Writing Through the Distance Magazine

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WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE JUNE 2021 ♦ PRESENTED BY TEENS IN PRINT

Life During

COVID-19 mental health ♦ virtual school ♦ local businesses ♦ new hobbies

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cultural criticism personal essays creative writing information & service

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A NOTE FROM TIP When COVID-19 sent students home from school indefinitely, Teens in Print had to reinvent itself to continue working with students. With that in mind, we launched Writing through the Distance, a year-long project centered on keeping students connected through writing. We designed a new website and have published four cycles of student writing there. Now, as students are returning to school, the Writing through the Distance era has come to an end. We are incredibly proud of the perseverance of our students during an unprecedented time, and the incredible writing that they produced in our entirely-virtual programming. The writing featured here was originally published between July 2020 and April 2021. We hope you enjoy the work as much as we did while editing and publishing it. And to our students — thank you. None of this would be here without your thoughtfulness and commitment.

- TEAM TIP COVER PHOTO: NATHAN DEJESUS INSIDE PHOTO: KASANDRA WILCOX

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features

Life during COVID-19 37 LOCAL BUSINESS

Leaders reflect on surviving one year of COVID-19

39 HOBBIES

Yarn to masterpiece

41 ACADEMICS

Hope and worry during a quarantine school year

42 MENTAL HEALTH Who’s to blame?

44 GRADUATION

One bug is a crowd, two is an attack

46 COPING

Staying positive despite the Coronavirus

Sections 04 INFORMATION & SERVICE

Hard news, service, and listicles

11 CULTURAL CRITICISM

Opinion writing and analysis

51 PERSONAL ESSAYS

Narratives, perspectives, and diary writing

68 CREATIVE WRITING

Poetry, micro essays, and reflections

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INFORMATION & SERVICE Students working on computers. TEENS IN PRINT / FILE

How you can protect yourself from intricate phishing attacks

Ever open an email and can clearly tell it’s a scam? BY DAV ID SANTANA

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This is concerning because their personal emails are more vulnerable to hackers. Phishing attacks are becoming more creative, and a new tactic of phishing has surfaced — completely copying the domain names and website URLs of the stores people shop from and marking the prices as much cheaper. This brings phishing to a new level, as the only distinguishing factors are the URLs and the prices. This is why I propose the idea of labeling the websites people shop from to distinguish real websites from phishing websites. A simple marker next to the padlock to the left of the URL of whatever website you’re on is enough. Web browsers such as Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge could email the owner of the website asking to verify that it’s legit. That could be enough for parents to easily stop their kids from purchasing from phishing websites and for older generations who typically aren’t as experienced on the internet as younger generations to be able to tell real from fake. For now, there aren’t any great distinguishing features, so here are some good ways to spot phishing emails and websites:

Ever go on a website where the prices are too good, to the point of suspicion? Yeah, it’s happened to all of us. While some can tell if it’s a scam and can stay away, many others cannot. This is why phishing attacks have always been a real threat. According to Comparitech, phishing attacks have gotten a lot worse over the past three years. Scammers’ phishing attempts have also gotten better and more intricate. Young kids on the internet and older folks who have trouble browsing the internet are some of the highest-risk targets for phishing attacks. The reality is that phishing attacks have gotten a lot more sophisticated, and unless you’re very careful, anyone could fall victim to an attack. For example, recent concerns about phishing election officials are rising. According to The Verge, less than 20 percent of election officials were using advanced phishing protection, and 666 out of the 10,000 used their personal emails for matters related to elections.

If emails ask for personal information, make sure it is someone you know and isn’t just a very similar or completely random email address. Be wary if there are any grammatical or spelling mistakes, as many official corporations or just people in general rarely make more than one or two typos in an email. One last tip is to make sure that if there are any links, read the URL to make sure it is an official website. Instead of www.apple.com, a phisher might put info.apple.com to make their scam look more official. For websites, it might be a bit harder. Look at the URL and watch for any changes that don’t belong, like the Apple example. You should look out for the real website, payment methods like PayPal, and grammar mistakes. Overall phishing has grown stronger over the last few years, so make sure you use these methods to stay away from these scams until there are more features to easily distinguish real from fake offers. Always check URLs, watch for grammar mistakes and if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. ♦

