This I Believe Student Essay Contest
Anoushka Sinha, St. John's School
I believe in the power of community, though I may not always have understood it.
In fact, the word "community" was first introduced to me on a Monopoly game board. A roll of the dice landed me a yellow card from the community chest, which seized fifty dollars from my precious funds. Grumbling, I asked my brother what the word "community" even meant. He scratched his head in childish meditation and said, "Probably something or someone who takes away your stuff."
My early years in Lagos certainly resembled a board game. Every day was a new roll of the dice, a fresh opportunity to explore the city, provided I did not probe too naively the shimmering edges of our social bubble. My sugarcoated childhood felt like a candy-land filled with the most trivial of pursuits. Even on days when I grappled with a failure, I was sure of a happily ever after; it was, after all, just a game. And while I basked in boredom, I remained blissfully unaware of the hot struggles of those who toiled just outside the clean margins of our game board.
"Community" later reappeared as one of my vocabulary words in second grade. Here in Houston I found myself tossed into a brave new world and acted quickly to forge connections with its people. But some automatically branded me an outsider, and their name-calling thrust new and unprintable words into my vocabulary. Demoralized, I would often wish I could simply wash away my differences. But as I grew older I washed away instead these insecurities.
People found it much easier to accept me for who I was after I learned to accept myself. Yes, my skin was brown, yet underneath my blood was red, my bones white. I cannot claim to have stopped caring about my appearance however aside from the occasional pimple, I became comfortable in my own skin. I gave everyone a smile and made an effort to understand others before trying to make myself understood.
Despite my brother's rather ingenious definition of the word, I now believe that "community" is not about what is taken away but instead what we give. My community is the unity I feel with every person who leaves a fragrance on my life. And I will continue to reach out to others and expand that community with each new connection I form. This I believe.
Lucy Liu, James E. Taylor High School
I believe in Mother's Circus Animal Cookies. They are pink or white frosted animal crackers covered with sprinkles. And I believe they're simply amazing.
I was born in China, and when I was younger, my father used to travel all around the world for business. Each time he traveled, he return with assorted snacks and souvenirs from around the globe.
Whenever he flew to America, he always brought back huge bags of Mother's Circus Animal Cookies. I would go crazy, devouring those sugar-loaded goodies. Cookies as sweet and addictive were hard to find in my small town, with only a few convenience stores that doubled as restaurants.
I haven't thought about those pink and white cookies since moving here ten years ago. Not until last weekend when I was speed walking through the aisles of a local grocery story to find the Goldfish crackers on sale, when I saw, from the corner of my eyes, the familiar pink and white bag. Instantly, I thought of the delicious sweetness of those cookies. And then, of my childhood and of my father.
Instead of Goldfish, I bought a package of Mother's Circus Animal Cookies.
"You know, your father used to buy those for you," my mom remarked in Chinese when I opened the bag inside our car.
"Oh really?" I replied, feigning slight surprise as I tried to not sound too eager, too sad, too surprised, too broken.
It was a little disappointing that when I took my first bite, my father didn't suddenly appear in front of me with a huge smile on his face and mountains of suitcases behind him. I felt disheartened that I didn't morph into the four year old with pigtails eagerly reaching for her present.
Instead, characteristics of my father flashed through my mind. His love for me...his attentiveness for my likes and dislikes, his persistence to see me smile. I know that he loved me more than anything else in this world, and that he always did everything he could to make me happy. Before, these cookies only meant sweetness; now, they remind me of my father and of his thoughtfulness.
I believe in Mother's Circus Animal Cookies, and I believe in my father.
Rachel Reed, Cinco Ranch High School
I believe in green hair spikes. I believe green hair spikes are as important as love and friendship. Let me explain.
For about four days every year, I spike my hair in giant liberty spikes and spray it green. No, I am not some punk rocker spitting at society. I am a nerd. A confident, bold nerd with green hair spikes. I am a member of my high school's robotics team, Team 624 CRyptonite Robotics. Our theme is "Superman Gone Punk", and every year we wear neon green capes and our green hair spikes proudly.
One would think that robotics is a stuffy, boring, nerd club. Just the opposite...Robotics is as intense as a sport. We have competitions where players show spirit through banners, dancing, chants, and in my team's case, green hair spikes.
