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My Sister’s Keeper

 By Harrison Knox

I take a bite into my burger, and India, my younger sister, spits at me and starts loudly cursing, attracting an audience of stares in the restaurant. 

Why can’t we just be a normal family? 

With that thought, she then spits on Grandpa. I cherish every moment with him as I know that he won’t be around forever. This family dinner with him a few years ago is no exception. However I can’t take India anymore. I get up and leave. 

I was four when India was born. I ran through the hospital hallways imagining a sibling relationship like my friends Ace and Zed, brothers who frequently roughoused with each other. But a year after her birth, I learned that she had a rare chromosomal abnormality. She would require constant medical attention and never mentally mature beyond the age of five. At first I resented her for stealing almost all of my parents’ attention. However, understanding her challenges in the face of my own struggles has been a journey that shaped my maturity.  

In first grade, after being diagnosed with ADD and auditory processing issues, I transferred to Gateway, a school for students with learning differences. By seventh grade, I was ready to return to a mainstream school, yet some of my teachers predicted the worst: You won’t be a strong Math student, especially if you go to a mainstream school. You would have to work extremely hard to be average. 

I could not forget those sentiments when I stared at the screen last spring and saw the 800: a perfect SAT score on Math. There is a lot more than a number to that score. My sister became the backbone of my academic motivation as I grew to realize that I will be responsible for her when my parents are gone. I have to work hard now to be in a position to help her in the future.  

An ugly attack on India captured why I can’t run from the dinner table when she embarasses me. I was watching the news one night and saw India’s bus matron violently shoving her head repeatedly against the seat. The second matron filmed the brutality which went viral and made its way onto local news shows. I felt nauseous flicking through the news channels seeing it over and over. I felt sickly powerless. My head started throbbing in pain as I wondered if this could have been happening for months. If it had, India wouldn’t have been capable of telling us. This propelled me further into my own maturity. All my feelings of annoyance and impatience with her subsided. For the rest of my life, I must make her home the safest place possible as the outside world is unpredictable. I must be prepared to protect her from bullies, who will not only take advantage of her, but might even abuse her. 

My own commitment to India faced a test on Christmas morning last year. She shattered my excitement over presents. She spat on Mum and poked me in the eye. At first, I wanted to forget about the gifts and escape. However, instead I comforted Mum and tried to soothe India out of her outburst. 

“India, if we behave well and open these presents, we can go play soccer in the backyard together.”

After continued consoling, we left the room and kicked the soccer ball. 

My proudest moment as her brother is at her soccer class for special needs children where I volunteer on Saturdays. She has the best shot, the best dribbling, and is the athletic star of the class. India is almost like a mini me: whatever I play, she tries to play as well. She wants to be like me. Outside of our relationship, her influence on me continues to grow, teaching me to be patient and sympathetic to others. 

Harrison Knox, a graduate of the Brooklyn Friends School, will be a freshman at USC in the Fall. 

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by Jillian Medina

Pain shot up my spine and tension consumed my muscles. I relaxed as the nurse removed the long, cold needle from my back and prepped me for surgery. A few hours earlier, I asked the nurse why she was poking an IV into my hand. 

“Do you want to stay awake during surgery?” she replied sarcastically. 

Without missing a beat, I nodded. “Actually, I do.” 

Nobody expected that response. The anesthesiologist warned me that to stay awake during the surgery, I needed a spinal injection to paralyze me from the waist down. The surgeon said that no one ever requested to observe their own surgery and the entire surgical team applauded my courage, recounting stories of tough football players having the same surgery who had shuddered at the mere sight of a needle. Meanwhile, I shrugged. The wonder of witnessing my surgery in action overshadowed the image of blood-covered scissors and scalpels. I never allowed fear to restrain me, even in front of a large audience. 

As a member of Lawrenceville’s Diversity Council, I organized a reflection week following the Charlottesville Neo-Nazi rally that concluded with a candlelight vigil where community members shared their thoughts. By the time Zach, the president of Young Republicans, approached the microphone sporting a “Trump 2016” pin over his black blazer, I could already see scowls forming on the faces of my peers. 

Zach was a conservative needle in a liberal haystack at my “woke” school, where people of his political standing simply kept their heads down. I felt uneasy as Zach started by condemning the “overblown crusade” against hate groups. Before Zach could finish his sentence, another student interrupted, heckling him for simply voicing his opinion. Others followed, piling on insults and challenging his right to speak. Feeling under attack, Zach rushed out of the circle.

In that moment, I knew it would be easy for me to take a crack at Zach during his public flogging. My friends would have snapped approvingly before I handed the whip to someone else. Instead, when I stepped up to speak, I took a deep breath, filling my body with the same amount of courage I needed in the operating room. I urged the audience to treat everyone with respect, regardless of political standing. 

