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Moving Characters from Stages to Stories to Real Life

Moving Characters from Stages to Stories to Real Life


By Mark Anthony Graham

Mark Anthony stent Graham

I don’t remember my first time dancing; my friends say you can’t truly love something unless you can identify your first time engaging in the passion. I firmly disagree. I don’t remember the first time I ate pizza, and trust me, I love pizza. I don’t remember the first time I met my parents, but I love them dearly. Like pizza and my parents, dance is so integral to my life that I feel as if I’ve been moving rhythmically forever.

Before I could walk, I watched my mother and sister in African dance classes at the Harlem School of the Arts. I listened as the beat of the drums surrounded me and influenced movement.

However, it was not until I fell in love with writing in ninth grade that I understood dance as a form of storytelling. My passion for sharing stories discovered two outlets for powerful narratives that influence my life in so many ways.

Have you ever read a story so immersing that you didn’t want it to end? I write stories that I don’t want to finish. I never want to end the moments when I am locked in the creations of my characters. The only way to free myself and end the story is to start another one.

I don’t always know where my stories are going when I sit at my computer while my fingers follow my mind. My adventures on the keyboard lead me into lives so different from my own. One character, Mateo, is set on an adventure bigger than himself. He believes he saw a ghost from his past, but unknowingly pursues a quest created by a mythical goddess who wants Mateo–and Mateo alone–to save her life.

I now see that the characters I create possess value far beyond storytelling. I made this discovery this year, when I became an ethics teacher for the sixth graders in my school’s Student to Student program. In STS we explore identities, communication, conflict resolution, and other issues that haunt adolescence. As a Cisgender Man, I was intimidated by the thought of creating lesson plans on gender relations. How could I create exercises that limited my inherent male bias and would be impactful for the girls in the class? As I struggled with this question, I remembered Brenda and Rachel. I created those characters for my story, “The Right Choice,” spending hours trying to write from a girl’s perspective while developing the story.

The mindset that guided me to create Brenda and Rachel in a very natural way helped me create a lesson plan in which I would facilitate but not dominate the conversation. I gave my sixth graders the information to help them unpack the social stigmas around gender on their own.

Teaching middle schoolers and creating characters in my stories have forced me to look at life from the perspective of others. Most recently, however, dance expanded my sense of narrative by compelling me to look deeply at myself as a character. My whole perspective on telling stories changed last year through “Blood on the Leaves.”  This piece, choreographed by a classmate was an artistic expression of the Black Lives Matter movement.  This dance embodied the passion, pain, and sense of solidarity associated with the movement. Unlike Mateo, Brenda, or Rachel, the characters and story of the dance were not from my imagination, but were representations of my own life. The dance changed my sense of storytelling because I was sharing the weight that I carry around with me every day through the fluidity of dance. The sensations and emotions of the piece came naturally to me.

Narratives are eternal in my life and support my natural empathy. They force my natural inclinations to watch, listening, and observe the lives around me as my own story unfolds–whether these stories move on stage, sit in a computer screen, or inform the way I teach others.

__________________________________________________________

 

Mark Anthony Graham, a 2016 Graduate of the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, is now a freshman at Villanova.

That Sweet Space of Art, Science and Life

That Sweet Space of Art, Science and Life

by Kaira Mediratta

Kaira Mediratta

I bake all three layers of the cake and stack them. All that’s left is the frosting. I quickly dump the butter, vanilla, and powdered sugar into the bowl and turn the mixer on high. I take one look, and it’s clear I’ve made a mistake: I forgot to sift the powdered sugar.

It’s 12:26. Starting over on the frosting would mean racing to the store. Mrs. Low, who has requested this cake for her daughter’s birthday, is coming to pick it up at 1:00.

With its golden hues, the cake’s layers perfectly complement the rich, lemon curd filling. But who wants a birthday cake with lumpy frosting?

In sixth grade, I recognized my passion for baking: an art form that requires creativity and flexibility. Soon after, I began an informal baking business, producing countless cakes ever since.

