Posts Tagged ‘cornell’

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  • Class of 2016, Elisabeth Irwin High School

Ruling My World

by Robert Plummer

My back smacks the ground as all air escapes from my lungs. I lay on the floor gasping, beads of sweat rolling down my forehead. I have been clotheslined while going for a layup. I take a minute to admire the ceiling of the South Bronx basketball gym. I have played basketball in the suburbs for years, but playing in the intensely competitive city leagues is always a different, humbling experience. How long will it take for me to catch my breath this time? Strangely enough, all I can think about right now are the lyrics to one of my favorite songs “Viva La Vida,” in which the singer reminisces about the time he ruled the world. Clearly I do not rule the world here. My mind is overtaken by the complexity of the song until my teammate pulls me up, snapping me back to reality. This game marked my moment of truth. In those seconds on the ground, I realized that I would never feel complete until I acted on my passion for singing.

From early on, sports functioned as the main expression of my competitive nature. “The more the merrier” was my father’s philosophy when it came to participating in sports, and I agreed. I excelled in Varsity Football, Basketball, and Track & Field and was quickly labeled a “triathlete” by my family and peers. I had a natural propensity for sports, but my musical aspirations went unnoticed. Then came the school talent show in my sophomore year. The all-male acapella troupe performed “Hakuna Matata” from the Lion King. I realized I could no longer ignore my desire to sing and perform. The perseverance and strength I learned through multiple sports gave me the tough resolve to do something completely unexpected. One week later, I auditioned for acapella and made it! I was ecstatic, but my decision to join acapella faced a great deal of opposition.

When I told my father I made the troupe, he killed my excitement with a disapproving look. “Stop trying to act like your sisters,” he said. “You should be focused on your athletics.” My track and field coach was even more disturbed because I was supposed to be training for the upcoming National Championships in North Carolina. When I would leave practice early for acapella rehearsals, my coach would exclaim, “Is singing going to get you into college or is Track & Field?” At that point, my father and coach had yet to see the fruits of my labor. Despite these discouraging comments, I continued to trudge forward in pursuit of my goal—I was going to sing in that talent show, no matter what! Then everyone would be able to appreciate a side of my personality I had concealed my entire life.

Seven days before flying off to the National Track and Field Championship, I boldly approached the center of the high school stage with my acapella troupe. My orange and white basketball jersey glistened under the headlights. I stepped forward and seized control of both the microphone and the direction of my life, serenading the audience with my “Viva La Vida” solo. I was singing to my father, coaches, and all who had miscategorized me before. Performing onstage freed me from the constrictive box that held me captive for years. I was consumed by pure happiness when the audience roared with thunderous applause. I had finally achieved the perfect balance between my two talents. Nothing will ever diminish my love for sports but joining acapella provided me with the opportunity to illustrate the depth of my character and personality. Finally, with my two passions coexisting in perfect harmony, I felt like I truly did rule the world for the first time.

Robert Plummer, a 2013 graduate of Scarsdale High School, will be a freshman at Cornell University in the Fall.

Searching for My Identity and the Right House

Searching for My Identity and the Right House

WTFT logoMy ideal exterior is a plain and simple white wood frame, the perfect foundation. The grass is crisp, resembling another home for me—a soccer field. Yet the landscaping is lush, and, like my experiences, frames something modest into something original, versatile, and welcoming. I find my identity in houses I imagine and create. However, my ideal house is, like me, evolving.

I trace the desire for this house to Sims, a game that hooked me the minute I moved the mouse at age 10. Unlike most Sims addicts, I never created people. Controlling “sim”ulated, algorithmic lives cannot fulfill me. I was engrossed in bringing the house of a Sim to life and discovered my passion for architecture and design.

Intrigued by my Sims addiction, Dad challenged me: “Design your ideal house!” After countless houses in Sims communities and smudged, penciled floor plans in notebooks, I still search and create. I constantly try to improve and reinvent as I also grow as a person—from the only girl on my soccer team until I was 11 to the social middle-schooler doubling as that kid on the school bus, not socializing and instead staring aimlessly out the window. In that spot, I forsook gossip for views of authentic brownstones sandwiched between the new high-rises. The contrasting structures were so incongruous that a roller coaster track atop each one would displace Six Flags. Rainbows of graffiti animating stark brown townhouses echoed my pixelated Sims homes. What a perfect seat to begin my journey.

