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Essay of the Week: “A Fighting Chance”

Essay of the Week: “A Fighting Chance”

By D’Aundre Martin

My 17-year-old mother, pregnant with me, is struck by a taxicab. After traveling several feet in the air, her impact with the pavement launches my dramatic entrance into the world. This episode becomes emblematic of my future facing and conquering adversity. Weighing four pounds, four ounces, I spend the first first ten days of my life in a neonatal ICU.

My parents split up when I was three and my mother became a strong role model as I watched her go through high school, undergrad, and law school. But I wasn’t happy when Mom introduced me to her boyfriend of six months when I was six. He invited us to the US Open.

It’s 80 degrees outside and the real Tiger Woods is at the tee. I’m waiting for my mom to say bye to this wannabe Tiger Woods who has been nagging me all day: “Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? If you’re tired I have no problem carrying you on my shoulders.” My dad lives what seems millions of miles away in Atlanta, but I didn’t see room for a new dad in my life. My resistance is strong.

After months of holding up my shield, I decided that for the sanity of my mom, it would be best if I gave Mark Getachew a chance. Years later, golf became the bridge to our relationship. I was in 5th grade and he took me out to play; I was awful. We let people pass us on every hole, but Mark was patient with me all the way through. After sinking the eighteenth putt, I couldn’t help but wish he was my real father.

A year later, I am a Junior Groomsman in Mark and Mom’s wedding and we move from the Bronx to the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Until then I lived in a neighborhood surrounded by people of my race. Suddenly, I am in an affluent, yet less diverse neighborhood, trying to fit in.

Since my biological father was in Atlanta, there were only two adult male role models in my life in New York. They were polar opposites. There was Mark, a partner at a Wall Street law firm, and my cousin, Michael, 20, who is unemployed and still lives with my grandma. How did  two people end up so differently? I saw work ethic, integrity, and education as the answers.

My cousin Michael skipped many days of high school, and eventually dropped out. No one ever had to convince me to try in school since I grew up sitting next to my mom studying through undergrad and law school. I never understood why Michael didn’t value education, until I entered high school and experienced how Michael might have felt. After years of having my hard work in school pay off, I could now spend a weekend studying for a five question quiz and not get one question correct. My new teachers became convinced I would not succeed. They suggested I consider other schools.

During those first horrendous months of high school, I felt Michael’s urge to resign. Why should I push myself, if I’m only pushing myself into more failure? The models of Mark and Mom inspired me to prove myself to people who thought I had nothing to prove. I studied and worked harder. Even if it took me an hour to figure out one algebraic equation, I worked on it until I succeeded. By Junior year, my grades were strong, I was taking college courses outside of school, and was engaged in internships and clubs.

Through high school, I have been inspired by the models of Mom and Mark. Mom fought for our lives in the Emergency Room. Mark fought for his part in my family. I have fought when confronting adversity and will be ready to fight many more battles ahead.

D’Aundre Martin, a 2014 graduate of The Beacon School, graduated from Indiana University a week ago


by Morgan Thompson

Someone always blasts KE$HA or Bruno Mars – something excessively mainstream – in the student lounge.  I die a little bit inside whenever I’m forced to hear the tuneless, overplayed productions my peers consider good music. Having idiosyncratically studied the cello since I was two-and-a-half, I stand alone against the onslaught of the same four chords and auto-tuned artists, asking for an inkling of talent (honestly, I’d be happy with Coldplay); alas, tyranny of the majority swallows my protests. However, one fated day, I was typing a French paper and there were only four people in the lounge. It was the moment I’d been waiting for: I smashed the system by playing some of my music for a change. Something passionate and a little stormy, but slightly humorous with a delicate melody. I searched “Shostakovitch 5th Symphony Scherzo,” on YouTube and pressed “Play.” For the  next fifty minutes, we listened to nothing but Early Contemporary and French Romantic music. No one complained. In fact, my friend Ashley asked me the name of a Ravel piece she thought was “PRETTY!”

I revel in those  moments when I interrupt the mundane with the spirit of nonconformity. I love the individual, so I’m not likely to jump on a band wagon simply because the featured band is the Jonas Brothers. I was born to be different. My mother, forty-three at the time of my birth, suffered several miscarriages and considered me a miracle. She almost named me Phoenix, saying I rose from the ashes of her previous losses. Our family’s precept was simple: form opinions and preferences through personal experience and experimentation. Whenever I asked about strange food my parents were eating, they would answer only by pointing their forks at me: “Try it.”