Looking around at my wide-eyed peers, hoping my voice was not shaking too much, I sensed anger and betrayal in their furrowed eyebrows — after all, I was a leading liberal voice on campus. How could I encourage such offensively conservative views? However, I knew Zach deserved to speak and I could not let fear of displeasing my peers silence me into compliance.

Immediately after my remarks, I felt a lump form in my throat as student after student maintained that Zach’s views were unacceptable. The echo of liberal voices bouncing around the circle by the end of the event reminded me that most people had gained nothing from the event beyond reaffirmation of their previous opinions. Just as it was my turn to share my parting thoughts, I got my second wind. I asserted that thought-provoking conversations cannot happen if everyone with a minority opinion is driven away. This time, there was no outbreak of critical responses. Some students even nodded in agreement. 

Later, I thanked Zack for contributing a different perspective, invited him to future discussions and was glad to hear him speak out from the crowd at the Young Democrats Gun Control Forum months later.

That experience is reminiscent of the choice I made in my hospital bed, yet the physical fearlessness almost seems trivial when compared to the question that haunted me after speaking up for Zach. Was I being careless in giving a voice to opinions I viewed as harmful to my school and the world? That question haunted me, though the values of free speech and the expansion of political discourse at my school were powerful as well.

Learning from a Recipe’s Failure

“Go sharpen my pencil, b*tch!” 

What? I wasn’t expecting that from an 11-year-old. It was my first day as a teaching assistant in East Harlem. My detailed lesson plans for the 22 sixth graders didn’t prepare me for Alvin’s behavior. 

“Don’t ever speak to me like that!” I snapped back, and sent him to the dean’s office. I was shocked but not shaken. This wasn’t the first time an obstacle confronted my careful planning.   

I vividly remember the evening of August 19, 2016: the timer beeps spitefully. Grabbing a spoon from the utensil drawer, I lean over the stove, scooping gnocchi from the bubbling water. My sister Carol twists the faucet and I hold the spoon under the cold stream. We stare at the culmination of our last hour in the kitchen. The homemade gnocchi bears an uncanny resemblance to pebbles in our driveway. According to the recipe, making gnocchi from scratch is “simple” — yet this isn’t the grand dinner I envisioned.

At age 15, I wanted to do something bigger and more meaningful than the last minute “Happy Anniversary” cards we typically made. I summoned Carol into my room and closed the door. “Let’s surprise them with a multi-course dinner!”

Sit-down meals have always been a cherished central part of our family life. Growing up in Germany, Dad ate breakfast every morning with his family, and my parents continued this tradition in our home. We begin the day with Mom’s cherry almond-butter smoothies or toast slathered with my German Opa’s homemade raspberry jam while discussing everything from weekend plans to my teaching experiences, erupting Hawaiian volcanoes or cryptocurrencies. On Sundays we prepare new dinner recipes together, but Mom cooks most other meals. For their anniversary, we thought it would be special for our parents to enjoy a homemade dinner without doing any work.

Excited about the challenge ahead, I immediately researched countless recipes and reviews. I am a “planimal” with color-coded study guides and my customized day planner. Before long, I had outlined every detail: menu selection and design, photomontage and soundtrack, decorations and shopping lists. Biking home from Stop & Shop, Carol and I wobbled across Nantucket cobblestones, handlebars laden with groceries.

Carol rode in front so I could alert her if she dropped anything. Helping Carol comes with being the older sister and inspires my passion for sharing knowledge. Long before tutoring students in the Bronx, I quizzed Carol  in Latin and Spanish and taught her the song that had helped me learn the 50 states and capitals. We still managed to belt it out during a recent hike in Denali when my parents asked us to make noise to keep away the bears. 

Tonight our parents sit outside in the dark and the mosquitoes are the only ones having a feast. The screen door slams as Mom enters. “Can I help?” she asks. We explain our mishap, and she laughs, revealing that even experienced chefs prefer to purchase some ingredients that are tricky to make, including (spoiler alert!) gnocchi.

That night, I realize that being prepared and following a recipe doesn’t always ensure a palatable outcome. This insight also serves me well when teaching. 

Unlike my gnocchi recipe, which couldn’t be salvaged after the fact, I was able to tweak my approach to teaching Alvin during my month in the classroom. I discovered that the key ingredients for curbing his disruptive behavior were establishing my authority and engaging him. Working with Alvin individually, I discovered his strong math skills and joy in presenting his answers to the class. Though still not quite a model student, his overall conduct improved dramatically. 

