College
ESSAYS

Harvard Activity Essay - Oluwatoni Akintola

 

When I fly down the straightaway with the four winds at my back, I feel like one of the Greek Titans or Yoruba Orishas from the stories of old. Stories are immortal, and every race is a story, an opportunity to leave an indelible mark on the salmon-colored track even as it leaves its pink paint on the under soles of my track spikes. 

When the starter’s gun thunders, I am the flash of lightning it heralds. In honor of the fleet-footed hero, I dorsiflex my Achilles as I run so I can generate as much force from the ground as possible. Months of wicket drills help me optimize my knee drive and turn my legs over at rapid speed. As I cross the finish line, my heart is beating like a griot’s talking drum. The time board reads: “Akintola: 10.8." Those numbers tell the immortal story of my race. 

The Craftsman - Brendan Fanzone

 

Scene: Late at night in the garage. BRENDAN has been spending all his free time in the past weeks hunched over a workbench, various tools strewn about, fiddling with a bronze-colored device shaped like an arm. 

BRENDAN: It’s done! It’s finally done! What’s better, it actually works! 

MOM: (Enter stage left) Can you keep it down? It’s almost midnight, and we’re trying to sleep. 

BRENDAN: (Without looking at her) Sorry, I just finished my latest project. It’s definitely my best one yet! 

MOM: (In a tired voice) Is this the mechanical arm thingy you won’t shut up about? You’ve been going on about this for weeks now! 

BRENDAN: (Guilty smile) Yes, it is… sorry about that, but I was super excited about this! I’ve never made something this mechanically involved before, and I’m proud of it! 

MOM: (Long sigh) And I’m sure you should be proud, but can this wait until morning. I’ll gladly take a look at it then. 

(The next morning in the kitchen. MOM is sitting sipping a coffee.)

 

BRENDAN: (Enter Stage Right) So, are you ready to see my latest creation? 

MOM: Sure, you’ve only been working on this thing non-stop for weeks. You skipped dinner for three days straight, so you might as well show it off. 

BRENDAN: That is definitely an exaggeration. Still, it’s been my passion, as well as a school project. You know that! Besides I only work on it after my required schoolwork is completed.

 

MOM: (Doubtful) Still not sure why this is a project for your English class, but here we are. 

BRENDAN: Neither do I, but here it is! (Brings out a bronze-colored device resembling an armored exoskeleton fitted to his arm with several glowing blue portholes along its length. He does a few arm circles and poses)  

MOM: I’m impressed! How did you get the joints to work? I’ve seen you make helmets and other individual costume parts before, but nothing as articulate as this. 

BRENDAN: (Rushing, stumbling over the words slightly) Most of it is simple patterns I made myself that I refined over various iterations; the joints took a lot longer, but still just simple shapes. The hard part was making sure that nothing overlapped to the point of causing the joints to lock up when I flexed too far in any direction, which I solved by making cutouts in the forearm section that glide along the elbow joint smoothly. (DAD enters stage right) Hey Dad! 

DAD: Can you wait until I’ve had my coffee? My brain isn’t fully awake yet. Besides, all this enthusiasm so early in the morning is giving me a headache. 

BRENDAN: (Guilty smile) Sorry, it just took me a while, so I got excited for it to be complete. (To MOM) Also, while we’re on the subject, I’m already planning to make the full costume this goes with. Maybe I can wear it somewhere! 

DAD: Wear that outside? Can you even move your arm?  

BRENDAN: (Does a full arm circle and flexes bicep in a bodybuilder’s pose) I measured it out and tested it numerous times so in short, yes, I can move my arm perfectly! 

MOM: (Wary) Okay, but a full costume? Isn’t that a big step up from what you’re doing now?

 

BRENDAN: It’s different, presents a different challenge, but it shouldn’t be much harder than this one was. Just a different skillset. I’ll have to get used to working with fabrics, for example, and attaching harder plates to fabrics and well (Beat) you get the idea. 

DAD: Guess I’ll ask the obvious question then. Why? 

BRENDAN: Well, because I enjoy making things. It is therapeutic for me. Also, because I enjoy the puzzle of getting it to work. Mostly though, it is to make my imagination into my reality! 

