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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.

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 Barrel and the Bubble

The Barrel and the Bubble

by Jana Wilson

janawilsonIt all started in a barrel. I know that may sound a bit odd, but hear me out.

I am trapped in a bubble of people who disrespect service workers and the only thing I can do is smile in order to keep my job. Forming a smile was never work for me, until I landed a job as a hostess at an upscale steakhouse. When I arrive at work on Sundays and Mondays at 4 pm, I am alone. My face can relax as I check voicemail and confirm reservations. By 5 pm, customers arrive and I turn on the “steakhouse smile.”

I have actually mastered (and sometimes enjoy) the challenge of playing charades, but backwards. The customers cannot read my true emotions and certainly do not know about the barrel. It is one source of my strength to get through a night of smiling through rudeness and indifference.

When I was 14, my grandfather shared the story of the barrel. Affectionately known as “Gramps,” he is 96 years old and my oldest living relative. When he was five, Gramps lost both his parents, forcing him to live an impoverished life in Grenada and be independent. At 12, he stowed away in a barrel aboard a ship destined for Trinidad. Homeless and alone, Gramps sought opportunities for a more prosperous life. After decades of hard work, he met and married my grandmother, moved to New York and raised successful children. If Gramps could create a better life after leaving his homeland in a barrel, I could handle smiling in a restaurant twice a week.

“Hi, how are you? Do you have a reservation?”

“No, but we want a table anyway,” a man demands. His wife looks past me, spying for empty tables.

“Let me see what we have,” I say looking up the reservations for the evening. “I have a table.“

The man frowns and the woman barely acknowledges me. My smile continues.
I grab two menus and seat them. I feel like a robot sometimes, performing the same repetitive action with the same smile and “click-clack” noise of my heels on the floor as I walk.

The barrel and bubble influenced my participation in the LEAD Summer Business program at the University of Maryland last summer. Our team of three students developed a product to be presented to professors and business leaders. We designed an app to make shopping and meal planning easier and less expensive by providing real time access to coupons on smart phones.

During weeks of preparation, I brought the tenacity of the barrel and the discipline of the smile to the table. I calmly motivated my team to focus on the big picture to stop them from arguing over small details.

On presentation day, while awaiting my cue to enter the classroom, I am a little terrified. The assembled group politely applauds as we stride into the room. My role is to deliver a thorough presentation about our target market, competition, and advertising strategies. I conquer my fear by thinking of my grandfather stowing away in a barrel and, of course, I smile.
.
Gramps’ life has taught me not to live my life hiding inside of the proverbial barrel. I can accept that failure is a possibility, but it will not prevent me from escaping the barrel and pushing forward. Fear is simply an emotion that induces a lack of confidence. It is only an idea, not a tangible thing that can stand in your way. Therefore, why let it take over?

The courage and strength that Gramps possessed to climb into the barrel and then “break out” are alive in me. Any time I am faced with an obstacle, I try to remember my fearless grandfather stowing away in the barrel and know that success is possible. His story represents hope and helps define who I am today.

Jana Wilson, a freshman at the University of Michigan, is a graduate of Morristown High School.

Choose One Community

by Amanda Schnell

amandaschnellEssay #2 (Required for all applicants. Approximately 250 words)

Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.

What a recipe! An actress, three soccer players, a journalist, a football player, two dancers and a photographer–mixed together on the top floor of the 9/10 building every Wednesday. The result is thousands of dollars raised to build schools in countries that are severely uneducated. We are clearly a diverse group of classmates, yet we all have one thing in common: we believe in the right to education. We are the backbone of the Riverdale’s Pencils of Promise club. This non-for-profit organization raises money and awareness of the problems confronting education around the world. I devote myself to this community because I am aware of how important my own education has been in determining who I am and who I wish to become.

The diversity within this group of peers has taught me to appreciate different ways to approach projects, while valuing my own unique perspective. As one of the original members of the club and one of the oldest, I have taken on a position of leadership. In doing so, I have encouraged an atmosphere in which we take advantage of our diversity and everyone’s ideas are heard and valued. As a result, we have raised more than $5,000 and have also started a New York City-wide Facebook campaign. We also were leaders in organizing the charity’s teen council.

The Riverdale Pencils of Promise club has only been functioning for three years, yet we have accomplished an astonishing amount. This club is profoundly important to me because I so strongly believe in, and wish to expand, its cause.

Amanda Schnell, a graduate of the Riverdale Country School, is a freshman at the University of Michigan.