Their teachings backfired when I first heard the tooth fairy might not exist.  My parents maintained that she did. So, to find out for myself, I put my tooth under my pillow without telling my parents I’d lost it. The next morning: no money, tooth still there. Thus, I refuted the existence of the tooth fairy. Sorry if I’ve slapped your inner child in the face.

My parents, who grew up when youth activism was at its peak, always reminded me of my obligation as an African-American and a woman to protect my right to be taken seriously; i.e., “represent.” Many of my peers of a different race with younger parents lack the pressure of this obligation. This is why, one day in English, I was the first to argue,  “I find Paul Scofield’s reserved portrayal of King Lear more moving than Trevor Peacock’s excessively emotional interpretation,” when Ms. Brizendine and the rest of the class said the opposite.

Coming  of age in the Sixties, my parents rebelled musically by listening to rock and roll. Now,   inversely, I  am the musical renegade by loving anything written before my parents met. Rather than rejecting the music of previous generations for the music of mine, I prefer Kabalevsky to Kanye.

My outspokenness faced its greatest test in 2010, when my dad suffered a brain injury during surgery. He was in rehab recuperating for several  months. I’d always been loyal to my dad when he and my mom argued  because he was more tolerant of my mistakes.  Yet Dad became more and more despondent in the hospital and he wanted to come home. It pained Mom to see him suffering, but she couldn’t bring him home because he was so far from functioning independently. One awful day, Dad accused mom of wanting to keep him away,  and quoted her wedding vows.  To hear such ingratitude from my dad made him almost unrecognizable to me  and I couldn’t bring myself to look at my mom’s reaction. Instead, I defended her.  “Dad, of course she wants you home; we both do. She’s been checking the doctors’ work, she’s been dealing with lawyers to pay for your care, she’s been talking to your employer to keep your job and Grandma’s sick. All of this so that you can come home.”

It was a first. I’d never spoken a critical or reproachful word to my father, who spent a total of eight months in hospital and rehab away from home. It hurt me to see him in pain. After all, I owe my persistent independence to his influence. For years, I played my instrument when others were quitting largely to be an individual like my dad. Gradually, I grew to love the cello and the music. Self-improvement was the product of my rebellion.  Now, I aspire  to boldly go where nobody I know has gone and to bring everyone with me the second time around. My dad told me recently that he never liked classical music until I started playing it. It may be a parental reflex to suddenly like whatever your child does, but I was glad to have introduced another person to something I love. When I graduate, I hope to have had some impact on every activity I’ve done and every person I’ve met. I hope to leave Shostakovitch playing in every lounge.

Morgan Thompson is a freshman at Columbia University and a 2012 graduate of The Spence School in New York.

An Influence that Lives Far Beyond Death

An Influence that Lives Far Beyond Death

by Sage Adams


Dad reads the New York Times like Mom reads the Bible, carefully and with conviction. He starts relaying the matters of the world to me, never bothering to water down his language even though I am just ten years old. It is a part of his morning and becomes part of mine. I frown when reading about something called the recession. The writer of the article isn’t doing such a good job of being optimistic, something my parents always stress.

For years, Dad and I share a passion for politics, but sometimes differ on fashion. On a Thursday of my junior year, I wear shorts and a long t-shirt I tie-dyed myself. When I walk out the door that morning, he raises his eyebrows, mouth in a pinched line. After all, he works at Saks Fifth Avenue, dressing some of the men we see on CNN and MSNBC. I wave goodbye.

He must have forgiven me because we all sit down and watch an episode of Breaking Bad that night. Later, I wake up in my bed to Mom’s scream. I rush to the bathroom. Dad is on the floor and Mom weeps. 4am. I try giving him mouth to mouth to bring him back. It isn’t even hours, it’s minutes ticking by, and all I can hear is the blood rushing through my veins past my ears into my brain. All I can see is that the same couldn’t be said for my dad. I call the ambulance in a panic, for the first time ever sliding to the right of my iphone lock-screen where it reads emergency. I am not screaming but hysteria mounts and there is literally nothing I could do. Nothing we could do. This isn’t going to get better.

After his death, I struggled to find the optimism that my parents championed. I felt like my life became like that recession. I was GM yet no one could bail me out. I spent the rest of my junior year in reflection.

I remember in 2008, when my dad’s love of politics became something he only shared with me. Outside of the house he never voiced his political views. He would tell me about who came into the store that day, referencing articles we read, spinning stories about the policies they would be presenting whilst wearing the suit he picked out. My dad made politics fun for me, a father-daughter activity like riding a bike.