Seoul Searching - Anthony Liberatore

 

Have you ever tried bibimbap? I didn’t even know the staple of modern Korean cuisine existed until I was well into high school. Having a mother who was adopted from Korea makes this fact both ironic and embarrassing. My peers who only understand pieces of my lineage make general assumptions about my connection with Korean culture. Some surmise that I can speak fragmented Korean, or that I have my mother’s homemade kimchi recipe memorized. However, the truth is that my mother does not speak a lick of Korean; she was brought to the United States at age one.

 

For years, I never knew the name of her birth city, or even her birth name. Luckily, I was given the opportunity to explore the rich and beautiful culture behind her Korean identity when I attended Johns Hopkins CTY summer camp at Haverford College just outside of Philadelphia. There, I studied the chemical compounds that give jalapeños their fiery taste, constructed bridges with spaghetti and marshmallows, and designed robots that played basketball. However, I gained much more knowledge of my identity than of biotechnology and international diplomacy. 

Even though summer camp was physically close to my home, it transported me far beyond the confines of the Mid-Atlantic. International flags waved in the rafters of the fabled geography hall; they foreshadowed the stories of the global student body. In my suburban Baltimore neighborhood, I tended to frequent drab diners, pizzerias, and fast-food chains. At summer camp, however, I dined at a buffet of worldly philosophies, faiths, and cultures. Camp taught me that the world is much bigger than one small town in Maryland. Unlike the suburbia that lulled me into a certain slumber, the world is something vast and entirely new. It is something to explore. 

At Haverford College, I met life-long friends from Maui, Valencia, New Delhi, and most importantly, Seoul. For the first time in my life, I spent time with peers who looked like me and my mother. Every night, I peppered my hallmates with questions about their lives, cultures, and favorite foods. My friends from the Big Apple and CDMX fired off anecdotes about urban life while another classmate outlined the farming adventures of Omaha, Nebraska. Nevertheless, the stories and teachings of my Korean companions affected me the most.

 

My friends helped me make instant noodles the “right” way (the trick is to crumble uncooked noodles on top for an added crunch), briefed me on the complex but dazzling K-pop scene, and trained me to cuss in Korean. Learning from my Korean friends sparked my interest in my heritage and made me comfortable with my ethnic identity. Before camp, I had no concept of my mother’s heritage, but after meeting Korean campers, I understood its importance.  

Bits and pieces of Korean culture have begun to make their way into American society. Acknowledgement of K-Dramas by Netflix viewers, K-Pop by Spotify listeners, and Korean culinary terms by the Oxford English Dictionary has furthered my pride for my mother’s birth-country. My increasing familiarity with Korean culture has ignited my passion for Asian cuisine. I always enjoyed egg rolls and fried rice, but I had never explored traditional Asian cuisine. After returning from camp, I wanted to learn every dish, recipe, and dessert that my Korean friends ever mentioned. Because of our shared enjoyment of cooking, my mother and I dove into the world of Seoul food that neither of us had fully explored.  

Discovering new Asian fare with my Mom is something I still do to this day. I learn a little bit more about myself with every sushi roll, mochi ice cream, and rice bowl. So, when you see me at every Korean barbecue, ramen joint, and boba shop in town, know that I'm not just indulging in the delightful cuisine. I'm still discovering my identity and exploring my heritage through the most comforting pastime on this earth: food. 

Untitled - Adarsh Gadapelli

 

As a co-president of my school’s Asian Affinity group, one might expect me to be fluent in my native language (Telugu), educated on the various injustices towards the Asian community, and knowledgeable on every item on any Asian restaurant menu. Yet here I am, unable to articulate a coherent sentence in Telugu, less informed about various Asian cultures than my white co-worker, and finally trying tofu for the first time just a few weeks ago. Over the past few years, I feel like I’ve been playing cultural catch-up. When I was younger, I made the decision to reject my cultural background and completely assimilate into Western culture under the impression that I was discovering myself. However, I soon realized that what I cut off was a part of me that had been passed down by my predecessors for centuries on end. Who was I to declare that my Indian heritage was worthless? I decided to let my ethnic background guide my growth.  

 

I started my mission by taking on the role of co-president of my school’s Asian Affinity Group. I have always lived under the label of “whitewashed” or “colonized” due to my lack of touch with my heritage, so leading a group centered around this heritage was a significant challenge that I needed to face. Through critical discussions within our group and with other schools, I learned about issues that I always disregarded, such as fetishization towards Asian women and colorism within our community. By the end of my junior year, I helped plan and execute a state-wide AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Conference with Affinity Group leaders from other schools. I led a presentation on Black and Asian solidarity and facilitated discussion groups. I wasn’t an expert, but I had a purpose and a willingness to learn. 

