Posts Tagged ‘college essay’

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  • Class of 2016, Elisabeth Irwin High School

An Education that Starts with Morning Rhythms

An Education that Starts with Morning Rhythms

by Jordan Harris

 Jordan Harris - Class of 2014

A captivating rhythm draws me to five young boys drumming on plastic overturned buckets on the bustling streets of Downtown Chicago. I am on my daily commute to school. In one hour, I travel from a tree shaded suburban town to this rhythmic center of noise and motion. Moments that mirror my life often come alive on my commutes. For example, the drummers resemble the five siblings in the family I worked with during my first service trip to the Appalachian Mountains the summer before my sophomore year. I decide to drop money in the youngest drummers’ container and I see a joy spread across the boy’s face, reminding me of children I met on that trip.

School for me does not start in the classroom. My lessons begin the minute I leave my house. My commute now shapes my identity in ways I never imagined when I decided to attend high school in the heart of Chicago.

It starts with a 15-minute ride with Dad to the Metra Station followed by a 20-minute train ride to the heart of the city. On the train, I witness an architectural transition as buildings become higher and closer together, complimenting the fast pace enveloping everyone.

I arrive downtown and my commute continues.  I now walk the morning rush with Chicagoans of all races and classes as I head to the CTA bus stop a couple of minutes away. The world becomes larger, then smaller with this walk.  By the time I reach the bus stop, I find classmates coming from different places for the final 15-minute bus ride.

On one ride, I smell liquor on the breath of a man sitting a few rows away. He is lanky with scruffy facial hair, wearing a green army jacket, and holding a brown paper bag.  It is the week after Christmas break. Tis the season to join classmates and complain about homework loads. I describe my long paper on the role of children in the Civil Rights Movement when the smell of the man’s breath comes closer.  He then begins scolding all the kids on the bus saying: “Ya’ll kids shouldn’t be complaining about homework. I didn’t do none of my homework when I was your age and look at me now. Do that homework. Stay in school. Graduate. Make something of yourselves.”

By then, I was a seasoned commuter.  If this happened before high school, I would have felt uncomfortable in my seat and searched for another one towards the front of the bus.  Instead, I nodded at the man’s helpful advice.

Some scenes of my commute are as entertaining as a movie, yet my imagination must write the script.  I was waiting at the bus stop one morning when I saw a businessman in a full suit and tie riding by on his scooter.  Maybe he was a creative entrepreneur, or just a man trying to save money rather than taking a cab.  I could only imagine a day in his life.

I never imagined how adaptable my commute would make me.  On one cold January morning, the bus broke down.  The driver said another bus would arrive in an hour. My classmates and I decided to walk so we would not be late for school.  A brisk wind hit our faces as it became harder to see, and the cold made our noses drip and turned our faces red. Too bad the man with the brown paper bag could not see our walk through deep snow in single digit temperature weather. It showed the kind of academic commitment that might warm his heart.

My commute has strengthened my independence and adjustment to new situations. I now go downtown not only for school, but for other events as well. Thanks to my commute, I have branched beyond a suburban bubble and become more aware of myself as part of a larger community.

Jordan Harris,  a freshman at Northwestern University, is a 2014 graduate of Saint Ignatius College Prep.

 

 

The Life of a Commute

The Life of a Commute

by Jourdan Espeut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fights and Lessons

By Ian Batts

Two friends became enemies. Eric claimed I fouled him in a basketball game during recess. He pushed me. I pushed back. Blows followed. Everyone gathered for the first of three major experiences that taught me what is worthy of a fight.

“Mr. Phillips is coming,” yelled Derrick.

That fight ended.

We returned to our Sixth grade classroom. The teacher left the room for a minute. Eric, humiliated by the laughter of others, demonstrated the foul in front of everyone and accidentally ripped my shirt open from the breast pocket. In this competition, the victor was the one who arose least embarrassed, so nothing good would come of it. The fight resumed.

