This year, I danced for the fourth time in the annual Friends Seminary Dancer’s Responding to AIDS concert. Being able to dance this final time as a high school senior, performing a solo I choreographed in tribute to my late grandmother Carmen, was extraordinarily rewarding and special. I have loved dance ever since being a part of a gymnastics team and competing at a high level throughout middle school, and having the opportunity to continue to take the dance I had learned as a gymnast and perform for my peers and teachers always meant so much to me. This year, being involved in fund-raising for this amazing cause once again and doing so through one of my passions, dance, was an incredible experience. Being able to express my love and appreciation for my grandmother through my dance while at the same time contributing to such an important cause made this service experience the most rewarding and meaningful for me to date. I will miss being a part of this incredible concert in the years to come after my graduation, but I know that I will be back to visit and watch my peers continue this incredible Friends Seminary service tradition.
On The Importance of Physics, determination, and a good sense of humor
Back in the beginning of the year, everything seemed fresh. The year got off to a good start, I had the limitless possibility of college before me, and those senior facing benches made me feel ever so slightly superior to everyone else (as If I ever needed help for that!)
There was only one grim specter over my head: I had to lead robotics. The club was my life for 3 years, and when the seniors of last year left (4 in total) we were left with only 3 people. Then the other 2 quit. It all seemed desperate, but at the last moment, in my eleventh hour, I stood up in meeting for announcements and made the greatest announcement of all time!
“Come tomorrow and learn the nuts and bolts of robotics!” Thunderous applause
Tomorrow came, I waited in room 404, and nobody showed up. I was crushed, the club remained on my CommonApp (I needed every boon I could get!), but it no longer remained in existence.
Weeks if not months later, my physics teacher, John Garnevicus, Asked my classmate Ainsley Cass and I to announce and host a freshman physics review session.
Our announcement warranted less genuine laughs than pained groans as we attempted to make a physics seem fun and cool. The next day, only a few kids actually showed up to physics review.
Still, we were not to be discouraged. Again and again we made cheesy announcement after cheesy announcement, and unlike that tragedy of robotics, people came.
I mentioned robotics because I think there was a key difference between physics review and that ill fated club. The difference is that unlike with robotics we never gave up trying. In the end, I think Ainsley and I have genuinely helped a few freshmen understand and comprehend physics. And if our annoyance and persistence helped a single person, it was worth it.
I was selected to go on the Global Ed trip to South Africa this year. The trip truly changed my life. South Africa is a country that comes from a rough and complicated history. When Vasco De Gamma rounded the cape of good hope, he stopped his ship off in what is now Cape Town. The members of the Cosa Tribe saw these white people and believed that they were their ancestors so they welcomed them with open arms, and so began a history of exploitation. Part of the Cosa coming of age rituals is that when a boy turns 14 or 15, but some do it as late as 21, they go into the bush and get circumcised. They cover themselves in white clay as to make themselves unrecognizable to their ancestors and bond with their fellow members in the bush. Cosa rituals really focus around ones relationship with the ancestors, so when the white people came the Cosa people thought that they were the ghosts of their dead relatives and welcomed them with feats and gifts.
Later when the Dutch East India company was founded, South Africa became the perfect refueling spot for ships to re stock on their way to India. Since the company needed to build in South Africa, and it is incredibly difficult to enslave indigenous people in their home land when there is only a small number of white people, the company began to import slaves from Malaysia to build trading centers. Later dutch people began to move into South Africa and so began the beginnings of the apartheid system. Apartheid is built on the backs of Nazi ideology. If we forcibly separate the race groups than oppression becomes significantly easier.
The wealth gap is incredibly visible in South Africa, even within the townships. When we were in Langa, a township between Cape Town and the air port, one side of the road had two story homes with luxury cars parked in the drive ways, while there were shacks made of corrugated zinc across on the other.
On the Monday after Easter, we paired up with a local Methodist church to assist their youth in their usual service activities. We split int groups and went into the homes of some of the elders in their community. They were homebound, so we brought them large amounts of food so the people living with them would have food to cook with, and then we conducted a church service inside of their home. This was incredibly powerful. The community recognized that aging is not an easy process after a certain bench mark, and went out of their way to ease the burden. The community went beyond helping the physical burden of the aged, but they made an effort to assist their spiritual needs by praying with them.
Today we reflected on how three Quaker quotes relate to the role individuals have in responding to community needs.
“Let your life speak.”
– It’s what you do, not what you say
– If you do community service, you don’t need to brag about it. Let your actions speak.
“…the Testimony of equality beings with the belief that the Light is present in us all.”
– We wonder whether ALL people are truly worthy of “respect.” Would “thought” or “a voice” or “love” be a better word?
“… consider the ways in which our testimonies for peace, equality, and simplicity interact to guide our relationships with all life.”
– Be the people who show these qualities in everyday life.
– Don’t think of service as a “task” but rather as useful/helpful. Do it for the sole reason of doing something good for someone else.
– Since this quote is so old, it shows that there has always been a need for service, and will always be one.
– A big part of service is helping people with things that we take for granted (shelter, food, safety, etc).