Dad was proud when I became president of the Black Girls Rock! book club three years ago. He read the books with the schedule I set for the girls. The club was reading Assata, a biography on the life of the infamous Assata Shakur. Dad joked that he found us eerily similar and that I should research vacation homes in Cuba. I rolled my eyes, telling him that she was stronger and smarter than I was. My dad didn’t often cut me off. But on that day, he shook his head. “Don’t say that.”

For months after his death, I dreamed of hearing that voice sitting on the couch, with the sound of The Office in the background, with him eating pasta next to me. I wanted to tell him how my Morality and Ideology class reshaped my views on capitalism. I wanted him to see me pursue my interest in urban agriculture and off on my trips to the farm. He would never see me grow. Despite the loss, I persevered, joining a group called Growing Youth Organizers. I decided to be the change we had so desperately wanted to see in the world. Sage Adams, President, Urban farmer, Activist. My dad was someone who listened. So to honor him now, I took his advice and assumed the strength of Assata Shakur. In doing so, I embraced the roots he planted. When my father died, an activist was born.

Sage Adams, a graduate of Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School, is a freshman at Howard University.

Saturday Mornings Like Poetry

by Ryan Shepard


I remember when Saturday mornings were like poetry: the rainbow colored fruity pebbles sitting in my spoon, a fluffy teddy bear brilliantly named Teddy, the sounds of Ahmad Rashad previewing the day’s NBA games, and the sounds of my brother trying to play basketball, indoors. Then there was the day’s biggest gift–my own personal gentle giant whom I called Dad, author of the poem. His everlasting line was that incredibly wide grin he wore across his face. He seamlessly presented Saturday’s poetry as smooth as the feel of his casket ten years ago. Today I am evolving with the memory of the poems along with the wide grin that travelled with him everywhere. Now they guide my definitions of comfort and confidence.

Seven years after I put his casket behind me, I picked up the pen, paper and microphone that were in front of me. My talents grew as wide as my father’s grin, but on my own terms. The younger me wanted to be just like him–part of me still does. Yet I’m more artistic than he could have ever imagined. Last spring, I filled sheet after sheet of paper, exposing innermost secrets by way of poetry and music. In doing so, I came to expand my own grin. On the stage of a packed ballroom at Disney World, I performed my poem, “17 Dreams”, which takes the reader into my visions of my future. With each line, I gauged the audience’s reaction, opening myself to new vulnerabilities but also becoming more confident and comfortable with myself. My grin became a bit wider, almost like my dad’s smile way back when.

Poetic memories of my father’s Saturday grins carried me from North Plainfield Middle School lunch lines into ninth grade at Choate Rosemary Hall. I suddenly found myself amongst those born with golden spoons or even famous last names. I questioned my place among them. Nonetheless, I grew to see the value of my Saturday morning spoon even more, thanks partially to Colin Lord, a mentor and admissions director at Choate who once detected a little self-doubt in me. He said, “We wouldn’t have brought you here if we didn’t think that you could handle it.”

My talents grew, but on my own terms. I became president of the Choate Afro-Latino Student Alliance and Slam Poetry clubs. I was also named Prefect, becoming a student mentor to freshmen. As a Choate elder, I now share stories of my experiences with others, such as my first track meet as a freshman. My legs pounded against the red pavement of the track during the first race. I was nearly fifty yards ahead of my only competitor, when it hit me: I had broken into a sprint too quickly. I was that young, naive freshman who thought he could sprint 400 meters. Meter by meter, I could feel the senior runner coming up behind me, ultimately beating me by a full 50 meters. As I neared the finish line, I heard the voices of both my parents: “It’s not the end all, be all.”

My dad’s grin, smile, voice, presence and spirit are still powerful forces in my life. My reality opposes all the studies that suggest I am lucky to be a part of the 4% of boarding school students who are African-American and not the nearly one million blacks who are incarcerated. These figures are mere background chatter to me. My father taught me well; his influence has weakened and trumped those studies. My goal now, above anything else, is to continue to grow into my own person and solidify my own incredible grin.

Ryan Shepard, a recent Choate Rosemary Hall graduate, will be attending American University this fall.

