Essay of the Week

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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. 

A Healing Hand that Leads to a Charge to Lead

A Healing Hand that Leads to a Charge to Lead

By Chase Vincent

His forehead pulsated with worry lines. Outside, the air was tense, cold and rigid, but his office wasstuffy, warm, and felt like a tight box. The school administrator summoned me here to his office to help restore our community’s morale at the start of a new term after traumatic tensions tore through our school at the end of the previous semester. Campus violence led to a visit from the police, stealing the normal ambience that captured my love the moment I set foot on our campus situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A student used the n-word and outrage and division traveled fast throughout campus. White students and black students were fighting. It was loud and chaotic. In two years, I had growninto a campus leader and a person the administration turned to in a time of crisis, becoming the person a little girl in a pink shirt saw five years ago.

I exited the van and there she was, Kai — that little girl in a pink shirt. She was adorable — small with short brown hair. The sun was beaming down on us and she walked up to me and did not say a word. She just held my hand. At the time, I was twelve years old and I could not grasp the concept of why she was holding my hand because I was a perfect stranger. I would later learn that she was abandoned by both of her parents and a church was taking care of her. All she wanted was a friend and someone to cling on to and I stood out to her. She would just hold my hand for hours and smile.

I was at a Navajo-Nation reservation in New Mexico on a 10 day service trip. It proved to be an escape from the turmoil of my life. I was the oldest sibling with high achieving parents and a younger brother and sister who seemed to be following Mom and Dad’s directions. I was the odd one. In middle school, I was one of four blacks in a grade of 95 students. I felt isolated socially from the white students and even the other African Americans. I spent a lot of time alone until the summers when I found refuge in my work on mission trips. I ran a basketball camp in Haiti for two summers and spent one building houses for the Sioux Tribe in North Dakota on another mission trip.

Through all of the mission trips, I encountered people with lives that made my complaints about being a minority seem trivial. There were also people like Kai, who looked up to me. On one day, we sat together coloring in picture books when my youth pastor yelled “dinner.” I jumped up and mistakenly stepped on a few crayons and smashed them under my overgrown feet. She burst into laughter, thinking it was the funniest thing. My goofy clumsiness had never triggered such amusement.

In 10th grade, I entered boarding school and a path to becoming that girl on the mission trips. I no longer had to escape on a mission trip to become a leader. I grew into one on campus.

Perhaps the birth of my leadership role on campus came as a sophomore in World Geography.I stood before the class delivering my argument highlighting the correlation between the high usage of social media and antisocial behavior among teenagers. A week later, my teacher, who was resurrecting the school’s debate team, invited me to be captain of the team.

Months after leading the team, I was called to help usher the social justice initiative, following the racial unrest that shocked our community. I was among the four students and four faculty members convening the meeting. Through the forum, we reconnected a temporarily broken campus. In the process, I saw the importance of making my voice a force to heal my community.

Chase Vincent, a graduate of Oak Hill Academy (VA), is a freshman at American University.

Essay of the Week: “The Communicator’s True Challenge”

By Sophia Nicholls

I become a game show host once a week, creating questions about international relations to entice members of the Global Awareness Club. I transform into a rapper in AP History to present a portrait of American life following the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment. I am known as a creative communicator, delivering formal speeches to raise money for music classes for non-for-profit organizations at banks, or jumping out of my chair in AP US History, shoving my sunglasses over my eyes, and flicking my baseball hat backwards: “You know me…. DJ Nicholls!”

However when I approached classroom IA, the blank walls covered with green and yellow corkboards did not provide the usual sense of nostalgia but rather caused my heart to palpitate from nervousness. Although the first graders were only the height of my waist, this moment intimidated me like never before.

“What are you doing here?” demanded a little girl with dark brown hair and inquisitive eyes.

Her authoritative but meek voice made me chuckle. “Today, I will be teaching you about sign language.”