Mr. Phillips returned and saw this misguided battle for respect and ordered us to leave with him. I felt, perhaps, as empty as the very idea of competition for the purpose of diminishing others. Outside, Mr Phillips laughed and shared stories of fights with his brothers that are  “jokes of his past” today.

Months later, I saw wisdom in Mr. Phillip’s words when Eric and I were friends again and paired on a team in a math contest against the two top math students in the grade.  In preparation, Eric and I huddled most afternoons over math problems discovering trick questions to come in a contest based on knowledge, not grades. In an upset, we won and the true victory was a new understanding of competition worthy of a fight.  However, the primary memory is learning together–“learning” being the operative word. I look back on learning with my friend as a lesson demonstrating that an “A” may not necessarily mean that I had absorbed concepts any better than if I had received another grade.  After all, we defeated A+ students in math. No victory is as meaningful as learning itself.

Years later, the lesson followed me to U.S. History. Initially I was quiet in this class, as I was always more interested in ancient eras in other parts of the world. The teacher pried open my mouth, stressing debate and discussion.  Five minutes into one class he asked me with a grin, “What was the role of the Republicans during the Gilded Age?”  My answer failed to stand his scrutiny. After a few classes of  “being grilled,” I went to his office after school to re-examine our debate. I was half-expecting a huge debate. Armed with new knowledge, I hoped for my first win. I knocked on his door and heard a welcoming shout of “Batts!” We laughed and debated far beyond class discussions and I learned.

Afterwards, I read everything to prepare for a class trial prosecuting Andrew Carnegie for “immorality and dishonesty.” I would be fighting in the classroom again–only this was a meaningful fight for truth. I represented the plaintiffs of the Homestead Steel Works. I  changed how I competed; I had matured enough to see my  purpose was to show truth rather than defeat my opponent.

As juniors, students are geared to focus on grades to suit college-friendly transcripts. History rescued me from that regimen with the wisdom that learning has multiple paths, including competition. I then added U.S. History to my passion list and found a class to be a model of a real education: a challenge and a dialogue that changes a student’s thinking and behavior.

Ian Batts will be a freshman at Harvard University in the fall, following his gap year.

A Source of Sensitivity

by Nicole Hamilton

The three of us were friends and known athletes on campus. We were talking as we stretched for the first day of relay practice, when a stranger stepped forward to join us. Her name was Taylor. I instantly saw that this freshman was intimidated. Coach asked us to go on a quick warm-up lap and my two friends continued to joke about our coach’s nerdy, velcro sneakers, as if Taylor was invisible. The girl did not even a crack a smile.  So I slowed down a little to jog next to Taylor and quietly asked, “Do you think the coach needs to get rid of his sneakers?”

And just like that, she started to laugh.

I owe that moment to Gary. He is my big brother-three years my senior and nine inches taller. Yet, in many ways I am his older sister, which makes me dread driving him to our local Best Buy. Today he is buying a new copy of Madden. Gary politely asks the cashier how his day is going and waits for him to reply. The cashier barely acknowledges the courtesy and only says, “$21.98.” I nonchalantly glance behind us and to my embarrassment, a line forms. The cashier and the people in line impatiently stare at my brother as he slowly pulls the money out of his wallet and lays the bills on the counter. When he double checks his counting, I hear audible sighs of exasperation from the woman next in line and the man next to her.

I really want to walk away from the register and pretend to admire the batteries hanging on the wall, while Gary finishes his business. He is oblivious to the impatience of people behind us and the annoyance in the cashier’s eyes. I always stay close by to make sure that he does not get cheated or answer any questions that the cashier might have. I also do not want to embarrass him by taking over his wallet. After the ordeal of handing over the last dollar, the cashier says that Gary needs another dollar. The woman once again loudly groans. I shoot her a death stare and open up my wallet, then hand the cashier a single.

Gary can’t help it. My big brother is autistic.

