Posts Tagged ‘personal growth’

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  • “The workshop helped me to feel comfortable writing about myself and to work through my ideas to see what would work. It proved to be a crucial way for me to figure out what was most important to me and how to express that to the colleges I was applying to in the most articulate way. I highly recommend it as learning experience.”
  • Sophia Toles
  • Martha’s Vineyard Workshop Attendee
  • Class of 2012, Friends Academy
  • Class of 2016, Princeton University
  • “David Dent does a great job of helping students come up with revealing topics of their very own to consider for their college essays. He takes the time that is needed to transport your child beyond the routine parameters of his/her thinking to get there.”
  • Lisa Boldt, Mother
  • Alden Boldt
  • Class of 2014, Berkshire School
  • Class of 2018, Union College
  • “When Cameron came to Write for the Future, he was at the bottom of his class in writing and literature. In about 26 sessions, he has gone from a bottom to an A. It is so exhilarating to see this work-in-action. David and Write for the Future have proven that what they say, they do. Write for the Future is a testament to itself. … Now my son can analyze things, he can write things; there are not words to express the things he has done since he has been working with Write for the Future...I would recommend Write for the Future offers to anyone. You are investing in your child’s future,… and you will see the outcome of the product. Write for the Future has done wonders for my son. On Sundays, he always looks forward to his session…. I think it’s amazing.”
  • Lynn King,
  • Mother of Cameron King,
  • Class of 2016, Elisabeth Irwin High 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.

 

Cultural Combo: Bullfight and Bat Mitzvah

by Hannah Kliot

Imagine James Holmes, the man responsible for the Aurora shooting,  thrown into an Olympic-size stadium and stabbed by men on horses to the cheers of thousands of spectators. If that seems too brutal for someone who murdered twelve people, why is the massacre of an innocent bull worthy of a cheering crowd?

I could not escape this question in Portugal. I am a Portuguese-American – or, as some call me, the only Portuguese Jew that they have ever met. I was in for a shock when my cousin invited me to a bullfight while I was working in Lisbon for the summer on my own. While initially hesitant to witness the barbaric cheering of an innocent bull’s death, my curiosity and endless fascination with different cultures overcame my hesitation.

I met my cousin at the front of Campo Pequeno, the bullfighting arena, with my 10 euro ticket in hand. The plain-looking door belied what was behind it: a huge stadium lined with food vendors and excited spectators roaming the endless halls in search of their seats. It was the NFL or NASCAR of Portugal – people argued over seats and tickets and cheered loudly for their favorite cavaleiro, or horseback rider, before the fight.

The excitement was infectious; I could not resist it. I tried to imagine my mom at my age. She grew up in Lisbon and went to bullfights most Thursdays. For her, this tradition was akin to my family’s weekly ritual of exploring a restaurant in a different neighborhood. I probably inherited my innate distaste for bullfights from my dad’s side of the family; his mother is Australian and his father was Latvian. Both sides have inspired my perpetual thirst to understand different cultural customs. So naturally, I sat in the stadium consumed with a question: How can people watch the maiming of an animal as casually as Americans watch Eli Manning throw a football?

I came close to finding an answer to my question during the intermission. A young man no older than 25 approached and hugged my cousin. I immediately recognized him as one of the cavaleiros who had been fighting in the arena just minutes before. My cousin then spoke with an older man who looked strong and proud as the young man ran back to prepare for his second round of the fight. Later, she explained that the older man was the boy’s father who was a very successful cavaleiro when he was younger. Their families had an endless line of cavaleiros tracing back for centuries and it was a deep-rooted family tradition and a considerable honor in both their family and in their town to be brave enough to fight what was considered such a wild animal.

I looked at this alien young man in his gold embroidered costume and thought about how different we were. Then, with a wave of surprise, I realized that maybe we were not so different after all. I saw hints of myself in the young cavaleiro’s commitment to family heritage. I expressed this same respect for the other side of my family with my decision to have a Bat Mitzvah in honor of my grandfather. A Holocaust survivor, his Jewish lineage was of great importance to him and therefore to me, even though my mother is not Jewish.

A few months before the big celebration, my grandfather passed away. I chose to continue to study for my Bat Mitzvah – I knew it was what he would have wanted. In both scenarios of the bullfight and the decision to continue studying for my Bat Mitzvah, I gained a newfound understanding and appreciation for the cultures that make up who I am. While I am not going to be the next cavaleiro or a devout Jew, my appetite to probe and understand both cultures and society beyond normal expectations will continue to shape my identity.

Hannah Kliot, a 2013 graduate of The Dalton School, will be a freshman at Northwestern 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.