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Take college courses in high school BY KENNY MAI

Are you a high schooler at home because of the pandemic? Are you looking for something to do because you are bored? Taking college courses is a good option that will fill some time and benefit you. Specifically, signing up for college courses as a high school student can help define and lead you toward a potential career path, save you some money and help you utilize your time efficiently. High school students can take college courses in many ways, including dual enrollment programs and pre-college programs. Dual enrollment programs in Massachusetts are offered either by schools or the Commonwealth Dual Enrollment Partnership. You can take courses at many colleges if you meet the eligibility criteria, including community colleges and state universities. According to the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, students do not pay tuition or fees for courses taken through CDEP. John Fink, a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center, located at the Columbia University Teachers College, also notes the benefits of students enrolling in these programs. He says, “across the board, former dual enrollment students are going to college at higher rates.” Pre-college programs are another viable opportunity for students interested in taking college courses while in high school. Tufts University is an example of this, offering “Courses at Tufts for High Schoolers - Summer Sessions.” Tufts’ program provides students with options to either take courses with undergraduates or with other high school peers interested in rigorous coursework. Professors for this curriculum are from Tufts University or other world-renowned universities. The experience students get out of these programs is indescribable. Many students find their courses so fascinating that they keep coming back, and consider their time in the program to be one of the best summer experiences they’ve ever had.

still in high school. This past summer, I took an “Astronomy 10” course and a “Foundations of Law and Ethics” course at Tufts University. I had the best experience while taking the astronomy course because the class was interactive. The experience of taking a course that I was passionate about was amazing. The course had many assignments, projects, and final exams, but I was less stressed than in regular school classes. I was able to do something that I truly liked and was happy to be productive during the pandemic. My favorite part of the entire experience was what I was able to get out of the courses. I was able to earn college credits for the courses that I took over the summer, and I accumulated credits towards my college degree. According to Accredited School Online, a study published in 2017 found that by the time they finish high school, ECHS (Early College High School Program) students earn 21.6 college credits on average. Additionally, I got to learn a curriculum in the specific field of study that I liked. I started to learn that I want to major in biophysics in college and that I want to work towards a career as an astrobiologist. I would have never thought of that or came to this realization as a career since my high school doesn’t offer astronomy courses.

Speaking from experience, I have done both dual enrollment and pre-college programs. I have taken many courses at Roxbury Community College and Tufts University. I had fantastic experiences taking courses at both, and it was the best thing I did during the summer.

There are many more bonuses and great things that come from taking college courses over the summer and school year than meet the eye. I was more outspoken in class and I made new friends from across the nation, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. I was amazed to be able to make new friends with similar interests to me, all during the middle of a pandemic.

My first impression of college courses was that they would be challenging and too advanced for me to understand. I was excited and nervous at the same time. Although I was finally taking a course that I truly enjoyed rather than a course that I was required to take, I was nervous to take courses taught at a college level while I was

Other opportunities that come from doing a pre-college program include meeting fascinating people. As the “lunch and learn” that Tufts University pre-college program offered, I was able to meet Massachusetts state representative Tram

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Nguyen. She spoke about civic engagement and awareness, something that I was also passionate about. I was also able to take a college essay writing workshop that helped me become a better writer. As you can see, college courses open up exciting pathways to explore and offer amazing benefits to high school students. It helped guide me to find my way to a career, gave me a taste of a college experience, introduced me to new people, allowed me to gain college credits and shared with me valuable events to participate in. So, as you begin to prepare plans for summer 2021, consider taking college courses — you won’t regret it! ♦

busting right out of 1999 and many Black girls can see parts of themselves in this dynamic character.

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This book deals with societal beauty standards, and how a little dark-skin girl with curly hair and brown eyes named Pecola Breedlove experiences them. She prays for “beauty” as other kids tease her, except her perception of beauty takes the form of blonde hair and blue eyes. The author confronts these beauty standards in an incredibly powerful way! My mother, who endured the “you’re pretty for a dark-skin girl” backhanded compliments, loved this book. My mother, who as a child struggled with being dark-skinned, was given this book by her mother and learned valuable lessons about self-love.