Gary and I attended the same school, but lived in different worlds.  Gary was known for his athletic prowess, while I am known not just for my athletic talents, but for my dedication to my school work. My combination of strong student and athlete places me in a small category known as the smart jocks. As a member of this circle, I deal with both ends of the social spectrum. I spend a majority of my school day in classes with students who are academically the strongest in our school. After school, I am with my teammates at practices, tournaments, and smoothie shops. In each crowd, I hear an arrogance that I never embrace. This makes me the one to raise an eyebrow or scold a friend who easily uses words like “stupid”  or “retard.”  As Gary’s sister, I know his pain when someone directs one of these demeaning terms his way.

Having an autistic brother has also turned me into a great listener. This skill enables me to be a strong peer mentor. After 7 years of training, I have finally attained the title of senior trainer for my school’s peer mentoring program, Natural Helpers. Students open up to me, even if I do not know them that well. All it takes is a quiet hallway and the welcome relief of a listening ear.

Gary’s autism has helped build my own inner strength. I’ve had to overcome my own embarrassment and insecurities, just like in Best Buy, in order to help him. It has also taught me to see people beyond first impressions and reputations. The gift of sensitivity has allowed me to help others by offering them support and empathy. In turn, I have learned so much about my friends, family, and often complete strangers. And I have Gary to thank for that.

Nicole Hamilton is a freshman at Georgetown and a 2013 graduate of Elwood-John H. Glenn High School.  

The Gift of a Little Brother

by Arianna Francis

Little brother?  He’s a boy.  At seven, I cried and cried when I discovered the little sister I always wanted would be a boy. I already had a big brother. What could I do with a younger one? He would be useless. I couldn’t paint his nails or do his hair or dress him in my doll’s clothing.  My parents expected this melodramatic reaction. They gave me a crown shaped ring to ease the news that my hopes for a sister were as possible as the Prince selecting one of Cinderella’s stepsisters.

When he arrived home a few days after 9/11, I couldn’t put my baby brother down. His small hands, his chubby cheeks, his tiny toes, and his silky smooth skin; it was love at first cradle.

As Sage grew beyond something that fit into my arms, his influence on my life grew as well. In fact, he rescued me from a bully. She lived on my street. She played volleyball like me, she danced like me, she ran track like me and did gymnastics with me. She was the worst kind of bully. She was someone I cared about and who was close to my heart; she was my best friend, which made her piercing stares and hateful words hurt that much more. She made me doubt myself; she made me think that everything I did was wrong and the end of the world. But she also made me determined to be the best me that I could be.

My bully lived inside of me. She was the part of me that always strived and wouldn’t rest. A 95 was never enough. For years, I was under the spell of a drive pushing me to an elusive place of perfection. At four in dance,  I made sure I pointed my toes every second of each piece of ballet. In six years of gymnastics,  I did not leave any room for judges to subtract any points; however, if I lost tenths of points, I would spend the long car rides home crying.

There was one thing that could pull me away from that bully–Sage. His gentle smile, comforting back rubs and comedic ways quickly dried my tears from discontent. Sage was always there to restore the humane part of me that I often let slip away. Whenever my bully would come around, which was often, Sage was there to combat her effect on me. Sage taught me to stop being my own bully. His laugh, smile and encouragement slowly and somewhat subconsciously influenced my daily outlook. I could not resist his young, free, positive spirit and the Spongebob mentality that started his every morning; that every day would be “the best day ever.”

I became captain of my volleyball team this year and will always remember the tears that ran down my face as I sat in a circle with my teammates. I expressed that I felt like I failed as their captain after I heard that many of them were afraid to make mistakes and disappoint me. Those familiar words stung. Had my own bully influenced them? At that moment, I committed myself to making sure that each and every one of them felt special. Then the most timid player squeaked out, “Ari, you are my role model.” At this point my eyes were flooded. “I look up to you,” she continued. My tears kept coming as she continued to speak. “You always encourage me.” I could barely catch my breath. “You inspire me with your positivity.” By the end of her comments, we were all sitting in puddles of sweat and tears. We had accomplished a new type of victory in this game of life. We declared our space a bully free zone.

Arianna Francis is a freshman at Vanderbilt University and a 2013 graduate of The Ethical Culture Fieldston School.