Tragedy and Treasures

Tragedy and Treasures

by Allegra Neely-Wilson

Allegra Neely-Wilson photo

A magical Christmas starts with a pair of socks. At 12, I see only one gift on Dad’s dining room table. I unwrap it and find a pair of red and green socks. While trying them on, my right foot feels the scratch of a piece of paper. First secret code: 332. Dad has created a Christmas scavenger hunt. I travel the house, finding clues beneath pillows, under my bed and on page 332 of a book. A Harry Potter DVD is stuffed behind couch cushions, books hide in cabinets, and a soccer ball waits in the backyard. Dad and I spend the afternoon eating popcorn, watching movies, and drinking hot chocolate.

A year later, another hunt begins, reshaping my life. The day starts with a normal Eighth Grade morning. I wake up 10 minutes after my alarm, quickly dress and eat my bowl of oatmeal. A feeling grows in the back of my mind that something is wrong. At school, I am surrounded by friends and pretend everything is okay, though I can not shake that mysterious feeling of anxiety. I follow my usual route home. At my apartment, I am both eager and hesitant to enter, as I know something unexpected is behind those doors. I slowly build the courage to open the door and find Mom. Just by looking at her face I know my worst fear has come true. Dad has died of a heart attack. My life grows into a treasure hunt to capture Dad’s sense of adventure and optimism on my own.

The summer after his death, I begin a five day canoeing trip on the Connecticut River. Like me, most of my fellow campers had never canoed. The sun set upon our arrival at the first campsite. We raced against the coming darkness, unpacking canoes and unloading our belongings and food. I was starved, exhausted, and happy as we set up tents and cooked. My adrenaline turned the night into a challenge and opportunity, which I attacked with a smile as if I was searching for something in Dad’s backyard. Adventure!

Our ribs only saw ten minutes of fire. After the first bite, I relied on heavy sauce to cure my hunger rather than raw ribs. I fell asleep seconds after entering my sleeping bag but awakened by the rapid sounds of “pitter-patter” and a rush of water. We forgot to put the rain shield on the tents. Puddles grew. I jumped into action, quickly packing as much as I could to prevent things from getting even wetter. Shelter? I raced to the bathroom. Others followed. Huddled together near the stalls with our soaking wet clothes, supplies and sleeping bags, we cooked our eggs and ate them with un-toasted English muffins. Moments later, we loaded the canoes and continued down the river with the rain. The trip’s rough beginning meant things would only get better. Optimism!

I visited Dad on weekends in Long Island. His itchy grass was a nice change from the cement of Manhattan, where I lived with Mom during the week. Dad was handy. Instead of buying me a soccer goal for my tenth birthday, my present was making one with him. He often oversaw the lighting for shows at small theaters. It’s no wonder I never desired to audition for my school’s production of Cabaret. Instead, I built props for the show and loved it.

I have tried hard not to lose Dad, which inspires my engagement of new interests like there is no tomorrow, from feeling the rush and sweat of the final minutes of a tied game to the most intense part of a Bach cello suite. My camera explores different views of the world and my hands mold ceramic gifts for friends. In doing it all, I find parts of Dad in who I am becoming, and create my own personal treasure hunt to continue discovering myself.

Allegra Neely-Wilson, a member of the Class of 2014 at the Brearley School, will be a freshman at Connecticut College in the fall.

A Speck of Dust, Stars and My Life

by Imani Graham

I feel guilty not wanting to be the space aviator Daddy always wanted. In his stories, I was Commander Imani and my little brother was my lieutenant. He’d flush us down the toilet to our spaceship hidden under the house, and fly across the universe at warp speed to save planets from the Cookie Monster of the Vega System.

I remember the first time I asked him why he wanted me to be a space aviator. And with that crooked smile and oh-so-familiar pockmarked face, he said “So you can take me to the moon.”

But I couldn’t take him anywhere; the request was overwhelming. So you can take me to the moon. Contemplating the depth of his request required me to question what I wanted from myself.

It took some daddy-daughter time to ease my mind. Watching the Hubble 3-D Experience with him quelled all internal doubts and cosmic chaos. As we sat and moved closer to the Orion Nebula, I saw the epitome of natural beauty, stellar birth and the creation of solar systems, all in 3-D. I saw myself, small and mortal, swallowed in a dusty sea of stars light years long. Was this the warp speed Commander Imani had mastered? Our sun, our earth, my reality could have started like this: a speck in a blanket of dust.

Thanks to my father and the magic of Hubble, my underlying interest in space finally surfaced, and it consumed all. Everywhere I went, I saw stars, and I wanted to know everything I could about them. I took action; I wrote about Hubble’s images in English, and I saw the secrets to understanding it all within the mind of my physics teacher.