 

Reclaiming my heritage was one of the most momentous decisions in my life, and in doing so I avoided a major potential regret. I decided to not doubt my current abilities and instead envision the possibilities that could emerge through openness to growth. Overcoming this obstacle has allowed me to eliminate the fear that comes with diving into a new experience.  

 

Rice’s campus is overflowing with opportunities for progress and interconnection, and I intend to step up with no hesitation. Breaking that first wall will allow me to spread my wings at Rice with zero regrets and help fellow Owls break that wall as well.  One of the greatest skills I learned as a leader was to embrace the role of a novice. The IMPACT retreat offered to underclassmen is an exceptional chance for me to evolve as a leader through absorbing advice from upperclassmen. The residential structure at Rice is a perfect system for me to utilize these skills in the community and learn about the culture and life experiences of others. At Rice, I am eager to see new aspects in myself that I will cultivate as I witness my peers develop alongside me throughout our journey. 

Philosophy Beetle - Colin McElroy

 

My life’s philosophy was given to me by a beetle. I found my six-legged savant (or he found me) during a two-week backpacking trip at Philmont Scout ranch in New Mexico. Despite my months of comprehensive preparation, I failed to ready myself for a life-changing beetle. On day one my crew entered Philmont’s base camp where the beetle was posted on the canvas flap of one of our tents. I recognized the glint of sunlight from the bug’s obsidian exoskeleton. The sophomore chunk of my brain reacted before the other, more mature chunks, and I scooped the little guy onto my backpack strap. Three hours of base camp formalities plus three hours of preparation later and he was still on my backpack strap. I was noticing a trend.

 

All first days bring angst along with them. Yet this little creature managed to alleviate that feeling. I found myself eager to return to my tent throughout the day to see if the bug had left my discarded bag, and each time, he hadn’t. The mere fact that he did not move was stunning. An unlikely companionship came out of that first day with the unmovable beetle. In fact, my companion was so unmovable that the following three days of trail were also marked with the beetle’s company. Each day of strenuous trekking was made easier simply because he stayed.  

My crewmates and I enjoyed his company, usually with just confused excitement as to why he hadn’t flown away. The partnership lasted until about halfway into day four. After seven miles of hiking, my crew encountered the first sign of human life (aside from each other) we had seen in over ninety hours. Another crew of six walked by us, heading in the opposite direction. Wait… seven. A final backpacker was lumbering behind the rest of his company. His face was sullen, and his eyes were locked to the ground, tracing the trail as he walked. Without thinking, I placed the beetle on his shoulder. He looked up and I saw the corners of his mouth twitch into a slight smile before he picked up his pace to catch up with his crew.  

 

Fast forward three years to my senior retreat, which took place in October of this year. We were divided into smaller groups for the four-day experience. Most of the five guys in my group were unfamiliar with one another, so discussion on the first few days was slow and cautious. However, by our third day on the retreat, my group had begun to share more personally with each other. I found myself both listening intently and talking with my peers during nighttime conversation, despite how tiring the days were. And it was on this third night that I found myself realizing what was happening. I was here, being present with my groupmates, just like the beetle. My attentive care had helped them to open up and be honest with me.  

This was such a small, insignificant interaction. Like the beetle, I had done nothing, literally. And that is what he taught me: the power of presence. It is everything. From seeing your parents in the stands of the big game to seeing friends at the funeral of a close relative, simply showing up is monumental. But presence involves actual care, true devotion. The beetle had no food or water on my shoulder, yet he stayed. My attentiveness, although I was tired, helped those around me be open and accept themselves at my retreat. Despite how inconsequential this bug seems, I am now able to look at my future as my own backpack strap to be present with. I can be the person (or beetle) that helps somebody to catch up with their crew, whatever that “crew” may be. 

