Posts Tagged ‘essay’

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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 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.

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.

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.

 

My School Within a School

by Justin Schnell

I refuse to go to the School of Tears and Tutors–that overwhelmingly large school within my school. I have friends in Tears and Tutors and I do not resent my classmates who are enrolled there. In fact, I estimate that 75 percent of the students at my high school attend Tears and Tutors. However I live by a different ethic, which stresses teamwork and authentic learning. This has inadvertently turned me into a leader in the small and alternative school that exist in the shadows of Tears and Tutors. I  have named that school Teamwork Over Tutors, or TOT.

There are 15 of us in TOT. We are athletes who challenge the norm of jocks because of our strong intellectual cores. The lessons and ethics we have learned through sports guide the ethos of TOT. We do not have tutors for any subject but rely on each other for academic support. For example, I love physics and I will drop anything to help a fellow TOT student in that subject. Alvin loves English and he stays up for hours with me on the phone, helping me refine my ideas before I begin a literary critique.  My TOT classmate and friend, Jason, and I work well together both on the court and in the physics room. Last January, we worked on a project observing the shapes of different planets’ orbits based on the mass of the other planet it was orbiting. This experiment required a lot of outside research. We discovered an application called Orbital that models different sized planets and their orbits based on certain components. I created different examples of planets for us to observe while Jason wrote down his observations and compared each trial. By the end of the project, we had 10-15 examples that supported our thesis. We received an A, but the grade did not matter as much as the efficiency of the team effort. This is the beauty of Teamwork Over Tutors.

While students of TOT rely on each other, students in Tears and Tutors depend on tutors and experts to help lift their grades. They have at least one tutor–if not more–to help pour lessons into their minds. In Tears and Tutors students may forget a major lesson after a test. That’s okay in their school; they are more consumed with grades than learning.

I remember the day I realized my school was really comprised of two different types of students and decided to divide my school into two. It was history class during my junior year. Our teacher returned a test and I saw a classmate who received an 85 begin to sob. She pulled out her cell phone as she left the class and called her mother. She cried into the phone and said she needed a new tutor. Around that time, it seemed that roughly 75 percent of Dalton students have tutors. I wondered why I never had a tutor and why I had never called home crying over an 85. I realized then that I valued learning over grades and teamwork over tutoring.

In the school of Teamwork over Tutors, my role is the glue of the team. I keep us focused on our school within the school. I love taking the leadership role in our group and suggesting who should do what based on everyone’s strengths. Our success comes from my ability to instill a mindset that learning can be accomplished as a team and not just an individual.

Our educational model is actually ingrained in the founding of Dalton and the expressed values of the school. At Dalton’s lower school, TOT values were stressed with the recognition of the progressive education values of Helen Parkhurst, the school’s founder. She was a progressive educational thinker at the turn of the last century who embraced the philosophies of John Dewey. His ideas are congruent with team learning. By middle school, those values were fading at my school among my classmates. Yet, I found the sense of team learning that was common in the lower school classroom on the middle school basketball court. In fact, I became friends with most TOT students through organized sports, which began in 7th grade.

I have been conditioned for TOT through my experiences in athletics. Basketball was once just something fun, but now, it is the force that anchors my academics. In practice, you learn to work as one with your teammates, overcoming difficulties and prospering together. In physics class, your classmates make up your team in doing a group project. When you are doing an experiment, you are relying on your peers to work with you in an efficient way. On the basketball court it is the trust, organization, and effort of all 5 players on the court that leads to success. In the classroom, an organized team can produce the strongest moments of discovery and introduce students to broader perspectives than their own. Through TOT, I have learned that Teamwork is a true asset in any lesson. Whether you are an athlete, musician, or dancer, if you apply the lessons of teamwork from those talents to your academic life, you will receive a true education.

Justin Schnell will be a freshman at the University of Michigan in September and is a 2013 graduate of The Dalton School.