There’s also an interesting article written by my fellow traveller Max Teirstein in the upcoming paper, so I encourage everyone who sees this to read that as well.
Peru was one of the best experiences I’ve had. I’ve travelled to many different countries and lived in five, but I don’t think I had as great a time anywhere as I did in Peru. For the first time during my time at Friends, I’m actually pretty excited to be writing this post.
We did a lot of fun stuff in Peru, but I’m just going to mention some of the most rewarding for me. First, the people on the trip really made it a wonderful experience. Everybody was very open to experiencing new cultures, which made the trip all the more immersive. The trip leaders were intelligent, caring and knowledgeable, and magnified our connections with the place hundredfold. If I took away any lesson from this: surround yourself with amazing people with amazing experiences, and you’ll feel amazing too.
Peru has an awesome culture. Well, for starters, it actually has a culture. Sometimes I feel like the United States (or maybe just NYC), doesn’t have a culture in the sense that everybody has a shared tradition that guides their everyday thought and interaction. Argue that as you will, I definitely noticed an intense difference in the way that culture pervades the life of everyday Peruvians. The Peruvians have an ancient history, spanning back to the massive Incan civilization. I always thought I knew everything I needed to about the Incans, but after witnessing firsthand the mind boggling stone structures that they somehow cut and built by hand, I fostered serious respect for this mysterious and genius archaic people. I don’t think we could handle feats of architecture and masonry like the Incans’ today; the organizational systems required to manage such huge feats of engineering seemed to far exceed those of Fortune 500 companies. One of our tour guides said that the Incans were led by a select breed of leaders that were 7-8 feet tall and had extra bones in their spines to support their genetically larger brains (i.e. they were superhuman), based of scientific evidence. I don’t know if this is true, but I can understand why people think it’s a plausible explanation 😉
However, the biggest learning experience for me was probably living with our host families. In the city, I don’t get outside my “bubble” of people with similar views, opinions and, of course, language as me. However, I pretty much forgot English for a week while I lived my my “mother” Miriam, my “father” Juan, and my two “brothers” Gabriél and Alejandro. I don’t think I’ve ever learnt so much Spanish, and gotten so good at it. 1 week in a homestay = 6 months in Spanish class, plus added benefits of food, housing, and immense cultural immersion. Go do it. I think it was actually the biggest service element of our trip, because, of all the experiences, it made me the most in-sync with and respectful of Peruvian culture. Over cups of quinoa-cocoa, I was able to share hours of my stories with my family, and hear just as many from them. We gave each other new perspectives.
I think trips like these really distinguish four years of textbook-memorization from an education. I’ve always thought education means dramatically changing the way you think about things in ways that you didn’t even think could happen. Learning chemistry or grammar never did that for me. Because really changing the way you think means meeting the people that think that way. And those people exist, but you have to get on a plane to meet them. Peru was two weeks of endless interactions with people who have given me a new perspective on things. Things ranging from the comparative quality of South African and South American chocolate, to the chain-effects of buying a diamond ring and to how I fit into the communal cycle that connects a NYC kid like me to a kid from the most remote, hidden, yet essential pueblo in Peru.
For my in-school service this year I decided to help set up and run the Spring Fair. The day before the fair, I helped setting up tables and chairs and moving books and other items that would be used for the fair. Although setting up the tables was fun, the real fun came the day of the fair. It was cool seeing the transformation that had taken place in just a day. What seemed like a bunch of tables and chairs turned into a wondrous event filled with life, fun, and excitement. On the day of the fair I began manning the high striker game, where kids showed off their strength, trying to hit the bell the highest. I then rotated my way around different events, seeing where I was needed, and then finally settled in the outer courtyard, manning the drink station. It was fun getting to meet new people, and the weather was beautiful that day, adding an even more lively atmosphere to the event. Somehow I even ended up getting my hair sprayed pink (it’s a shame there are no photos of that…which may have been on purpose)! All in all I am glad that I was able to participate in such a fun event, where the whole Friends community gets to come together and enjoy good food, fun games, and lively entertainment.
Over spring break I went along with several of my classmates to Jordan. During our trip we spent several days learning about the scarcity of water throughout the region and how the political issues involving Israel, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Jordan affect the ability to make regional arrangements and agreements. We spent a lot of time reviewing how any efforts made on either side were impractical and self-serving.
I feel like i have a better sense of how politics and inflated ego affect the progression of worthy causes and the allocation of necessities. Sometimes it is not just about understanding what the right thing to do is or what the necessary thing to do is. Often, the realities of the world interfere with our better intentions and the false divisions we place between ourselves only serve to lead to mutual destruction. Both sides are harmed by a lack of cooperation and are incapable of tackling their issues independently. i learned from this experience that the world is more complicated than some Friends utopia where everyone loves each other and theres a perpetual drum circle.
Today I had a lot of fun creating a bowl for the “empty bowls” project at Friends. It was the first time I created a bowl and it was an amazing experience. I had the chance to design and shape every aspect of the bowl, to make it my own unique piece of art. It was a nice feeling because I was having fun and doing something that would contribute to helping others. People often think of community service as a job that they have to do but they fail to realize that it is possible to have fun and feel good doing it, and I realized that today. Thanks Empty Bowls!