terrifying it seemed.

I now see a finish line in my independent study that resembles my feeling of accomplishment at the bottom of the wall. The research involved interviewing a nutritionist, meditation coach, and a physical trainer as well as reading articles, books , and viewing documentaries. Through my new, carefully designed lifestyle, I started to notice a huge difference and a positive impact on my grades.

When I look at ADHD in the big picture, I don’t see it as a barrier anymore, I see it as a strength. In May of 2014, Forbes’ magazine published an article about the relationship between entrepreneurs and ADHD. The article described ADHD as “the entrepreneur’s superpower.” I learned that entrepreneurs with ADHD hold certain qualities that are necessary to succeed in the business world, including creativity, multitasking, risk taking, a heightened level of energy, and most importantly, resilience–the very factor that led to a successful journey down the ladder.

Erich Perry Siebert, a graduate of Frances W Parker High School, is a freshman at American University.

Biking from the Park to the Job

Biking from the Park to the Job

by Christopher Lassiter

chrislassiter

The first moment on the job deceives me. I glance around the deserted High Gear Cyclery shop, wondering if keeping myself occupied will be more of a challenge than selling bikes.

I meet Bill, my manager. He smells of cigarettes and coffee when I am within arm’s reach. He shares the basics of advising bikers on nutrition and repairs. Still no customers. His need for nicotine runs high. He exits for a smoke. As Bill puffs outside, a flood of customers enters:

“Can you fix my flat tire?”

“I am looking for a new bike. Can you help?”

I am a nervous and stressed 14-year-old fielding questions from people twice my age, and I love it. Ironically, or maybe not, my first time on a bike is one of my first memories.   

I was four when Pops walked me to the neighborhood basketball court pulling a bike with training wheels for me, while my older brother Jordan rode a two-wheeler. Jordan took a break and I hopped on the two-wheeler while Pops was not looking. After peddling a few feet, I fell. He rushed over. “Are you ok? ” I rose, brushing gravel from my skimmed hand, and persistently pleaded to ride the two-wheeler again. I convinced him. Today Pops says he knew I wouldn’t give up until he said yes. I continued to fall but the short moments of balance were worth the scars. By the end of that day, I rode the two-wheeler without falling.

After nine months of mastering bike sales, Bill designated me to train employees. I loved the new responsibilities but hungered for even more business opportunities. I saw a possibility when a brutal snowstorm hit two years ago.  I looked out my bedroom window to see men with diesel-powered four-wheel-drive trucks rushing from house to house, salting driveways, and using sharp metal plows to cut through the thick ice and snow. Do they really need all that equipment for such a simple job? I thought to myself. Why do they deserve to monopolize business on MY block?!

I answered that question by starting my own snow removal business. I saved $1,000 and invested in a snow blower. Last year, I hit the streets with the first snowstorm. I carefully chose Mrs. Gene’s doorbell,  since she was a friendly neighbor. Yet even she was not an immediate sale.

“Oh, well, usually Joe’s Snow Removal Company does it for me,” she told me.

“I do a quality job, can beat their price and will come any time that you need me.”

“Well, hun, Joe’s comes back and salts the steps so I don’t fall getting to my car in the morning.”

“I do that as well. Everyone on the block is going to be so jealous when they see how salty your steps are after I finish them.”

First sale made! The snow blower paid for itself in a few driveways and business started to boom. Eventually I had blocks of clients. Despite their elite equipment, my competition suffered.

Over time, my salesmanship grew beyond commerce and onto the lacrosse field. During my lacrosse team’s losing season two years ago, I was often the lone voice trying to sell my team on the belief that we could “bring home a ‘W.’” Perhaps it was those selling moments that inspired the team to elect me to be captain, as a junior, last year.

I still work at the bike shop and my business’s growth required me to hire two neighbors to help plow and attract new customers. Motivating them mirrors my roles on the lacrosse field, in the bike shop and, ultimately, my pathway as a natural leader with the initiative to work with people to get tasks done. Imagining what might comprise the open, unknown places on that path excites me as much as the rush of meeting those first customers in the bike shop.

Christopher Lassiter, a graduate of Millburn High School, is a freshman at James Madison University.