Values in Indecision Over the N-Word

By Chris Drakeford

“If it ends with an ‘a’ it’s ‘a’-ok” explained Todd, after seeing my face cringe when he referred to his white friend as  “my nigga.” As 50 Cent, Lil Wayne and Jay-Z use this word liberally in their music; teenagers have adopted the word as a synonym for good friends regardless of race. For younger generations, the shock factor associated with the N-word has faded. My parents would be appalled at the frequency of the word at my high school—even if it lacks an “er” ending. My own decreasing sensitivity is not disrespectful to my heritage but rather an uneasy adaptation to changing times.

I was the lone teenager at a table of black Baby Boomers last summer while out to dinner with family friends. My dad sparked a debate about whether racism was decreasing in younger generations. This question quickly produced a unanimous “no” amongst everyone at the table, with one exception – me. While finishing off my chicken, ribs, and macaroni, my mind drifted, blocking out the chorus of stories of “undeserved speeding tickets,” “overaggressive police actions,” and “suspected racial profiling.” I reflected on my experience in Yorktown, growing up as a black male in a town where I never felt that I was treated unfairly, differently, or unequally. Perhaps I have been lucky or maybe racism is present but I don’t see it because it lies outside the boundaries of my perspective. As I tuned back into the dinner debate, I defended my generation as less racist.

While the adults clearly had more experience on the race issue and experience is often seen as an asset when it comes to solving problems, it can also limit new thinking and ideas.  I have never been very passionate about race but my views can be an asset as it frees me from seeing the same predictable pessimism of race which seems so unfitting to the moment of living with the nation’s first black president.

I sit at a peculiar place at the intersection of race and class. I am a product of a proud black family that represents the diversity of black culture. My Dad, the son of a blue-collar lumberyard worker, was the first to attend college in his family. My Mom, the daughter of a doctor, is the fourth generation to attend college. Most of my friends are white and middle class; this has given me a unique window into both black and white worlds. I understand the older generation’s disapproval of the “n word”, but I also understand my friends’ confusion when I tell them the word is “off limits” while it slips so easily off the tongues of black rappers and comedians. “Why can’t we use it if they’re using it?” they ask me. I often remain silent because, the truth is, I don’t have an answer. I never use the word, and expect the same from my friends.

The only time I feel like a stranger in either of my two worlds is when the subject of race arises. I usually see both sides of the race debate, and regardless of the viewpoint I encounter, I often find myself taking the opposing side. I remember a peer arguing with me that racism is an insignificant factor in our society that is exaggerated for the benefit of certain groups. My first reaction was anger: How could anybody think such ignorant and misguided thoughts?  Ironically, I found myself arguing with my peer using some of the same ammunition the Baby Boomers used at dinner that night.  But I couldn’t dismiss my classmate as racist. This kid had simply experienced his whole life as a white middle class male, in a town with few minorities. What opportunity would he have had to look for or see racism?  None. How could I expect him to see something that lies outside the borders of his vision, something that is essentially invisible to him? How could I expect the Baby Boomers to see race based on anything beyond their experience growing up in a world still plagued by remnants of the racism that the Civil Rights movement sought to eradicate?

To me, racism is a complex, ever-shifting entity that moves about class, generation, and community without any consistency. It may never disappear and individual experience, a much larger force beyond generation, will always shape perspectives on it. While my thoughts around racism are still forming, my particular experience provides me with insight into both black and white worlds. Some might see my thinking as indecisive, but I believe there is a need for leaders who can see multiple sides of an issue and can make informed and empathetic decisions about seemingly unsolvable conflicts, such as those between Henry Louis Gates and a white police officer or even between Arabs and Israelis and blacks and whites. This leadership, which is demonstrated by individuals such as Barack Obama, is becoming more important in solving the issues of our increasingly complex and globalized world.

Chris Drakeford will be a senior at Tufts University in the fall. He is a 2010 graduate of Yorktown Heights High School in Yorktown Heights, New York.