I trace my love of art back to one afternoon, on a special trip with my Daduthe Bengali word for maternal grandfatherlooking out over a sea of Venetian rooftops. My Dadu starts sketching; the setting sun reflecting off the rhubarb tiles. He then pulls another sketchbook out of his bag and hands it to me: “Draw as much as you can, whenever you can.”

Although I lost that sketchbook years ago, his advice has influenced my development as an artist. A few months ago, I realized a lifelong dreamhaving a piece hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Artafter winning a gold medal through the Scholastic Art & Writing contest. Despite a bitter, cold snowstorm, my Dadu managed to get to the opening reception. We pushed through crowds of people to look for my painting. I could tell that he was surprised when he caught sight of it, because I hadn’t told him it was a painting of him. I’d finally found a way to thank him for fostering my creativity.

I always thought of myself primarily as an artistic person. However, as I matured, the dichotomy between art and science in my life faded. My interest in science bloomed when I started taking classes at the American Museum of Natural History in middle school.

I remember standing in the doorway of the ichthyology department, staring at rows of shelves, containing thousands of tiny glass jars. At first I’m stunned by the sheer numbers, but looking closer, I realize that each jar holds a different specimen, preserved in formaldehyde. Surrounded by species from every corner of the earth, I’m amazed by the vast collection around me. This sense of scientific curiosity would lead me to apply for, and ultimately work at, the museum in high school.

At the intersection of art and science, baking is a metaphor for my life. It demands exact proportions and procedures, but requires creative solutions. And through experience in the kitchen, I’ve learned math, chemistry, and patience. Most importantly, I’ve learned not to fear starting over. As I approached high school, after being at the same private school since kindergarten, I became hungry to engage the world outside of this bubble. After auditioning for art at LaGuardia on a whim, I was happily surprised to be offered a spot. Next stop – open house.

The elevator doors open, and a marching band blocks my path through the hallway. To my left two girls paint an elaborate mural, while to my right another student belts out a dulcet aria. The whole place is crazy, but in the best sense of the word.

After open house night, I make my decision to enter a school five times the size of my old one. I wouldn’t know a single person. As terrifying as that sounds, I embraced the change.

In the end, the choice was as simple as fixing the frosting of that birthday cake. I threw on my shoes, grabbed my wallet, and bolted out the doorand, somehow, the cake was ready at 1:00.

Kaira Mediratta graduated from LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts this week and, after a Gap Year, will be a freshman at Williams College

From Football to Squash, Politics and Myself

by Ian Batts

By the time that I reached Ninth Grade, my ten fingers each had a story to tell. I had broken them all in different football injuries. They recovered stronger, and I always returned to the sport. Football had become my life starting in sixth grade. As a player and a fan (I loved watching my Redskins on Sundays) it informed my social world and identity. It was so much of my life that I became frightened when I no longer enjoyed playing on the team.

Freshman year: I ignored the impulse to quit football. At training camp in August, a revered senior player said to me: Nobody enjoys football, including me.” Surely somebody does. At least someone knew how I felt then, but for years of work, what had he gotten out of football? Soon afterwards, an injury–not the fingers but a herniated disc–forced me out for the rest of freshman year. I was slightly relieved.

As a sophomore, I was back on the field, but I realized why that senior kept playing a sport that he did not enjoy: his friends were his teammates, girls came to see him play, the school appreciated football, and freshmen aspired to be him. On the bus ride from an away game, I sat next to a rowdy friend who recounted the game’s highlights. He sensed my lack of excitement.

“Why aren’t you having fun?” he said with surprise. “You played well.”

“I just have had a long day.” Please let me be.

“Yeah, I hate away games,” he said.

I thought aloud, “Do you like practice? What do you like about the season?”

I shouldn’t have said that. Well, I might as well say what I really think now: “I think I should quit.”

He warned that I would lose friends and respect. Our definitions of respect are so far apart; I will always respect football players for character, but never for being popular. How can I respect those who play without a purpose beyond popularity? Is that not the opposite of character?