In my dream house, there is always a playroom and a quiet space, as I value teammates and the individual. There is a room highlighting the unexpected, since I create homes in unlikely situations. For example, I transplanted the concept of team, another home for me, from sports to chemistry. The teacher was also my coach, but this class was initially a soccer lover’s nightmare. My team for class projects sat at a table in the back of the long, narrow room: Nick, hiding answers on the calculator between cupped hands; Sam, faking ignorance, laughing when we discovered answers scribbled on corners of his papers; and Oliver, always texting under the table. As the team’s only girl, I am not surprised that my reminders to the boys of the competition to outdo other tables (and boost our grades) synchronized our pivotal gears. Finally I felt at home on this team.

One year later, the mouse became my hands and feet as I squished and stomped prickly hay into clay to make bricks. My classmates and I planned and built a bathroom in Peru. I dug channels for the plastic pipes leading to the water source, realizing that I had never considered plumbing or electricity in Sims houses. Now, I insured that the channel avoided both the native Cantutas in the garden and tattered electrical cords.

My view from the top of an Andean Mountain overlooking Peru inspires the sense of height in my dream house as a quasi-escape. My deck opens to the chaos of reality, recalling those mountains that fence in the pristine blue sky but fail to appease the crazed, barking stray dogs chasing my bike on the trail. I master riding without hands, which I fill with rocks swept up from the red clay trails to fend off wild dogs. Nobody sees the chaos within this mountain fence, but only the perfect peaks. The scene within is most visceral to me—the chaos of the dogs, the security of the rocks, and both the fear and calm I feel in the unknown.

The unknown path in Peru is as liberating as my view of the future. I am excited with the feeling of not knowing where I am going. The foreign is as comfortable as the familiar. Thus, I am satisfied not knowing my dream house since I will keep creating it as I continue to evolve.

The author of this essay is now a freshman at Cornell.

Challenging the Uneasy in Real Life and Fiction

Challenging the Uneasy in Real Life and Fiction

By June Liu

juneI stroll toward Phillip sitting alone on a sofa, and his red and puffy eyes startle me.

“He called me a faggot,” Phillip mutters.

“Who is ‘he’?”

“Ken.”

I first met Ken and Phillip the night before at a gathering in the Leopard Lounge of the Norwegian Gem Christmas cruise. The gathering seemed almost too good to be true. Eight teenagers began the evening as strangers and, within minutes, we were talking comfortably.

Phillip and I discovered we both love dance, and he invited me to ice cream in the dining hall. I was perfecting the swirl on my cone when Phillip tapped my shoulder.

“Can I tell you something kinda personal?” he asked.

My ice cream cone wobbled in my hand as I nodded.

“I’m bisexual,” he said.

“Cool!” I replied.

Yes, so cool to a New Yorker like me — a screenwriter and journalist in search of intriguing stories and characters. Yet, this story evolved beyond “cool” in complicated ways as my morals and values forced me to challenge Ken, who had also become a friend. It was easy for me to play the role of comforter to Phillip. However, confronting Ken, who attended a conservative Christian school in rural Pennsylvania, was emotionally demanding.

My heart raced as I approached Ken. I didn’t know what to expect when I entered Phillip and Ken’s story as a new character. I didn’t have lines prepared or any idea how the scene would unfold. I acted on my values of tolerance, sharing them with Ken. I also listened to him: “There aren’t any gay people where I come from.” Ultimately, I convinced him to apologize to Phillip. However on the cruise’s final night, Ken calls Phillip a faggot again. Phillip smashes Ken’s face into the elevator, telling me with a disturbing satisfaction: “He got what he deserved.”

I was saddened that my impact on Ken was so minimal, but learned that confronting controversy often produces complicated and unsatisfying results. A few months later, I volunteered to write a spoof about Mr. Smith, a controversial biology teacher, for the humor issue of the school newspaper. Some Nightingale girls objectified Mr. Smith, saying, “Oooh, his pants are so tight.” There was also a video on Facebook of him dancing at a school party. My piece touched on his clothing and dancing in a satirical way. The faculty advisors cut my article for “sexualizing a teacher.” The censorship outraged me since I did not find the article offensive. However, it occurred to me that my innocent joke was inappropriate to the advisors, due partially to generational differences. Likewise, I found Ken’s description of Phillip offensive, while those in Ken’s world may have found it harmless because of cultural differences. Through both experiences, I discovered I am one to consummately question and analyze, refusing to allow my frustrations to paralyze my explorations of what drives people to act.

