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Essay of the Week: Puzzles In Action

Essay of the Week: Puzzles In Action

By Sadie Stern

Sadie Stern“Where’s Sadie?”

When I hear my name, I automatically know Justin is stirring up trouble in the classroom. This time, I barely see the pencil as it whizzes past my face, just grazing my hair before clattering to a stop on a nearby table. The noise captures the attention of seventeen first graders, who turn their heads as another pencil takes flight. Amidst the peals of laughter, I find Justin now lifting a chair above his head in an Atlas-esque fashion. I rush over to him and gently pull the chair away.

“What’s wrong?” I ask him.

He glances at his feet, then gestures to his math worksheet, scowling slightly, “I can’t do this.”

It was my second year as a volunteer at the GO Project, a non-profit organization that provides academic support to children in under-resourced NYC public schools. Justin arrived on his first day overflowing with energy. I became the only one who could calm him.

Why me? Perhaps the answer begins outside the elevator of my apartment building when I was Justin’s age. The lobby floors were slick with melting snow from outside. I could hear my teeth chattering and ran ahead of my family. I impatiently pressed the elevator button as a neighbor trotted in.

“Are you excited to see Santa?” she asked, brushing snow off her hat. I shook my head.
“I am celebrating Hanukkah because I am Chinese,” I told her. There was a brief look of confusion before she regained her smile, “That’s sweet.”

I was an enigma to my neighbor. She saw a Chinese girl but had no idea I was adopted by a white Jewish woman. I realized at a young age that there was something about me people could not know by just looking at me. The concept made my head spin. However, the reality of my own identity inspired my fascination in seeing the depth in those around me. I wondered if Justin could sense that inclination, if he knew I saw him as more than a troublemaker. Regardless, I was glad he decided to trust and confide in me, inadvertently becoming another puzzle for me.

I adore puzzles. As a child, I always loved sprawling across the carpet and sifting through the piles of puzzle pieces. There was nothing more rewarding than the excitement of watching the image slowly appear and the feeling of satisfaction when I finished. I was eight when my grandfather introduced me to the sudoku puzzle in the New York Times. We sat side by side at the kitchen table, mulling over the apparently endless possibilities of numbers and sequences. We worked for hours, armed with blue pens and sparkly butterfly pencils. Eventually, he would tire of the activity so I would carefully fold the page of newspaper and tuck it into my back pocket where it would stay until it was solved.

The keys to solving a puzzle, I learned, were patience, perseverance and a willingness to experiment with new things. I spent weeks employing a similar approach trying understand to Justin. Our long walks in the hallway became an outlet for him to release his energy and our seemingly trivial conversations became my window into his frame of mind. Slowly, I pieced together the puzzle of Justin. Finally, it clicked: I never saw him without his Lego figurines! They were inseparable. And so, I rewrote all of his math problems. Now instead of adding up library books or apples, Justin counted Lego figurines. Yet no one could have predicted that he would grow into such a strong math student. Similarly, no one could have predicted that a policy instituted by a Chinese communist autocrat could have created the perplexing life I know today as a Chinese girl who celebrates Hanukkah.

Sadie Stern graduated from Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School today and will be a freshman at Brown University in the fall.

Creating the Dance to Power

Creating the Dance to Power

By Amistad Cinque Meeks

Cinque MeeksEveryone’s wearing black — the outfits are paramilitary, inspired by the clothing of those who marched the streets in the 1960s — and we’re waiting for the lights to brighten. When I’m choreographing, clothing serves a similar function as Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit”: to instill a scene. We’re wearing black because that’s what people wore when they took to the streets to protest discrimination: black turtlenecks and khaki pants, a mix of power and class.

I had never choreographed a dance. Therefore, my class assignment to create an eight-minute-long piece seemed almost impossible. Yet, as a dancer, it was something I welcomed. I chose the Civil Rights Movement after reading an article about Lennon Lacy, a 17-year-old black male who was found lynched in 2014. This sparked the idea to connect the Civil Rights Movement to the contemporary, because I found the idea of lynchings still happening unfathomable.

To an untrained performer, keeping every inch of the stage alive is demanding. It’s imperative, however, that the stage never has dead space. Likewise, each movement must connect with the audience, must move them in some way. A dance should instill emotion, from inspiration to discomfort in the minds of those who watch. So I kept asking myself: how would I fill the stage and express my disgust toward lynching?

