CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Baruch College/Professor Bernstein
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Category — About Face

The True, The Good, and The Beautiful

“The True, The Good, and The Beautiful!” affirmed my high school Latin teacher.  I was a startled sophomore and an average student when I first heard Mr. O’Neill’s declaration. I’ve heard similar words before, misarticulated by actors, or murmured under the breaths of disgruntled moralists, but I was young and pierced with a “career dilemma.“ He continued to pull half of the students out of their daze as they drew a startled consciousness, reporting for class with a rigid affirmative nods. ”Pursue and do everything you undertake with all curiosity, inquisitiveness, desire, commitment, and zeal for the highest excellence,” he continued. I think at that moment I was the only one of thirty-four who unhinged his jaw, still kept his mouth closed, but failed to yawn.  “Remember, what you are and come to be is infinitely more important than what you merely possess or merely can do, i.e., you are a person with intellect, free will, and memory, not a number quantity or measure.” There I was first greeted by metaphysics. O’Neill was a scholar of the classics and a dogmatic Roman Catholic, accoutered in a thrifty tuxedo, flowered tie, socks to match, and dress shoes. As a man of conviction, he was a stark and an unusual persona for a public high school.

It was difficult for a fifteen year old to take him seriously, but something in my head clicked. I wondered why I was the only one who took something from those pivotal words; did no one else find these lines substantial?
An alarm triggered my conscience and an ardor for philosophy came to fruition. I was impressed with some sense of academic duty. I began to self-consciously question my decisions, the lot of which now seemed immature. Neither did accelerating grades nor trivial inebriated criticisms from friends seem to matter . It was the first time that I went out of my way to investigate myself. “First myself, then the world.”
Two years later, I chose to pursue philosophy and economics as undergraduate studies in order to understand what makes civilization tick: both materially and mentally. I knew that I didn’t want to pursue something simply academic or a specialization with a linear career, but some cohesive synthesis that could prepare me for some effective goals.

September 23, 2010   No Comments

Grandma Cynthia’s Words

2007 just wasn’t my year. It was my quintessential “I don’t fit in” year. And when 2008 rolled around and things weren’t getting much better, I wasn’t very surprised. My two best friends, on the other hand, were–and decided to do something about it. They had been on mission trips with their youth group, but I wasn’t that big on church (and that this one was filled with strangers). But one phone call led to another, and the end of July ’08 found me scrunched in the backseat of a minivan to Pennsylvania with no way out. When I got there, though, I met a truly inspirational woman–and my life changed.

I first met her on my service assignment in Albemarle Park, a little place in the outskirts of York. Here in this park, there were dozens of children–but no parents. Worried, I asked the nearest youth leader where all of the adults were, and she told me that this place was a “day-care” center for underprivileged children in this dangerous part of the city. Aghast, I looked around, and noticed that not only were there dozens upon dozens of children running rampant, there were also no fences, hardly any toys, a broken swing set–and only two adults trying to fend off chaos. It was then that Miss Cynthia saved the day for the first time.

As she got out of her car, I immediately knew that she was the authority in this place. She was tall, in her mid-70s, with bright gray hair, and an air of confidence about her that intimidated me at first. But what caught my attention the most was that nearly all of the children ran up to her upon her arrival yelling, “Grandma, Grandma! Look what I made! Hi Grandma!” A leader noticed my surprise and told me, “Leanna, she isn’t grandmother to all of them through blood. She is their foster-grandmother.” Still slightly confused, I decided to introduce myself to this wonder-woman. As I walked over to her car, I saw her chastising children for fighting, fixing outfits, and above all, giving lots of hugs all around. It was when I got to the other side of the car, though, that I realized what a true heroine this woman was.

“Grandma” Cynthia Coates had a stroke 15 years ago, and has never regained function in the left side of her body. She walks very slowly but assuredly with a cane, but to move she must essentially carry half of her body. I was completely amazed by her capability to do so, and to do so much with these children–and as we began to talk, my amazement only deepened.

You can find Grandma Cynthia at Albemarle Park, Monday-Friday of every week (“except holidays, of course”) taking care of these young children. When I asked her why she did it, she told me, “Honey, I’ve had a great deal of hardship in my life. But if I lived like I could never do anything that I wanted, or that I wasn’t good enough to do it, then I wouldn’t be the only one who suffered. See these children? They need me. And I need them. The world is full of purpose, of beauty waiting for you–you just need to keep your eyes open, honey.” I remained at her side all week, listening to her stories. And never before had I so powerfully felt that I belonged, that there was a future for me filled with joy that I would soon embrace, no matter what I thought stood in my way.

