• Topic

  • School

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

My Global Gateway: Food

by Asha Hinson

ashahinson

The aroma of sweet jerk chicken and oxtails consumes my nostrils, blocking any scents of urban pollution the second I exit the 2 train. I always feel at home in Flatbush during the afternoon rush hour. I immediately see signs advertising the best beef patty or roti in Brooklyn. People line up outside little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, waiting for their favorite Caribbean delicacies–even during the winter.

If Mom picks me up at the train, we join a line and I suddenly get a lesson in cuisines and cultures of places far beyond Brooklyn. Markets sell all kinds of meats and fish, which stir my curiosity. One day we stop at a restaurant without a name on the door but with a menu displayed on the wall.

“What are doubles?” I ask Mom.

“You have had doubles before; a sandwich with two deep-fried flat breads stuffed with a chickpea curry.”

I experience the diversity of my identity through food. I easily find my mom’s Grenadian-Bajan background in cuisines on Flatbush streets. On weekends, I explore my dad’s Southern roots. Grandmother Rita came to New York from Georgia sixty years ago. When I enter her Bronx apartment, I immediately face a plate of fried chicken and collard greens over lots of laughs at old pictures and stories of Daddy’s youth. On school days, I come from a comfortable bed in a Brooklyn brownstone to a Manhattan progressive school where food becomes part of our curriculum in studying the world. Last year, my friend, Mirwat, bought Kissan jam and shared stories from her native country, India. She described classes taking place on railroad platforms or in small cabins and students walking along a bamboo bridge to commute to school.

Food also helps me strengthen my bond with my summer brothers who live in Texas. As an only child, my four younger cousins–Quentin, Marley, Maxwell, and Cameron– fill my void of not having siblings. For as long as I can remember, I have spent a chunk of every summer with them in Dallas. Over barbeque, we experience the world of rodeos. I love taking them to aquariums, pools, and their favorite, amusement parks, in between feasting on Italian Ices.

My brothers teach me to treasure the differences in people the same way I appreciate varieties in food. Yet I also understand that some divides run too deep for a meal to bring the two sides to a toast. For example, rewind to an amusement park last summer: my six-year-old cousin, Marley, stares in awe at a monstrous structure before him. As usual, I try to imagine what is running through his mind. I see the fear in his face grow as he analyzes the bright blue slide, glistening in the scorching Texas sunlight. He is excited yet frightened.

A man tall enough to play Big Bird gives Marley terse instructions. “Lay down on your back, little boy, and cross both your arms and feet! Okay?”

Marley stares upward with wide eyes fixed on the impatient slide attendant.

“Hurry up, kid, we’ve got other kids waiting. Go down already!”

Food can not bridge this gap. I wish the giant slide attendant could read the articles I devour on Autismspeaks.org. If he understood Marley’s differences, maybe he wouldn’t be so impatient. Marley is on the autism spectrum and inspires my appetite to learn as much as I can about child psychology. I draw him close, bend down, and look in his eyes.

“Marley, don’t worry, there is nothing to be afraid of, I will go to the bottom and wait for you.”

Unfortunately, Marley chose to walk away from what could have been the ride of his life. If he faces the top of the slide next summer, I will try again to inspire him to try something new as easily as I sample a different kind of fish or meat in Flatbush.

Asha Hinson, a 2015 graduate of the Little Red Schoolhouse and Elisabeth Irwin High School, will be a freshman at Smith College in the Fall.

What’s in a Name? Becoming Samantha

by Samantha Weintraub

photo-16-e1347573891574“Do you go by Sam, Sammie, or Samantha?”

That is an inevitable question when I meet people. I started as Sammie the New Yorker who couldn’t stop dancing. I was completely alive as Clara in The Nutcracker or Charlie Brown in a tap production. I longed to explore personas of characters from another world. There was so much unknown, and everything I did as Sammie was an attempt to make the world a little clearer, or to see it from another perspective. When I was applying to kindergarten, I had to take long tests. Out of curiosity, I asked the proctor why she was watching me put together puzzles. She thought I was being rude, and my questions almost cost me acceptances to schools. She misunderstood me, however. I was genuinely curious. Years later, as Sammie the reporter, I would address that strange testing situation in one of my blog posts.