I quit. I won my independence, and a new world revealed itself to me. One day, a classmate asked me to play squash. I would have never had this opportunity before. Although my friends won’t understand, I ought to try it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the game for its own sake; I had no external motivations. I signed up for lessons afterward. In my first squash lesson, the pro started off by teaching me that “you control the ball. The ball doesn’t control you.” This epitomized how I had changed my life. I did not fear my friends’ reactions to my debut in squash. Their arguments against anything that was not football, lacrosse, or soccer were weightless. Maybe it’s just me, but I wanted to try something new. For risking my social life, I found out that my closest friends, some of whom were most opposed to me playing squash, saw my happiness and were truly loyal. With a new passion and renewed trust in my friends, I began to see every day as an opportunity rather than a burden.

Letting go of football provided time for other interests like Model UN and other avenues to explore individuality. Most of my friends are devout Republicans. I followed my blue heart and became co-head of the Young Democrats this year.

Eventually, I saw a version of that old cliché: If you can’t beat him, join him, come to life. Seeing my happiness, some friends privately asked me if they could join the Squash Club. So I decided to start an official squash team at my school. I found the players, a place to play, and the coaches, but the school athletic director rejected the proposal, saying that squash would take students away from popular sports. He will never see a point in the proposal. I can’t change that, but I am so tired of people deciding what others ought to do. In a rare moment of insubordination, I suggested that students should be allowed to choose for themselves. He might have seen squash as a dead end or something obscure, but since that day I first tried squash, I realized that there are many ways to the same goal, football and squash being among them, and that each person might be fit for one or the other or something else altogether. In the end, the long process for me to define character, success, and fulfillment on my own terms produced the evolution of my individuality.

Ian Batts, a 2013 graduate of St Albans, will be a freshman at Harvard in the Fall, 2014, after a Gap Year.

A Christmas Miracle

A Christmas Miracle

by James Thompson

James Thompson (3)

I felt like a 12-year-old Danny Ocean or Robin Hood when I pulled off the most amazing Christmas heist. Maybe you can’t really call it a heist. I didn’t rob a bank, rip off a toy store or even steal anything physical, but things were stolen: the idea of my parent’s omnipotence, along with fragments of my innocence.

It all started when my younger brother, Calvin, requested my help to defy our parents.  To a bystander this might have sounded like: “I’m sick of mom and dad telling us we can’t get an Xbox. We should buy one ourselves.”  To me this sounded like: “I’m sick and tired of gravity, we should fly!” So to be clear: My brother asked me to help him do the impossible.

We plotted a Christmas miracle: to buy an Xbox, wrap it, and sneak it under our tree as an anonymous gift to the two of us. We began the normal holiday ritual on December 23 with the four-hour drive to my Aunt Debbie’s house in Yorktown Heights, New York. Once there, Calvin and I immediately went to work, with adrenaline as our companion throughout the entire process. Disbelief bathed my parents’ faces when we opened the final gift on Christmas morning. Mom and dad spent the rest of that Christmas in astonishment; guessing and re-guessing which relative could possibly have defied their expressed contempt for video games.

This was quite the moment for me, a guy who always enjoyed being a nerd. Even today, that n-word doesn’t bother me. I had been an obedient child, but was growing bored with my allegiance to my parents. The Xbox was the symbol of victory for my emerging tween rebellion. It became the first time I saw my parents defeated, and immediately a new fear emerged: How could those who couldn’t even stop me from buying a game console protect me from the world? It was a frightening and empowering moment.

The heist happened around the time I awakened to a new interest: film. In the Seventh Grade, I took a media literacy class, which captivated me as we studied the power of the media over the mind. We looked at commercials and explored the rigor entailed in creating 30 seconds of film that influenced such wide audiences. I was amazed to learn that such a large team of professionals invested so much intellectual capital on a commercial or a film–so much more energy than Calvin and I employed on the Christmas miracle. I did not draw this connection so neatly then. Yet looking back, I see how the two experiences shaped my coming of age. The heist demonstrated the power of my creativity while film would become the way for me to exercise that power in a constructive way.

My interest in film continued to grow with me and I convinced my parents to send me to a one-week intensive at the New York Film Academy the summer before my junior year. We learned to make short films with each student producing a two-minute silent film. My film focused on a college student who knew he was shortly going to die and how he chose to spend his final day.