She responded with a brilliant grin, displaying her missing front teeth. Her enthusiasm helped straighten my posture. Yet the nervousness, a foreign feeling for me when public speaking, didn’t go away. It wasn’t the first graders. The thought of teaching sign language triggered a series of fears and emotions, challenging my skill as a communicator. It all goes back to Harrison.

Aren’t all babies perfect?  My young cousin Harrison was no exception. He had the same big blue eyes that I shared with my uncle: spotted with flecks of grey and a dash of green, swimming in a pool of light and dark blue. I was thirteen when he was born and, so excited to see him for the first time. When he turned two, I was saddened to learn I would be unable to talk with him. Harrison was born with a neurological disorder called Hemiplegia. He can predominantly understand what others are saying, but is unable to respond, so when he reached the monumental age of two, he began to learn sign language. I decided to do the same two years ago.

I struggled learning and memorizing each sign, but came every week determined to improve. My fingers often clumsily formed sentences that I had to repeat for the teacher to understand. To get my teacher’s attention, I often stomped my feet, waved my hands, and signed my question, but I could not get him to turn around. Sweat began to form above my brow and my breathing became shorter. It was a humbling experience for the girl who received the highest grade in the class for her rap rendition and whose communication skills have turned Global Awareness into the school’s largest club.

At the end of junior year, I decided to lead sessions on the basics of sign language for first graders. It was more difficult than speaking to executives, but the class was well received. My mission now extends past spreading awareness about the Deaf community. I want to combine my love of music and science to research ways that music can help improve communication possibilities for Harrison and others with neurological disorders. Through research, I have learned that the auditory cortex within Deaf people’s brains is stimulated even more than hearing people due to the vibrations felt from various instruments.

The interconnection between music and neurology has solidified my interest in science. Last summer working at a Neurogenetics and Sensory science lab, I spent weeks assisting a scientist on a narrow sub-component of research involving mosquitoes and the study of how sensory stimuli are processed. This launched my plan to help people with Hemiplegia. Being a creative communicator now goes beyond rapping, formal speeches, and hosting game competitions. Rather, I hope to broaden the community with which I communicate.

Sophia Nicholls, a graduate of the Marymount School of New York, is a freshman at the University of Michigan.

Essay of the Week: “The Show Goes On”

Essay of the Week: “The Show Goes On”

By Blaine McIndoe

Sirens blared into the room just as Gossip started separating the twins. The noise startled the audience, and I rushed to close the windows. My actors were prepared to handle the unexpected, such as covering each others’ mistakes, ad libbing if necessary. However, New York City had thrown an abrupt and unexpected curveball, just as the audience was about to witness Gossip’s manipulative nature. As I shut the first window, the play continued and the voices of my actors were heard. The play, like my passion for directing, was stubborn and could not be stopped. Besides, the show must go on–and that motto could stand as the title of my life story.

When I was little I thought God had made a mistake. Plan A was for me to be born and raised in America. Instead I was born in China, adopted and then raised in America. Americans come in all shapes and colors, but being Chinese while the rest of the family was white, I couldn’t help but feel like the least American of the family. However, my life was like any good show; it had to go on. In moving through life, adoption has remained a big part of my past, but not as big of a part of my identity as storyteller. Some people comment that I’m “so brave,” and that I “should write a book about my experience.” First problem: I was eight months old when I was adopted, and what eight-month-old is vigorously note taking as if they’re a journalist during the election of 2016?

While I don’t recall pivotal moments of my adoption, I have become a storyteller of narratives. My lens goes beyond my identity. It is formed by the girl who grew to express her voice through acting, film and stage directing, even though she had a tough time with language in a new country. Most kids start talking at around two-and-a-half or three. But at age four, the only word I really used was “hello,” and it wouldn’t even sound right, because I would pronounce it “hey-yo.” My mom was shocked because my first word was fairly sophisticated compared to other kids my age; it was cute until my mom realized that I would be stuck with “hey-yo” for the next two years.