Six influential 3 books for Black girls BY AMAIYA ALTAMIRANO

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Winter Santiaga, a 17-year-old Black girl living the high life through her daddy’s drug game money is the definition of high fashion. And as far as she’s concerned she runs New York. Still, she has a major fall from grace after her mother’s accident and her father’s imprisonment. She fights to get her siblings out of foster care while also dodging Child Protective Services herself and dealing with fake friends, halfway homes, boy problems and a plethora of other issues. This book is a gem

FLYY GIRL BY OMAR TYREE

Tracy Ellison is a 17-year-old, pretty brown-skinned girl from Philadelphia. Because of her parents’ jobs, she lives a very comfortable life — but the gag is that Tracy’s “living life as fast as she can.” She’s boy crazy, in love with the material world. She and her friends “love and leave the young men who’ll do anything to get next to them.” In this coming-of-age novel, meaningless sex prompts Tracy to reevaluate her life, goals and sexuality. This book warns against promiscuity as Tracy witnesses another woman’s descent from grace and touches on the cocaine epidemic that sprouted in the eighties.

ooks. I know, no one wants to read them. But what if I told you that there’s a book starring YOU as the main character? You’d probably think I’m joking, right? I’ve spent my entire elementary and middle school life as a major bookworm, and, as a Black girl, I was able to gather a list of what I believe are some of the most influential books every Black girl should read in their lives. These books are easy to immerse yourself in, super relatable, and almost all of the protagonists are Black young women that you will more than likely be able to connect with!

THE COLDEST WINTER EVER BY SISTER SOULJAH

THE BLUEST EYE BY TONI MORRISON

PRETTY UGLY BY KARYN LANGHORNE FOLAN (PART OF THE BLUFORD HIGH SERIES)

Jamee is desperate to fit in with a clique of popular girls, but when those very girls start to bully a new girl named Angel, Jamee confronts a fork in the road. Jamee stands up for soft-spoken Angel at the expense of the clique, drama ensues and Jamee takes some heat! Torn between not snitching and telling her family, she has to do something to stop the madness. This book captures the root of what many girls go through and how peer pressure, bullying and the struggle to do what’s right can make or break friendships – sometimes for the better.

BURN AFTER WRITING BY RHIANNON SHOVE

Burn After Writing is a special adaption of your typical self-reflection journal simply because it encourages you to burn the journal itself after you finish writing in it. Pretty cool, right? This is a powerful book for Black girls because there isn’t always space for us to thoroughly discuss our thoughts, feelings, memories, dreams, etc. Self-reflection, especially at a young age, is essential to self-care and growth because the more you get to know who you are and who you want to be, the better off you’ll be. This book allows you to do that.

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NO EASY ANSWERS: SHORT STORIES ABOUT TEENAGERS MAKING TOUGH CHOICES BY DONALD R. GALLO

Finally, No Easy Answers is based solely on teens making hard choices concerning peer pressure, gang violence, drug use and many other things. I picked this book to end on because it’s multifaceted. It can apply to you, a friend, a coworker, or a classmate as well. This book sheds light on the fact that teens too can go through things that pull them in all sorts of directions that are hard to navigate. This book is great for teens who might’ve found themselves in situations similar to the ones in the book. It’s relatable, a quick read, and, as realistic as it is, powerful in theme.

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ooks are as relevant and powerful as the themes they present to the reader. I hope that many Black teenage girls can use the list I provided to see the light I saw in all of these books. These aren’t average by any means, and each one of these books features a character that Black teenage girls are more than likely to relate to. From topics like peer pressure and femininity to self-reflection, these books can give readers a sense of familiarity, entertainment and lessons to take away from them. ♦

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MIDSOMMAR (2019) DIRECTED BY ARI ASTER

Want a little fun? Well, Midsommar is the movie for you! Kind of. This movie is a horror movie, yes, but it’s a very good horror movie. Better than Insidious, or one of those kinds of movies. Midsommar is not what you expect, and it includes some of the most well-written scenes in the horror industry. If you’re easily shocked by jump scares, this movie doesn’t have that many. It’s more creepy and shocking to viewers who watch it for the first time. I remember watching this alone (not recommended) and it blew my mind. I wanted to know every single detail of the movie, and why everything happened. The ending is one of the big things that leaves you sitting there like, “Huh, what did I just watch.” As Hannah Shaw-Williams writes for Screen Rant, “Hårga at first seems like paradise — full of soft music, white clothes, flower-picking, and dancing. However, things take a dark turn during the first ceremony, when two elders of the commune commit ritualistic suicide.” This was kind of a spoiler, but it kind of lets you know what you’re in for.