Where Education Became the Passion: My Mother’s House

by Amanda Honeywell

Whenever I first mention “My Mother’s House” to friends, they immediately ask: Why do you call your own house,  “my mother’s house?”  It isn’t my house, but certainly feels like another home. It’s a place for formerly incarcerated women to reinvent themselves right after being released. They temporarily live there with their children. I spent a month of the summer after my sophomore year as a volunteer assigned to the children. While moms looked for work or held down first jobs as ex-convicts, I played with their children in the park and read to them before bedtime. I loved it so much I returned to volunteer during each of my school breaks.

While I indirectly helped mothers trying to reshape their lives, I discovered something that had been burning inside of me for years: my love of children and teaching; I discovered my calling to be an educator. I had worked in many other settings before with children. Most recently I had tutored Hope, a four-year-old at a center for gifted children. She could not keep up with peers until I was assigned to help her grasp concepts.  Then, of course, there is Brielle who lives in a world far away from My Mother’s House. At three feet-tall with curly pigtails, a cute smile, and an attitude the size of Texas, my niece, Brielle is the main attraction of our family. She’s replaced me as the baby girl of the family and always expects and receives special attention from Auntie Amanda.

I had my first experience working with children at my school in seventh grade, when I helped younger kids with homework in an after school program. They seemed genuinely happy under my guidance, while I became a sponge in their presence. All children, whether they are gifted, privileged, or disadvantaged, infuse my maturing life with adventure and a spirit of youthful gumption. I saw this three years ago when I left school for a quick slice of pizza after the last bell of the day. With my slice in a bag, I rushed back to school to tutor. I crossed the street a block from school and it hit me….literally! I was struck by a gold sedan, noticing its presence as I rolled off the windshield and onto the blacktop. I got back up and was going to keep walking to school while my friend and others around me insisted on calling an ambulance. I should be glad I listened to them. At the hospital, doctors discovered a bruised kidney that needed treatment and required me to spend a night in the hospital. Within a week, I was tutoring again.

While I always loved working with children, it was the experience at My Mother’s House that helped me identify education as a passion. I had spent an engaging week at Barnard College in an infant cognition course for high school students just before starting at My Mother’s House. So I had the opportunity to immediately employ the lessons from the classroom in pragmatic ways. On my first day, Imani greeted me by tugging on the bottom of my shirt. At three-feet with a poof on the top of her head and little braids on the bottom, she carries an an incredible sense of fashion for a toddler. She seems to always be smiling…no matter what comes her way. Imani’s infectious smile produced an instant connection with me. She absorbed the stories I read to her in the way I sat mesmerized by the lectures of my professor at Barnard.

Last Christmas, I returned to My Mother’s House, not greeted by my little friend tugging at my shirt, but by the unfortunate news that she had been missing for two weeks.  My world turned upside down and I felt the tears collecting as a co-worker explained that Imani’s mother did not come to the house one day. Eventually Imani’s uncle picked her up and told the director at My Mother’s House that Imani’s mother was fleeing arrest. He refused to allow My Mother’s House to release his contact information to anyone.

I think of Imani everyday, which inspires my drive to teach and impart my students with a passion to absorb everything life has to offer. Hopefully they will see service as a part of the offerings, which will direct them to helping innocent kids, similar to Imani, who are born into troubled environments. Whether they are volunteers or educators, they will experience the wonders of how children unknowingly enrich the lives of those around them.

Amanda Honeywell began her freshman year at Barnard College a few weeks ago. She is a 2013 graduate of The Kew-Forest School.

Two Dads and One Ideal

By Evan Mabry

I see my biological father leaving my apartment and my stepfather moving in on the same night. I don’t really think my mom would allow the departure of one and arrival of the other in one night. Yet visually my mind can’t nail down the moments when I was in between dads. It blurs into one night. As long as I can remember, there was one dad who was present enough to make the absence of the other notable. I am thankful that they both provide me with a powerful sense of right and wrong, which greatly influences the way I live today.

By seven, playing basketball with my biological dad was just a fond memory. My new dad loved hockey and soccer—two sports I spent years trying to love as well. Today, I’ve returned to basketball —something I owe to my biological father and perhaps one of the few things we still have in common, besides that everyone says we look alike.

