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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.

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.

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.

My Global Gateway: Food

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.

The Summer Wind of Change

The Summer Wind of Change

Kennedy Austin-Headshotby Kennedy Austin

The summers I knew were gone. Instead of flip flops, I wore sensible pumps. Instead of immersing my toes in the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean, I dipped my feet into adulthood.

When junior year ended, I didn’t feel that same tingly sensation of freedom and excitement. Instead I felt nervous. Ahead of me was a leadership conference, an elective summer-long math course, and an internship at South Bronx Health Clinic. All would be incredibly rich experiences moving me another step closer to my goals of combating economic inequity and a public health career. With a lump in my throat, I leapt forward, feeling eager yet anxious about how I might fit into new worlds.

My summer officially began with a train ride to Washington, D.C. Nominated by my dean, I was selected to be an AnnPower Fellow and attend the Vital Voices Leadership Forum where accomplished female leaders mentor 50 young women. My application included a plan to develop a high school course on economic inequity for privileged youth. Over the past two years I have become increasingly sensitive to inequity in my environment. Traveling around New York City, I’d gone from seeing extreme privilege to seeing people scraping by within minutes. Following Hurricane Sandy, I carried non-perishables to families stranded in public housing while replaying in my head television images of people with resources sheltering in luxury hotels. Seeing people struggle while others wined and dined made me angry. Why should different income levels afford different solutions in times of disaster?

At the Leadership Forum I talked to women from all over the world: a congresswoman from Argentina, a presidential candidate for Cameroon, and a graffiti artist who uses art to prevent domestic violence in Brazil. I encountered the go-getter lifestyle by workshopping elevator pitches, developing platforms, and networking.

The encouragement of mentors and other fellows was life-changing. I cried every day because I had never felt such empowerment. I came home with stars in my eyes looking at my passion to tackle economic inequity and health disparities. I began my internship the following week.

I made the 90-minute trek from Brooklyn to the South Bronx Health Clinic in one of the nation’s poorest neighborhoods. I sat for hours at a lacquered wooden desk. My job was to approach strangers and cheerily ask them to sign up for trips to the farmers’ market, Zumba classes and nutrition workshops. Some said yes and never came. Others were forthcoming, politely saying, “Oh, well, it says you can’t bring kids — necesito a llevar mi niño,” or “I have to work.” To that I smiled, though it probably looked more like a grimace, and said, “That’s a shame.”

After weeks of incessantly pitching programs, participation was low. I told my supervisor that potential clients were forced to choose work over activities and urged her to change the activity times. She refused. I had to accept that I couldn’t change her agenda because this was her job and I was just an intern. However, it didn’t defeat me or the fervor I had gained from AnnPower. I still loved speaking to patients about programs every day.

Previous summers now blur together like dream sequences. I move freely from  tightrope-walking on a college campus in between classes to manning a four-woman canoe in camp regatta, and eating Chipotle until my stomach hurt. Last summer, I didn’t frolic like I had in the past. I did not indulge myself in the ephemeral bliss of unadulterated liberty that only a child knows as vacation months. Rather, much like diving from a cliff, I plunged into the realm of career-building and risk-taking, and I grew. I put myself out there, spoke my mind, and pushed myself forward.

By summer’s end, despite their drabness, my sensible pumps had become more comfortable. So comfortable that I haven’t rushed to put my flip flops back on.

Kennedy Austin, a 2015 Graduate of the Berkeley Carroll School, will be a freshman at Wellesley College in the fall.

 

Discovering My True American Identity

Discovering My True American Identity

by Zoe Armstrong

“Zoe,Zoe Armstrong you can’t sit here,”  Mark said.

“Why not?”

“This is a whites only row,” he replied

It was junior year and I just wanted to find a seat at play rehearsal. I played Baroness Schraeder in my school’s production of The Sound of Music while Mark played the self-assigned role of class clown. He laughed until he saw the shock and outrage on my face.

“I meant to be funny,”  said Mark, “You shouldn’t take things so seriously.”