It’s been a few years now, and I wonder if Grandma Cynthia can still be found on her bench in Albemarle Park on a weekday. Maybe I’ll never know. But I think of her all the time, and how just a few of her words opened my eyes to the beauty all around me.

September 23, 2010   3 Comments

Of Donuts, Dance, and Soccer…

“Just choose one,” said my mom.  I was four and stared wide-eyed at the selection of flavors for Dunkin’ Donuts donuts.  The most appealing and colorful was the vanilla frosted with sprinkles, and every time we went on a weekly walk to the Dunkin’, that’s what I picked.

I was five, at the corner store, and confronted with a mosaic of brightly colored candy wrappers.  There were just so many colors to choose from and I chose different ones every time we went inside.

I was six and at the Barnes and Noble, searching for a Roald Dahl book.  When I found that he had written so many, I couldn’t decide which one.  I got The Witches that day and when I finished it, I wanted more an asked to go back.  So I eventually ended up with six.

Then I was sixteen.  I ballroom danced, was a member of a dance company, did ballet, played varsity soccer, managed boy’s basketball, swam, and held leadership positions in school clubs.  As the work load got heavier, I slept less and less, but I still finished all my school work and participated in my extracurriculars.  I love all the activities I did and couldn’t imagine leaving them; I met so many interesting and talented people, was given so many opportunities, and couldn’t cope with the idea of missing out.

That was sophomore year.  My parents told me not to play soccer junior year for fear of injuries and not enough time devoted to studying.  I had stopped managing basketball and I had swimming as a class instead, so I thought it would be fine to continue all the extracurriculars that I did.  I was expressly told not to join soccer but I couldn’t help myself.  I told my parents I had some extra club meetings after school or went running but instead went to practices and games.  I tried as hard as I could to make sure that the clothes and equipment were concealed in my bag, and I went into the laundry room at midnight when my parents were sleeping.  I hate lying to my parents but it was something I really wanted to do; there was just something about the open field, the team, and the fun that I needed.  I’m fairly sure my parents figured it out by the end of the season, but they never said anything to me.

I could never “just choose one.”  There’s too much to do, too many places to see, and to many things too enjoy.  There are the things that just stick, some things you need to have or do.  And what I want right now, is a vanilla frosted donut with sprinkles.

September 23, 2010   2 Comments

Who Would’ve Thought?

Co-captains of my high school cross country team (Tsu Zhu on the left, me on the right)

In first grade, I took ballet and quickly realized that I wasn’t as graceful as the dancers I had seen on television. In fifth grade, I took tap and discovered that my feet had a difficult time following directions. In sixth grade, I took gymnastics and found out that I was unable to do a simple handstand. In the end, I quit them all.

However, the summer before high school, I was determined to join a team that I would dedicate myself to. I had spent my earlier years trying new activities, but always seemed to be discouraged after just a few months. When I looked at all the clubs and teams my school had to offer, I found that the only organization that appealed to me was the track team. Running required no experience and appeared simple enough. Without hesitation, I signed up for the team and began practicing in late August.

At my first practice, my coach, Mr. Connor called over the freshman and announced, “Today, you are all going to run a mile and a half.” My jaw dropped. I foolishly did not imagine going beyond half a mile on the first day. A few girls giggled at my reaction, but Mr. Connor assured us that we would survive the seemingly impossible task. Finally, he let us go off into our first run with the team. Though my sluggish pace must have only qualified that mile and a half as a jog, it was a huge struggle getting through it. When we all finished, he asked the newcomers how the run was. “Hard” was the general reply. My coach smiled. “Remember this day,” he told us prophetically, “Just remember it.”

As I reminisce on my first days as a runner, I can’t help but wonder who that freshman girl was. Though I am in fact still Tracy, I can’t seem to identify with myself from four years ago. Then, I was terrified of a mile and half, but nowadays, I get excited to go on six mile runs. I never envisioned myself falling in love with running, but I did. Through running, I have learned that success requires patience. It took me two years to decrease my three mile time by two minutes, but the sweet satisfaction of that accomplishment was well worth my time and effort. Even now, I am still working on decreasing my running times. I am constantly striving to improve as a runner, and my time on the team has showed me that it is possible to go beyond your expectations if you work for it.

