Author Archive

Testimonials

  • “The workshop helped me to feel comfortable writing about myself and to work through my ideas to see what would work. It proved to be a crucial way for me to figure out what was most important to me and how to express that to the colleges I was applying to in the most articulate way. I highly recommend it as learning experience.”
  • Sophia Toles
  • Martha’s Vineyard Workshop Attendee
  • Class of 2012, Friends Academy
  • Class of 2016, Princeton University
  • “David Dent does a great job of helping students come up with revealing topics of their very own to consider for their college essays. He takes the time that is needed to transport your child beyond the routine parameters of his/her thinking to get there.”
  • Lisa Boldt, Mother
  • Alden Boldt
  • Class of 2014, Berkshire School
  • Class of 2018, Union College
  • “When Cameron came to Write for the Future, he was at the bottom of his class in writing and literature. In about 26 sessions, he has gone from a bottom to an A. It is so exhilarating to see this work-in-action. David and Write for the Future have proven that what they say, they do. Write for the Future is a testament to itself. … Now my son can analyze things, he can write things; there are not words to express the things he has done since he has been working with Write for the Future...I would recommend Write for the Future offers to anyone. You are investing in your child’s future,… and you will see the outcome of the product. Write for the Future has done wonders for my son. On Sundays, he always looks forward to his session…. I think it’s amazing.”
  • Lynn King,
  • Mother of Cameron King,
  • Class of 2016, Elisabeth Irwin High School

Essay of the Week: My World to Paper by Caleigh Leonard

Essay of the Week: My World to Paper by Caleigh Leonard

                                   

I ripped my notebook out of my backpack and emptied myself onto six pages. I don’t think I’d ever experienced something so cathartic; the paper wasn’t there to judge, only to listen. Last summer, after the first day of my internship at a teen-led mental health organization, I returned home to my Aunt’s Manhattan apartment. I quickly became overwhelmed by the thoughts and challenges of navigating a job in the city that I love. Would I mess up at work? Would I make friends? Would I get lost on the subway? I couldn’t call my parents for comfort because they were at work. So I pressed my ink into the page until I felt better. 

The following day, I expanded this exercise by writing poems. I discovered that the process of creating a well-written poem is like breathing, and when I’m overwhelmed that is exactly what I need to do: breathe. Today, whenever I am stressed, jealous, angry, or any other extreme emotion, I write a poem. It might only be four stanzas, but it is enough to calm me down. 

It isn’t a surprise that I found a solution in words and used it as a means of entering a new genre of writing. I’ve always been an explorer; I like to see and learn from what I do not understand. Freshman year I took a photography class on a whim; I’d never even handled a real camera, let alone a film camera. But I quickly learned how to roll and load the film canister, adjust the lighting and aperture, and develop in the dark room. It allowed me to see the world in new ways — more personal and meaningful than the lens an iPhone provides. The same concept applies to different styles of writing, which has encouraged me to explore.

When I first discovered my interest in writing in eighth grade, it was through essays and fiction pieces for English class. However, my passion for writing developed the summer before my sophomore year at The School of The New York Times, where I began learning the art of journalism. In an article about the Jackson House Restaurant in Queens, I found that in order to tell a story, I have to relay the bigger picture. I didn’t just write about the food being served or the attentiveness of the staff, I detailed the upbringing of the owner, a Greek immigrant, and how his experiences allow him to understand the people that frequent his restaurant.

And that’s the beauty of writing; where poetry allows for self-reflection and a place to explore my thoughts, journalism invites exploration of people and important issues that face the world. The combination of these two artforms revealed the power of writing in my life; it became an all-important medium for expression.

When I see injustices and a lack of necessary change in the world, my rage fuels my writing. On the one year anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Shooting, I took time to research and contemplate the lack of policy change. I was agitated; I’d attended protests, participated in walkouts, and signed petitions. Surely there was more I could do, so I let my fingers dance across my keyboard until an article was complete. Throughout it all I am on a journey to explain and explore different perspectives that might produce solutions. After all, for me, writing is action. 