Eventually, he apologized and I realized he genuinely had not anticipated the impact of his joke. He had crossed a line that he did not know existed. I soon saw that an angry or irrational reaction might be as bad as the joke itself. This moment called for education in clarifying cultural misunderstandings, which became a major part of my life when my family moved to Switzerland at the beginning of my sophomore year. Mark, a white child growing up in Basel, did not have the same understanding of race as an American teenager who grew up with a cultural history that includes segregation, discrimination, and the painful struggle of the Civil Rights Movement. He actually thought that I might find some humor in his joke. In the interest of education and community, I explained calmly why I did not laugh along with him.

In that moment of my junior year, I saw the American in my sensitivities. I lived in America for the vast majority of my life, but I never thought of my country as defining or vital in my personal construction of identity. However, being a part of an international school community of people from different parts of the world does not dissolve the idea of nationality. Instead, such international diversity has a tendency to make students more aware of their native lands. As a member of an international community, each student at ISB becomes a representative of their own country, which has made me more patriotic while simultaneously helping me become more globally aware.

Since moving, the idea of community has been totally redefined for me. This new definition produces greater responsibilities for me to learn about other cultures and to be open to educating people about my own. This may mean abandoning anger at a racial joke, while not entirely shrugging it off either.

When I arrived in Basel, I integrated myself quickly in the interest of becoming part of a new community. Shortly after my arrival, my classmates elected me to be a member of the group of student representatives who reported to the school’s administration. I also travelled far outside of my comfort zone to more adequately engage with Basel. I realized my private school existed in a bubble. So I joined a cheerleading team for the town’s football team to meet residents who attend other local public schools. Initially it was a challenge since I was new to the language. I often communicated with body language and occasional phrases in broken Swiss-German. Yet my teammates were welcoming and patient as I slowly grew comfortable with my German. Eventually I introduced team-building exercises to that I had learned back in the States, which not only boosted our spirit but also helped our routines run cleaner.

I have had my share of awkward moments in jumping into a foreign community. For example, when I went to lunch with my friend, Sophie.  A waitress took Sophie’s order in perfect German. I decided to show off how much German I had learned. “Gruezi! Ich möchte den Chicken Fried Rice, und können wir mehr Servietten haben?”  I asked.

The waitress replied in English: “Sure, I’ll be right back with your food.” Sophie could not stop laughing, calling my accent “obviously foreign.” I laughed, but still felt a little disappointed in the waitress’s reaction. Perhaps Mark had similar feelings in discovering that his joke was not funny but offensive.

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

 

The Life of a Commute

The Life of a Commute

by Jourdan Espeut

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When I bound out of my house to begin my 75 minute commute every morning, the neighborhood is dreary and empty. I find comfort on my tree-shaded block of well-kept row houses. Since birth, I have lived in the house Mom has called home since she arrived in Brooklyn from Panama 45 years ago.

I try to picture Mom’s stories of the good old days in East New York, as I leave my block and pass the massive housing projects in front of the bus stop. I never bother looking at the schedule. The bus comes as it pleases so I leave extra early. I crave iced coffee, but can’t find a good cup until later.

It is a speedy ride to New Lots Avenue where I catch the 3 train.

“Hey girl, whatcha readin’?” says today’s suitor, as I bury my nose in The Invisible Man.  

Like, do you even care what I’m reading? “Not interested,” I respond.

I should actually thank those guys that hound me every morning. They give me great practice in maintaining composure in challenging environments. Take the basketball games when I am greeted by snarky comments from rival cheerleaders: “Your uniforms suck.”

I ignore them just as I dismiss those baffled by my cheerleading. My friends at the Writing Center, where I was selected to serve as a tutor, argue that cheerleading is “superficial.”  I disagree and keep cheering.

A screeching halt brings me back to reality.  After a handful of stops on the 3 train, I’m onto the 4 train at Utica Avenue. The doors open with a loud bing. I’m instantly shoved in all directions. Finding a seat is like animal feeding time. Standing or sitting, I read or daydream.