Epipens and Masks - William Brandenburg

 

When I was a few months old, I was diagnosed with severe food allergies. Over time, some went away, but my severe milk protein allergy persisted. Before I could even walk, I had to take precautions to make sure I would not expose myself to any product that contained milk. I had to be extremely careful around my family, friends, at school, and anywhere else I happened to be where I could potentially encounter a milk product. If I ingested any milk products, I would experience anaphylaxis. If the smallest amount touched my skin, I would break out into hives and swell up. Some of these precautionary steps included sitting at my own desk away from others during meals, checking ingredients on all food products before eating, making sure my friends washed their hands after eating, always carrying an Epipen, and not attending events like sleepovers where there was a high chance of me ingesting a product like pizza that contained milk.  

Unfortunately, these necessary precautions had a negative effect on my social life.  Because I was seated apart from other students during meals it was difficult to communicate with them. My accommodations were noticeable to everyone, I stood out like a sore thumb, and I became an easy target for bullying. I was picked on frequently throughout elementary school because of this bubble I had to build for myself. What made my situation even worse was the fact that it seemed like nobody cared about my allergies. This was a matter of life and death for me, and nobody else seemed to care. So much so that in the fourth grade, I was put in charge of making sure everyone wiped down their desks after lunch. I remember having to chase students down just to get them to do something that simple.  

So, in March 2020 when the world shut down, everything felt oddly familiar. Most people had never been asked to take simple measures like wearing a mask, washing their hands, and staying six feet apart from others to protect their health. Welcome to my world.  

My entire immediate family has asthma. If any of us contract COVID-19, our symptoms are likely to be more severe than those experienced by others. Because of my experience with my milk allergy, I was somewhat prepared to take the precautions necessary to keep us safe. I attended school virtually for the entirety of the pandemic. I even attended karate, volunteered at the Maryland Zoo, and took music lessons online. If I absolutely had to get close to people like I did when I was out running or attending a doctor’s appointment, I was completely fine with putting on my mask, washing my hands, and staying six feet away. It felt like I was back in elementary school making sure everyone wiped down their desks and washed their hands.

Even though I was prepared to change my life for the pandemic, it was still extremely difficult. There were a couple of times where I broke down crying because all I wanted was to be with my friends or just do something other than be at home. I felt like I was back at my desk at lunch in fourth grade. This was a matter of life and death, and people thought that wearing a mask was infringing on their rights. Despite this, I persisted and, thankfully, have not contracted COVID. Since I was vaccinated in April, my life has somewhat return to normal. I have begun to see my friends again, take karate classes outdoors, volunteer in-person at the zoo, and attend school on campus. While it certainly was not easy, the pandemic was a much easier adjustment because of my prior experience of keeping myself safe and healthy while dealing with my allergies.  

Father's Pride - Ugonna Okoronkwo

 

“There are different kinds of darkness, there is the darkness that frightens, the darkness that soothes, the darkness that is restful. It becomes what the bearer wishes it to be, needs it to be. It is not wholly bad or good.”-Sarah Maas.

 

Have you ever felt so ensnared in the darkness that without a shadow of doubt, you know yourself to be lost? To feel as though the monolith of light, which has stood unsullied since your earliest memory, had fallen? I have. I remember the faint sound of a shovel hitting the dirt and the taps of rain hitting the roof of my father’s village home. My heart raced as each shovel continued to bury the man I called dad, my monolith being devoured slowly by the darkness of red sand. All I could do was watch. The path I glimpsed, shrouded, marred by the harsh machinations of reality - confusion, pain, and sorrow. My name, Ugonna, meaning “Father’s Pride,” was now adorned with the trappings of significant expectations. Was my life to mirror his? Who am I, or better yet, who am I to become? I reflected upon the great man who was my father and the man I was to be without him.  

 

Non est ad astra mollis e terris via sed facilis descensus averno. (The road from earth to the stars is not easy, but the descent to hell is.)

 

Life is short. My father’s passing, just shy of my fourteenth birthday, made that all too clear. This awareness drove me from my taciturn persona and encouraged me to pursue my interests with unparalleled determination. Thus, I ran for and won my position as Freshman Class Rep after a contested election. I joined my school’s renowned Cyber-Security and Forensics (debate) clubs. Athletically, I made the football team. Although, as a scrawny boy that never played, it was a clear processing error. I elected to try a more brain-preserving sport as a sophomore: volleyball. Unfortunately, I was unceremoniously cut from the team on the final day of tryouts. I was devastated; I walked off the court, fighting the gnawing pit in my stomach. A defining moment - descend or ascend? I chose to ascend. I mustered all the humility and courage within me, walked onto the court, and asked my coach if I could work as the team’s manager. He said yes; motivated, I joined a travel club, practiced diligently, and returned my junior year, conquering the court as one of the top players on the varsity team! 