Caleigh Leonard, a graduate of New Jersey’s Montville Township High School, will be a freshman at NYU in the fall. 

My Sounds of Freedom

My Sounds of Freedom

 By Olivia Hanley

Singing is a passport to the world, according to my choir conductor. For me, it was also my ticket to embracing my identity. Coming from a white father and a black mother, my head of curly hair has always been my physical reminder that wherever I am, I’m either too black or too white. I’ve always felt like an outsider at my school, embarrassed about my natural hair. However, I have come to realize that my self consciousness over my curls stemmed from my existence as one of a few students of color in my classrooms; my hair was merely a beacon, signaling that I was different from others. 

Outside of my family, I grew up in two worlds—predominantly white private schools and the overwhelmingly diverse Chicago Children’s Choir. I was accepted into the choir when I was eight and have grown up with its rich model of difference in terms of race, ethnicity, and the socioeconomic backgrounds of singers who come from every neighborhood in the city. However for many years, the values celebrating whiteness at my school overpowered the cultural diversity I experienced at our rehearsals twice a week. 

In seventh grade, I discovered a solution to my identity problems—the straightening iron. For two hours, I stood on a stepstool in our bathroom while my mom wrestled with my hair. I hoped that my hair would be stick-straight and shiny, much like my best friend Stella’s blonde hair. 

When I came to school the next day, people told me my hair was beautiful, something they never said when it was curly. Since then, I straightened my hair once a week––sometimes with midweek touch-ups. I watched my curls stretch and stretch as if fighting the pull of the flat iron before finally surrendering and turning straight. Even once the straightener had smoothed past them, the strands still looked like they itched to return to their original pattern. 

One hectic Saturday, while en route to choir rehearsal, I realized I had neglected to straighten my hair. A wave of terror consumed me. I arrived feeling that I was walking through a storm without an umbrella. My everyday armor against the stain of difference–– straight hair––was gone and it even mattered to me in a place where cultural differences were normal.

Initially, I worried that people were making judgements about my hair, until we sang Ok by Kirk Franklin. The song is soulful, bluesy, and raw with emotional yet powerful lyrics:

Why do we hate one another? 

When love is the most beautiful color

It takes away the grey 

And makes everything ok

I was suspended in that moment of harmony, so caught up in the song that for the first time I wasn’t worried about my hair, even if it was just for a few minutes. 

The choir has been pivotal in curing my shame over my curly hair. Singing has always provided a sense of freedom that temporarily carries me away from the rest of the world. After that day, I showed up to rehearsals with my curly hair more often. While I still felt self-conscious, with each passing day, focusing on the music overshadowed thoughts about my hair. Eventually, I felt sure enough in myself to show up to school with my natural hair. In a sense, this was the final hurdle. A few months later, I decided to say goodbye to the straightening iron and never looked back. 

 It took me so long to feel confident about my hair because I bottled up my emotions. Knowing what it feels like to struggle with the parts of myself that are different, I created an affinity group at my school for women of color; a safe space where we can talk about anything from hair to identity. Our group gives girls the support I once needed. After all, not everyone has a singing voice to free them from insecurities.

Olivia Hanley, a 2021 graduate of Chicago’s Francis W Parker School, will be a freshman at Brown in the Fall.

The Promise of a Smile

                                      By Aaron Oliver  

I wear a big smile as captain of my basketball team, while my teammates sit on the bench with towels over their slumped heads, trying to erase this game from memory. We’re losing by 45 points in the fourth quarter. The stands are nearly empty. The only fans left are players’ families, who would have left if they weren’t chauffeuring. Yet I am fired up. 

I could be upset and embarrassed, but I see this loss as an opportunity for my less experienced teammates to get minutes. So, I am the only energy in the gym: “play defense with your feet and not with your hands!” I screamed. “Yea Harry!” I yell as he grabs the rebound and flies down the floor. I am on my feet until the final buzzer rings. I run off the bench and high five all the underclassmen. “Way to close the game out.” 