Cure your 2 boredom with these five thrillers A list of some of my favorite movies that I’ve been wanting to write about for a while. BY GISELLE BERENTS

Now, this movie was nothing like anything I’ve seen before. It’s directed by the same person as Midsommar, so you know it’s going to be off the walls. This movie has a lot, again, to unpack. You have to watch it with someone else for sure, and try to pay attention — it’s worth it. To understand everything, you have to piece it all together yourself and realize what happens with this whole family. As Matt Golder writes for Collider, the movie “weaves in its mythology in such a way that you’re never completely sure how much is happening and how much is just the characters’ deteriorating mental state.”

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A promotional poster for Midsommar. A24 FILMS 8 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

HEREDITARY (2018) DIRECTED BY ARI ASTER

ENEMY (2014) DIRECTED BY DENIS VILLENEUVE

Enemy is a very creative movie that everyone needs to watch. Again, this movie is very complex and interconnected, so you have to pay attention. It will take a while to completely understand and realize half of the things that are going on. Kevin Lincoln writes for Vulture that, “Like Sicario and Arrival, Enemy is a saturated film, every moment practically dripping with suggestion; in the case of


Enemy, that suggestion is of menace, danger, and calamity inching ever closer, frame by frame.” All characters of this movie are not of the right mind, which adds to the suspense.

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BLACK SWAN (2010) DIRECTED BY DARREN ARONOFSKY

Black Swan is another very complex movie, and it’s kind of fun. Natalie Portman, a house favorite, stars and takes you through many different moments of spiraling. Swan Lake, as we know, is a ballet, but this movie portrays it as a life-altering ballet, instead of it being a very easy one to perform. This movie can take you down many potholes and leaves you thinking in the end about how unfair and crazy everything is.

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GIRL, INTERRUPTED (1999) DIRECTED BY JAMES MANGOLD

This movie is somewhat hard to get through if you’re easily triggered by hospitals and people who are struggling with mental illness. If not, then it might be a cool movie for you. It takes you into the discussion of friendship, people getting along and trying to figure out life in general. Stephanie Watson writes for HuffPost that “Through the help of one of the psychiatric nurses, Susanna learns that though she hasn’t done anything to cause her pain, she still has a hand in at least helping it on its merry way.” The two main characters take you through many surprises, and will always leave you wondering about their actions in the end. In conclusion, these movies are meant for you to watch with your friends, or alone if you dare. They bring up different topics of life and new experiences that might be somewhat frightening. ♦

Deconstructing America’s healthcare system BY ALEX CHOU

When Luke Matthew returned home from the Peace Corps, he struggled to build his life up again. “I didn’t have a primary care physician, and I was about a year away from being kicked off my parents’ health insurance. I didn’t know where to turn.” With help from the organization Healthcare for All, he obtained insurance through the Neighborhood Health Plan, but this proved to be inadequate. After spending weeks searching, he was told that the waitlist for a new primary care physician (PCP) was a little over a year. When he finally got an appointment with his PCP, “every decision related to my health care I made had to be supervised and approved by a senior attending physician. I remember distinctly, several times [my PCP] wanted to order a few extra tests to be thorough but was constantly told no.” When he needed an MRI for his knee, he began to panic, given that MRIs are expensive and can cost thousands of dollars. Matthew made phone calls to Mass Health and spent days reading through a thick manual that explained the details of his health plan, wondering if he would be covered for the MRI. Even on the day of his appointment, he still did not know the answer, and it took a lot of courage for him to go and get the MRI done. “Fortunately,” he said, “shortly after, someone from MassHealth called and told me that I was covered for the MRI – after the fact. I could breathe again.” Today, Matthew works at Northeastern University’s Center for Community Health Education Research and Services as a program coordinator, and through his job, has acquired a premium Blue Cross Blue Shield plan. Unlike before, his current physician orders and performs countless tests, all of which are covered by his insurance. Not everyone is so lucky. After all, medical expenses are the top reason for personal and familial bankruptcies in the United States, Matthew explained.