Small School Blues; Big School Hopes

Small School Blues; Big School Hopes

by Jack Reiss

jackreiss

Prompt: Please provide a statement that addresses your reasons for transferring and the objectives you hope to achieve. You can type directly into the box, or you can paste text from another source. (250-650 words)

The addiction takes over at exactly 9:30 A.M. on business days. I hold my breath to see what phases the stock market. Could Pfizer skyrocket over 50 percent because of news for a groundbreaking cancer drug? Could McDonald’s dip 50 percent because of higher than expected trans fat in Big Macs? Or will it be a day like the one last March when Isoray, a cancer treatment stock I own, jumped more than 100 percent? The convergence of my interests in stocks, statistics, history and agriculture has influenced my decision to transfer to a school where I can strongly pursue these subjects, and also experience a broader, more developed and inspired social scene.

The stock market habit began a year ago, triggered by my love affair with my high school Elementary Statistics class and after my dad handed over control of my custodial portfolio. Don’t get the wrong idea, it’s chump change. But now I view stocks as closely as I watch baseball – which is pretty close – or a plant I grow from seed to flower.

I have fully engaged my interests at Trinity. My home at Trinity is the investment club where I am in the midst of preparing for a presentation on risk in health care company stocks. I want to build on experiences like this at a place with more opportunities and a more diverse population of students with similar passions or other intellectual interests that I have yet to explore. At Trinity, my grades are good and I look forward to my classes. However, I seek a university with a larger number of students who want to work and expand intellectually.

A broader social environment with stronger extracurriculars drives my search for a compatible school.  At Trinity, I attempted to join a whiffle ball intramural team, but there were not enough students to sign up so the club was cancelled. This one example indicates some of the limitations of a school with 2000 students. My hope is for a larger university with a more intellectually ambitious student body and activities and organizations that reflect that population.

I seek transferring to a school that offers inspired ways to explore

my interests and discover new ones. For years, I found many ways to engage my passion for botany. While serving as an intern horticulturist at the Central Park Conservancy in high school, I began to consider horticulture in the context of investing and the future. I lean towards companies that are committed to promoting health initiatives centered on organic foods, nutrition, and sustainability. Now that I manage my small stock portfolio, I conduct research companies like Whitewave, a pioneer health food conglomerate; it was the first company I chose to invest in and fits my criteria by intersecting agricultural, health food, and finance interests; plus it pays dividends!

My interest in statistics has helped fuel my fascination with stocks and their associated statistical models, especially volatile stocks with their sporadic graphs and possible inferences from them. I desire studying the market in ways that are connected to my academic work, including researching models for looking at the stock market as a way of creating communities through the identification of companies with interests that unite shareholders beyond profit margins. As part of this goal, I am in the process of obtaining Bloomberg certification through use of the Bloomberg Terminal system, which will be an asset to investing and complement my academic research. The certification will also expose me to information beyond the stock market. It will be a tool for exploring other subjects like history and a barometer for exploring the world’s markets and their resulting implications. I am excited by the opportunity of taking this certification into a new academic environment. It is just one of many possibilities that inspire me to transfer to a larger school.

Jack Reiss, a 2014 graduate of The Browning School, is now sophomore at NYU.

The Invincible Decision

The Invincible Decision

by Jordan Atkins

IMG_9186I was one of the invincibles in eighth grade. Family, friends, and fans called us the “B5”– five talented black athletes within a predominantly white community. With 31 wins and 0 losses, we reached the goal of a perfect season while dominating our opponents and inspiring excitement in our community. We could make history if we continued to play with the same level of intensity in high school. It would be the first time in our high school’s 65 years that African-Americans would comprise the entire starting lineup in any sport. Our future high school basketball careers and prospects for a state championship looked as bright as the infamous “Fab Five,” Michigan’s 1991 recruiting class. There was one problem: I knew that basketball at the next level would consume all my free time and prevent me from pursuing other interests.

Community and friends versus my own heart: At the end of freshman season, I had to choose between succumbing to the pressure of pleasing others and following my true interests. In looking back, I tapped into the courage I found when I began to negotiate the boundaries of stereotyping.  It started in sixth grade, with friends often saying: “Jordan, you’re the whitest black person I know,” referring to my proper style of speech.  These comments were hurtful, and although said jokingly, I felt the stereotyping and disrespect inherent in them. I was born in the same suburb as my friends and had experienced a strong sense of community. Yet, I realized the powerful stereotypes of race and athletes. In the beginning of eighth grade, I built up the courage to confront those making such comments, and the jokes stopped.