So what does this mean? I trace my sense of empathy and optimism at the game to a moment when I raised that very question years ago. 

“What does this mean?”

Mom takes the phone and begins reading the article on bitcoin that I was trying to understand. Seconds later she drops the phone. “Call 911, I’m having a stroke.” For a second I hesitate. I don’t want to accept the terror of the situation; I just want it to disappear. Yet hearing the fear in her voice forces me to grab the phone. 

Just minutes ago, I rolled out of bed and headed to Mom’s room to say good morning with an interesting article. Now I watch medics carry her out on a stretcher to an ambulance that speeds away. 

Mom spent three days in the hospital and is now in good health. However, at 13, this traumatic moment shattered my innocence and left behind an enduring lesson: pessimism only compounds difficulty. By confronting the fear surrounding life’s fragility, I honed the instinct to focus on what I can control. This fueled my talent for creative problem-solving: from finding beauty, opportunity and solutions in a big loss to finding the perfect job for my dog, Parker. 

During this period, Parker’s love and happiness greeted me everytime I walked into the house. I soon realized that his personality was not only a relief for me. As I tied up Parker before entering a bakery one night, kids on the street gathered around, petting and hugging him. Watching them, it hit me that Parker’s infectious friendliness could change lives at the hospital. I decided to volunteer for The Good Dog Foundation: a group whose mission is to use the joy of dogs to improve the moods and cognitive well being of patients suffering from diseases. 

On these visits, Parker’s ability to act as a beacon of joy was evident. After we got permission from the patients, we entered their rooms and the patients’ faces lit up. Whatever hope or positivity that had been lost from the trauma that they endured was restored. 

So I return to that question: What does this mean? It means that when I’m asked: “What’s it like to have divorced parents?” I easily answer that I have evolved to embrace the change in scenery and tradition, finding comfort in two households where I can develop differently. It also means that I have a response to the question: “What’s it like to frequently battle microaggressions in a predominantly white institution?” I answer: My search to understand my experiences has been a valuable education within itself, leading me to diversity conferences in search of the tools to engage issues facing students of color. 

So again, I search for meaning and reach a conclusion. My experiences have shaped my empathy, optimism, and belief that a smile can greatly influence my outlook as long as I don’t allow it to merely sit on my face.

Aaron Oliver, a 2021 graduate of Saint Anne’s School, will be a freshman at Stanford in the Fall. 

New Acceptances!

Congratulations to our students who were accepted early decision/early action to the following colleges for the Class of 2021:

Stanford-4

Brown–3

NYU-3

Columbia

Dartmouth

Georgia Tech

Hampton

Howard

NC A&T

Pace

Syracuse

UC Santa Cruz

University of Georgia

University of San Francisco

Essay of the Week: Refusing His Defintion

The Sierra-Nevada morning was redolent of gorgeous optimism: the monochromatic sky ate away any doubtful clouds, the trees swayed to the cheerful cadence of the wind, the rind of the young sun asked to be ripped open. Today was day 11 of our 21 day backpacking trip. Day 11 was partner hike day: a chance to get to know someone better.

Our camp leaders read out the pairs for partner hike day. My eyelids flitted nervously. I was partnered with Stephen, a football player from New Jersey who attracted the attention from everyone in camp. Stephen had blonde hair, blue eyes, and an athletic build.

During our eight mile hike, I plastered a smile and opened my mouth to break the unwritten silence. I asked simple questions, like how are you? He did not answer and the silence grew ominous. 

“I need to get this off my chest,” he said suddenly. “I don’t like you.”

“Why?” I asked, desperate to know the answer.

“Because, you talk like a white girl, but you’re not white. You’re Asian, and you can’t act like a white girl if you aren’t white. You just can’t be both.” We walked silently for the remainder of the hike as the blow of his words began to hit me. There were always subtle racist jabs at school, but none of them defined me in this way. 