A promotional poster for Girl, Interrupted. COLUMBIA PICTURES

Along with an increasing awareness of the decreasingly attainable American dream and this year’s controversial presidential election, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the healthcare system into the national spotlight. Frontline and essential workers, many of whom are immigrants and minorities, continue to pay significant portions of their salaries for only basic healthcare plans. At the same time, they are also the population most susceptible to developing underInformation & Service | 9


lying conditions like diabetes, asthma and heart and lung disease, which make them most vulnerable to COVID-19. There is no doubt that healthcare is a vital component of society, but many Americans remain uninformed or confused about the field. As Priyanka Dayal McCluskey, a health care industry reporter for the Boston Globe, noted, the healthcare field is complicated and difficult to navigate. “America’s healthcare system is a combination of public and private institutions, and policies and health coverage can vary widely from one state to the next,” McCluskey explained. “Unlike many other countries, healthcare in America involves many private, for-profit hospitals and doctors [and insurance companies], and the prices they charge for medical care are not regulated by the government.” On the one hand, the private sector offers patients the freedom to choose their health coverage plan, their hospitals and their doctors, as Matthew now can with the insurance that his work provides. However, private insurance is costly, and many people struggle to afford medical bills and medication. On the other hand, the public sector, in which the federal government plays a bigger role, regulates the price of health coverage and ensures that all Americans receive care. Yet, universal health coverage, often coined “socialized medicine,” is funded by high taxes across all socioeconomic classes. Although America’s healthcare field remains mostly privatized, making it more difficult for minorities to navigate it, there is hope. Social workers provide patient families with insightful guidance about applying for different healthcare and insurance plans they can receive and advocate for change by working with government relations and public health officials. “We strive to empower people to become involved in shaping policies that will impact them, either at the point of care or through becoming involved in advocacy,” said Allison Scobie-Carroll, the senior director of Social Work and Family Services at Boston Children’s Hospital. Additionally, government-funded health coverage for low-income individuals, in the form of Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, has extended health coverage to millions who were previously uninsured. While it is widely believed that health insurance is the only insurance that everyone is guaranteed to need in their lives, “health care in this country is viewed as a privilege and not a right,” Matthew said. “In my lifetime, I have seen healthcare being run less and less by doctors and healthcare providers, but more by MBAs and businessmen whose allegiance is to the shareholders and the bottom line.” However, this will likely change, as a more liberal generation that would agree with Scobie-Carroll’s view that “every patient has a right to safe and compassionate care,” uses its voice to make change in the world. ♦ 10 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

Unlike many other countries, healthcare in America involves many private, for-profit hospitals and doctors [and insurance companies], and the prices they charge for medical care are not regulated by the government.

” Procrastination and you BY PAYTON QIN School has never been a favorite place of students, at least that is what many people claim. Imagine getting home, thinking about that Angry Birds level you haven’t finished, and yet the first thing you have to do is your homework. In high school, it sometimes becomes the last thing you do before bed. Even the thought of doing homework hurts your head, so naturally, people start to procrastinate. Yet what people discover is an endless pit that drags you on with suffering, in which they waste hours and hours of time every day, until they look back to themselves 20 years later with countless opportunities missed and left behind. This is the hell of procrastination. Procrastination has been a problem since ancient times. Words are passed down from generation to generation saying that the key to preventing it is to control ourselves and organize our daily lives to get our work done. Lots of people still believe in this even in the present day, my family included. But if this is true, why are there still people who are properly educated on this topic that procrastinate? The truth is that procrastination is a much heavier problem than simple time manage-