Lessons from Both Sides of the Family

Lessons from Both Sides of the Family

by Bijan Saboori

bijan_cameraThe plane lands at a small airport surrounded by dead yellow grass. Endless old beaten-down cars and trucks speed down the highway. I am in Istanbul. I have traveled halfway across the world for a family reunion on the Iranian side of my family. However, it is the lessons from the African-American side of my family that inspired me to embark on this adventure.

Rewind eight years. I hit the ramp hard. My bike follows, tumbling on top of me. I get up and immediately hear the laughs; they sting more than the aching in my shoulder. Everybody in the skate park saw me. I could not escape the jarring commentary on my fall.

“He can’t ride at all.”

“What a wannabe.”

“Dude, this kid blows.”

I was only nine and I loved BMX, but was just learning. A few months later at our family reunion for the other side of my family–the African American side–in Las Vegas, I told my cousin Harry that I was frustrated with the taunts and wanted to quit BMX. Harry interrupted me, “Son, I don’t see any reason for you to quit doing something you enjoy. Bijan, just because you fall down a few times and embarrass yourself doesn’t mean you just give up. That’s life…You should never give up on something you love.”

I did not quit. In fact, I practiced more. My own sense of adventure matured as I learned more about my much older cousin. I once saw him hop in and out of the cockpit of a P-51 Mustang like a kid on a jungle gym. He was 90 and could still pull it off. Harry started to tear up sitting in the cockpit, remembering how he and three other Tuskegee Airmen had won the USAF’s first Weapons Meet of 1949 to determine the title of Top Gun. However, they were barred from receiving recognition because they were black. The Air Force officially recognized their victory 46 years later.

I was glad I followed his advice when I entered my first BMX competition at age 12. I started my run down the ramp with my first trick in mind, jumping with an X-up. I hit the ramp and while in the air I crossed my arms in the form of an “x” so that the handlebars would turn 180 degrees. I quickly reversed the process before landing so I wouldn’t wipe out. After that first trick I felt more relaxed and performed simple tricks like 180s, fakies, bunny hops, manuals. I fell a few times, but nothing could replace the thrill, the rush and the challenge that I continue to experience in BMX.

I furthered my sense of adventure by taking up snowboarding the following winter as well as jumping into the world of theater, where I love working on the crew. I could not resist the adventure to travel halfway across the world to learn more about the other side of my family in Istanbul last summer. I rekindled connections with family members that I hadn’t seen in years. Since then, I have become very close to Sue, my younger cousin who lives in England. She has been coping with people’s negative reactions towards her bisexuality. We talk almost everyday on Facebook: “What they think doesn’t matter. Being yourself is a key ingredient to life. Don’t let anybody make you feel bad about who you really are and how you live your life.” The words I type on the screen to Sue echo the wisdom passed on from Cousin Harry.

Helping Sue come to terms with her identity has led to my interest in psychology. I now want to obtain the academic foundation that will allow me to help others overcome issues related to identity, depression and stress. Along the way, I can also inspire others to embrace adventures that can lead them to new passions.

Bijan Saboori, a graduate of Cleveland’s University School, is a freshman at American University.

 

Middle Child Girl Power

Middle Child Girl Power

by Amanda Schnell

amandaschnellI was exhausted, frustrated, but refused to release the smile on my face. For two hours, I repeated the words “circle”, “triangle” and “square” as I stood before a classroom in a small school in the Floating Villages of Cambodia. I was overly ambitious, thinking I could move onto colors after an hour. I soon decided that the lesson plans just weren’t going to work, and instead quickly improvised. In teaching body parts, I started the class with singing and dancing. It was a crowd-pleaser. At the beginning of the class, they could not pronounce the word “toe”, but by the end we had successfully taught them every single body part in the “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” tune. I owe this moment of adaptability to the way I grew up.

I am the middle child–the only girl in the family sandwiched between two brothers who love to punch each other. Growing up, Justin and Casey sometimes excluded me, forming “boys only” clubs with private jokes. I’m not looking for pity; I had my diverse collection of stuffed animals and my diary to keep me company! Looking back, though, I see that this sibling dynamic has created a strong sense of individuality and self-sufficiency in me.

I even owe the diet I love to the independent streak I formed growing up. My brothers love steak and hamburgers, but in fifth grade I was moved to take on a new diet after reading Fast Food Nation. I will never forget the description of how each animal is killed at the McDonalds slaughterhouses. I have nothing against carnivores; in fact, all my friends are meat enthusiasts. But I was so moved by what I had read that at the age of nine, I stopped eating fast food and became the only vegetarian in the family.