I watched him, joining the rest of the group, as I succumbed to his definition — I thought he was right. I should have known my place as the stereotypical reserved and submissive Asian to begin with, I scolded myself insecurely. I needed his approval to be comfortable with myself. 

The other kids laughed, forming a circle so I couldn’t see their faces until a few of them stole a glance at me and quickly looked away. Their glimpses reeked of disdain and pity. I was their joke. Tears, wanting to be seen by the world, pushed at the threshold of my eyelids, and my ears ringed with the broken melody of, you just can’t be both

I wanted nothing more than to go home, to run to the familiar comfort of my bed — the only place I was secure. I woke up early the next morning to get some space — to brainstorm some elaborate way to go home. Before I knew it, I found myself running into the pine forest depths of the backcountry dotted with spare rifts of sunbeams. I kept running until the sequoias revealed a new landscape: a never-ending series of hills. Only then did I realize that leaving isn’t possible. Finishing is. 

Pleasing Stephen or even giving up would not make me more secure. I never needed his approval, I only needed my own. 

These hills, the monsters we would conquer tomorrow, presented the gorgeous promise of challenge: the opportunity for me to take the power that I deserved back into my hands, and to pull myself out of that pit. If I gave up, if I refused to hike anymore, I would have let him win, I would have drowned further into the pit. Who said that he could tell me who I was supposed to be — the submissive, stereotypical Asian? 

I am good enough as I am. I am brave and strong for signing up for this trip and have become braver and stronger having overcome the barrier of Stephen’s definition. His, or anyone else’s shortsighted point of view won’t limit me anymore.

Challenge transforms from burden to opportunity as I return the following summer to hike in the Patagonia wilderness with the same program. This trip is no less difficult than the last, but I am not afraid of what anyone might say.

And so I beat on, holding my head up high as if a chain is pulling my chin to the sun. 

The writer is a member of the Class of 2020 at Trinity who was accepted Early Decision to Brown. 

Finding My Purpose and Myself by Nia McGregor

Finding My Purpose and Myself by Nia McGregor

  

A stranger grabbed me as I exited the elevator.  

“Hey there, Black Jew!” 

We embraced as if we were long lost friends. As I gazed at her, I thought I was looking in the mirror. Her presence was the last thing I expected to discover when I attended my first International Jewish Convention. Excluding my family, she was the first black Jew that I ever met — a unicorn.

“What’s up, fellow Black Jew?” I said with a smile. “What’s your name?” 

“Kaela,” her words racing against the closing elevator door.

 I shouted back, “I’m Nia.” 

Nia is the Swahili word for purpose. My father, who is African American, and my mother, who is biracial and Jewish, could never define that purpose; it was always mine to discover. Thanks to my diverse identity, combined with a unique ability to form connections, my purpose has centered around helping others and becoming an educator. This mission started with my family. I still have the desk in my bedroom where I used to play school with my sister when I was 4. Imani is my older sister, yet, I was always the teacher. I gave her assignments — coloring sheets — and graded her. 

A year later, a new student came into my life. My younger brother, Darius, was born. I spent nearly every waking moment with him. I loved teaching him to hit piano keys and solve puzzles. When my brother outgrew me as his teacher, I started babysitting and quickly learned that dinosaurs would never bore me, due to their ability to help kids learn. 

Growing up in Fort Collins, I have always felt that my family and I were different from our peers.  On the surface, our uniqueness was obvious as the only African-American family in our neighborhood. Culturally, it was another story. Practicing Judaism meant I had differences that were only exposed when my friends questioned what church I attended. However, I never realized how different I was within the communities to which I naturally belonged.

My parents exposed my siblings and me to both Jewish and Black affinity groups. Every Sunday, we attended Hebrew School, and once a month, we attended a mentoring group for Black students in Northern Colorado (GPS).  I recall one December when I attended GPS, we talked about our holiday traditions. My sister and I were the only ones to talk about eating latkes and lighting candles for Hanukkah. I had always felt like I belonged with my Black friends, but that day I did not. 

