Posts Tagged ‘Family’

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  • Class of 2016, Elisabeth Irwin High School

G-Pa’s Lessons

G-Pa’s Lessons

by Tyler Mackenzie

2014-03-20-195972_10150124710702083_4149433_nI was a junior on the varsity basketball team and my minutes were decreasing to the point where I was barely in the game. I wasn’t used to that kind of playing time. I was livid. I was considering quitting the team. Then G-Pa strolled into the kitchen. A short, balding man, my grandfather stands at about 5’4 and has a chubby frame. He always wears his spectacles, dress pants and his polo button up shirt. He never wears shorts or t-shirts.

G-Pa grinned at me with his normal smirk and shouted:

“Wasssup, Big T!”

Seeing my reaction, he immediately realized I was unhappy. He pulled a stool up, and I explained what was bothering me. G-Pa had seen me play and insisted that I needed to be more aggressive in practice and in the few minutes I had on the court. “You just have to push yourself.” He also told me that life has difficulties and quitting is the worst possible way to deal with them. I guess I absorbed what G-Pa told me. A year later, I am the captain of the team.

When my grandfather talks about working hard, I listen. He was a Tuskegee airman and we spend hours discussing World War II. He sparked a lot of my interest in history and his advice has changed my life in many ways. For example, basketball and football had been at the center of my world for as long I can remember. They were always more important than school work, especially during my freshman and sophomore years. Then came G-Pa again. He wanted to know why I was taking so few advanced courses. “You are smart, and you should work as hard in your classes as you do on the basketball court.”

I took his advice and decided to take AP US History and Economics. I have had my best academic experiences ever in those classes. At first, they were very difficult. I still remember all the serious faces on my first day in AP history. I could not spend any of the period making jokes and talking to my friends. I could not pick up my Blackberry. Flirting with girls in the class had always been more important than what the teacher wrote on the board, since everything was so easy. The B+ I received in U.S history was so much more valuable than any of the A’s I received in my first two years.

I am frightened by the thought of what I would be if my grandfather had not moved in with us a couple of years ago. Ironically, I was angry when my father announced that his father, Patrick, was moving back from Guyana to our house. I was angry and selfish. I did not want to share food with a new resident of the house. Within a week, we became best friends. His greeting is always cool and warm: “Wasssup, Big T.”

I reply, “Wassup, G-Pa.”

He will most likely follow that up with a joke about how much I eat. Or he will ask me a question about history or current events. Or we will argue over football. G-Pa doesn’t understand the game as much as I do, but he still has a great time watching and cheering against what ever team I want to win. The real family fun begins when the Dallas Cowboys play the New York Giants. For some odd reason my grandfather has taken a serious liking to the Dallas Cowboys. I remember one cold November night the Cowboys and the Giants were getting ready to square off in a huge NFL battle. My grandfather sat right next to me and began his trash talking. Of course, I couldn’t just let my grandfather talk smack without any repercussions. I yelled everything I could at the screen about the Cowboys. Dallas won, but that didn’t matter. I still had fun with G-Pa.

Tyler Mackenzie, a junior at Syracuse University, is a 2011 graduate of Half Hollow Hills High School East.

The Captain’s Steps

by Ashlynn Sarubbi

Thanks to me, we begin the same step over again. This is my fifth screw up. I reach my tipping point when the captain mocks me in front of everyone:

“Because of Ashlynn, we have to start all over.”

I can take no more. I grab my bag.

“Do it on your own,” I yell at her.

I’m quitting, I tell myself. But I do not make it out of the building without reconsidering my decision. I am not a quitter. In fact, two years later, the girl that messed up the steps that day— me —becomes captain of the Academy of Mount Saint Ursula Step Team. I trace my resilience to the eve of Valentine’s Day, 2005.

I am nine years old sitting on my bed wrapping candy in colored paper when the phone rings. My mom answers and then begins to cry. She grabs her stuff and runs out of the house. It is 8:00 PM. She never leaves the house this late. She returns hours later with news: my father is dead, the victim of a fatal bullet. Instead of crying, I sit in silence in the dark. He has already missed so much. He promised me that he would make it up to me, but he would now miss the rest of my life.

My mother is a police officer. My father was an ex-convict. For as long as I can remember, Dad was always the absent parent. He was imprisoned shortly after my birth, leaving my 18-year-old mother to raise me on her own. He was not released until I was seven. I sometimes found it hard to let go of the resentment. I had grown up without a father for so long that it became normal. Months before his death, I began opening up to him, and our relationship became stronger. He stressed the importance of never giving up and not making the mistakes that he made in life. He told me he had been offered a basketball scholarship to the University of Michigan. He chose another life that landed him in jail. He convinced me to be different and to create a better path than his.

My dad’s poor decisions eventually cost him his life. However, his faults helped me learn how to become the person he dreamed I could be. In reality, he had not let me down completely as he demonstrated what my life could become if I did not follow his advice.

My mother, on the other hand, has always been there for me. She grew up in poverty and was left to raise me alone. She eventually returned to college and became a police officer. My mother demonstrates the value in my father’s theory of not giving up. He didn’t live that life, but Mom displayed it brilliantly, and her model compelled me to stay on the step team that day. After all, my mother has faced many difficulties on her own. So I kept practicing those steps until I perfected them–even when it meant practicing longer and not going out with my friends. In doing so, I follow my mom who made choices that are the opposite of my dad’s. She shows me that it is possible to be strong enough to withstand even the most challenging obstacles and to stay clear of those who may be a distraction to me.

Two years ago, I was en route to leaving the building and quitting the team. Instead, I turned back, knowing that I could not be a quitter. It was not part of who I was or who I wanted to become. With the forgiveness of my coach and the team, I vowed to my teammates that I would never let them down again.

My father once told me I was a “Sarubbi” and I could be whatever I wanted to be. My big moment of triumph came last spring. I sat in a circle talking and playing around with my teammates. My coach called me to the hallway. I became very nervous. When we got to the hallway, he began a speech about what was expected of the team members and the captains. I thought I was being removed from the team. Finally, my coach announced that I had been promoted to Captain of the team.

Ashlynn Sarubbi, a 2013 graduate of Academy of Mount Saint Ursula, is a freshman at Franklin and Marshall.

 

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.