Being the middle child has helped shape my life in so many other ways. My little brother Casey loves getting attention from Justin, so he rarely complains even when Justin contorts him into a multitude of painful looking positions. When Casey isn’t around, Justin likes wrestling with me. Learning to fight back thickened my skin, and ultimately made me even more adaptable.

When I met my Cambodian family last summer, we naturally bonded despite the language barrier. We exchanged warm smiles and found ways to express ourselves beyond our native dialects. Every morning I would walk out of my homestay house and watch neighbors washing their clothes and bodies in the river, which was filled with trash and human waste. After hours of teaching, I looked forward to my bucket shower. The water was always cold–which was perfect after a long day in the hot and humid Floating Villages. On our trip I would continuously say “It’s not weird or gross, it’s just different,” to other students in the program who complained. I lived comfortably by these words.

I particularly enjoyed the commute to the Floating School because it was nearly an obstacle course. A boat outside the house carried us to another floating house. We then balanced from the house to canoes, which finally took us to the school. One morning I could not stop thinking about the farm animals I saw on this journey. The students grew up around chickens and cows. Why not focus a few classes on animals while teaching English? We did so and the students mastered the topic with ease.

I loved my experience in Cambodia, but was happy to return home and see Justin and Casey, my occasional adversaries and my constant motivators. Now that we are older, our relationship is changing. Justin is no longer living at home–which has strangely prompted a closer (and less violent) relationship with both of my brothers. Yet, there are still times they throw me into the couch or try to twist my arms into unimaginable positions. Of course, I fight back without hesitation!

Amanda Schnell, a 2015 graduate of Riverdale Country School, will be a freshman at the University of Michigan in the fall.

A Rough Field for Everything….Everything but Race

A Rough Field for Everything….Everything but Race

by Conner Chapman

connorchap

A right arm hung from a body after our linebacker picked up the opposing quarterback and slammed him on the turf. The kid’s season ended with the nearly detached arm in front of my eyes. A year later, I rushed past an offensive lineman and dove for the quarterback. I missed. When I looked down, my mangled pinky finger barely hung on my hand. A trainer popped it back in, but I was done for the night. At least I had the rest of the season.

My finger still hurts, but not enough for me to abandon the sport. I am content playing football, not because of the brutal impact on my body, but largely since the game provides a level playing field where performance–not race–matters. Moreover, strong performance in football does not produce the remarks I confront for academic achievement, which are often blatantly couched in terms of race: “Now here’s a black kid who studies.”

Football isn’t a world free of problems. Yet on game day, my school’s black and gold are the only colors that produce team loyalty. If Trayvon Martin was on my team, he would have been safer on the field of broken fingers and arms than he was in the neighborhood where he met George Zimmerman. Moreover, if Martin confronted any brutality on the field, it would have been part of a play that had nothing to do with race.

A week after the not guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, I was at a forum sponsored by Jack and Jill, an organization of black families. An elderly man yelled, “It was Trayvon Martin’s fault for being killed. He shouldn’t have been out at night wearing a hoodie.” I was shocked, angry and offended. This man was actually a black father of a teenager. I guess it was his way of saying “pull your pants up.”  I stood and responded. “You are wrong,” I said. “There is no way you can justify Zimmerman’s actions or Trayvon’s death.”

After reflecting on the forum, I must admit it is only realistic to expect others to judge African-Americans based on prejudices tied to race and appearance. While the man’s comment felt outrageous, he raised a valid point, whether I liked it or not. If Trayvon had been wearing a suit, would his appearance have been enough to disarm some of Zimmerman’s racism, saving Martin’s life? This question is painful and disheartening, but real.

Unfortunately, I will probably spend my whole life disproving the stereotypes inside the minds of others. I will be forced to carry myself in a clean cut way that does not promote any triggers of black male stereotypes. In doing so, I will continue to be praised as an exception with compliments that don’t feel like real compliments. Achievements of mine are so often now called remarkable because I am black. This further inspires my appreciation of football where my abilities never wear a racial stain.

On the field, the roughness of the meritocracy inherent in the game compels players to think as a team regardless of race. The tough game provides a field where 22 players find equal opportunities to perform once they are in the game. However, I refuse to rest my laurels on football and allow centuries-old stereotypes to dictate my fate. Part of my life’s mission is to destroy barriers that confine blacks to narrow opportunities.