The reverse came to light a few years later when I started attending a Jewish summer camp in the beautiful Mount Evans Wilderness. Initially, I was terrified. This was my first time away from home. I experienced the same feeling of uneasiness I did that December at GPS.  Despite having attended Hebrew school “religiously” for years, my ethnic differences were pronounced in an environment meant to foster support for Jewish children. As I looked around, I saw no faces of color. Yet, I was astonished at how all of my cabinmates’ had similar experiences of being one of the few Jewish people in their school. I related to them with both my identities, which allowed me to build everlasting relationships. 

Through helping others, I have successfully merged my two communities. I volunteer as a teacher at my synagogue, at my local Boys and Girls Club and at programs designed for minorities in STEM. I provide a unique perspective as an African-American Jewish girl. I am able to form connections with students based on our hobbies, religions, or ethnicities. It is my identity that has helped me relate to multiple peoples’ cultures and struggles. I am beginning to find my Nia, my purpose, by helping people understand where they belong and making connections so that they feel the way I did when I met Kaela.

Nia McGregor, a graduate of Fossil Ridge High School, in Fort Collins, Colorado, is a freshman at Brown University. 

Essay of the Week: A Thoughtful Voice to Suit Many Occasions, By Eliza Ross

Essay of the Week: A Thoughtful Voice to Suit Many Occasions, By Eliza Ross

The room descended into absolute madness. While the conversation was supposed to be about the ethical issues that plague D1 college athletics, everyone around me was yelling about who was the best basketball player in the country. Glancing around the noisy classroom, there was one obvious difference between me and my peers: I was the only girl.

I relaxed into my chair and observed my surroundings, patiently trying to figure out how to make myself heard in this classroom. But I was well prepared for the pandemonium. 

For the past two summers, I have worked at Camp Ramapo for Children, a residential summer camp for young people with social, emotional, and learning differences. To someone who isn’t a part of the Ramapo community, it seems like unorganized chaos. In reality, Ramapo just has its own rhythm. 

I met Mia during my first summer at Ramapo. She is 11 years old and suffers from severe learning differences, causing her to have intense outbursts of anger. Mia is extremely bright and kind, but can easily become distressed and downright irate. My co-counselors and I took turns following her when she ran off, keeping her off the other campers during episodes of rage, and trying to soothe her at night when she became especially unsettled. I spent two weeks giving her big smiles when she hit me, offering hugs when she screamed, and giving her all the extra attention I could garner when she became overly aggressive with her peers. Over the course of this period, Mia and I developed a connection which made her more comfortable around me. As we became closer, engaging with her became less difficult.

On the last day of camp, Mia was badgering my co-counselors, keeping them from the task of packing each campers’ belongings. I was one of the counselors responsible for entertaining campers. I approached Mia and suggested, “Let’s take a walk.” We set off slowly down the trail without speaking. Eventually, I asked her if she’d had a good time at camp. She looked up at me solemnly and said, “I love it here. I can’t wait to come back.” I smiled at her, reaching for her hand. She took mine and squeezed it as if to communicate her true sadness at leaving. We walked hand in hand back to the bunk, in contented silence. Communicating with Mia required more patience, empathy, and tenacity than I’d ever had to muster. 

In my Ethics in Sports class, I had to summon similar patience. I’d never experienced such a classroom environment, struggling to even get a word in. Suddenly, there was a lull in the shouting, and I began to speak. My male peers were surprised to hear my voice. Hesitating slightly, I said, “While universities don’t necessarily need to hand their student-athletes a paycheck, no athlete should be struggling to have their basic needs met. If the commitment of playing for a D1 sports program prohibits athletes from being able to get jobs to support themselves, the school should be making sure that the player has a place to live, food, clothing and school books, at the very least.” Everyone around me quieted down, surprised that the girl had spoken. 