 

Oral storytelling is a prominent aspect of Igbo culture, but to utilize this practice took overcoming my speech impediment. Latin introduced me to declensions and conjugations, altering my understanding of language while joining the debate team offered a novel control over spoken words. Yet, it was the written stories, jarring plot twists, and elaborate narratives birthed within me through Japanese anime that uncovered my love for my ancestral custom. Inspiration is the fuel of creation. I became the founder and president of AniNation, a club that creates space for all students to gather based on our shared love of anime. I picked up the pen and wrote short stories and poems filled with unconventional twists and commentary on our lived experiences. Culminating into a self-published novella, “Into the Storm,” an action-adventure that seeks to accentuate the discrimination wrought in our world through the journey of five characters in a fictional world. 

 

My father’s passing left me disoriented and confused, but I decided to daringly pursue what I’ve come to love. I aspire to be the best version of myself, whether in the pages, on the court, or in a passion yet to be discovered. I dare say the darkness left me with nothing so that I could become anything, for I am the light my father left behind; I am Ugonna, my father’s pride.  

Intussusception - Connor Klebrowski

 

Before I could even begin, I was behind. While others were reciting their ABCs, I was in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit receiving postoperative care. Intussusception is defined by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia as a life-threatening illness where the intestines slide into themselves, like a failing telescope. The time is marked on me as two parallel scars across my abdomen, a Christmas spent in the PICU and years second guessing my own potential.   

Even after my body healed, the indirect effects of the illness continued to linger. Three emergency surgeries later and five feet of intestines lighter, I returned to Pre-k. It caused me to fall behind the other kids. So far behind that my teachers suggested I take an extra year of school. Even after being held back, it was difficult for me to keep up with the other kids. My undeniable stutter made it difficult for anyone to listen to me. Many would get impatient as I tried to engage in conversations with them, frustrated by my incomprehensible sentences. The teacher would call on me to read aloud and I could hardly recite the passage, let alone comprehend anything I was reading. Repeating the same passage again and again, I waited for the moment it would all click. But the moment never came. This feeling of never quite being able to catch up was detrimental to my  young self-esteem. On my worst days, I would turn to the only thing I thought I knew,  math.  

Math has always come easily to me. I was soaring ahead in class, giving me a chance to be on the other side of the spectrum for a change. Watching fellow classmates struggle with something so second nature to me, it all finally clicked. I was filled with newfound hope and confidence, and I changed my perspective on learning. From that moment on, I would no longer feel ashamed for not being up to par with my classmates reading. Instead, I would learn to look at every problem I faced as a new opportunity to find a solution.  

Excelling in math gave me the self-assurance that I so desperately needed. I found myself looking for ways to include math in my everyday life. I would observe someone's license plate, “82M26”, and would begin to manipulate it into an equation. Eight times two equals 16 and M is the thirteenth letter of the alphabet so subtract thirteen and get three then multiply it by two to get six. I would constantly be looking to solve equations, creating new challenges for myself every chance I could.

Taking physics, applying the same math I learned over a decade ago to solve a new style of equations, reunited me with my childhood joy. The problems are more complex, but the rush I feel solving real-world equations is the same as it has always been. Seeing my critical thinking skills come to life is so fulfilling, I know I want to base my career on it. My goal is to harness my passion for problem solving and combine it with the knowledge from my engineering coursework to make the world a better, more efficient place. One problem at a time. 

Can You Talk To Fish? - Kyle Weaver

 

“RAMMING SPEED!” I screamed as David and I paddled towards Kevin in our kayak. We hit Kevin’s paddle board so hard that he flew face first into the water. At around 2:30 AM, Kevin and I snuck out of our room to fuel his diet coke addiction, on our way back from the vending machine we had to dodge one of the chaperones. We ran so fast back down those stairs that I thought we were going to run through a wall, but we finally made it to a bathroom to hide. It was 3:00 AM when we returned to the room met and a concerned look from David. I know it sounds like I had known Kevin and David for years, but I had only met them mere hours earlier on the bus ride to this retreat.