As for cooking, I remain undeterred by the gnocchi incident and still plan to make macarons and croissants from scratch — some day.  (626)

The author of this essay preferred to remain anonymous. She is a freshman at Pomona.

Finding Homes in Foreign Places

I crawled into the cold, damp bed and cried myself to sleep. It was the first night of my two month exchange in Bogotá, Colombia: I couldn’t wait to go home.  

Sara*! Ana! Escuela! Listos?” my host mother called down to me and my host sister Ana.

By 5:45 A.M., we were waiting by the door to leave for school. I pushed my homesickness aside, eager to begin my new adventure. Sitting in traffic, I noticed all the buildings were shades of tan, just like the complexions of the people commuting. Window gazing and chatting with Ana in Spanish became the car ride routine, until things changed.   

A month into the exchange, Ana’s friend approached me at a party: “Honestly, Ana hates you. You take all of her parents’ attention. She wished you never came.”  

I was confused and hurt that my host didn’t even want me in the country. I felt alone. The next car ride was silent. Walking alone to the school’s main quad, I rushed to the bathroom and hid in a stall until the first bell rang.

I dreaded lunch. Like every cliche high school movie, the cafeteria was the epitome of the social scene. Without Ana to guide me, I was the outsider, until I managed to rekindle the courage that carried me through my beginning at boarding school.. 

On my first day, I felt small: a casually-dressed scholarship student with battered suitcases surrounded by extreme wealth. My roommate, Alice, shared stories of her summer traveling through Europe while her little pug’s head stuck out of the expensive purse slung on her mother’s arm. In response, I reluctantly told her about my summer in Jersey watching Friends reruns. 

The hardest room to enter was the cafeteria. Sitting next to students in elegant dresses, I silently ate my meal. 

Every room felt foreign until I stepped into the dance studio. In shorts and a t-shirt, I was the lone black girl amongst dancers dressed in flashy leotards and tights. However, unlike other rooms, my love of dance overshadowed these differences, causing everyone in the room to sense my passion. We bonded. In this space, I found a home at and a newfound confidence that spread to every room I entered. Instead of sitting quietly in the cafeteria, I had marathon conversations filled with laughter.

And so, I searched as well for a home in the cafeteria in Colombia, trying to find my dance studio in a different country. Lingering by the salad bar, I spotted one empty seat. I walked to the table with my tray.  “Puedo sentarme aquí?” I questioned in a wavering tone.   

The students smiled, shuffling their trays to make space. I struck up a conversation in my beginner Spanish. Sensing my novice skills, the students replied slowly and switched to English when I couldn’t understand. They asked many questions about my life and I eagerly answered, excited to make friends. From then on, we not only ate lunch together, but also began hanging out after school. After I expressed my love of dance with them, they showed me Colombian dances and I introduced them to popular American dances. They also taught me Spanish songs, while I taught them American songs. We always debated about which songs were better: was the original Despacito better than Justin Bieber’s version?  

On my final day in Colombia, I dreaded leaving. As I walked past the bathroom for the last time, I was reminded of how I persevered through my lonely moments. Returning home, I couldn’t forget how powerful the simple act of empathy could be. I understood now what it felt like to be an outsider in a new place. So today, if I see anyone lingering at the salad bar a little too long, I always send them a smile, moving my tray to create space at the table.


The author of this essay preferred to remain anonymous. She is a freshman at Harvard.

The Unexpected Gift of Confidence from a Friend

By Jada Harris

We settle into the booth after one of our long bike rides and order our favorites: jalepeño pizza and strawberry lemonade. After the waitress brought our drinks, my best friend Carter looks up at and says, “So there’s this guy I like.”  

As Carter raved about his crush, he also expressed the challenges he faced navigating his homosexualilty in high school and reminded me of a time when I too felt out of place. I was sitting outside the worksite on my freshman service trip to Kentucky, the sun was beating down when I heard, “You’re the whitest black person I’ve ever met! This is easy for you, Jada.” I was speechless. Jack, a black crewmate and former classmate, dismissed any concerns about my adjusting to rural Kentucky by assaulting me with that cultural insult and cliché, the same joke that never triggered an authentic laugh from me, just a fake chuckle to fit in. 

I had heard similar comments before, making me crave an environment where the notion of acting like a race was unthinkable. I found this space when I was with Carter, who is white. We met at our local tennis club years ago and our friendship quickly blossomed. As we bonded over feeling out of place, our friendship became a space that eliminated ideas triggering pressures around our identities. Around Carter, I did not wonder if I was not black enough when I spoke proper English or enjoyed a country song. 