I don’t remember the first speech therapist, but I do recall years in front of a computer, being told to press the space button every time I saw a soccer ball. Once a week for the next six years, a speech therapist would come to the house with workbooks. Musical theatre became a companion to therapy when I was six at my first musical theater summer camp. Drama helped me break out of my timid temperament, and continues to do so even today.

At ten, I was done with speech therapy, but I could not live without the stage. From acting, I grew into a director. I would have never started directing plays or making my own films if it weren’t for my love of acting. Gossip was the first play I ever directed. As director, I solved problems with the force of the strong characters I had played on stage. After a year of planning, my performance space was taken away, and my lead actor quit five minutes before the first rehearsal. I adapted to those hurdles and many others.

Expressing my voice as an actor and director feels natural to me. My mom probably never expected her speech-restricted child to grow into someone who loves public speaking; yet I now know I was born with a purpose. The emergence of my voice demonstrates that I was not a mistake. When I was younger,  I was merely saving my words for later, preserving them to insure that the many shows in my life would go on.

Blaine McIndoe, a graduate of the Professional Performing Arts School, is a freshman at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

 

Essay of the Week: “Searching for Story”

Essay of the Week: “Searching for Story”

By David Eisman

David Eisman

Never had I been so terrified – inching my way across eerie hallways, flinching at every foreign sound. I feared for my life as I was dragged into a prison of terror. Such was the power of the narrative masterpiece Gone Home, wherein I took on the role of a young girl searching her abandoned home for clues on the whereabouts of her missing sister. The danger felt real, even though I was playing a video game. The game was so powerful that I spent two years searching for something similar in brilliance to Gone Home. I never found it. I decided the only way to recapture Gone Home’s narrative power was to develop my own game.

Although I lacked experience with programming, 3D modeling, and most of what’s necessary to make a game, I was determined to learn. I contacted every studio in New York, sending dozens of emails, hoping to intern. I was even willing to scrub the developers’ boots if it meant getting some first-hand experience. Unfortunately, every single studio turned down my boot-scrubbing proposal, sending me back to the drawing board. I saw only one way to achieve my goal: build my own company.

I spent hours every day on dozens of different websites attempting to recruit talented individuals who shared my ambition. It took months, but I formed a small team of people from all over the world. Although we lived in different time zones and spoke a variety of languages, we would still meet online every day to discuss design and narrative possibilities. We struggled to create a meaningful game with a superb narrative, as it is almost impossible to build such a thing on only hopes, dreams, and ramen noodles; we had the talent and drive, but we needed money, and quickly.

After some research, I determined that the best way to raise awareness for our game and generate capital was to attract media coverage. Miraculously, after contacting different publications, Business Insider agreed to write an article describing our journey to build a new narrative experience. Although we didn’t raise money, the level of publicity attracted more job applicants. Still, without funds, my game became increasingly more of a fantasy, and eventually an impossibility. At 16 years old, my life was consumed with relentlessly resuscitating a dying company. After nine months, my team fell apart. The company failed.

The experience prompted me to reflect on what I actually loved about video games; it certainly was not board meetings and market viability plans. I was actually drawn to games that are works of art. Such games possess a narrative that successfully walks the fine line between engaging and meaningful. They leave players with a renewed perspective. I realized that it was not business, but storytelling that attracted me to game development. Enlightened by this cathartic realization, I began to write as much as possible, hoping to capture the fleeting passion in this newfound medium.

I first wrote Internet horror stories focusing on using uncanny imagery that lead to unexpected and striking endings. The first story I posted online, “The Drowned Man,” was based on a poem of the same name by Alexander Pushkin. Only days after publication, I was ecstatic when it was picked up by a popular creator who narrated it in a YouTube video, which garnered over 100,000 views. This drove me to explore writing further. After experimenting with different genres, I found that screenwriting was the balance of visual and written storytelling that I had been searching for in video games. While I’m still writing short stories, I’m also working on my first feature-length script about a mourning artist’s journey to protect his son from the wrath of the Holy Roman Empire. Hopefully I am now further along the road to crafting a story with the same emotional power and finality of Gone Home.