Months later, it hit me. If I continued basketball, I would have limited time to improve football and baseball skills, explore my interest in business outside of school, or even volunteer in mentoring programs. Working with younger kids was a passion and skill that started when I attended a small private elementary school. In third grade, I began work with preschoolers, spending half of my lunchtime reading stories to them. Eventually, I helped those in younger grades with schoolwork. I never had time to pursue this kind of volunteering once I began playing basketball at an intense level. So, before the basketball season started in my sophomore year, I made the decision to walk away from the sport.

Without the added demands of basketball, I began participating in business competitions held by the Business Professionals of America. I spent countless hours taking notes and studying fundamental accounting, banking, and finance principles. The determination to dominate at these business competitions felt similar to the tenacity with which I used to practice my shots before game day. But rather than looking for external encouragement from coaches, I became self-motivated. In my first year, I qualified for nationals.

I always loved football, and could now explore that interest. At first, I faced discouragement from future teammates, since I hadn’t played on the freshman team. But again, I stayed true to my interest and ended up starting on both offense and defense my sophomore year. I am now a team captain for the varsity team. In some ways, my role resembles my elementary school mentoring, helping younger football players maneuver the grueling demands of football and academics. I also advise them on other off-the-field issues such as taking ownership for behavior in and out of school.

Quite honestly, I do miss basketball, and think about the missed opportunity for fame and heroism. But, I do not regret my decision. When my school’s team made it to the State’s “final four” with only three of the B5 as starters, I often thought and was told, “That could’ve been me playing.” Yet every good decision comes with sacrifices.

Jordan Atkins, a freshman at the University of Michigan, is a graduate of Adlai E Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois.

Class Clown to Class President

Class Clown to Class President

by Drew Crichlow

“Are you ready?”Drew Crichlow headshot

“Should I do it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Education that Starts with Morning Rhythms

An Education that Starts with Morning Rhythms

by Jordan Harris

 Jordan Harris - Class of 2014

A captivating rhythm draws me to five young boys drumming on plastic overturned buckets on the bustling streets of Downtown Chicago. I am on my daily commute to school. In one hour, I travel from a tree shaded suburban town to this rhythmic center of noise and motion. Moments that mirror my life often come alive on my commutes. For example, the drummers resemble the five siblings in the family I worked with during my first service trip to the Appalachian Mountains the summer before my sophomore year. I decide to drop money in the youngest drummers’ container and I see a joy spread across the boy’s face, reminding me of children I met on that trip.

School for me does not start in the classroom. My lessons begin the minute I leave my house. My commute now shapes my identity in ways I never imagined when I decided to attend high school in the heart of Chicago.

It starts with a 15-minute ride with Dad to the Metra Station followed by a 20-minute train ride to the heart of the city. On the train, I witness an architectural transition as buildings become higher and closer together, complimenting the fast pace enveloping everyone.

I arrive downtown and my commute continues.  I now walk the morning rush with Chicagoans of all races and classes as I head to the CTA bus stop a couple of minutes away. The world becomes larger, then smaller with this walk.  By the time I reach the bus stop, I find classmates coming from different places for the final 15-minute bus ride.

On one ride, I smell liquor on the breath of a man sitting a few rows away. He is lanky with scruffy facial hair, wearing a green army jacket, and holding a brown paper bag.  It is the week after Christmas break. Tis the season to join classmates and complain about homework loads. I describe my long paper on the role of children in the Civil Rights Movement when the smell of the man’s breath comes closer.  He then begins scolding all the kids on the bus saying: “Ya’ll kids shouldn’t be complaining about homework. I didn’t do none of my homework when I was your age and look at me now. Do that homework. Stay in school. Graduate. Make something of yourselves.”

By then, I was a seasoned commuter.  If this happened before high school, I would have felt uncomfortable in my seat and searched for another one towards the front of the bus.  Instead, I nodded at the man’s helpful advice.

Some scenes of my commute are as entertaining as a movie, yet my imagination must write the script.  I was waiting at the bus stop one morning when I saw a businessman in a full suit and tie riding by on his scooter.  Maybe he was a creative entrepreneur, or just a man trying to save money rather than taking a cab.  I could only imagine a day in his life.