Movement was the defining characteristic of my biological father’s life for a long time after he left my mother. He moved non-stop from apartment to apartment throughout the city, as if he were a plane on radar. For weeks at a time, my father would be living in his friend’s apartment or sleeping on someone’s couch.  Comfort never found him. Stability evaded him as well. He was also still searching for financial well being. He came close to stability by eventually returning home to Long Beach, California to live with his parents.

My life with my stepfather and mother has also been one of movement, only with a totally different perspective. Our movement provided my motto for life: never get too comfortable since a new adventure always awaits.

I was 10 when we moved to Milan, a city rich with adventures for me from the new language to learn and a sport to love. Soccer became my branch to new friends. I did not need language proficiency to kick the ball. I joined a traveling soccer team. When I turned 12, I was fluent in Italian. Yet it was time for a new adventure: Miami. In Florida, basketball replaced soccer as my favorite sport.

Starting in New York and moving to Philadelphia, Long Island, Italy, Miami and ultimately returning to New York in Tenth Grade was a circle of lessons: some learned successfully and some still to be learned. Through all those addresses and area codes, my stepfathers’ number one priority was responsibility to family: food on our table, shirts on our backs, and a roof over our heads. Responsibility was the rule of his life. I took his example to the basketball courts of Miami and back to New York when I was 16. For years, I translated his model of responsibility largely to sports and saw my commitment to any team–soccer or basketball–as an act of responsibility. Anything less was treason. Eventually I saw society as a web strewn together by successes and failures that are tied to responsibility. Travelling sensitized me to see the persistence of problems such as a lack of universal health care or lack of clean water in some African nations as examples of global irresponsibility.

My sense of responsibility inspires my career choice. I love sports and dreamed of becoming an NBA star for years. Now I seek a career in sports management to take responsibility for issues related to my passion–sports. I dream of launching a campaign to promote the sale of healthy foods at sporting events. Unhealthy fast foods that would make Michelle Obama cringe are the norm at the games I love to attend. It is quite a mismatch:  athletes whose jobs are to keep their bodies in supreme condition playing before fans who are eating their ways to heart attacks. And what about the financial health of those heroes on the courts and fields? Is it responsible for athletes to make news for graduating to poverty after their years of heroic status on the fields and courts?  My career in sports management would address those questions. Ambitious? Yes and I have the model of my stepfather to thank for setting my goals high. I also thank my biological father as well. His negatives provided the lens for me to value the positives of my stepfather. Without my biological father, I may have considered the responsibility of my stepfather as the mere norm–not something that requires sacrifice. My father’s shortcomings contrasted with my stepfather’s successes, shedding light on the interconnected ideas of people taking care of the people, whether it is one or a million.

Evan Mabry is a freshman at Indiana University and a 2013 graduate of The Dwight School.

Lessons in Trying to Sail the Ship of Life

By Jamie Woodard

I knew I could own the Mediterranean with my Pacific Seacraft 37. I jumped aboard ready to sail the endless plain of blue sea and cruise through the white foam mountain tops. The confidence of a 15-year-old at the helm excited the passengers- until I screamed for help. The sails were unwinding from the masts because I really did not know how to sail. I skipped sailing lessons, thinking I could move with the wind. I finally confessed to passengers- livid with fear and screaming for their lives- while I wondered: why did I think it would be so easy to do this?

Fortunately, I never tried to sail the Mediterranean but my Moby Dick-like tale is a dramatization of that question. Why did I think I could solve problems by simply steering into a new world? More specifically, why did I think that all I needed was a boarding school to take me to Utopia?

I spent my Freshman year at Columbia High School with my lifelong friends. We had journeyed from story time to study hall with excitement toward entering the new world of high school together. Yet one huge problem emerged: they treated school differently than I. In biology, I took notes while they gave up on our teacher because of his speech impediment. During labs they shifted their attention from hypotheses to whatever would happen after the bell rang. I wanted to escape into an academically rigorous environment. I was ready for a new ship. Boarding school became the vessel of my dreams.