Ironically, while my “failures” in dancing led me to running, running has brought me back to dancing. After a year of being on the track team, I realized that there was a lot more to the sport than being the fastest or the “best.” It was more about perseverance and setting goals. With this newfound outlook, I felt empowered to give dancing another shot. I finally got the courage to join dance performances in my school and saw that just as in running, practice and hard work were all it took. I am currently part of a small hip hop dance group, and though I never pictured myself being any sort of a dancer, I know I can thank running for showing me that I could be.

September 23, 2010   No Comments

About Face

On August 27th 2010, for the first time in my life I would be separated from my twin sister, Sarah, for a longer amount of time than either of us had ever experienced, she would dorm at the University of Connecticut, while I would stay home and attend Baruch in the city. For as long as I can remember we were together. We had surgery together, we took the SAT’s together, and when our mom and dad got divorced we were together.

Going to different colleges, however, was not the first time we had been torn apart. It seems that as we have gotten older we have begun to spend less and less time together, developing our own interests and making our own friends. For the first years of our life we went to thesame preschool, elementary and middle school together, sharing the same friends and doing almost everything together, but when it came timeto choose a high school we went our separate ways for the first time.  I decided that I wanted to go to Bronx Science, while she had always wanted to go to St. Francis Preparatory School. At this point, anyone who knows anything about high schools in NYC should be thinking, how could a pair of twins end up going to such different schools? For anyone that has never heard of these two big schools, Bronx Science is known for being one of the seven specialized public high schools in NYC, while St. Francis Prep has more of a reputation for being the largest catholic high school in the United States and having one of the most active and social student bodies of any high school in NYC.

The reason we went to such different high schools was because, as it turns out, even though we are twins, we are also two very different and unique individuals. In fact, many who have met us both, including many life long friends, have told us that we are the closest examples of polar opposites that they have ever seen. While I never considered myself to be a social outcast, and my sister was always an Astudent, the parts of our personalities that dominated us were always very different. While my sister spent her weekends going to parties and having a social life, I spent most of my free nights watching movies and playing video games.  In fact, the only reason I probably got to go to any awesome high school parties was because my sister invited me to them. Without her I’d never have experienced what a lot of people consider to be an important part of adolescence.

Even though we had our fights and we didn’t always agree with each other we had remained close throughout high school. We had always spent time together, despite our differences. I even like to think that because of our differences we were both able to shape each other in different ways, which would have been impossible if we were boring and identical.

It has been exactly one month now since she has gone away to college. I try to pretend that I don’t miss her, but its hard not to. I try not to think about it so much, but I can’t help it. I can’t help asking questions, now that she’s gone, whose going to get me into awesome college parties, who am I supposed to hang out with during family gatherings, whose going to drive me to Starbucks when I want to get a Chai Tea Latte, and most importantly, whose always going to be there to understand me when I fall down or things get hard?

September 23, 2010   No Comments

“Meet Your Meat”

Eight years ago, when I was in fifth grade, I was in the library searching for a book to read. I picked up a thick, heavy book; the title of which I cannot recall. What had drawn me to the book was the pictures of animals on the cover. I had recently decided that I wanted to become a veterinarian and figured that reading this book would be a great start. When I got home and started paging through the chapters, I was shocked by what I saw. Instead of the cute pictures of cats and dogs that I had been expecting, the first image I encountered was that of a bloody calf being dragged into a slaughterhouse. As I read through the book, the stories and pictures got worse and worse. I wanted to stop but somehow I was pulled into this horrible, foreign world. What struck me the hardest was the section on slaughterhouses. I had been eating meat my whole life and had never stopped to consider where it really came from. Those hot dogs I loved to get in Central Park were actually made from pigs, the charming, social creatures that I used to love to visit down the road from my grandpa’s house. From that moment on I was a vegetarian. This book did more than just change my eating habits. It took away some of my childhood innocence. I hadn’t realized up to that point how cruel humans could be. I did not understand how, in a country like the United States, where a dog is often valued as a member of the family, such horrendous treatment of animals could be allowed. This book encouraged me to become involved in the animal rights movement. It has led me to great experiences, from volunteering at the animal shelter to running the Students Against Animal Cruelty club in my school. Though I am no longer positive I want to become a veterinarian, I know that I definitely want some kind of career working with animals in my future.