Freshman year I wasn’t a very social kid. I hadn’t quite gotten out of my shell yet. Sure, I had a couple of things that I did at school like track, but I was very still very reserved. My parents wanted me to try new thing, specifically my Mom, so that I could have “the full high school experience.” That wasn’t my plan, but my Mom kept bugging me until eventually she gave up trying to convince me to do things, and just signed me up for random school events. One of these events was the Neighbor’s retreat.   

I learned many things that I never would have learned had I not gone. The retreat was designed to prevent and stop racism at our school, but I never expected that I’d learn more about myself than I ever had. Going into this retreat I only knew one person. I sat alone on the bus dreading the entire ride when in front of me I heard a couple of guys talking about bad superpowers. They were shocked, and honestly so was I, when I chimed in with the worst super power of all time, being able to talk to fish. Now that I had joined their conversation I got to know them through listening and talking. When we arrived at the retreat house and the teachers divided us up, I got lucky and we all were placed in the same room. I spent a lot of time with these guys that weekend, but the most important moment of the retreat was probably when I stood up on a chair in our room and gave the freedom speech from Braveheart. Kevin recruited me for the speech and debate team at Loyola Blakefield right then and there. 

This retreat was what I call a “nutcracker” moment. My shell was of my own making, and I just needed a bit of help to break out of it. The moment my shell really cracked was when I accepted that invitation from Kevin. Speech and debate is where I met almost all of my best friends. It also showed me that even though I couldn’t talk to fish I was good at public speaking and debate, which eventually lead to my interest in politics, government, social justice, and so much more. Without this retreat I don’t know where I would be, but all that I know is that I wouldn’t be who I am today without it. 

The Theory of Puzzles - Thomas Marine

 

Jigsaw puzzles interest people no matter how they look. 

Until a puzzle is built, nobody truly knows what it looks like. Sure, a reference picture can be built into the box, but there is no guarantee that the exact picture will match the puzzle. I can remember completing a puzzle of three colorful chameleons on a branch that looked different from the art on the cover. The art had a monochrome orange chameleon while the puzzle had a vibrantly patterned purple one. The error made finding the pieces for the purple chameleon difficult. Whatever the case, it is hard to know if a reference correctly matches its puzzle. Malfunctions can make finding references difficult, if not impossible. 

Secondly, piece size and shape differ greatly from puzzle to puzzle. Some puzzles consist of linear pieces whose sides correspond with the sides of the full puzzle. Some have bendy pieces that only fit with a certain shape. Some are so outlandish, there is almost no way to tell where the piece goes. Puzzle pieces can even have custom shapes, like the beautiful Wentworth wooden puzzles that create intricate animals or symbols. One puzzle that I have showcases a photo of my family. Although the setting around us lacks vibrant colors, the makers manage to create an interesting puzzle both visually and thematically. Even though it is small, I still get lost in the bright orange of the background. Variations in piece configuration makes opening the box a new adventure every time. 

Lastly, the appeal of each puzzle differs wildly. Some may make a person want to spend hours doing puzzles, whether they enjoy their complexity, their beauty, or even their size. Most puzzle makers try to create puzzles that illustrate a scene or landscape, such as a beautiful green golf course against a red and pink sunset. Other puzzles make people want nothing more than the sweet release of death, such as a single-color golden 1000 piece that has irregular pieces. That specific puzzle took me over a month of hard work. These kinds of puzzles are made for those who want to challenge themselves. 

I do many, many puzzles in my spare time. However, I do not do them simply to calm down. In some cases, I can leave a puzzle more stressed than when I started it. Take the pure gold 1000-piece puzzle. I hated doing it, but I completed it for the accomplishment it brings after completing a challenge. I create something new, and I can revel in it as a deity revels in their work. However, problems can only be solved so many times, so I simply put each puzzle back and do it again in six months. 

Not only do puzzles provide a way to pass the time, they also relate to my ambitions in real life. Puzzle solving of all kinds leads into my love for engineering. Someone once described engineering as being told to solve an impossible puzzle and having to improvise a solution out of string and duct tape. I agree with this wholeheartedly, and it is why I have stuck with making puzzles all of my life.  

Puzzles form a major part of any branch of engineering. The bricks on the structures of a civil engineering project are simply the Lego that I spent hours poring over in my living room. The molecular bonds of a chemical engineer are just the “K’nex” that I painstakingly made a web of all over my room. The tangles of wiring created by an electrical engineer are the jigsaw puzzles that I obsess over for days at a time. All puzzles have a common root in engineering. I understand this concept after years of enjoyment. 