David Eisman, a graduate of the Professional Children’s School, is a freshman at Loyola Marymount where he is studying screenwriting and film studies.

Essay of the Week: “A Fighting Chance”

Essay of the Week: “A Fighting Chance”

By D’Aundre Martin

My 17-year-old mother, pregnant with me, is struck by a taxicab. After traveling several feet in the air, her impact with the pavement launches my dramatic entrance into the world. This episode becomes emblematic of my future facing and conquering adversity. Weighing four pounds, four ounces, I spend the first first ten days of my life in a neonatal ICU.

My parents split up when I was three and my mother became a strong role model as I watched her go through high school, undergrad, and law school. But I wasn’t happy when Mom introduced me to her boyfriend of six months when I was six. He invited us to the US Open.

It’s 80 degrees outside and the real Tiger Woods is at the tee. I’m waiting for my mom to say bye to this wannabe Tiger Woods who has been nagging me all day: “Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? If you’re tired I have no problem carrying you on my shoulders.” My dad lives what seems millions of miles away in Atlanta, but I didn’t see room for a new dad in my life. My resistance is strong.

After months of holding up my shield, I decided that for the sanity of my mom, it would be best if I gave Mark Getachew a chance. Years later, golf became the bridge to our relationship. I was in 5th grade and he took me out to play; I was awful. We let people pass us on every hole, but Mark was patient with me all the way through. After sinking the eighteenth putt, I couldn’t help but wish he was my real father.

A year later, I am a Junior Groomsman in Mark and Mom’s wedding and we move from the Bronx to the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Until then I lived in a neighborhood surrounded by people of my race. Suddenly, I am in an affluent, yet less diverse neighborhood, trying to fit in.

Since my biological father was in Atlanta, there were only two adult male role models in my life in New York. They were polar opposites. There was Mark, a partner at a Wall Street law firm, and my cousin, Michael, 20, who is unemployed and still lives with my grandma. How did  two people end up so differently? I saw work ethic, integrity, and education as the answers.

My cousin Michael skipped many days of high school, and eventually dropped out. No one ever had to convince me to try in school since I grew up sitting next to my mom studying through undergrad and law school. I never understood why Michael didn’t value education, until I entered high school and experienced how Michael might have felt. After years of having my hard work in school pay off, I could now spend a weekend studying for a five question quiz and not get one question correct. My new teachers became convinced I would not succeed. They suggested I consider other schools.

During those first horrendous months of high school, I felt Michael’s urge to resign. Why should I push myself, if I’m only pushing myself into more failure? The models of Mark and Mom inspired me to prove myself to people who thought I had nothing to prove. I studied and worked harder. Even if it took me an hour to figure out one algebraic equation, I worked on it until I succeeded. By Junior year, my grades were strong, I was taking college courses outside of school, and was engaged in internships and clubs.

Through high school, I have been inspired by the models of Mom and Mark. Mom fought for our lives in the Emergency Room. Mark fought for his part in my family. I have fought when confronting adversity and will be ready to fight many more battles ahead.

D’Aundre Martin, a 2014 graduate of The Beacon School, graduated from Indiana University a week ago

Essay of the Week: The Failure to Ask a Question

Essay of the Week: The Failure to Ask a Question

By Kyle Tyler Bason

I rush to the line for The Transformers attraction at Universal Studios. A fair haired boy stands next to me, facing the opposite direction. Then he turns around. I feel the sweat from my neck trickle down my spine. The Florida hot sun beams on my face and blinds me from fully reading his shirt. It feels like eternity. The awkward space between us seems to inch away farther and farther. His shirt reads “Confederate Flag” with the flag stamped right through the middle–on the day after a white gunman kills nine black worshippers at a black church in Charleston.