I never imagined how adaptable my commute would make me.  On one cold January morning, the bus broke down.  The driver said another bus would arrive in an hour. My classmates and I decided to walk so we would not be late for school.  A brisk wind hit our faces as it became harder to see, and the cold made our noses drip and turned our faces red. Too bad the man with the brown paper bag could not see our walk through deep snow in single digit temperature weather. It showed the kind of academic commitment that might warm his heart.

My commute has strengthened my independence and adjustment to new situations. I now go downtown not only for school, but for other events as well. Thanks to my commute, I have branched beyond a suburban bubble and become more aware of myself as part of a larger community.

Jordan Harris,  a freshman at Northwestern University, is a 2014 graduate of Saint Ignatius College Prep.

 

 

Brown Supplements

Brown Supplements

by Zoe Armstrong

zoearmstrongWhy Brown? (200 word limit)

I was eight years old when I described to my mom the kind of college I wanted to attend. She said I was describing Brown, and the school has been my first choice ever since. I have not upheld most of the ideas I had at that age, nor all of mother’s advice, for that matter.  However, my feeling that Brown is the right place for me has only grown stronger. I was excited to attend summer at Brown in 2013 and devour the works of Martin Seligman in my Positive Psychology class. During those four weeks on campus, I experienced a strong sense of belonging. I felt the Brown spirit when I joined a counter-protest against the Westboro Baptist Church. The hateful messages from the protesters were disturbing, but the passion of the students displaying their support for gay rights was overwhelming. My passions and interests range from music to biology to politics and, as I learned at Brown, psychology. So the open curriculum is perfect for me. I am eager to participate in campus traditions like Spring Weekend and the midnight organ recital on Halloween and expect endless opportunities to express my values on social issues at Brown.

Why are you drawn to the area(s) of study you indicated in our Member Section, earlier in this application? If you are “undecided” or not sure which Brown concentrations match your interests, consider describing more generally the academic topics or modes of thought that engage you currently. (150 word limit)

Office hours, please! If I became a Brunonian, I would devote much of my first week to finding the office hours of the professors at the Watson Institute for International Studies. With faculty from a range of disciplines, the center is quintessentially Brown and a ripe place for my interest in international relations. I am attracted to the interdisciplinary nature of the concentration and to the mix of professors from Glenn Loury to Nitsan Chorev. I hope to take a class or go to one of Brown Visiting Fellow Timothy Edgar’s lectures. His research on cyber conflict fascinates me, particularly given ISIS’s recruitment of teenagers through social media and China’s use of iCloud to monitor civilian activity.  Though I have visited more than 18 countries in my 17 years and have taken classes in four languages, I long to expand my understanding of the world through my experiences at Brown.

Tell us where you have lived – and for how long – since you were born; whether you’ve always lived in the same place, or perhaps in a variety of places. (100 word limit)

I spent the first 15 years of my life taking for granted New York City’s looming skyscrapers and seemingly ceaseless excitement. Although I lived in the same apartment and attended the same school for most of my childhood, my days were far from banal. From that constantly changing environment I received an unusual combination of stability and unpredictability.

Then, in August of 2012, my parents and I moved to a small city in Switzerland. Basel is quiet and predictable and as different from New York as a city can be. But I adapted, and now consider both places home.

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

Tufts Supplements

by Tess Jacobson

Tess Jacobson

Which aspects of Tufts’ curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short: “Why Tufts?” (50–100 words)

        Is it a crush? No, it’s love. The Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development sparks the attraction, growing with notions of combining interests to create studies that are exclusively mine at the experimental college. Yet there is a “je ne sais quoi” crowning my infatuation. Perhaps it’s the sight of Jumbos devoted to academics by day, then transformed into a cohesive collective of burlesque or Kingsway African dancers by night. Maybe it’s faculty connections extending to applaud such eccentric performances. I can’t pinpoint one affection luring me in. My unbreakable tether: I only have eyes for Tufts.

There is a Quaker saying: “Let your life speak.” Describe the environment in which you were raised – your family, home, neighborhood, or community – and how it influenced the person you are today. (200–250 words)

        Every night, my brother and I would wait hungrily at the table, antsy to peel the tin foil off of the dinner and start serving the home-cooked meal. We never did, though. We knew better than to let our impatience overthrow the value of our nightly family tradition: the family starts and ends dinner together.