College Essay - Brendan Kelly

 

Slow days are the worst. Well, maybe they are good for the community, but not for me. Things become real boring real fast after I finish a patient transport and make my way back to the station with my crew to wait for the next emergency tone to sound. This Sunday was especially stagnant, as we only had one call that day: a patient presenting with trouble breathing, but ultimately appearing perfectly stable. Good for him, routine for me. Same old same old. 

After I had arrived back at the station, an unfamiliar face strolled into the kitchen. He was a late middle-aged man, about 6’2” wearing a white Atlantic Shoals tee and ripped khaki shorts. His flip-flops smacked against the floor like a one-man applause and his smile lit up the room like the sun breaching the clouds. 

My ADD brain began a marathon. Who is he? Why is he here? What did I have for breakfast this morning? Ooh, I like his shirt.  

I introduced myself, and we shook hands.  

The man and I talked for a good while about life. He asked where I went to school and what I wanted to do with myself; we discussed my aspirations and who I wanted to be. We rambled on, chatting about schools in the greater Baltimore area as he once worked in admissions at a local university. My mind was running a triathlon by this point. I was everywhere but in the moment, creating scenarios about this guy’s whole life while simultaneously talking to him about the pretty girls I knew at the school across the street. I shifted the conversation to emergency services and just when he started to give seemingly valuable advice, the siren blared throughout the station. 

Everything stopped. The talking, the clatter of silverware, even breathing. For those three to four seconds, time froze. My thoughts locked on the green letters pulsing on the screen of Emergency Dispatch Notes: Structure Fire; Possible Entrapment; 454 Montgomery RD. Responding Units: E11, RS1, A15.

My first fire call! As the ambulance engine cranked, I heard the stranger say: “Well, go get ‘em!” I never did get his name, and I still wonder what he was going to say.  

Upon arrival, the Engine Company had extinguished the inferno and extricated the victim from the building. I expected the medic to take the lead, but he threw me in head first like a rock off a cliff. I moved through the assessment like clockwork. 58 Y/O Male, Conscious, Breathing. Symptoms: Labored Breathing, Smoke Inhalation. Allergies: None. Medication: None. History: Not Pertinent. Injuries: Bilateral Superficial Burns to the Distal Forearms. For those 11 minutes I was on scene, nothing else mattered besides the 58-year-old victim in front of me.  

On the way home from the hospital post-transport, I reflected on my experiences that day, and it occurred to me: through those two men I had encountered, I learned more about myself in four hours than in an entire year. That man wandered into the station and through conversation, much like I tend to do, and the second man showed me that I not only require intensity, but I thrive within it. Whether I’m responding to a burning building and treating a victim, racing the clock on the final play, or making closing revisions on a semester exam, I become structured, meticulous, fluid, and successful in my work. My adaptability and laser-focus in everchanging scenarios allows me to surmount my sub 4 second attention span so that I may excel in stressful moments. Maybe rather than a disorder or difference, my ADD is a distinction. 

 

I Am Nsebong Efiok Adah. - Nsebong Adah

 

I don’t remember the first time my name was Americanized, but I remember accepting it very quickly. Throughout elementary and middle school, I allowed people to call me a name that was remotely mine without a second thought. I was lost. Nsebong Adah only existed at home and in the presence of family.  

In primary school, my beautiful and meaningful name that once meant “faith in God” was converted into an Americanized jumble of: “Neesh-bong,” “Nez-bong,” or even “Nessy-bong.” Sometimes the attempts felt authentic; other times, I felt the mockery that disguised their failed attempts. Each new name felt like a knife stabbing into my pride, but I’d respond, “close enough.” 

In middle school and high school, attendance would often begin: “I just want to apologize now if I say anyone’s name incorrectly.” In anticipation of the teacher butchering my name I’d offer, “I know I’m first on the list, and I’m here.” Utter embarrassment. Instead of correcting the teacher, I preferred to shy away from it altogether. My eager classmates filled the silence with the words, “It’s pronounced Is-a-bong.” Moments like these caused me to abandon the most important part of myself in order to make life easier for others. I eventually started responding to “Is-a-bong,” it was close, even though I had never heard my parents pronounce it in that way. I slowly began to erase my name and the Nigerian culture that came with it. 