Poetry has been my saving grace since the fifth grade. Ms. Baytops, my English teacher, showed me that I could express my affinity for tolerance and justice through poetry. As a way to de-stress, to avoid anger and negativity, I create stanzas.

“Read this one,” she says to me one day, laying a sheet of paper on my desk. It remains one of my favorites– Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise:

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

The line advances a few paces forward. Without a pen or poem ready, I feel the void while standing in line for The Transformers. Who knew that a family vacation would produce a moment that stirs my thoughts similar to that time when I first read Still I Rise?

Within minutes, we reach the front of the line. The man in red stripes ushers both of us to the front row. I make my way to my destined seat next to the boy. We look at each other in silence. The buckles lock. We cannot exit the seat; the bars in front chain me down to the seat beating against my tropical shirt.

I manage to look over and murmur the word, “Hello.”

The word trembling out of my mouth surprises him, but he does not respond. I speak louder.

“How are you?”

His face lights up with a grin.

“I’m good, how are you?”

The conversation between Jordan and me continues as the ride races off. With drops and turns, the awkwardness between us seems to dissipate. Only moments of laughter at the unexpected dips overcome our fears of each other in the moment. After minutes of happiness and excitement, the ride ends. We rise from our seats continuing our conversation as we walk towards the exit.

I fail to ask him about his shirt and do not rise to the power of Maya Angelou’s words. Establishing a brief connection across the racial divide is a rudimentary step in the struggle for unity. If I could do it all over again, I would have asked him about his shirt in light of the Charleston attack. To tackle the problems of race in American life, one must have the courage to sacrifice superficial connections for direct and frank conversations.

As a poet, I am still trying to find my place within the general narrative. When I met Jordan, I wanted to surrender to the possibility of getting along with someone who, at first sight, struck me as an enemy. I jumped over the first fear–to establish a commonality with him. Yet I failed to foster a truly open conversation about race, perhaps fearing such a conversation would have shattered the momentary appreciation for one another that we shared. It was a missed opportunity.

If given the chance to engage someone like Jordan again, I hope to exercise more courage. When the adrenaline wore off, I reached for my pen and began this poem:

The ache in my heart pushed me past my fear,
A chance to show my true-self was near
Before the buckles and engine got in gear–

It was a poem I never finished.

Kyle Tyler Bason, a graduate of the Berkshire School, will be a freshman at Syracuse University in the fall.

Practicing for the Game Outside the Painted Lines

Practicing for the Game Outside the Painted Lines

By Natalie Moorehead   natalie1

I’d like to thank my mom and dad for every three-pointer that I’ve ever scored. I love to play basketball, but unlike math, it never came easy to me. My dedication to the sport was motivated by my discovery that basketball serves as the perfect refuge from a horrific, life-changing event. “Natalie and Parke, your father and I are getting a divorce.”

The moment felt never-ending as I listened to my parents explain how this had nothing to do with my brother and me, but with their own relationship. This had everything to do with me. I questioned myself and what I could’ve done wrong. I felt betrayed and rejected by my own parents. I suddenly held new responsibilities for myself and my brother due to all the changes occurring.

At 10 years old, coping with a drastic life event was unfamiliar to me. I tried many different ways of taking my mind off all the overwhelming emotions, but nothing was effective. In seventh grade, everything changed. On the basketball court, my thoughts about the stresses of going between two households disappeared. Basketball always required hard work because at 5’1” I do not fit the typical mold of a basketball player. Basketball provided a challenge large enough to demand a huge focus when I needed to divert my thoughts. The self worth I lost over the divorce returned when I was on the court. By freshman year, my goal was to one day make the high school varsity team.

Every day prior to tryouts my freshman year, I was building my skills by practicing my shot or playing with my team. My work paid off and I not only made the freshman team, but was captain as well. I motivated my team each practice and game to strive for success. Soon, my goal to make varsity felt within reach. After spending the next summer in the gym, I made the junior varsity team as a sophomore. So far, so good. I was on the path to making varsity.