Coming home from a big win recently, my teammates were too happy to remain quiet. We sang, rapped, and made fun of each other and the coaches in jest. It didn’t matter whether you could sing or rap and, as usual, we were a team of only two colors–black and gold. I hope to create avenues where this kind of moment–so unburdened by race– is the norm. If only I could bottle that spirit on the bus and spread it worldwide.

Conner Chapman, a graduate of Long Island’s St Anthony’s High School, will be a freshman at the University of Chicago in the fall.

Saved by the Television Station

by Jack Bushell

jackIt was the first time ever that my classmates felt unsafe. The mood in the hallways was somber. However, my creation would transform the sense of doom into one of the most spirited moments I have yet to witness, and become a major accomplishment in my transition to adulthood.

The horror happened on a football field during homecoming, one of the biggest and most celebrated weeks of the year. Homecoming week brings the traditional powderpuff football game, when the junior girls play the senior girls in touch football. During the game, a fight broke out between two girls. Many kids have never seen two girls brutally fight. Later a video of the fight went viral, tarnishing our school’s strong reputation.

I saw this moment as a time to make an impact with a project I created for the school. Earlier in the year, I founded Redwood TV, a station focusing on the life of the school which I shoot, edit, and produce every two weeks. I have always been one to look at inspirational videos to change my mood or pump me up before a sports game or any other challenge I face. I have studied videos made for professional sports teams with Interviews, time-lapses, and crowds cheering in excitement. I wanted to share the feeling of the videos that motivated me with my classmates.

While the community was engrossed in sorrow over the fight, I filmed all the lunchtime events featuring the Homecoming Kings and Queens. I put together a video of all of the best things that happened at homecoming, ignoring the fight that stole the attention of the week. The program aired Monday, and the students’ attention left the fight and went to all the other activities that had been forgotten. In just those 4 minutes and 30 seconds, I changed everything.

Through my homecoming show, I saw what concentration and persistence could produce. The night before the homecoming highlights aired, I gathered together all the footage, making sure everything was perfect. As I put together the highlights that weekend, I pictured students smiling. I scanned through the newest music, deciding what mood I wanted to instill in the school that morning. I looked for something that puts smiles on people’s faces, lifts school spirit and makes people enjoy Redwood High School. For this episode, I chose “Burn,” by Ellie Goulding.

Throughout most of my first two years in high school, sports dominated my life. My family and friends labeled me as a tri-athlete. My principal thought I should stick to sports when I approached him with the idea of Redwood TV, telling me, “Redwood TV will end up being a waste of your time and the school’s time.”

I proved him wrong, and he is now one of the strongest supporters of the station, joking that he does not want me to graduate so the station can continue. After being spotlighted at a state leadership conference for the Oregon Association of Student Councils, Redwood TV is known as one of the best high school television stations in the country .

Redwood TV has grown into a must-see at my school, with students often asking me when the next episode is airing and sharing exciting things in their lives that they hope can be featured. Today, when I enter a school event with my camera, I am bombarded with students approaching me, hoping they will be featured in Monday’s episode. Yet now I have a new mission: I am looking for a successor to train so the station can live beyond my graduation in June.

Jack Bushell is a freshman at Emerson College and a graduate of Redwood High School.

 

First Job Blues: Battles and Lifelong Lessons

First Job Blues: Battles and Lifelong Lessons

by Diamond Grady

ArundelBayArea_MD_Senior_Grady_DiamondIt was the beginning of the shift. My first table of the evening just sat down. It was a couple I had never seen before in the the restaurant where I worked at a retirement living community. I was eager to meet them. I picked up my water pitcher in a great mood and headed to the table.  When I arrived, I poured the glasses of ice-cold water, and introduced myself. “Hello, my name is Di-” was all I could muster before the gentleman rudely interrupted with the demand that I bring him an iced tea, without even looking at me. Instantly my mood changed, and it took every ounce of my being to swallow my pride. I took the high road as this job has taught me to do and kindly said, “Yes sir.”

Add more living to your life. This is the motto that attracts residents to the community, and ironically, describes what it’s like to work there. I would know — the residents will certainly liven your day during mealtime. This is my first job and it has forced me to mature in ways I never imagined. I have learned to remain calm in the face of so much disrespect from the people that I serve French toast and eggplant Parmesan on a weekly basis.

If being outgoing ever becomes something that can be measured and sold, I would easily become a millionaire. I love to go to social events, interact with different personalities, and socialize with a mixture of diverse people. In high school, my people oriented personality developed into an interest in marketing, a field I intend to explore in college. During my high school years, I never fit into any one clique or limit myself to one group of people. I work very well with others and have always easily got along with most people. Given my personality, I never thought being a waitress at a retirement community restaurant would pose such a difficult challenge.