It was that same curiosity that sparked my excitement when my parents announced that we were moving to Seattle. I was excited to take on the brave new world, until that first day of fifth grade. My twin sister Blair and I were the only new students. I longed for commonality with my new classmates, so I followed most of the girls by joining the soccer team and trading in my frilly dresses for jeans. I wasn’t Sammie anymore. I became Sam. I wasn’t happy in my new skin. I never excelled on the soccer field the way I had on the dance floor. I didn’t feel my friends liked me for who I was, and they certainly didn’t have my back when I was cyber bullied in seventh grade. My friendships were as false as my identity.

The only hints of that curious Sammie came out on the road trips with my dad to the mountains around Seattle. Speeding down a highway in the middle of nowhere in the company of my dad, I felt safe enough to bring Sammie back. My spirit to question stayed alive through my relationship with my dad. We would have conversations about everything, from the creation of the earth to the cause of the stock market crash.

I became Samantha when I returned to New York in the Tenth Grade. I recaptured my individuality through creative expression in fashion journalism, which I have explored through several internships. My experiences interning are an extension of the younger me playing different characters in dance recitals, and my personality as Samantha is a stronger, more mature version of Sammie. From a magazine to a fashion PR firm to a retail store design company, each position has opened my eyes to different parts of the fashion industry so I can understand how they all come together. At each internship, my supervisors noticed my curiosity and invited me to sit in on meetings. Seeing the senior staff at work was my favorite part of each job. Those meetings prepared and motivated me to assume my leadership role as Editor-in-Chief of my school’s yearbook.

To many, fashion has a connotation of obsession with materialism and vanity, but fashion taught me the importance of individuality. I created a blog to convince my readers to see fashion as identity, self-expression, and confidence – not materialism. Through fashion journalism, I found Samantha. I don’t need faraway road trips to feel comfortable in my own skin. As Coco Chanel said, “To be irreplaceable, one must always be different.” As Samantha, I will never again pretend to be someone I am not, even if it means I’m different than everyone else.

Samantha Weintraub is a graduate of The Hewitt School and will be a freshman at NYU in the Fall.

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.

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.

Climbing and Confidence

by Dexter Zimet

I feel alone on the football field of my team’s biggest rivals. Yes, it is just me, the only player on the field against the other team of eleven. They all run for me and the only line of defense is myself.

I get that feeling in many of my classes at Dalton. I am a rare libertarian amidst extremely liberal teachers and students. My economics teacher called on me to speak recently and, before my mouth opened, I felt the vicious glares of my classmates beam towards me as if I committed blasphemy. “I think trickle-down economics work,” I said. The stares grow into eighteen shouting voices: “How can you say that?” and “You’re wrong!” My resistance to censor myself forms my persona as a strong risk taker and defines my independence. Yet speaking my truth comes at the cost of some peers ostracizing me. However, taking risks prepares me for my dream to become an entrepreneur. The people in my life always warn me that the majority of start-ups fail, but I do not fear failure or risks.

Perhaps it all starts with living in a city with millions of opinions surrounding me. Everyday people attempt, in a New York manner, to push me to adopt their beliefs, whether they beg me to occupy Wall Street or argue that JG Melon’s makes the best burgers in the city or that the Yankees define the best in baseball. I happen to, dangerously, be a Mets fan.

In baseball, football, wrestling and snowboarding, some of my risks have produced consequences: three broken hands, two broken wrists, a torn right shoulder labrum, elbow tendinitis, a forearm stress fracture, shattered left elbow, a concussion, traction apophysitis, planter faciitis, shattered finger joint, two dislocated shoulders and two broken pinkies. Not bad for a seventeen-year-old, right? Through all the trauma I experienced, I had a smile knowing I had taken a risk doing something I loved. After all, if I survive physical therapy three times, I can make it through disagreements with my friends and teachers.

The test of this confidence came two summers ago. My friend’s dad invited me to climb Mt. Rainer. He warned that I needed to train extremely hard during the two months prior to the climb in order to prepare my body and mind. I kept telling myself that I would regret it for the rest of my life if I did not take this risk. The idea of not taking advantage of every opportunity was more frightening than actually climbing the mountain. I was galvanized. I began to eat healthier and I decided to never drink soda again. During baseball camp, I woke up everyday before everyone else to work out prior to the day’s activities. In Italy, I ran along the coast on narrow roads every night as strange looking cars zoomed by. With my dogs by my side, I sprinted up and down the rolling hills engulfed in the backwoods of our summer house. During these moments, I reflected on my mission to succeed by standing out on the field and in the classroom; risk was my vehicle.