As nervous as I was during tryouts, my skill exceeded the jitters and I made the varsity team. I secured playing time in the first three games, after which my playing time decreased until I spent all of my time on the bench. As our coach discovered each girl’s playing style, mine did not fit her vision for the team. After many hours of being the chief bench-warmer, I considered whether my dream was a fraud as expectations to play became unrealistic.

I felt years of working hard wasn’t paying off. On top of this, my feet constantly nagged me to give up: my soles burned, my arches throbbed, and my knees felt as if they were being hit with hammers. I sacrificed time and energy that could have been spent completing homework, catching up on desperately needed sleep, and even participating in family vacations. But I wouldn’t let any of those feelings conquer me. I continued to focus on how much I love the game.

Currently, I am working with a private trainer, playing fall basketball, and attending open gyms in preparation for my final varsity season. I won’t give up now; this is my chance. I want this in every fiber of my being. This is the dream that keeps me putting one step forward when I am worn out and beaten down.  

My coach now says I will likely get a lot of playing time this year. If something happens to alter that promise, I may be disappointed, but that will not destroy my love of the game. I will keep playing. I know I can find a way to adapt to life after a big disappointment. The life changing moment in fifth grade prepared me to cope with the things that come with life.

Natalie Moorehead, a graduate of Redwood High School, will be a freshman at Chapman University.

The Mission that Matured with Allergies

The Mission that Matured with  Allergies

By Dani Eisman

Happy Birthday ddani-eismanear Auri! Happy Birthday to you! Hebrew! Yom hu’ledet sameach (x5) Are you 4 are you 5 are you 6? Yay!!! Everyone else erupts with applause, shouting “yea!” but I feel like “ugh.”  I envy kids competing for the first bites of the delicious looking cake while my mom hands me my “special” non-dairy dark chocolate.

I am allergic to dairy, egg, nuts, seafood, coconut, wheat, and soy. At 18, I no longer attend classic birthday cake parties. Now I am embarrassed at dinner parties when I must refuse certain foods. However, I am thankful for my allergies for influencing a dominant interest and drive in my life–advocating for children with disabilities. While my love for children runs deeper than my allergies, my food struggles are a major source of my empathy for special needs children.

At 13, I discovered this passion with Jill, a family friend born with several physical disabilities in Los Angeles, California. She lacked muscle tone and was resuscitated two times in her first few days of life. She endured three months in the NICU with her parents hoping for her survival.

In my first few days of life, I was also in the NICU due to jaundice and weight loss. A doctor decided to take me off dairy and my symptoms disappeared. Jill, on the other hand, did not have the luck of disappearing symptoms and must work hard for her muscular ability to be on par with children her age.

My experience getting to know Jill sparked my interest to work in the special education field. Whenever she visited us in New York, we were inseparable and I looked forward to family trips to California to see her. I started my first job working for an occupational therapist. A year later, I worked as a summer intern at Parkside, a special education school. By the time I was 15, I created a babysitting service focused on children with special needs.

I have learned the first step in helping children with disabilities is forming a bond. I always find something – a tv show, a favorite sport or color. For example, I formed a relationship based on a dress with a student at Parkside, Carol. She has trouble trusting people and deflects intimacy and instruction by becoming silly, laughing uncontrollably, and running away. I told her how much I loved her blueberry blue dress when it fans out as she twirls and sings “Let it Go.” Thing is – she wears this dress, everyday. I eventually eased Carol into challenging her dress obstacle by pushing her to wear a new dress for a few hours and giving her a sticker reward if she wore a new one.

Carol’s need to wear the same dress daily to feel comfortable reminds me of my need to stay comfortable around food. There was a time when I would tell people I’m not hungry when they offered me food instead of telling them the truth. My allergies and desire to be comfortable eating helped me to understand that children with learning disabilities also simply want to be comfortable, “normal” children.