September 23, 2010   1 Comment

Colorfull me

“So I guess you’ve grown taller? Did you change?”

Over the phone, I could hear my best friend’s funny giggles.
“Change? What do you mean by that?” I teased her.

“I mean did your face get changed as you grew up?”

“Nope, not really. This is just same old I.” Even before I finished my sentence, she was laughing – out very loud. Yae Seul, my best friend whom I have known for more than 15 years, was absolutely enjoying this conversation.

“I mean it has been almost 3 years that you didn’t come back to Korea. Shouldn’t there be at least some change?”

Her question was both yes and no. Yes, my personality definitely has changed over the course of years I spent in American high school. However, my physical appearance, especially my face, did not change that much.

When we finally met each other, her hysterical laughs followed us the whole time. “Wow, your face hasn’t changed at all! You just look like the same Renee three years ago.” I couldn’t figure out whether that was a good or bad thing.

A day passed by like an hour with her. We were talking non-stop for hours about everything: our shared memories of the past, our own lives and the future.

Before we said Good Bye, Yae seul said, “Renee, actually you’ve changed. You became colorful.” Colorful? What’s behind that this time? With a sweet smile, Yae seul hugged me who was miserably puzzled in the middle of the busy street. “Your physical appearance didn’t change. However, I can see that you’re adding some interesting colors to your personality.”

“You’re colorful.” I never heard this kind of compliment before. However, that was definitely one of favorite compliments that I’ve ever heard in my life.  I joked her that I’ll be a “colorfull” person next time. It is sincerely one of the hardest promises to keep.

September 23, 2010   No Comments

Persistence is Key

It felt as though a rock was blocking my windpipe. I gasped for air as the sweltering summer afternoon showed us its wrath.  It was so hot that you could fry an egg on the concrete. “I can’t play anymore,” my cousin blurted out, as he stood hunched over in the deserted Cedar Grove Playground.  My cousin had brought me to the park to play basketball, and although he was much older than me, I had told him I wouldn’t leave until I beat him.  After my fourth straight loss, I considered giving in, but decided to play one more. He snickered and told me that we were going to make it a short one.  In the fifth game I played with gusto, and I made the right decisions, leading myself to victory. Although I won, I wasn’t satisfied because I felt that he let me win; I’d rather have lost, than have him hand me a win.

A couple of years later, as I sat outside of the conference room, waiting to be called to make a pitch for the creation of the Socioeconomic Sports Club, I kept thinking of the games against my cousin.   To a certain degree it was like a déjà vu experience.  I had failed several times in achieving the desired result in both situations.  This was going to be my third pitch to the student government and faculty members, regarding the creation of the Socioeconomic Sports Club.  As I walked into the conference room, I remembered that just last month, a mere two people out of this same group were in support for the foundation of my proposed club. “Why even bother to present, they’re going to reject it anyways?” I thought to myself.   Thoughts like this raced uncontrollably in my head, but I maintained my composure and presented.

In my presentation, I covered all the concerns that the skeptics had previously brought up, such as having an educational purpose to the club.  I had created a vibrant and informative PowerPoint relating the impact of steroids on Major League Baseball, covering aspects such as inflated statistics, game attendance, and impact on revenue.  After the presentation, I surveyed the room, and I felt an aura of satisfaction amongst the judges.  My proposed club was passed on a close eight to seven vote.

“ I just wanted to let you know that I admire your persistence, and that is a reason why I’m voting for the formation of this Sports Club,” said the principal, Mr. Bonamo as I was leaving.

I was happy that the club had been approved, but my satisfaction vanished, as I felt that the only reason he passed my club was because of the fact that I was showing up every month for the meetings.  Later that day I called my cousin to tell him about what the principal had said.  He quickly downplayed my belief, saying that it wasn’t the case.

“Today made me feel like the time you let me beat you in basketball” I told my cousin. “ I mean, I achieved my goal, but I feel as if it was handed to me.”

“What?!” he hollered over the phone.  “I would never let you win. You won fair and square.  Just because you are persistent, doesn’t mean people give in to you.  Your persistence is serving you well; in basketball you played smarter and smarter each game until you beat me, and I’m sure you did the same with each presentation.  Have some confidence in your abilities, because there is no way someone will give in to you.  Your effort will improve your capabilities.”