 “That is not your name. Your name is ‘En-say-bong.’ Be proud of your culture.” Of course I love my Nigerian culture: the food, the music, and the community that comes with it. But names come with it too. Nsebong Efiok Adah is much more that the sixteen letters that make it up. “Nsebong” is the nickname once given to my father by his own mother which he passed down to me. It is the name when pronounced correctly dances on the tongue like a question awaiting an answer.

 

“Nsebong” is the name screamed by my mother when I’m in serious trouble and whispered with pride after report cards come back. “Efiok” is the middle name I share with my father indicating that I am a boy from Akwa Ibom. “Adah” is the surname that I will pass as my legacy onto my children. “Nsebong Efiok Adah” will be the first name read at Loyola Blakefield’s 170th Commencement. Nsebong Adah screams to everyone that I am a strong-willed man of Nigerian descent. 

What is a man without his name? Without mine, I felt outcasted. I navigated my life with the inability to acknowledge my own identity simply because it wasn’t conveniently “American.” The Americanized “Is-a-bong” caused unseen damage, that cut my ties to my Nigerian roots. However, I realized that being American was not the only part of me; I owe everything that I have today to my Nigerian culture and history. I am a Nigerian-American man. I am Nsebong Efiok Adah. I am enough. 

The Games We Play - Joshua Zacharia

I may be the only Third-Degree Black Belt in the family, but my little brothers are masters in the art of “Lego Wars.” In our basement, we merge half-built Lego cities with scratched-up Hot Wheels cars. The Lego towers sit crooked on the unmade bed sheets, creating “Lego City." A wide red lid from a box bridges the top of the city to the depths of the carpets: “The Lair of Villains," we call it. I wear a skeleton mask, playing the role of a giant tormenting the city, while my little brothers use the Legos and cars to try to defeat me. To my dismay, they always do (Well, I always let them. If I didn’t, our made-up story could not continue). In these precious moments, I become more than their oldest brother; I become a best friend.  

Last year, however, I distanced myself from them. I sentenced myself to be a prisoner in my room, locked inside because of common excuses like completing piles of schoolwork and playing videogames on my phone. In my cell, the game of “Lego Wars” was replaced with “Hide and Seek.” I hid behind the walls of my room, while my brothers sought my love. They banged on the door, but I never answered. My status as a brother was effectively meaningless. Then something changed, and the change came from an unexpected source. 

In the center of the Taekwondo dojang, I made a circle of five Yellow belt students, interlocking our elbows tightly together. My role as a leader was to ensure all of us squatted together at the same time for ten seconds. However, I purposely elongated time making 10 seconds feel like a minute. For the first squats, I felt the children struggling against my elbows as I pulled them up. “6” seconds in, they wheezed so loud, I was going to offer my inhaler. But together, we did not falter; we embraced every ounce of our strength to stand back up. “10 seconds!” I gasped. As we clapped our hands, I realized this brotherhood within Taekwondo was what I had been missing with my siblings; it was an epiphany that rekindled the relationship with my brothers. 

I removed the shackles that confined me to my room, found my brothers, and hugged them tightly. We ran down the stairs into our messy basement, stepping on some isolated Lego figures. Still, the dusty red lid tilted at the same angle next to the bed with the Hot Wheel cars piled up at the bottom of it. The Lego towers, or what was left of them, stood mightily above the bedsheets. Of course, my skeleton mask lay in the center of The Lair of Villains: a testament to my own hiding. No longer was I the villain who rampaged the city; I became a hero who won the Lego war.  

Now, I’ve added new games to our repertoire. We play “Songs of Forgiveness” while I drive them around, taking turns guessing the names and artists of songs. After school, I tie a rope between the staircase and a door handle, and we play “The Balloon Game,” hitting a balloon back and forth like a volleyball. And these times, I don’t have to let them win. Throughout these experiences, I have determined that these games are not simply games. They are bringing the brotherhood and leadership I learned in Taekwondo to the relationship with my siblings.

 

As I continue the rest of my journey through college, I’m excited for these values to evolve through collaboration with mentors performing experiments in the lab, leadership through service projects, and a lasting camaraderie with my new peers and teachers.

 

In the meantime, I’ll be in the basement playing “Lego Wars.”