In order to cope with my food allergies, I learned to bake. Baking has been my answer to the problem of finding food outside the house. I have numerous allergy friendly cookbooks that allow me to eat great desserts without sending me to the ER. I prove to myself that my small disability is manageable. Likewise, many special needs children discover ways to manage their disabilities. It’s rewarding to help them exercise their resourcefulness, form everlasting bonds  and gain humility and empathy along the way. I want to go beyond this joy and gain more knowledge about children with learning disabilities. While my experience allows me to understand children on a deep level, I am eager to find ways to improve the special education field and make the world better for special needs children.

Dani Eisman, a freshman at New York University, is a graduate of the Robert Louis Stevenson School.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Virtues of Outfield

The Virtues of Outfield

                    By Will Johnson

11825603_528985197253159_4785992454695724644_n-2Oh, outfield. You are viewed as the most boring position in all of sports. You resemble Cast Away, but moving is forbidden. At least Tom Hanks had his volleyball. All I have is my center fielder, to whom I occasionally flip the bird or vice versa. The boredom makes me deeply philosophical: “With no base, can there be ball?” Everyone makes fun of the one kid in t-ball who sits in the outfield blowing dandelions. The jokesters have never known the struggles of the outfield or the virtues of the position. I do.

When I was six, I imitated Ken Griffey, Jr.’s swing. I joined my siblings and neighbors for home run derby in our own Wrigley Field accented with a brick-and-ivy wall in my yard. Yet, I first had an affair with baseball while I was still married to basketball, my first love. Tendonitis in my Achilles and in both patellar tendons in my knees caused a divorce seven years ago. Maybe you can call me Michael Jordan. I went from basketball to baseball, but I was actually good at baseball and not quite Mike on the court.

I played third, shortstop, second, first––“Hell, put me anywhere, Coach. Just not the outfield. Please.” Of course, Coach Reynolds assigned me to outfield when I was 11. Do not pity me. He created my path to experience a valuable life lesson: the importance of patience. In today’s world of instant gratification, patience is lost on many people in my generation, which makes that quality much more valuable. In the outfield, I stand for seemingly endless hours without the ball coming anywhere near me. When the ball finally comes, however, I am ready to make a play. Playing outfield parallels a pop quiz: you never know when it’s coming, but you always have to be ready.

I felt like I was in outfield at the Chicago Public Library last year. Our teacher gave us a month for the biggest writing assignment I’ve ever had: 10 pages, minimum, with at least 10 sources; instead of  procrastinating, I started early. Half of the sources had to be books, and I found a few books on the Treaty of Versailles in my local library. The impatient way would have been to Google a few books to get some passages to footnote. No offense, but I do not play shortstop. I chose to find the books at the larger library downtown. The Political Collapse of Europe. Perfect. Justice and Moral Regeneration: Lessons from the Treaty of Versailles and Versailles and After: 1919-1933. I wove through that maze of a library to find  KZ186.2, HC57.K4, D643.A7C9. Ah, yes––the Allies appeased Germany too much. Oh, of course––the treaty was far too harsh on the Germans. I sifted through wads of conflicting information. I made a historiography, briefly summarizing each source. Then I wrote my outline with paragraphs and subparagraphs. I thought I stopped a homerun with a catch when I created my thesis: “The Treaty of Versailles failed because it was poorly designed, compliance was not adequately monitored, and the economic realities of the time were completely misjudged.”

It was just the beginning. I had a paper to write. Writing required patience and dedication––traits derived from baseball; there was no way to get through it in just one sitting.

Outfield is not as actively exciting as the library. I sometimes do boring stuff––inspect the grass to see if the ball could take a bad hop because Hey, I still got a job to do out here. Next, this is arguably my most important job––I check out girls sitting on the opposing team’s side. I’m kidding, relax. Actually, I’m not totally kidding. I try to keep my eye on the batter, which I do pretty well. Yet, outfield gives my mind and my imagination the space to sometimes wander and always grow.  

Will Johnson, a graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School, is a freshman at Indiana University.