However, when I was away from Carter, inner tensions surrounding race and behavior turned me into a funambulist, constantly trying to balance my behavior based on my company. This was the result of attending majority white private schools all my life. I also live in a suburb where seeing another brown face is rare and refreshing, while many of my black classmates live in predominantly black neighborhoods.

My reserved personality in combination with my discomfort in my own skin made transitioning to high school difficult. I was not sure if I should sit with the black or white kids at lunch, which clubs to join, or if I should wear sneakers or Sperry’s. Connecting with someone who also confronted societal pressure surrounding his identity assisted in my eventual growth beyond these burdens. After advising Carter not to allow limited mindsets to impact him, I started to practice what I preach. 

I worked tirelessly towards developing more self-confidence. It began with simple actions such as raising my hand in class and working to become a stronger public speaker. The next step out of the confining box of introversion came through my chapter of Jack and Jill, a national organization of African-American families. A parent advisor saw my leadership potential and encouraged me to run for teen vice president, and after some hesitation, I agreed. 

I was terrified as this was the first real speech I had given outside of school, but after winning the election, my comfort with public speaking and leading grew into a love for both, and I went on to take many other leadership positions in school and my community. Through campaigns and elections, I was challenged to focus on my strengths and the qualities that make me a great leader. My confidence grew and I became more self aware. I realized that living in the middle of two worlds has helped me develop a deep understanding of both. 

I spent years wondering whether I was more suited for the “white world” I have grown up in, or the “black world” that I am supposed to favor, but I have finally found that I am comfortable in and belong in all worlds, interacting with and uniting people of every color and background. Though I did not comprehend it at the time, Carter’s comfort with himself and his sexuality triggered my comfort with my identity and growth as a leader.  

Jada Harris, a 2019 graduate of St Ignatius in Chicago, is a freshman at Stanford.

Seeing The Adoption

By Tyler Price

Mom does her best to support the family without the dad I rarely see. College is not my thing. I’m looking for my big break as a rapper–it’s my only hope to help my mom raise my younger sister. I was working a job in interior renovation, but the discovery that I was allergic to plexiglass ended that opportunity. 

The life and perspective described above is not mine. I live far away from that reality due to an act of fate out of my control. I am a child of an adoption, and my biological brother’s life mirrors the description above.

At sixteen, I stand at the mystery door of a two-family, wooden ranch house. I look around, witnessing what my birth family sees each day in New Orleans East.

When the door opens, I see my little sister Anita for the first time. She stares at me, and keeps staring. I enter the house and see my birth mother, Rayna, sitting on the couch. She says my older brother and sister are en route. Minutes later, they arrive, and we are arrested by a spell of awkwardness that seems like hours.

Eventually, someone has a bright idea–lunch. Since we are in New Orleans, we decide on crawfish and shrimp. I ride with Anthony and Antoinette, my brother and sister. That car ride changes everything. Despite different life perspectives, our camaraderie, nurtured by the romance of a long separation coming to an end, is instant. I know it will be eternal.

I grew up an only child until the day I met my biological siblings. Afterwards, my brother, Anthony, introduced me to my home away from home – New Orleans – on several trips, while I gave him tours of Martha’s Vineyard, which he loved. Almost every weekend, we go on our phones and play Crazy Eight.

A chilling question has haunted me since I have become close to Anthony, who is a year older than me and spends most of his days writing rhymes and smoking weed. What if our places were switched and I was the brother who lacked the parents who sent him to the best schools and provided opportunities for travel to Cuba and China?

At a young age, Mom and Dad told me I was born to a teenage mother in New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina destroyed the adoption agency’s office making it difficult to find them.  Over a decade later, Mom (using an agency out of Boston) successfully reconnected with my birth family, and decided it was time for all of us to meet.

The more I learn about my roots, the more I refuse to take anything for granted. I know the struggles I could have confronted if I wasn’t the brother given the opportunities to succeed. I now find myself spending more time studying subjects I once hated. For years, I never did well in science, but after my first trip to New Orleans, I carried a can-do attitude to biology. Now, science has become one of my strongest subjects. When I was sixteen, I found a job at Stop & Shop to save and invest, and started subscribing to The Wall Street Journal.  

I am now ever more aware of the obstacles created by lack of exposure to opportunities.  I hope to use my education and privilege to create a society with more solid routes to success. Why does there have to be only one lucky brother out of the two? Why does the factor of a luck we do not control so greatly impact our possibilities?

My bond with Anthony also pushes me to look beyond our differences. I struggle to refrain from imposing my values on him while still trying to be a supportive friend and brother. Through him, I see the value of my upbringing but also have a greater respect for difference as our relationship evolves.

Tyler Price, a graduate of Beaver Country Day in a freshman at Lehigh.