On the last day of my first robotics competition, after the closing ceremonies, our team began to pick up their spirit scepters of PVC pipes, green pom-poms, and laptops from the stands. As I was leaving, a teacher from another team stopped me and began to tell me how much she loved our team and our green hair spikes.
At competitions, we have a hair salon area for students from other teams to get their hair spiked like ours. The teacher told me a story of a past student of hers who was severely troubled. His home life was broken; he hated school, and was in a constant state of depression. She told me that he had come to a past competition and was enthralled by our green hair spikes. Right away, our team members assisted him and took their time to give him the best green hair spikes he could ever ask for. Our team had given this boy a day of happiness and confidence.
Not only do I believe in green hair spikes, but I believe in helping others in any way you can. Not everyone lends their ear to listen or their shoulder to cry on. Not everyone is a sage full of advice. But it's often the little things that get people by when life causes burden. I believe anyone can help someone, even if it is a small gesture like green hair spikes.
Amna Hussain, Debakey High School for Health Professions
The Importance of Culture
All my life I knew I was from Pakistan. All my life I felt I was from Pakistan. All my life I only spoke English. All my life I only understood English. All my life religion was absent.
I took multiple trips to Pakistan from the time of my birth to the age of four. Unfortunately, I have no memories of those trips. It would take seven years to finally go back to the country of my ancestors. At eleven years old, I saw Pakistan as a disgusting place. The heat and humidity were extremely uncomfortable. The dirt roads were a lousy attempt at civilization. The food was too spicy and made me sick. The air smelled horrid. The language was foreign; the religion inescapable. I was young and naïve.
It would take another four years to go back once again. This time, I was fifteen. I was mature. What I saw was still disgusting, though. Yet, it wasn't disgusting in the same way. This time, I was disgusted in myself.
When I was driving to my grandparent's house from the Karachi Airport, I saw people on the street acting in ways that I had never before seen, or at least, my eyes had never before been open to what I was seeing. People were sitting in strange positions on the ground and wearing strange clothes. Also, my father was speaking to the driver in Urdu. I could make out a few words, but other than that, I did not understand what they were saying. I had been in this position four years ago. But, this time I felt something. Before, I hadn't cared. I had always thought that I was a true Pakistani, yet at that moment, I had never felt more awkward. At that moment, I realized my detachment from my culture.
I believe that culture makes you who you are. Your culture defines you. It is what you are. But, more importantly, it is who you are. I believe that every child should embrace where they are from. I regret not being very interested in the Pakistani culture as a child. I blame myself, yet my parents did not do much either to broaden my horizons. I believe that every parent should teach their children about their culture. I believe that without culture, you are just another soul wandering the earth. Yet, with culture, you have a path. You will be led to your destination. I believe it is never too late to follow that path. I feel that I am currently on my path. I hope to soon reach my destination. I believe I will reach my destination; there is one for everybody.
This I believe.
Brendan Foley, Cinco Ranch High School
I believe in letting people with a small amount of groceries cut in front of you in line at the grocery store. This small and generous gesture shows that you are a selfless individual and cognizant of your fellow shoppers time. It's these small acts of kindness and compassion that have the ability to brighten an individual's day and inspire others to care for the well being of their fellow man.
My parents recently asked me to go to the grocery store and pick up some things that they needed to make dinner. Although I explained to them that I was too busy with homework and studying, they wouldn't accept no as an answer so I was forced to head to the grocery store. Once I got there, I was burdened with the task of walking up and down all the aisles in search of some obscure spices and picking up the ham that my parents needed for dinner. When I gathered everything that I was supposed to, I went to the cash register and went home.
When I got home, my parents alerted me that I picked up the wrong type of ham and that I would be returning to the grocery store to go pick up the right kind. Already agitated and stressed from the hours of homework I had done, I angrily returned to the grocery store to discover that I arrived just in time for the Sunday night rush. Once I got the ham I needed, I trudged to the check out lines to find that all the lines were packed. I walked over to a line I thought would move at the fastest pace and waited until an old woman grabbed my attention.
The elderly woman noticed that I only had one item and her full grocery cart would probably take a longer time to go through the check-out line than mine so she told me that I could cut in front of her and move to the front of the line. At the moment, all the frustration and agitation that I had built up over the course of the day disappeared, as I was thrown completely off guard by this act of kindness. This small gesture, which only saved me a few minutes of my time, erased the bad day I was experiencing and made me grateful and appreciative of what this woman had done for me.