I began researching schools with a drive that was familiar to my parents. When I was eight years old, my twelve-year-old brother Alex was going to sleep away camp. I wanted to go too and my parents said I was “too young.” Really? I conducted my own research, discovered Camp Mason actually did allow kids my age, presented my findings and was soon heading to camp with Alex.

My boarding school research led me to Peddie where I became an eager sophomore. Academically, my research was on target with the kind of precision that made Camp Mason the perfect summer experience. I was not the lone note-taker and was enthralled by the discussions of The Kite Runner and the Taliban rule. I was immersed into the hearts of European revolutions. I loved the new academic life that challenged me in new ways. However the relationships I held with my lab partners vanished when class ended.

I left the familiar world of Columbia to be surrounded by 556 students– most of whom seemed to want to remain strangers to me. Dressed in their Easter colors, most passed by me with side-glances–many refusing my attempts to develop friendships. I lost my hopes for a utopian boarding school. Discouraged? Yes. Ready to give up? No way! I didn’t place the fate of my Peddie experience under the control of classmates. I had to control my own ship.

I found the right track, literally. Peddie’s indoor track became my new home. I ran from my dismays and toward new goals that drove me to one of my greatest rivalries and challenges; a great distraction from social dismay. Lizzie Edokwe had beaten me in six races since I began running track and the gaps were all fractions of a second. Last spring, I trained every day for the moment I would beat her in the last race of the year. The gun sounded; I heard the loose gravel fly behind me as I launched myself forward with the sun ruthlessly beating my neck. I held my head high focusing on the finish. There was only 200 meters separating me from success. Suddenly I didn’t see a victory, but the back of Lizzie’s taunting black uniform, staining the path ahead of me. I crossed the finish line with a personal record, but still second-best for the seventh time.

I may never beat Lizzie, but I embrace the progress gained from relentlessly trying. I sailed on my own sea of opportunities when my fellow teammates, enlightened by my progress, made me team captain and the faculty-student senate nominated me to be student-body president. I realized I am not defined by any social tribulations. It wasn’t easy to start a new life or lose a race but my efforts set me up for new personal records in avenues I’ve yet to imagine. Boarding school forced me to make my own way amidst the white waters and tsunamis. Now I may even sail the Mediterranean–after some lessons.

Jamie Woodard just started her freshman year at Georgetown University. She is a 2013 graduate of The Peddie School.

Meeting the Angel of Death

by Monet Thibou

I was hit with the biggest tragedy of my life on Columbus Day of 2010. My mother died. I entered a new home and was thrown into a new, independent school in the middle of my sophomore year. However, the school no longer felt new when I was elected student body president two years later.

It still feels like yesterday when my mother said to me, four months before her death, “I have cancer,” she managed to say with a shaking voice. “Don’t tell anyone, Mo.”

I honored her wish and went on with each day as if her hair weren’t falling out more and more with each doctor’s visit. I went on as if her skin wasn’t changing to a lighter shade of brown. But we did everything that summer, my mother, little sister and I. We took trips to Coney Island, ate fried frog legs on the boardwalk, photographed silly moments by the Cyclone, barked with ecstatic sea lions, high-fived underwater polar bears through the glass, and as if it were fate’s design, wore the same outfit to each event. Smiles and happiness swirled in the air above our heads as I pretended my mother wasn’t diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer and not a soul knew.

It was arduous and draining, pretending, but it felt like the right thing to do. People would always ask: “Hey, how’s your mom?”

I’d simply respond, “She’s fine…” without any description of her “fine” condition.

She died physically and I mentally. All of her friends swayed with my family and me in different pews at the funeral as we tried to rock ourselves into a state of stability. After the funeral, I was dragged out of my familiar life, separated from my little sister, who now lives with her dad, and pushed into my second home with my aunt, uncle, grandma and cousin.