        As a kid, I took this ritual for granted. I thought that dining on home-cooked dinners throughout the week with the whole family was part of everyday normalcy. To my surprise, I learned that this was not the case. More often than not, life’s many other obligations prevent families from spending the amount of time together they would like during the week and, as a result, they depend on other sources of quality time. I may not have recognized my fortune during childhood, but this family custom that was as routine to me as waking up everyday has subconsciously impacted what I value: relationships, contact and communication.

        In retrospect, this deceptively customary act of love that earlier generations passed on to my parents and that is now shared with me is what has cultivated my appreciation for the way my family raised me, and has had an influence on who I am. Along with this nightly tradition, I’ve inherited the capacity to incorporate sentiment into various aspects of my life and treasure the small things that complete it.

Now we’d like to know a little bit more about you.  Please respond to one of the following six questions (200-250 words):

A)   From Michelangelo to Mother Teresa, from Jackie Robinson to Elizabeth Bennett, the human narrative is populated by a cast of fascinating characters, real and imagined.  Share your favorite and explain why that person or character inspires you.

     My muscles froze and tension wiped the choreography from my mind. The cue to enter stage left was a minute away. I shrank at the thought of having over a hundred pairs of eyes on me. Overwhelming apprehension disarmed me; I could not go out there. It was thoughts of Philippe Petit that prodded me. Walking on a wire in front of New York City, 1,350 feet above an audience of thousands, without pause. Whether at the top of the World Trade Center or down on the ground, charming his audience with illusions, Petit’s eccentric charisma never fades. His peculiarity inspires me to be original and his plucky fearlessness impels me to disregard my trepidation. Assertiveness and poise restored, I stepped out from behind the wing.

        From the moment he read about the Twin Towers, Petit’s ambition became relentless; fear of failure was not a factor in his vision. My aspirations don’t fall in line with walking on wires, but he remains my luminary. His striking audacity motivates me to take risks. Petit’s tenacious grip on his own objectives, each one unwilling to let others stand in his way, reminds me to keep an unshakeable hold on my aims. He’s deceptively serious, looking upon his commitments with intensity, while emanating a contagious playfulness that reminds me to make time for amusement. While against my nature, I have internalized Petit’s intrepidity and resolution.

Tess Jacobson was a 2015 graduate of the Trevor Day School in New York City. She recently began her freshman year at Tufts.

The Barrel and the Bubble

The Barrel and the Bubble

by Jana Wilson

janawilsonIt all started in a barrel. I know that may sound a bit odd, but hear me out.

I am trapped in a bubble of people who disrespect service workers and the only thing I can do is smile in order to keep my job. Forming a smile was never work for me, until I landed a job as a hostess at an upscale steakhouse. When I arrive at work on Sundays and Mondays at 4 pm, I am alone. My face can relax as I check voicemail and confirm reservations. By 5 pm, customers arrive and I turn on the “steakhouse smile.”

I have actually mastered (and sometimes enjoy) the challenge of playing charades, but backwards. The customers cannot read my true emotions and certainly do not know about the barrel. It is one source of my strength to get through a night of smiling through rudeness and indifference.

When I was 14, my grandfather shared the story of the barrel. Affectionately known as “Gramps,” he is 96 years old and my oldest living relative. When he was five, Gramps lost both his parents, forcing him to live an impoverished life in Grenada and be independent. At 12, he stowed away in a barrel aboard a ship destined for Trinidad. Homeless and alone, Gramps sought opportunities for a more prosperous life. After decades of hard work, he met and married my grandmother, moved to New York and raised successful children. If Gramps could create a better life after leaving his homeland in a barrel, I could handle smiling in a restaurant twice a week.

“Hi, how are you? Do you have a reservation?”

“No, but we want a table anyway,” a man demands. His wife looks past me, spying for empty tables.

“Let me see what we have,” I say looking up the reservations for the evening. “I have a table.“

The man frowns and the woman barely acknowledges me. My smile continues.
I grab two menus and seat them. I feel like a robot sometimes, performing the same repetitive action with the same smile and “click-clack” noise of my heels on the floor as I walk.