And I began to realize just how much I didn’t know. What else was there left to discover? What would I have to do to get to my nebula? Anything sidereal was something new and exciting. I studied constellations, identified nebulae and memorized half the Greek alphabet just to try and understand part of what dominated my thoughts. Through my love of the cosmos, I recognized my will to learn and a determination to work through the obstacles both within myself and in my environment.

Modeling myself towards Commander Imani, the space aviator, I took hold of this determination back on earth in high school. The summer of junior year I worked as hard as I could in my first official job at the Wave Hill Summer Collaborative Internship where I did both physical and mental labor. Four days a week, I worked on a public greenspace lifting logs and caring and learning about the local flora, and on the fifth day I utilized my newfound tenacity to get an A in a college course at Lehman College. I took a chance and joined an established soccer team. As the first new member to join in years I had to learn to interact accordingly and integrate myself. Taking the initiative became an everyday goal. Not only was I a captain of the school Dance Team where I had to motivate girls, who often felt they were above coming to practice, but I took action and emailed Neil Degrasse Tyson with my cosmic questions. My father’s stories taught me the basics of space travel, but he also outlined lessons about relationships and attitudes that I have been executing all my life.

This cosmic awareness has served me well. While going to the moon and space aviation may not be for me, my newly discovered love for astrophysics grew out of my father’s stories. He instilled the will to immerse myself in my interests and gave me the motivation to exert myself past my limits. It provided a mirror and a microscope that taught me about myself, how little I know, and how much I need to know and share the connections I’ve made as well as the lessons I’ve learned. A speck of dust on a fleck of stone, within a network of elements and dark matter full of wonder. Who knew dust could create such possibilities?

Imani Graham is a freshman at Dartmouth and a 2013 graduate of the High School of American Studies at Lehman College.

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.

Does Dad Know Best?

by Chan Williams

His eyes frightened me. I was six and I knew something horrifying would happen, but I did not know what. All I saw was the anger in his eyes over a joke that had sent my friends rolling in laughter on the carpet of our Kindergarten class. At this moment, the laughter was gone.

Dad screamed at me. His anger was not over the actual joke. His outrage was tied to the clarity of my expression and word choice. I can’t even remember the joke itself. Yet I will never forget my father’s reaction over something that was a hit with my classmates. Dad, as always, was the toughest audience.

My father’s approach to parenting demands that I should be nothing less than perfect. He is intimidating. However, I have grown to appreciate his vision, ambition and his impact on my success as a student and an athlete. His ultimate faith in my abilities expresses itself harshly at times, but I always find myself trying to be a stronger person after his critiques and proud whenever I win his praise. I also know the roots of his high standards are tied to the poverty of his childhood which, at 14, would force him to steal food from a store so his family could eat. He would grow into a successful businessman who vows that the pain of the poverty in his past would never confront me or anyone else in our family.

My parents divorced when I was one year old and I moved with my mother from Scottsdale, Arizona to Washington DC, while my dad was in Chicago working in finance. He visited me every weekend, but not for father-son bonding time. He wanted to make sure that he was on top of my education. The only thing that took my dad away from an important business meeting was something related to my grades, school work or extracurricular activities. His mindset blended into mine so much that I stopped arguing with him. I began to care about my education and future as much as he did.

I am one of the strongest math students in my grade and I can’t separate my passion for math from my dad always pushing me to excel in the subject. For example, I remember spending four hours with him in a small breakfast café learning how to multiply before going to my friend’s birthday party.

My father does not like excuses, which compels me to push myself in the classroom and on the field. During my second year on varsity lacrosse, we were practicing fast break situations. While I was standing near the goal, my teammate fired a misplaced shot that hit me in the shin. I had trouble walking on my leg the moment I stood up, and our athletic trainer put me in crutches and sent me to the emergency room. It was painful to walk for a week, but I still played in our game the next day.  When I was 14, my father noticed my tenacity and began to involve me in business decisions. At first, he merely shared the details of his deals. Eventually we were taking international trips together for business purposes. By then, he had an interest in South African television. So I travelled with him to Johannesburg and our connection strengthened.

A couple of years ago, I decided that I wanted to live with the dad who was becoming my friend. In my head, it seemed as if it would be a smooth transition. Other family members cautioned me that it would be tough. I ignored the warnings and moved to Chicago in my junior year. Shortly I saw the same dad who did not see a joke for what it was when I was a six year old. He scrutinized every move from changing my sheets every week as opposed to every two weeks to the methods used when studying for a test. After six months, I returned to Washington.