Ever since that conversation, I’ve become more confident in my persistent nature, because I know it will help me improve in every facet, including sports and education.   While serving as president of this club, I became a better leader, and also became a better organizer.  Also through the club, I’ve discovered that due to my passion and extensive knowledge of sports, and the business that surrounds it, my ultimate career goal is to indulge in the sports business world.  One day I hope to be a general manager of a professional sports franchise, and I know that if I remain determined, and believe in my abilities and effort, one day I might just be known as a GM.

September 23, 2010   No Comments

Shinsei: Rebirth

In the fall of my sophomore year, I forgot who I was.

My personality traits, what I liked, what I disliked, my goals; everything disappeared into a gaping black hole called depression. I stopped dreaming. I stopped speaking. I want to say I stopped thinking, because no matter how hard I try, I cannot remember any of my thoughts during the time. All I remember is a distinct feeling of existing on the very edge of life, completely separated from the rest of the world.

Around the time that I finally reached out for help, I also, for a reason I cannot remember, began exploring Japanese culture. I was fascinated by everything about Japan. My friends thought I was crazy, but they were so relieved to see me happy again. And Japan did make me happy.  Every new thing I learned seemed to suck more negative energy away from me. I began studying Japanese, and taught myself two of three alphabets in two weeks. I was like a child in the stage of fast mapping, sucking in information at a great rate with the ability to remember it all. I was proud of myself, something I had not been in years.

In the spring of my sophomore year, I knew who I was. I was a girl who was absolutely fascinated by Japanese culture, was learning the language at an extraordinary rate, and wanted to live out her life in Japan. This has not changed. Every aspect of Japan continues to fascinate me and make me happy. How could it not? Japan was like the light at the end of a dark tunnel that I never thought I would escape. It brought me back into the world again.

I know how strange it seems that what, I feel, saved me is an intangible thing: a country and its culture. Honestly, I question my sanity daily. But if I had not, by some inexplicable force, been drawn to Japan, I have no idea where or who I would be. It is like my mind decided to entirely rewire itself. A renewal. A rebirth. And at the same time I came back to life, I found Japan. I found myself. And I am happy.

September 23, 2010   1 Comment

Turning About

“A tornado just hit Flushing…everything is in ruins!” This was the face book post that popped out on my wall as I sat at the Flushing library quietly doing my homework. As usual I put on my headphones and commenced my ritual of listening to music while I did homework. Everyone seemed pretty excited when the rain started pouring down but I ignored it, I mean it is just rain. Five minutes into my homework and everyone’s cell phone started going off. People are certainly popular today I thought, I wondered why no one was calling me however. Feeling at an all time low I slowly waddled out the door of the library and noticed that the rain had stopped to a drizzle. I felt calm and serene much like how a person would feel if they were to fall asleep with the sun bathing on their faces. I got on the bus and thought to myself today is a nice day to just relax.

“Why is there a broken tree on top of that house? And why are all the trees uprooted and wires broken?” These were the words I thought as I stood on my block staring at my neighbor’s house. I quickly ran to my friend’s house that lived a block away to check if he was okay. He was outside also staring at a house that was demolished by a large tree. We both stood side by side dumbfounded as water slowly made its trek down our faces replacing what should have been a sweat drop. It was at that moment that I realized anything could happen and that I was not as safe as I originally had thought. Someone just took a needle and popped the balloon I was living in. All of a sudden I felt a shock of anxiety and realized that I take many things for granted: my life, my family, my friends, school, and just life in general. At that moment I swear that I felt the sun poke its eyes out for a split second during the night; a ray illuminated a path to enlightenment. I looked at the dilapidated house and noticed the smell of the moist air and the pointy hedgehog limbs of the tree. It could have been me caught in this tornado and anything can happen. Many people live in a state of false security believing that nothing can happen to their lives; however, that is not true. It is an agreed upon consensus that it is virtually impossible for New York to get hit by high velocity winds that is comparable to a tornado. And I had believed this. It is wrong to believe that nothing will happen because anything can happen. I stayed out that night to see the extent of the damage and learned something new with every block I traveled on.

When I got home I sat on the computer and felt like a new person. Many of my thoughts were new as I read different articles on line. Today I finally grew up and was content that I had finally made the transformation. Right before I decided to call it a night I saw on my wall “A tornado just hit Flushing…everything is in ruins!” I smiled and I said to myself at least today my life is finally not in ruins.

September 23, 2010   1 Comment