The thrill of staging a world and sharing it captivated me. My nine hours in the editing room felt like nine minutes. I couldn’t get enough of shooting the best footage and editing a story, which turned out to be incredibly difficult. I relished the challenge. I felt like I was boxing with Mike Tyson and dodging every punch he threw sometimes even sending him through the roof with an upper cut.

I carried my passion for film back to school my junior year when I noticed a problem: a clear divide between white students, who are mostly residents of Brookline and students of color, most of whom are bussed to our school. I thought film was the best way to address this issue. Rather than write a paper for my Race and Identity class, I produced a film on the conflict by interviewing students from all races. As one of the few African American students who live in Brookline, it was easy for me to gain the confidence of both residents and bussed-in students.

I approached the documentary with a romantic view of film and the medium’s potential to help bridge the divide. When I finished the film, I was proud, yet underwhelmed and sobered by its limitations in solving the problem. I had a similar feeling after completing the Christmas Day heist. Both the film and the heist were driven by excitement but ended with my confrontation with harsh realities. The film didn’t solve the problem, it just illuminated it by highlighting the unintentional prejudice against students of color at my school. I could only expose a problem–not fix it. But exposure is a big part of progress and the first step to finding any solution. Six years ago, I learned that lesson through a Christmas miracle.

James Thompson is a freshman at Hampshire College and a graduate of Brookline High School in Brookline, Mass. 

 

Keys to My Passions

by David Webster

I stare from afar at the big beast that stands in my living room, intimidated by its beauty, and uncertain of what may happen if I touch it. Yet its sight is so striking and inviting. I want to touch it to produce the tunes that my mother plays occasionally. One day I climb on the bench, my feet innocently dangling over the ground. I place my small, chubby fingers on the off-white keys. Beautiful noises flow, varying from high to low, soft to loud. I control all of it; I feel like the God of the keys.

If I had not engaged with that mysterious contraption when I was six-years-old, I would have lost the chance to develop a passion, piano. Today my relentless pursuit of passions and interests go beyond the piano. They have been nurtured by the inescapable resolve and independence that grew up with the taunts of two big brothers. I remember the Christmas when I was ten.  My older brothers were 15 and 17– too old for toys but not quite beyond the magic of Christmas morning.  “What did you ask for?” they nagged.   I ripped open an intricate blue rapper as they waited anxiously. It was just what I had wanted, the software  “Landscape Architecture and Design”.  They traded a glance and burst out laughing simultaneously like the hyenas in The Lion King. “That’s what you asked for?” they queried.  They always made jokes about my eclectic interests; from the time I opened my framed Monet paintings at 6, to my light box and my 3D animation tools at 8.

There is nothing like the bit of fun teasing from big brothers to prepare you to confront bigger challenges. Last summer, I concluded the NYU Summer Institute of technology program knowing that our required final performance would be difficult. I would not be performing on the piano, which I have done every year since I was six. My job was to perform the rap lyrics in a song that my group wrote and engineered. Yikes. I stood backstage, awaiting the erupting audience applause that would signal the end of the preceding groups. I didn’t want to leave the homey little room backstage, which didn’t pose any opportunity to fail. My heart raced. My hands were sweaty. My stomach was locked in knots. Yet I took that first step onto the ominous stage, with two hundred eyes staring at me from the audience. I walked into the blinding stage lights facing the crowd and performed. Our performance wasn’t perfect. Although we could have used a second sound check (ironic for a music technology program), I still walked offstage, head held high, knowing that what I had personally accomplished went far beyond what the audience had seen.

Did I hate being so nervous? Absolutely. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

However not every experience or challenge overcome is immediately gratifying; some involve lessons that unfold over time.  Take, for example, the gray day that I ended my teams’ chances for progressing through the county tournament.  I was a young freshman who, until then, had warmed the bench on the varsity team. It was the bottom of the seventh inning.  Our slow but hefty catcher had just been walked to first base.  I heard the coach’s voice. “Webby! You’re in” My feet trembled within my loosely tied cleats as I jogged nervously to first base. “Hopefully he just wants me to run the bases,” I thought. But when the sign to steal came, I had to go.  The silence as I ran tensely was one of the loudest noises had ever heard.  The first baseman had the ball, and a look of monumental accomplishment on his face. With great precision, he threw the ball to the second baseman, which applied a tag that seemed to slam me deep into the sand. I had been picked off, and it was the last out of the game. The easier option is always to linger on base. But still, there is something that gives me the courage to push myself and go all out to second base.