Journalism and writing have grown to become my platforms for those explorations. Phillip and Ken emerged in my conscience when I penned a script in my screenwriting class a year later. My script follows a girl playing soccer on a boys’ team. Her teammate Gabe opposes her presence and humiliates her on the field. Although Gabe is the “villain,” I delve into the insecurities driving his actions. Ken partially inspired Gabe’s character. The two may seem despicable, but I tried to understand them by digging into the forces that motivate their actions. Similarly, a victim or “good guy,” like Phillip, can be motivated to do “bad things,” like smashing Ken’s face.

There are few easy rights and wrongs. Regardless, I still consider Ken’s comments to be troubling, think Mr. Smith would have enjoyed my article, and believe Gabe should welcome his new teammate. Moreover, I am driven by a passion to address the “uneasy” in real life or fictional universes.

June is a graduate of The Nightingale Bamford School and a freshman at Cornell.

Who says “Asians don’t play basketball”?

Who says “Asians don’t play basketball”?

by Calvin Ng

UntitledI was the only Asian freshman to make the Junior Varsity basketball team. My teammates questioned how I even became a Running Rebel. “Asians don’t play basketball.” This didn’t anger me; it just compelled me to prove myself in the sport I love. A year later, I was named captain of the team.

In the final game of our season, I look at the freshmen on the bench. Unlike me, they don’t have anything to prove due to race. Yet, there is a yearning in their eyes. They want a chance to play instead of sitting helpless in the last game.

We fall behind in the second quarter. Our starters, frustrated, argue on the court, blaming each other for missed shots. Coach Barbin calls a timeout. He yells at me–the captain–and the other starters. I cut him off and ask him to play the freshmen. His face says it all–who in their right mind would put inexperienced freshmen in a game right now?

“The starters aren’t doing well at all and we’re down by ten. There’s nothing to lose,” I reason.

He agrees and benches all the starters minus me and picks the four freshmen. This is a completely new team I’m leading now. My teammates listen and move the ball around. Despite their inexperience, they cut, set screens, and shoot well. We win the game and I see the leader in myself come alive.

For years, everyone pointed to me as a good leader–everyone but me perhaps. At my middle school graduation, I expected to win an academic award but was shocked when my name was called to the stage for the leadership award. It wasn’t until I played on a basketball team that I really saw myself as a leader, which grew out of my tenacity and devotion to the sport. The summer before I became captain, I went to Crocheron Park in Bayside, Queens daily to practice and play. I had already overcome others’ doubts about me as a player due to my race, and would play full court pickup games with the older guys. Whenever I performed poorly, I pushed myself harder in drills to get better. After this regimen, I was able to shoot further, jump higher, and dribble better.

When I returned to school, my teammates saw the improvement, acknowledging me as an equal. Yet I struggled as leader of the team with the starters all season. They always played every game despite poor performances. Perhaps the true lesson in the moment I pushed for the freshman to play was directed at the starters. They never focused on the consequences of playing poorly, not seeing how their bickering affected the team. By contrast, the freshmen always looked for advice when they took bad shots. Rather than merely citing their mistakes, I offered ways they could improve as players. In doing so, I experienced what I loved most about leadership–helping anyone who wants to improve.

This central trait to my leadership–my desire to help people–continues to appear beyond basketball. I apply the lessons of leadership on the courts as a volunteer tutor at a community center. My first student, Vivian, a freshman who had difficulty in Algebra, was unsure in approaching problems, often mixing up operations when solving equations. I recognized this right away. I did not make her feel bad about her shortcomings. I looked for a solution to help her as I did with the freshmen players. I immediately created a guide sheet for her, writing all of the basic guidelines for solving equations.

In some ways I thank those who doubted my abilities as a player. They inspired me to push myself harder as a basketball player. In the process, I discovered the leader in me and realized the values of practice and tenacity. I know I will be able to apply these lessons to so many avenues in my future.

Calvin Ng, a recent Stuyvesant High School graduate, will be attending Cornell University this fall.