In all my years as a student, I had never been “the only” in a class. The gender makeup of this group led to a distinct dynamic that was new for me. At first, I found it challenging to speak up. Beyond being less informed about the subject matter, I felt somewhat out of place. But as the course progressed, I exercised the skills that I learned at Camp Ramapo to make my voice heard. Communicating with Mia and being patient with her during arduous times molded me into a better version of myself, a version who could ultimately thrive in the all-male classroom environment. 

 

Eliza Ross, a graduate of the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, will be a freshman at the University of Chicago. 

Summer Workshops

We will not be holding our Martha’s Vineyard Summer Essay Writing Workshops in person in August due to Coavid. However we will be holding workshops via Zoom in August that can serve students from around the world. The workshops will be held on the following dates:

Session One: Monday/ Tuesday, August 3 and 4, 10:30-2:30. 

Session Two: Wednesday/Thursday, August 12 and 13, 10:30-2:30. 

Session Three: Monday/Tuesday, August 17 and 18, 10:30-2:30.

For enrollment information, email us at appointments@writeforthefuture.com. To read testimonials from parents and students regarding our workshops, click here.  To read testimonials regarding our Individual Program, click here

 

The cost of the workshop is $450.00 per session.

Students in our individual program are allowed to attend the workshop at no cost. 

Our individual programs begin with a free consultation. For enrollment details and pricing or to schedule a free consultation, email us at appointments@writeforthefuture.com. 

Essay of the Week: One Son, Two Moms and a Search for Masculinity, By Alexander Romero-Ruffo

Essay of the Week: One Son, Two Moms and a Search for Masculinity, By Alexander Romero-Ruffo

My light-up velcro sneakers sank into the plush carpet of a large room on the second floor of my preschool.  Like every other small child in the room, we were all intimidated by one another, and stayed close to the safety of our parents’ legs.  Around each child was one man and one woman. When I looked up at mine, I saw two women; I saw my moms. 

 

While I had seen fathers before, I had not been surrounded by them and their sons, my peers.  I knew that my grandfather was my mom’s father, yet seeing them around my friends somehow felt different.  That first day, I realized that my friends had something that I did not. What’s the difference between two moms and one mom and one dad?  The question lingered as I grew up. I witnessed father-son interaction and sometimes felt like I was missing something. 

 

“Don’t quit! Be a man!” I heard an animated father yell as his son was being pinned to the mat.  In high school, I joined the wrestling team with my closest friends, who seemed to be on the team to please their fathers.  My friends had done it all — Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, boxing, and wrestling — every time with their fathers in the stands pushing them to be better, stronger, manlier.  I was envious.

 

I looked to my cousin William as a role model.  When I was thirteen, I visited him in Atlanta, determined to bond and gain his acceptance.  We had gone to a shooting range to celebrate his law school graduation. He placed the small revolver in my hand, and I fired, pretending the recoil was not jarring. Afterwards, he suggested we go to his favorite restaurant, a local steakhouse.  I had not eaten meat in a year. Without mentioning my recent vegetarianism, I made an exception to taste the food about which he raved. Yet, after the trip, I began eating meat. In doing so, I altered my taste to be like him.

 

A few months passed, and Thanksgiving rolled around.  At dinner, we talked about my parents’ coming out stories which shifted my perspective on identity.  I had heard Anita’s coming out story dozens of times, but Marie-Elena always remained quiet on the subject.  Finally, she shared that in trying to be someone whom her parents would approve of, she never had a chance to come out to her mother before she died.  In her story, though obviously different from my own, I drew multiple parallels to my inner struggles.  I had imposed a one-dimensional masculine character on myself. Fearing how others would perceive me, I sought to hide parts of my true self that might not align with that character.  Through my mom’s story, I realized that I’m not the only one who has ever tried to craft a specific image to satisfy others. I came to understand the value of being authentic. 