I remember when Mom used to ride with me to The Little Red Schoolhouse, as my train stops in Lower Manhattan. I was one of three African American students in my grade. In those innocent days, I never felt different. I left Little Red for public middle school, where most of my classmates were black and Latino.  Many of them hated me. There was the girl who wrote “Oreo” in sharpie on my locker. I drove myself to get strong scores so I could attend a high school with students that would not equate good grades with whiteness. My hard work paid off with admission to my first choice: Eleanor Roosevelt (ELRO).

My commute now extends to the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Knowing it is almost over once I reach 42nd street, I dart across the platform and squeeze myself into any space that’s left on the 6 train.

I was excited about high school.  Finally, people who won’t judge me for loving academics. Yet I went from being “too white”  in middle school to, ironically, “too black”  for many at ELRO. I endured every stereotypical black joke in the book: “If you had a superpower it’d be flying through the air with a noose around your neck.”

However, I stopped listening, dismissing those comments as if they came from a morning suitor. I made a diverse set of friends and jumped into writing, student government and, yes, cheerleading.

My daydream ends.  I finally get out at 77th street and it’s a breath of fresh air.  Trendy boutiques and Starbucks stand on every corner. I happily order my regular iced coffee and talk to the staff. Suddenly, I’m not traveling alone; I’m flanked by friends on each arm, and I feel confident.

Both ends of my commute produce my sense of security.  When I arrive on my block after the ride home, I see Miss Peggy, a neighbor I have known forever who loves to share books with me. Her greetings are always a reminder that where I come from is not at all negative; it has helped shape me into the resilient, driven individual I am today.

Jourdan Espeut, a graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School, is a freshman at The New School.

The Character of My Boat

The Character of My Boat

by Jack Bushell

jack

Boats are like movie cameras and can grow into films or stories themselves. When you think a boat’s life is over–dead, think again; its ending grows into a new beginning. Boats can have many lives, as long as their captain has a dream and a good work ethic.

A couple of years ago, I purchased my first boat ever. My mom thought it would never see the life of water again, and was fit for a dumpster. Yet I am a dreamer and a filmmaker who saw another story resting in the old wood.  At first glance on Craigslist,  I dreamed beyond two quarter-sized holes, rusty brown metal bolts and peeling dusty chips of paint. I called the owner and bargained him down from 275 to 100.  In one day, I turned it into my dream with a freshly coated white outside and a clean black line that outlined the sides of the boat like a ribbon. The inside was sky blue, meshing perfectly with the outside.  I named it Reel Time.

I know dreams do not come true without hard work like sanding Reel Time for two hours. Once ridding her of the old dry paint, I added two coats of black paint on the bottom for protective coating. This completed a rebirth and created a new life for Reel Time.

Boats and fishing have been my passions since 5th grade. My love of film unfolded when I started my school’s television station last year.  Yet I can’t always divorce my attraction to film from the sea.  Last year, my English class read The Sound of Waves, which tells the story of a boy coming of age with the dream to captain his own fishing boat. As I read, my own dreams compelled me to bring the story to life in a film.

I visualized my camera following someone on a boat rocking up and down with a fishing pole.  I dreamed of shots of the harbor and the water reflecting in the sun. The next morning, I wrote the script after finishing my scrambled eggs. A few days later, my best friend, Zack, became an actor and the star of my film. Zack had never driven a boat, so I was driving and filming at the same time with the waves bouncing the boat up and down and the wind blowing the hat off my head. After two days of shooting and two nights of editing, The Sound of Waves came to life as a four-minute film.

While I love boats, I also tell stories through film beyond the water and live much of my life away from the sea. Yet fishing and boating influence my work ethic at school and as a three-sport athlete. Boating has nurtured my patience and persistence. While I don’t win Lacrosse games by holding a fishing rod, the lessons from the sea sail with me on the field, and set a model for the rule that hard work produces results.