Keys to My Passions

by David Webster

I stare from afar at the big beast that stands in my living room, intimidated by its beauty, and uncertain of what may happen if I touch it. Yet its sight is so striking and inviting. I want to touch it to produce the tunes that my mother plays occasionally. One day I climb on the bench, my feet innocently dangling over the ground. I place my small, chubby fingers on the off-white keys. Beautiful noises flow, varying from high to low, soft to loud. I control all of it; I feel like the God of the keys.

If I had not engaged with that mysterious contraption when I was six-years-old, I would have lost the chance to develop a passion, piano. Today my relentless pursuit of passions and interests go beyond the piano. They have been nurtured by the inescapable resolve and independence that grew up with the taunts of two big brothers. I remember the Christmas when I was ten.  My older brothers were 15 and 17– too old for toys but not quite beyond the magic of Christmas morning.  “What did you ask for?” they nagged.   I ripped open an intricate blue rapper as they waited anxiously. It was just what I had wanted, the software  “Landscape Architecture and Design”.  They traded a glance and burst out laughing simultaneously like the hyenas in The Lion King. “That’s what you asked for?” they queried.  They always made jokes about my eclectic interests; from the time I opened my framed Monet paintings at 6, to my light box and my 3D animation tools at 8.

There is nothing like the bit of fun teasing from big brothers to prepare you to confront bigger challenges. Last summer, I concluded the NYU Summer Institute of technology program knowing that our required final performance would be difficult. I would not be performing on the piano, which I have done every year since I was six. My job was to perform the rap lyrics in a song that my group wrote and engineered. Yikes. I stood backstage, awaiting the erupting audience applause that would signal the end of the preceding groups. I didn’t want to leave the homey little room backstage, which didn’t pose any opportunity to fail. My heart raced. My hands were sweaty. My stomach was locked in knots. Yet I took that first step onto the ominous stage, with two hundred eyes staring at me from the audience. I walked into the blinding stage lights facing the crowd and performed. Our performance wasn’t perfect. Although we could have used a second sound check (ironic for a music technology program), I still walked offstage, head held high, knowing that what I had personally accomplished went far beyond what the audience had seen.

Did I hate being so nervous? Absolutely. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

However not every experience or challenge overcome is immediately gratifying; some involve lessons that unfold over time.  Take, for example, the gray day that I ended my teams’ chances for progressing through the county tournament.  I was a young freshman who, until then, had warmed the bench on the varsity team. It was the bottom of the seventh inning.  Our slow but hefty catcher had just been walked to first base.  I heard the coach’s voice. “Webby! You’re in” My feet trembled within my loosely tied cleats as I jogged nervously to first base. “Hopefully he just wants me to run the bases,” I thought. But when the sign to steal came, I had to go.  The silence as I ran tensely was one of the loudest noises had ever heard.  The first baseman had the ball, and a look of monumental accomplishment on his face. With great precision, he threw the ball to the second baseman, which applied a tag that seemed to slam me deep into the sand. I had been picked off, and it was the last out of the game. The easier option is always to linger on base. But still, there is something that gives me the courage to push myself and go all out to second base.

I am sometimes apprehensive in the face of new challenges, and I am initially reluctant to partake in activities that force me to exit my niche of familiarity. Yet I overcome the reluctance to face the risks of unknown as I have become well acquainted with challenge.  My experience with it is irreplaceable and will only help in the time ahead. As I conquer a new hurdle, I will always feel my swinging toes, microphone in hand, dashing through the sand towards new opportunities.

David Webster will be a junior at Williams College in the fall and is a 2011 graduate of Newark Academy in Livingston, New Jersey.

Destruction and Growth

By Cameron Carr

My family was destroyed on a beautiful day: August 19, 2006. My dad packed my things from camp into the car and it was time to leave Orson, Pennsylvania. I said goodbye to the girl who I was crushing on the whole time I was there, and she gave me a kiss goodbye.  Nice.   After that I hopped into the car with a big smile on my face as we made our way back to New York City.