I faced the first big test on a clear morning in late August. Our plane glided past the snow-capped monster and into Seattle. Qualms arose, as my pen scratched the release form. During training, we learned potentially life saving techniques, and I quickly realized other people were going to depend on me. I was responsible not just for my own life, but also the lives of seven others tied to my rope. The second day we climbed 10,000 feet and made camp. Lying in my sleeping bag, the sounds of howling winds and falling rocks kept me awake and pushed my nerves to thoughts of quitting. At 1:00 AM, we started the climb. At many moments, I wished to turn around and head back with the 20 out of 30 climbers who decided the trek was too much. At 11,000, then 12,000, then 13,000, my mind kept telling my body that we could do this. If I were to fail, I would regret it for the rest of my life. As I trudged the last few hundred feet, the pain withered. When we reached the summit the satisfaction and joy I felt was indescribable as I saw both the space needle and the Pacific Ocean. Since that climb, I am in constant search of that feeling of achievement. My hunger for success has grown. I constantly crave the sensation I experienced in that last step to reach the top.

Dexter Zimet is a freshman at Johns Hopkins University and a graduate of The Dalton School in New York.

 

Coming of Age

by Alec Harris

I entered seventh grade with a mustache that made me look like I was 30. My thin legs made me ripe for the nickname of Frog. Then my height turned me into Godzilla. I can’t forget the flat feet that forced my uneven walk. On top of it all, I had a stutter. I felt like a misplaced piece of a puzzle carelessly thrown in the wrong box.

The struggle to fit in left me on the edge of a cliff, and as J.D. Salinger says in Catcher in the Rye, “Led me to a special kind of fall.” Every time I looked in the mirror, my seventh grade self hated the curse of puberty that turned me into a boy with the appearance of an adult.  But when I looked past my physical appearance, I saw something others could not see: the fear of being rejected for my true self. I pushed myself into conversations that did not really interest me: Gossip Girl and New York nightlife. There were those parties I did not attend, yet I found myself sharing the details of them as if I were The Man.  In order to feel a sense of association, I tried creating exuberant hand shakes when I said “Goodbye.” As I grabbed the hands of others, they would look at me with a stare that said:  “What are you doing?” I would respond by saying, “I don’t know.” What was I thinking?

I heard the words “boarding school” slip from my father’s mouth as my parents talked in the kitchen. My hands began to tremble. For the past ten years, I had grown accustomed to waking up each morning to the great smell of my mom’s breakfast. But, like Holden was told, it was time to take my leap of faith, and it would not be long until I hit the ground. My first boarding school was a single sex school like the one I attended in New York. It was not a new experience. I found a home when I transferred to Pomfret my sophomore year. I still remember my first step out of the car on Pomfret’s campus. I caught a glimpse of my reflection on the side mirror. I was ready to start over with a blank slate at a new school. As I shook the hand of my new dorm parent and prefect, they embraced me with only the knowledge of my name.

I was the only sophomore in a senior dorm.  I feared not being accepted because of my lack of maturity. Over time, I felt more comfortable, even though the seniors loomed over me with their strong physiques and their relationships with girlfriends which I had yet to experience. For the first time ever, I was in a coed educational environment and found the atmosphere more diverse and more humane in so many ways.

Unlike Holden, I embraced my life at a prep school. Outside of class, I defied my parents with a newfound independence and joined the football team. I truly discovered my position with the older guys at the school’s championship football game. The sounds from the crowd seemed to echo off the distant mountains and the ferocity of each play made it a game to remember. It was the seniors’ last chance to leave a medal in the school’s trophy case and it all came down to one play, in which Tony Campione made the game winning catch. As all the players raised their helmets up to the sky in joy, Tony ran over to me and lifted me over his shoulders. I began to tear up under the majestic stadium lights, because it reminded me of a feeling that I thought I had lost many years ago.   Many who saw my tears said, “That’s true school spirit right there!” But it wasn’t, it was me feeling like a kid again.

I also felt at home in the classroom for the first time in years. In Geometry, it was the transverse proof that made me fall in love with math. In Biology, I couldn’t wait for class each day especially as we dissected frogs. In English, I saw a part of myself as we read Catcher in the Rye.  “Its a process you cannot rush,” as J.D. Salinger wrote. “We will all fall off the Rye on our own time, and what is created when you land is the person you will naturally become.” During my first few months at Pomfret, whether it was the independence, my roommates becoming my new brothers, or the natural progression of my growth, my fall began. I was no longer a piece of a puzzle in the wrong box.

Alec Harris is a freshman at University of Pennsylvania and a graduate of Pomfret School in Pomfret, CT.

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.