Reel Time can also become a big story when she hits the water. Take Independence Day 2012. The story starts with a clear blue sky–ripe for fishing on Long Island Sound. I don’t have my camera, but I directed my own slideshow in my mind. As always the water and weather are major characters in the story. At one moment, I feel the sun’s heat. Five minutes later, the sky darkens. A new scene:  I dart towards Connecticut’s shores to avoid the storm. The waves were still crashing over the front of the boat and I was still getting sprayed with salt water. Within seconds, the water formed 2-foot waves, knocking our boat around. I paused to beat out the storm until it was safe to return to dock and end this story. Certainly Reel Time will help shape many more narratives in both my life and hers.

Jack Bushell, a freshman at Emerson College, is a 2014 graduate of Redwood High School.

 

Merging Lenses: Humanities and Science

Merging Lenses: Humanities and Science

By Marcus Greer

10276036_10203599237324232_2346572052018785401_nI was in Egypt a year before the Arab Spring and saw deeply rooted social divisions well before the country cracked like an egg in January 2011. I stepped off of the plane into blistering Egyptian heat to meet my tour guide, Tarek. I admired his incredible passion and broad mind. In addition to his encyclopedic knowledge about the country’s history, he had volumes of criticisms about the Egyptian government. Between ancient monuments and inside archaic tombs, he allowed his contemporary protests to slip as whispers because, as he often said, “The walls have ears.”

Tarek’s ability to be so much more than his job title resonated with me. The versatility of his passions and his awareness mirrored who I am and who I am becoming. Tarek preached that Sadat was Egypt’s only great president, and that “like all great men causing change, Sadat was doomed to be assassinated,”  which led me to a very simple formula, like Leibniz’s energy equation. (rant = ½circumstance x frustration^2)

In his elegant rage, Tarek was more than a tour guide. He was a political philosopher, a storyteller, and a political activist and, inadvertently and ultimately, a model for my life. I have always been devoted to math and science, but this has never turned me off to history and humanities. In fact, I see the humanities as being imperative to my understanding of science. This inspires me to write English essays as parodies of scientific research, and Physics labs in the style of rich narratives. These combinations led to an unexpected discovery: imagining scenes with my physics material made it easier to relate to the subject, while a more systematic approach to literary analysis allowed me to more deeply scrutinize texts. The fact that a creative and a technical mind occupy space in the same brain seems an invitation to find ways to use them in tandem, not to build walls between them.

Tarek’s ability to relate seemingly unrelatable concepts helped me see how important considerations of the human heart and mind are in relation to technology. Pointing to a complicated ancient sword called a khopesh, he told me it was an excellent tactical device, but it rarely brought the Egyptian army success because its soldiers had no idea how to use it. “Technology is the way of the future, but only when you create it with people in mind,” he said, almost foreshadowing my experience in the Lemelson-MIT program. There, I am helping to design a GPS watch that will help caretakers keep track of Alzheimer’s patients, who tend to wander off and get lost. I am on a team to provide a scientific solution to a human problem. In designing the product, we talked with people with early onset Alzheimer’s. I saw they had a common fear of being trapped in their own minds. I presented to the team that we should strive to make our product empowering for the patient rather than making the watch seem like an invisible leash. I want the patient to look down at his or her wrist and think: “I have the freedom to safely leave my house.” We continue to keep in mind these human fears and desires as we design the device.

As a person trying to gain a comprehensive understanding of the world, I cannot just stop at science. If science is the study of the universe and the humanities are studies of our place in it, is it not logical for me to have an appreciation for both? The two disciplines are inextricable. Still, some people prematurely dismiss my arguments for versatile interests and say, “Oh, so you don’t know what you want to be?” That’s fine. I just respond, “Oh, no. I am both an aspiring engineer and an aspiring renaissance man.” The world is not made for people with one track minds, and I’m going to continue embracing this reality.

Marcus Greer, a graduate of Tenafly High School, is currently a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University.

Searching for My Identity and the Right House

Searching for My Identity and the Right House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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