Although I had allowed my anger and agitation to build throughout the course of the day because I was forced into doing things that I didn't want to, one act of kindness instantaneously changed my mood and made my day better. Through her actions, this elderly woman showed me that people have the capability to positively impact another live at any time. Small gestures of kindness and generosity have the power to change the outlook of somebody's day and move them to reciprocate that same act of kindness.
Luz Melendez, KIPP Houston High School
I am a teen in high school, final semester before graduating...patiently I wait for college acceptance letters while one person stands by my side. Even though this person has little knowledge about college, she is my main supporter. I believe in her support; I believe in her kind words; I believe in my mother.
Giving birth at the age of forty-six, life has been difficult for my mother. I was the baby of the house, but there were other children to take care of. My beloved sweet mother raised us alone because my father worked and was never home. With the help of my oldest sisters, my mother gave us a decent life sending us to school. None of my siblings finished high school because Mexican education was expensive and money was required in the house. They had no other choice than to start working.
At age nine, I was brought to America by my mother. She had to return to Mexico to look after my siblings. She wanted to provide a future for me, but I had to live without her. I still remember that day as if it was yesterday. As I saw my mother packing her belongings, I ran up to her worried because my belongings were not along with hers. She repeated her statement twice that SHE was the one going back, and I had to stay without her.
In my head, random questions ran by. Why is she doing this? Was she trying to get rid of me? Did she not love me enough? My mind was filled with foolish questions like that. The decision was made. There were times when I would cry myself to sleep because I was in a new place away from what I was used to, away from the people I spent my childhood. Other times I would dream I was back in México and wake up still thinking that way, but would soon realize it was just a dream.
My mother's decision was hard and painful for both of us, but my mother was determined to give me a brighter future. However, as time passed by, I realized the reason why she made that sacrifice. Even though my mother does not have an education, she was still able to learn how to read completely on her own. She had a hunger for education.
My mother inspires me and keeps me going. I will be the first one to graduate from high school; I will be the first one to attend college; I will be the first one with a brighter future; I will succeed with her support. She believes in me, and that is all it matters. And in turn, I believe in her.
Ruth Shou-Hsin Long, Carnegie Vanguard
I Believe in Friendship
Rummaging through my memory drawer, I come across my fourth grade class picture. In the picture I am clearly supposed to be part of the chirpy and sparkling group of kids yet I am a black hole, the one bruise in the picture that refuses to heal, sitting with my hands folded quietly on my laps and my eyes downcast while the others are linking arms and making Vs on top of each other's heads. I glance at the other people in the picture and see them all confidently smiling into the camera straight on. I try to find a link between myself and the others...but find none. I had drawn myself into my depressed and semi-autistic world where no entry or exit existed.
In fourth grade most days I did not say even one word at school, and I remember very distinctly the taste in my mouth every afternoon as I came home: the taste of bottled up and stale words yearning to be spoken. There were consecutive weeks in which I said less than a word per week and this concerned my teacher to the point where she called my parents for meetings asking if there was a medical diagnosis explaining my behavior. Looking back, I think that I did seriously alarm the teacher who was in her first year and was certainly not trained to teach a mute child.
The following fall, fifth grade, I went back to school carrying the burden of a resolution...to find an exit from the world that was tightly gripping my throat, leaving red nail marks, not letting go. Escaping cautiously would be my next obstacle. Then I met Claire. She was very animated and sunny, wore vivid colors matching her disposition, and seemed to have an enlivening bubble surrounding her. She was the sun while I was the moon: almost an antithesis to me. On the fourth day of school while I was reconsidering my resolution, she came up to me and "booty-bumped" me. At that time we were only acquaintances, and I felt disconcerted for I had felt the first rays of the sun dawning in my world.
Every day after that, she would come to me in the morning or during class and smile or wave. Little by little, although I did not notice at the time, I spoke and laughed more and felt more at ease at school. Eventually, I participated and socialized so normally that the conferences about mild depression discontinued. The bruise had healed.
Then just as I have unconscionably breathed while writing this essay, Claire and I became the best of friends, unknowingly until we looked behind us and beheld the shadow of the sun and moon walking together, "booty-bumping" each other once in a while. Friendship: this I believe.