I am sometimes apprehensive in the face of new challenges, and I am initially reluctant to partake in activities that force me to exit my niche of familiarity. Yet I overcome the reluctance to face the risks of unknown as I have become well acquainted with challenge.  My experience with it is irreplaceable and will only help in the time ahead. As I conquer a new hurdle, I will always feel my swinging toes, microphone in hand, dashing through the sand towards new opportunities.

David Webster will be a junior at Williams College in the fall and is a 2011 graduate of Newark Academy in Livingston, New Jersey.

A Rough Field for Everything….Everything but Race

by Conner Chapman

connorchap

A right arm hung from a body after our linebacker picked up the opposing quarterback and slammed him on the turf. The kid’s season ended with the nearly detached arm in front of my eyes. A year later, I rushed past an offensive lineman and dove for the quarterback. I missed. When I looked down, my mangled pinky finger barely hung on my hand. A trainer popped it back in, but I was done for the night. At least I had the rest of the season.

My finger still hurts, but not enough for me to abandon the sport. I am content playing football, not because of the brutal impact on my body, but largely since the game provides a level playing field where performance–not race–matters. Moreover, strong performance in football does not produce the remarks I confront for academic achievement, which are often blatantly couched in terms of race: “Now here’s a black kid who studies.”

Football isn’t a world free of problems. Yet on game day, my school’s black and gold are the only colors that produce team loyalty. If Trayvon Martin was on my team, he would have been safer on the field of broken fingers and arms than he was in the neighborhood where he met George Zimmerman. Moreover, if Martin confronted any brutality on the field, it would have been part of a play that had nothing to do with race.

A week after the not guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, I was at a forum sponsored by Jack and Jill, an organization of black families. An elderly man yelled, “It was Trayvon Martin’s fault for being killed. He shouldn’t have been out at night wearing a hoodie.” I was shocked, angry and offended. This man was actually a black father of a teenager. I guess it was his way of saying “pull your pants up.”  I stood and responded. “You are wrong,” I said. “There is no way you can justify Zimmerman’s actions or Trayvon’s death.”

After reflecting on the forum, I must admit it is only realistic to expect others to judge African-Americans based on prejudices tied to race and appearance. While the man’s comment felt outrageous, he raised a valid point, whether I liked it or not. If Trayvon had been wearing a suit, would his appearance have been enough to disarm some of Zimmerman’s racism, saving Martin’s life? This question is painful and disheartening, but real.

Unfortunately, I will probably spend my whole life disproving the stereotypes inside the minds of others. I will be forced to carry myself in a clean cut way that does not promote any triggers of black male stereotypes. In doing so, I will continue to be praised as an exception with compliments that don’t feel like real compliments. Achievements of mine are so often now called remarkable because I am black. This further inspires my appreciation of football where my abilities never wear a racial stain.

On the field, the roughness of the meritocracy inherent in the game compels players to think as a team regardless of race. The tough game provides a field where 22 players find equal opportunities to perform once they are in the game. However, I refuse to rest my laurels on football and allow centuries-old stereotypes to dictate my fate. Part of my life’s mission is to destroy barriers that confine blacks to narrow opportunities.

Coming home from a big win recently, my teammates were too happy to remain quiet. We sang, rapped, and made fun of each other and the coaches in jest. It didn’t matter whether you could sing or rap and, as usual, we were a team of only two colors–black and gold. I hope to create avenues where this kind of moment–so unburdened by race– is the norm. If only I could bottle that spirit on the bus and spread it worldwide.

Conner Chapman, a graduate of Long Island’s St Anthony’s High School, will be a freshman at the University of Chicago in the fall.

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.