I made sure the dance conveyed my sense of the strengths and vulnerabilities of a Sixties protest, creating sections that were both sad and powerful. My dancers sometimes moved with tense arms and loud stomps, and, at other times, with long limbs and dragging demeanors. I created movement reminiscent of hangings and slavery as well as movement that spoke to today’s protests.

I grew up in a home recognizing racism in America. My father wrote a book about racial profiling in 2000 and, yet, when I was younger, I protested my parent’s orders to be careful when I’m outside. They often told me that society views black males as dangerous. I dismissed them because I always knew I was not dangerous. My dance communicated my awakening as I became aware of the many police shootings that happened this year, realizing that blacks don’t have to be dangerous to get killed.
An important step of choreographing is casting. To genuinely embody the Civil Rights Movement, I chose dancers of different races. I spent a lot of time trying to teach them how I moved. I met with them individually; I encouraged them to dance as I did. It was only after watching them during one rehearsal, watching as they went against their own instincts, that I realized my selfish attempt to make dancers in my own image. Doing so was taking away from the core values of the performance. I realized that choreography must allow dancers to add their own souls to the creator’s vision, like a protest movement. When watching protesters march, not everyone is the same. With different backgrounds and reasons for marching, they’re moving in the same direction. I let that sentiment complete my dance.

Afterwards, filling the stage came naturally. The actions of each dancer made them less a collection of individual and more a movement. Later, as I watched videos of my dance, I saw that not only was I watching a performance that encompassed the entire stage, I was watching a true protest movement, one that had different bodies moving in the same direction. I had accomplished my goal of accurately representing the Civil Rights Movement.

Everyone’s wearing black. The dance’s last scene is the same as its first: powerful, because it proves that despite all of the progressions, the movement has been circular. My hope — the point of this dance — is to teach the audience something: that the issues of fifty years ago are still plaguing our world today, but that the circle can one day be broken.

Amistad Cinque Meeks graduated from The Dalton School yesterday and will be a freshman at Brown University in the Fall.

Brown Supplements

Brown Supplements

by Zoe Armstrong

zoearmstrongWhy Brown? (200 word limit)

I was eight years old when I described to my mom the kind of college I wanted to attend. She said I was describing Brown, and the school has been my first choice ever since. I have not upheld most of the ideas I had at that age, nor all of mother’s advice, for that matter.  However, my feeling that Brown is the right place for me has only grown stronger. I was excited to attend summer at Brown in 2013 and devour the works of Martin Seligman in my Positive Psychology class. During those four weeks on campus, I experienced a strong sense of belonging. I felt the Brown spirit when I joined a counter-protest against the Westboro Baptist Church. The hateful messages from the protesters were disturbing, but the passion of the students displaying their support for gay rights was overwhelming. My passions and interests range from music to biology to politics and, as I learned at Brown, psychology. So the open curriculum is perfect for me. I am eager to participate in campus traditions like Spring Weekend and the midnight organ recital on Halloween and expect endless opportunities to express my values on social issues at Brown.

Why are you drawn to the area(s) of study you indicated in our Member Section, earlier in this application? If you are “undecided” or not sure which Brown concentrations match your interests, consider describing more generally the academic topics or modes of thought that engage you currently. (150 word limit)

Office hours, please! If I became a Brunonian, I would devote much of my first week to finding the office hours of the professors at the Watson Institute for International Studies. With faculty from a range of disciplines, the center is quintessentially Brown and a ripe place for my interest in international relations. I am attracted to the interdisciplinary nature of the concentration and to the mix of professors from Glenn Loury to Nitsan Chorev. I hope to take a class or go to one of Brown Visiting Fellow Timothy Edgar’s lectures. His research on cyber conflict fascinates me, particularly given ISIS’s recruitment of teenagers through social media and China’s use of iCloud to monitor civilian activity.  Though I have visited more than 18 countries in my 17 years and have taken classes in four languages, I long to expand my understanding of the world through my experiences at Brown.

Tell us where you have lived – and for how long – since you were born; whether you’ve always lived in the same place, or perhaps in a variety of places. (100 word limit)

I spent the first 15 years of my life taking for granted New York City’s looming skyscrapers and seemingly ceaseless excitement. Although I lived in the same apartment and attended the same school for most of my childhood, my days were far from banal. From that constantly changing environment I received an unusual combination of stability and unpredictability.

Then, in August of 2012, my parents and I moved to a small city in Switzerland. Basel is quiet and predictable and as different from New York as a city can be. But I adapted, and now consider both places home.

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

Discovering My True American Identity

Discovering My True American Identity

by Zoe Armstrong

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

“Why not?”

“This is a whites only row,” he replied

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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