 

Although I’ve grown to see the value of authenticity, I recognize my search for a stereotypical masculine self as a formative experience; it was a process that made me aware of my true identity.  Masculinity is what I make of it; I shouldn’t seek out how society defines it. Yet, I am not done defining it as it pertains to me.  

 

I still see my peers interact with their fathers and ask myself, “Would I be different if I had a father?” The answer is yes, I would be different.  Maybe I would still wrestle. Maybe I would have never entertained the thought of becoming a vegetarian. But now I’ve become aware of my overcompensating and noticed the absurdity of that question.  Having two moms cannot be reduced to either good or bad. It is, however, something different. Difference gave me a chance to see things from another perspective, and because of it, I feel more responsible for my identity and individuality.  

 

Alexander Romero-Ruffo, a graduate of The Dalton School, will be a freshman at Yale.

An Artist Grows in an Unlikely Place

An Artist Grows in an Unlikely Place

By Toni Ann Ocloo

As a young black woman, I discovered my strength as an artist in a home of old white people. I came to Brookdale Senior Center with my sketchbook to share an intimate part of myself — my art — with strangers. In return, they shared themselves with me. I never imagined this exchange would happen here, not in what I once considered to be my Southern hell. The dissonance I perceived between white and black seemingly evaporated in the moment. People were just people. However this revelation did not come in an instance. Rather, it began its maturation from that moment six years ago when I laid on the floor, crying. Wailing as though I lost my whole world.

Mom, how could you? We’re not just moving. We’re going to the South!” 

Leaving Shelton, CT for Charlotte, NC? Goodbye to my friends. My school. My community. And for what? To move to the region known for slavery and Jim Crow. 

My innocent mind assumed I was leaving my liberal state on a long stairway to Earth’s hell; that my Northern wonderland was in some way immaculate and now shaken from my grasp.  

Seventh grade arrived. I found myself in my first art class, taught by a black man called Mr. Wilson. He was a first in my entire school career in the U.S. I never had a black teacher since third grade, when I moved from Ghana to Shelton. Mr. Wilson became a mentor. Art became my way of engaging and accepting my present. Mr. Wilson emphasized the value of observing real things and people. Naturally, I began to draw what I saw, preferably people. I watched vigilantly as my classmates moved, talked, and behaved. I found myself watching strangers in every place, almost as a way of capturing where I was. In art class, I began to slowly appreciate the small parts of what was becoming my new home. The nameless silhouettes of faces began to transform into people. 

Last year, I decided to paint portraits of the elderly, choosing a place where I was their sheer opposite — black and young. On my first official day of drawing, I sat at a round table across from a group of residents engaging in a playful game of cards. Even from afar, their positive energy soothed my nervousness. 

To determine who was most inviting, my eyes lingered past the faces, watching movements and gestures as cards were passed from hand to hand and as faces grimaced or smiled at certain moves. Soon, my eyes cast on one particular individual. With an exuberant personality, she appeared to be the leader of the group. Her reactions ranged from a cute, childish pout to a braggy smirk. My pencil soon felt the surface of the paper, and my mind was absorbed by her personality. As I continued to draw, she would sneak a peek at me and start blushing, like a child too shy to ask for something. As I continued to draw, my mind wondered about her. My roboticism ceased. I wanted to know who she was, I wanted to know where she had been, and what she had experienced. Every line of her face prompted a new question. What was she like when she was young? What did she see? Absorbed by thoughts, I finished. I didn’t get to question her, but I did engage in long conversations about the past with future subjects. 

Time passed like a moving train. Each person found their way into a metaphysical library of images. Their faces stuck with me, each individual feature defined and indisputable; human faces and bodies became storytellers. 

At Brookdale, I witnessed my concealed ability to experience art’s transformative powers. Nothing supernatural or otherworldly. But I felt that I had obtained another lens through which to view life. Art had become a way for me to not only understand others but myself and my new home.  

Toni Ann Ocloo, a graduate of Charlotte Country Day School, will be a freshman in the Honors College of UNC Chapel Hill in the fall.