Treat others the way you want to be treated. At a young age, my parents instilled this lesson in me as well as taught me to always stand up for myself and treat others fairly. Working at the restaurant has exposed me to people who do not always treat me with the same respect that I deserve and show. As a waitress, I can’t stand up to them and demand respect in the way my parents nurtured me to do. This inner conflict has been difficult to navigate. Over time, I have become a more disciplined person as I curb my impulse to say something disrespectful to the rude people I serve. To prevent myself from snapping, I have learned to pause. Breathe in and out.

I have also learned to appreciate and focus on the good rather than allowing the bad to consume my experience at work. The optimist in me has grown. For example, Mr. Jones, a resident who dines at Atrium every day, takes care of his wife, who is diagnosed with early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Though he is always requesting extra food, and therefore making my job harder, he is extremely polite and always has a smile on his face even when dealing with his wife. Almost every time he asks for something else, he always says, “ I do not mean to trouble you but…”This simple comment instantly puts a smile on my face and softens my mood.

I am now more tolerant of others and realize that having the last word is not always important. Sometimes kindness and a smile are the best ways to handle a tense situation. “Kill them with kindness,” as the saying goes. I learned this lesson up close at work. As a result, I have grown into a stronger person as I make my transition into adulthood.

Diamond Grady is a 2014 graduate of Seton Keough High School in Baltimore and a freshman at Spelman College.

Good Habits Live Long

Good Habits Live Long

by Griffin Harris

griffin

My identity and story are built on passions and habits. For example, something in my mind and body prevents me from falling asleep without reading the hard copy of the front page of The New York Times every night. If necessary, I will search through the trash to fetch the paper before going to bed. I have always found comfort in the crisp creases and familiar smell of its pages.  I realized the value of this habit as a sophomore in Mr. Greenside’s history class when he asked, “Does anyone know more about John Edwards than what late night shows are currently joking about?” I immediately raised my hand, which was the only one in the air.  Mr. Greenside called on me and my understanding of the dynamics of Edwards came together in an informed response, understanding of the rise and fall of the man.  An epiphany followed this moment—the first time I saw the benefits of all those nights of reading the NYT.

I have always been a man of habits as an athlete and student. It started in fifth grade when I became more aware of my passion for history. We were studying the American Revolution and I was riveted by the social, political, religious, intellectual and economic levers that drove America to become independent.  I searched and found books and documentaries that fed my thirst for the topic and formed habits around researching and connecting the ideas behind conflict, immigration, independence and technology. I loved learning all I could through different investigative passions. My habits grew into a necessary companion to my love of history.

Passions cannot live without supporting habits. History reinforced this rule in my life. In Mr. Greenside’s class, I learned the value of refined routines as the backbone for something that excited me—understanding world events. I have been equally passionate about hockey since I was six and grew to be the accomplished player I am today by developing habits – learning the physics of how a puck moves on ice, stick angles that produce the most accurate shot and feeling my teammates positioning without seeing them.

History and current events became the hockey of my academic life around eighth grade. Friday was my favorite day—current events. From Haiti’s earthquake in 2010 to the Republican takeover of the House, I started getting to know the world as well as I knew the hockey rink by reading the paper every night.

I am reminded of the value of my addiction to the Times when I least expect it.  In my junior year I interviewed to be an intern for the International Rescue Committee, an NGO working to help political asylees and refugees rebuild their lives in America.  In explaining why I wanted the job, I drew on my awareness of global challenges and discussed immigration issues with confidence.  Just like I hit the ice with conviction, knowing I have taken my fingernail and scratched the edges of my skate blades to make sure they are sharp, I was able to tackle my interview with confidence, thanks to my nightly ritual with the Times.

As an intern, I was assigned to be a counselor for children of refugees from all over the world—Egypt, Tibet, India, Nepal, Cameroon, Guinea.  I served them well, knowing the deep roots and context of their fears.  Amr is 10 and worried about family members still in Egypt.  My job was to try to take his mind off the stories that may stir his fears, as well as to understand him and those fears.

I never know when a good habit will become the source of comfort to a 10-year-old like Amr, or lead to a great moment in class, or a strong job interview. I am certain that I will discover new passions and thus develop more habits. For now, I also know that my college roommate will learn not to throw out the trash with the day’s New York Times.

 Griffin Harris, a graduate of Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, is a freshman at American University.