After my impromptu move from Queens to Brooklyn, my life began to pick up speed as my aunt enrolled me at Elisabeth Irwin High School. Stepping through the glass doors of Elisabeth Irwin felt like stepping out of the chaos from public school and through the gates of heaven; showing me a world I was never able to see before. Immediately, you could sense the change of dynamics in the air. The size of my grade dropped from 200 to 40 and for the first time ever in school, I was in the minority as a black female. On my first day, I followed the small, bustling crowds while keeping my head down as I walked through the halls. But, with time, I acquired a close group of friends.  Then in May of my junior year, I was nominated for student body president and won.

My new life was exciting! The saying goes: “Success happens with a jump start.” But for me, it was a kick in the face by the angel of death. I would have never imagined living this life two years ago. But a child never wants his or her mother to go. I’m aware that I wouldn’t be where I am now without the tragedy of my mother’s death. But I’m glad that I’m succeeding instead of crashing. Through my mother’s death, I was forced to grow up, forced to be strong, forced to move on. In moving on, I, for once in my life, reached for stars and actually caught one.

Monet Thibou, a 2013 graduate of the Little Red Schoolhouse and Elisabeth Irwin High School, will be a freshman at Sarah Lawrence College in the fall. More of her writing can also be found on her blog: insertsomethingdeep.wordpress.com

A Chinese-Jewish Christmas

by Saru Nanda

I am a Hindu who always wanted to trade in her religion during one month of the year: December. I could never resist my adoration of Christmas. As a child, I thought it was unfair that I could not have a Christmas just because of my primary religious beliefs. Though my family never celebrated the holiday, I secretly honored the season in my heart; loving the music, the trees and the glowing lights I saw throughout the city. But I was never able to outwardly celebrate the holiday until I acquired my second family in my junior year of high school.

Members of my second family are Jewish and Atheist. In fact, none of us are actually Christian. We all love the trappings of Christmas and decided nothing could stop us from celebrating the holiday. On Christmas Eve last year, we met at my friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side. We dressed in our finest and set the table with fancy plates, beautiful silverware, and the embroidered napkins. We spread Chinese take-out on the plates and ate fortune cookies for dessert. In a sense, we were celebrating our friendships and diversity more than the holiday itself.

For me, the Chinese-Jewish-Christmas was an affirmation of a newfound independence that inadvertently came into my life with my second family. Before then, I had grown socially dependent on my six-pack.I became friends with six girls from Southeast Asia, other “Brownies.” We were inseparable in my freshman year. I always dreamed of attending Stuyvesant High School but it seemed like a foreign place in my first days of Ninth Grade. Initially gravitating towards people of my “kind,” other Southeast Asians, other “Brownies,” made the adjustment easier.

During the summer apart, I discovered more of my self beyond the group through my notebook. I started writing. My notebook started off as a diary almost, but it quickly became more. I filled it with everything I could: quotes I liked, scans of passages from books I loved, doodles and drawings, my own writing, lists of what my mother needed from the grocery store; anything. I let everything pour onto those unlined, recycled pages. These pages gave me a new view of what I wanted my life to become. So when I returned to school in the fall, it wasn’t a surprise when I pursued my interests more aggressively.

In the beginning of my sophomore year, I wanted to join so many clubs.  As I branched out into activities that my six-pack blatantly rejected, I made new friends and ultimately found my diverse second family. I joined the school newspaper, read my prose at Open Mic, and danced in a school performance. Though those experiences, I met the new friends who became my second family. When rehearsals ran late, I ate with them and took the train home with them. After the shows, the bond between us continued. We live in different parts of New York City but we make it easy to hang out by choosing a location that’s an even commute for all of us. To this day, they’re my best friends; they’re my second family. We may not agree on everything, but that’s why our friendship is so strong: we respect each others’ views and opinions.

I don’t avoid friendships with people who are racially like myself, but I have learned to see the limitations when I confine myself to a friendship based on skin color. Through my second family, I learned I can adopt elements of any culture I choose to embrace on my terms. I can be happy eating Chinese food on Christmas Eve.

Saru Nanda, a 2013 graduate of Stuyvesant High School, will be a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in the fall.