The barrel and bubble influenced my participation in the LEAD Summer Business program at the University of Maryland last summer. Our team of three students developed a product to be presented to professors and business leaders. We designed an app to make shopping and meal planning easier and less expensive by providing real time access to coupons on smart phones.

During weeks of preparation, I brought the tenacity of the barrel and the discipline of the smile to the table. I calmly motivated my team to focus on the big picture to stop them from arguing over small details.

On presentation day, while awaiting my cue to enter the classroom, I am a little terrified. The assembled group politely applauds as we stride into the room. My role is to deliver a thorough presentation about our target market, competition, and advertising strategies. I conquer my fear by thinking of my grandfather stowing away in a barrel and, of course, I smile.
.
Gramps’ life has taught me not to live my life hiding inside of the proverbial barrel. I can accept that failure is a possibility, but it will not prevent me from escaping the barrel and pushing forward. Fear is simply an emotion that induces a lack of confidence. It is only an idea, not a tangible thing that can stand in your way. Therefore, why let it take over?

The courage and strength that Gramps possessed to climb into the barrel and then “break out” are alive in me. Any time I am faced with an obstacle, I try to remember my fearless grandfather stowing away in the barrel and know that success is possible. His story represents hope and helps define who I am today.

Jana Wilson, a freshman at the University of Michigan, is a graduate of Morristown High School.

A Stolen Flute and the Search for Home

A Stolen Flute and the Search for Home

by Kennedy Sapp

kennedysappMy new flute devastated me. It felt nothing like my first flute–the one I loved at first sight. I was 10 when I walked into band, sat down, and opened up my case to the chrome keys and the gleaming gold mouthpiece. I immediately felt at home with the beauty in my hands. However, my flute symbolized the life that would soon slip away.

At 12, my family moved from Westchester, New York to Oak Park, Illinois. I felt like an outsider and hoped my love for music would connect me to a community of bandmates. On my first day, I opened my locker, reached for my flute and felt nothing.

My flute was not the only thing stolen on that day; I lost trust in the place I wanted to call home. I walked into the lunchroom, devastation still clear on my face, as I tried to find a place to sit. I looked around the lunch room, confusion immediately settled over me. I looked to my right and noticed table after table of black students, then I looked to my left and saw tables of white students .

In Westchester, diversity was not only black and white. I could walk down the hallway and see a girl wearing a hijab as easily as waving at a friend in a yarmulke. In Oak Park, I only had two clear-cut options that I disliked. So I made a third. I walked over to an empty table and sat down.

Suddenly, six girls joined my table. One of them, Briana, was new to Oak Park as well but already knew everyone. “Once you start meeting new people it gets easier. And then once you know them all, you can’t help but be yourself.”

She became one of my best friends and I tried to follow her advice. Yet feeling at home was still a struggle through middle school and first year of high school. Ironically, I found comfort in an unlikely place–the Chemistry Club in Tenth Grade. English and history were always my favorite subjects. When my brother suggested I join the Chemistry Club, I thought it wasn’t for me. However, my willingness to try something new led me to that morning meeting. I saw kids from my science class, but also girls from my dance team, kids in Model UN, and so many other types of people. Students eagerly showed me how to make the glow-in-the-dark slime.

Growing up my parents constantly preached of the importance of diversity and I saw the concept in strict terms of race, ethnicity and religion. The Chemistry Club–mostly white students with a few blacks–would not seem too diverse by that standard. Yet the interests, opinions and passions of everyone in that room were so diverse. In that moment, I began to truly feel at home in Oak Park.

Changing my frame of mind allowed me to meet extraordinary people and hear unique stories of my classmates. Initially I saw Oak Park on the surface as black and white and failed to dig deeper.  

I have also formed a lunch table that looks so different from what I saw on my first day in Oak Park. There are blacks and whites, dancers and athletes, and males and females. When I see new students or others sitting alone, I invite them to our table.

Seven years ago, someone found my old flute in the bathroom and it sits in the guest room of my house, while my newer flute is in my closet. I rarely play either, but they are reminders of how far I have come. In Oak Park, I have learned that one must take initiative to turn a community into a new home. There may be bumps along the way that may become opportunities to produce change. Just take a look at my lunch table.

Kennedy Sapp, a 2015 graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School, is a freshman at Vanderbilt University.