I’ve learned to appreciate the fundamental differences between my dad and me. They partially grow out of our different upbringings. He has groomed me to be a leader, while no one mentored him. He was forced to groom himself. He believes it makes his life easier if he approaches every situation in the same manner. So he tries to take care of the small and large problems with the same intensity. As of right now, I evaluate every situation differently, and react in a way that is particular to a situation. However, I have internalized the reality that talent, athletic or intellectual, must accompany hard work and tenacity, whether that means staying up late to finally comprehend that last math concept or staying after practice to discuss the game plan with a coach.

Chan Williams will attend Williams College in September, following a Gap Year. He is a 2012 graduate of Georgetown Day School in Washington DC.

Three Figures

by Julius Charles Heftler

Imagine Hillary Clinton and Michelle Bachman on the same presidential ticket. Most people probably can’t. Yet my composition as a person sees that kind of team as good for the sake of the world. I have a strong urge to bridge differences and bring opposites together. For example, I ran for senior class president with my friend Eric, a true opposite.  If I’m Obama, he’s Rick Perry. We won.

I trace my interests and skills in uniting people with differences to my parent’s divorce when I was six years old. Their separation inevitably opened my life to three father figures. One is an intellectual. Another is a rugby-playing South African. Then, there is my stepfather who is one of the kindest men I have ever met. The process of bonding with these very different men compelled the versatility of my personality and my ability to bridge differences.

Not too long after meeting Steve, my mom’s ex-fiancé, I was out in Central Park playing my first game of rugby. I remember Steve’s explanation of the scrum. “Each team lines up, much like in football, but then fights for a loose ball.”  I immediately showed my friends at school. Before I knew it, we were playing rugby during recess at Dalton. I can still remember Steve tossing me a rugby ball, showing me that if he is selfish and doesn’t pass, the team never gets an opportunity to keep the ball moving.  After five years, Steve and my mom broke up in the middle of eighth grade. Yet, his influence lives on. Just last year, I was in my most challenging wrestling meet of the season against Rye Country Day.  We were down by a pin with two more matches to go, mine being one of them.  Coach came up to me and said, “Heftler, we need a pin here.  If you pin, we win.”  The match started and I’m taken down after my sloppy and overly confident attempt at a head chancery, which is a challenging move that almost guarantees a pin. The next thing I know, Steve’s words on the makeshift rugby field came back to me. I am not wrestling for my own personal record but for all my teammates.  I quickly scrambled out of my opponents hold and put him on his back, pinning him and winning the match.

The wrestling match fell in the middle of a grueling week of tests and papers. My friends planned an escape from it all on Friday night: a trip to the movies to see 127 Hours. I didn’t go.  My parent’s divorce prescribes limited time with my father, so I chose dinner with pops. He’s the intellectual who I can’t imagine on a rugby field, but I always leave our dinners with a larger sense of the world.

Over my pop’s home-cooked veal cutlets, our conversation wandered over to the justification of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, something discussed in my World History class. He shared his own insight as his father, my grandfather, once shared with him.  Grandpa Heshy fought for the US in the Pacific at the time. Why was it OK to use the bomb in Japan and not in Europe? I combed through readings over the subject that weekend. On Monday in history, I sensed the awe of my teacher and classmates over my comments in the class debate over the bomb.

Finally there’s Keith, who came into my life when I was a freshman in high school.  At first, it was hard for me to accept him. I simply felt I didn’t need a new father figure in my life. However, his persistent kindness cracked through my shell. Last year, Keith won tickets to the Super Bowl in Dallas and it had always been his dream to go to the big game.  Yet he gave up his seat so I could invite Jack, one of my best friends, to the game.  Afterwards Keith insisted on driving us an hour away from our hotel at 2 AM into Dallas to try a famous mesquite smoked steak that I talked about before the trip. Our close relationship now demonstrates how kindness bridges divides.

You wouldn’t use the word kind to describe my friend and classmate, Eric. At times he’s crude, demanding, harsh and extremely organized. I am known as friendly, outgoing, and rarely insulting. We‘re so different yet Eric and I became a team with a campaign that won the election as co-presidents of the senior class at Dalton. Getting along with Eric, let alone campaigning with him, would be difficult for some people. Yet for me, teaming with Eric was like tossing another rugby ball.

Julius Charles Heftler is a freshman at Lehigh University and a 2012 graduate of The Dalton School.