The smile was fading, but still on my face when we stopped at Wendy’s. My dad was oddly quiet while I ate my chicken tenders, carefully dipping them in barbecue sauce with the precision of a bomb surgeon.  However, I did not know that a bomb was literally about to explode.  “Cam,” my father said nervously as he steered back to reality, “Your mother and I are getting a divorce.” How does a 13-year old react to that?  The barbeque sauce in my mouth instantly lost its sweet flavor and began to sting.  All I could do was stare blankly into the open canvas of road rolling by the window. I uttered my first response in a shaky, confused voice.  “Wh-y?”  My dad responded, but I heard nothing but a monotone depressed voice smothered by my mind’s traffic jam.

It was a three-hour ride before I saw my mother anxiously awaiting my return at the door. I stepped into my house, and suddenly it didn’t feel like home. It was a tall brownstone that stood out from the rest on the block, but it lost its glow and swallowed us as we entered.  Like myself, my house was in pain, exhausted from trying to pull our hanging family back from the edge of the cliff. The house’s oak glazed floors had been beaten down, and easily creeked, screeching whenever you pressed your foot down on its body.  It was no longer my beloved brownstone, but was a war zone as my both parents ambushed me with their sides of the story. My parents’ voices simply went into one ear and then quickly out the other. I transformed into a different person that day.  Not only did I begin to look at marriages differently, but I started to see adults as humans–no longer heroes.

Ironically as I began to look at adults more realistically, my relationships with them grew much stronger, as they became less intimidating. I saw this a year ago when I started a job as a sales representative for Cutco, Cutlery Company.  My target customers are middle age adults.  As a salesperson, I easily understood the secret of intriguing the potential buyers–establish a relationship. My first sale was to a woman with 30 years on me. Her age did not stagger my conversational skills. She lived in an elegant brownstone. I told her I used to live in one.  Eventually this branched into my school and whether it was the right place for her child. I fueled the discussion by improvising, wherever the conversation flowed. Engaging in deep discussions with adults feels natural. This helped me win the top salesman award in my first week with $2,974 dollars in sales. I love my job because it tests my speaking skills and self-confidence.  Many adults like to present their authority and status, yet they appreciate the character of a teenager who knows how to challenge them with a confident, but not obnoxious, attitude.  I demonstrate this persona with piercing eye contact and a firm handshake.

The divorce taught me to take action during stressful situations, which once saved two kids from excessive bruises. It happened at a community home for 30 children who have suffered abuse. I was selected as one of 20 students to serve as mentors for children, ages 8-12, at the Ittleson Community Home. Under the supervision of adults who work at the home, we lead sports activities, arts and crafts and other fun events for the kids. One afternoon, two boys started fighting. The Ittleson adult supervisors watched them, commenting on the fight as if it were a boxing match, while I instinctively ran in between the kids and broke up the brawl without any help from the adults. I also convinced the boys to apologize to each other.

It was easier to go between two kids than to split time between my parents who still battle for full custody. Despite my growth, I can’t ignore the weight of the stress from the divorce. It imprisoned parts of my personality.  I did go to my Dean at school for advice and he told me “the people who struggle now are conditioned for life in the future yet to come.” His words became the source of my determination to let nothing stand in my way to success, and compelled me to see the benefits of the change in my character after the divorce.

When I now confront pressure and stress, I strongly adapt in order to stay sane and deeply involved in school, sports, art and community.  I have developed a toughness that has allowed me to resist emotional breakdowns when problems occur. The maturity I acquired from this divorce was well worth the rough journey I experienced in high school, and will act as a crucial necessity for life and careers yet to come. This is a form of adaptive evolution, as my personality was shaped into a more mature character. Over time, my comedic side was able to reappear just as it was on the day I received that kiss at camp.

Cameron Carr is a Sophomore at Pitzer College and a 2011 graduate of the Ethical Culture Fieldston School.