ment and self-control. Before getting any further, it is important to know what procrastination is. Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield, told the New York Times, “People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task.” Sirois’ 2013 study found that procrastination is a method of short-term mood repair, which means that it is a strategy the mind uses to “effectively” fix our bad moods. Yet, every time our body does find relaxation in procrastination, it tends to do it again, and again, and again. The process turns into a vicious cycle of trying to “entertain” itself subconsciously, but what it ends up doing is getting nothing done and worsening the situation even more. Unfortunately, procrastination is not only a mental health issue. If someone does procrastinate, they are likely to experience time loss, anxiety, low self-esteem and more. The effect will last long into people’s lives, like an addiction. Your body will get used to procrastination, and, even if you do realize it, it would be hard to turn back to normal. Procrastination is an unwanted habit, but we can only sit there and watch ourselves wasting time on things more interesting than our work. A lot of people say that procrastination will not affect the final result of their work and that the only negative about it is maybe losing some sleep and entertainment. What they do not realize is that losing sleep often means dragging down their working attitude, causing tiredness, which then decreases overall working efficiency. Entertainment, on the other hand, will affect procrastination rates. Sometimes not having enough fun gives the mind reason to procrastinate, which comes back to the problem of losing efficiency. While procrastination is a huge problem in society, there are ways to keep it away from us. The best way to do it to set your mind to a time limit. If there is one thing that procrastinators are afraid of, it’s not having enough time to complete anything before the deadline. Once the panic starts to take over before the deadline, your body will try to de-stress itself by doing work as fast as possible, and the problem is solved. You may not be able to accomplish this on the first try, but one day, you will discover that the monkey who controls your brain to waste time will be gone. ♦

CULTURAL CRITICISM A Black Lives Matter sign in Jamaica Plain. LAUREN Cultural CHOY Criticism | 11


The importance of the arts in our society BY CINDY TRAN

sity, my career questioning has been a confusing time. Despite my obvious passion for writing, I was told to look towards STEM and to focus on the careers that “mattered.” I didn’t understand why art didn’t matter, why so many of my relatives tried to drag me away from one of the few things that made me happy. It wasn’t only me. One of my close friends was interested in pursuing visual arts but confided in me — one day at lunch with nobody around to hear — that she was ashamed of this. Why are so many people afraid of the arts? Why do so many parents discourage their children from pursuing a career that makes them happy? Why is doing and making art something to be ashamed of, or something to talk about in hushed whispers and furious blushes when a STEM kid rounds the corner? Rather than labeling art as some sort of cursed career, I believe that we should champion the arts just as much as we champion STEM fields. We need to stop discouraging kids from exploring their passions. A common misconception of art school, and probably the reason why so many parents fear their kids turning into artists, is the notion of the “starving artist.” Many of us have heard nightmare stories of artists spending so much time and effort in school, only to graduate and fail to find a high-paying job. Contrary to this idea, author and Wall Street Journal contributor Daniel Grant cites a 2011 study that shows unemployment rates among recent B.F.A. graduates dropped to only about 4.5%. The other 95.5% are thriving in employment.

A typewriter with an Isabel Allende quote. CINDY TRAN

At some point during this quarantine, you definitely watched a movie, read a book or played a video game. Maybe you did one of those things, or maybe you did all three. Maybe you thought you would go insane without these activities to fill your time. You didn’t hesitate to spend money on these activities or admit that they played a role in helping you cope with the loneliness of isolation. We gladly turn to these forms of art and media in times of difficulty because it helps us make sense of the world, to sift through the chaos. We consume that which has been produced for us by creative minds. So why, then, do we doubt budding artists? As someone who is planning to major in creative writing at univer12 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

Even those who are unemployed can find creative ways to start their own business, according to a major IBM Global Study. In this study, 1,500 CEOs from various countries were given several leadership qualities to rank. Out of the many skills presented, 60% of the CEOs ranked creativity as the most important leadership quality. It seems that art majors are on the rise to be viable assets and a welcomed cohort in the business world. Besides concerns about success rates, some parents might be worried that their child’s salary or unconventional work routine will negatively impact their happiness and contentment with life. According to the National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) in 2018, art students have reported an 87% satisfaction with life, a drastically higher num-


ber than the percentage of those in accounting and regular nine-to-five jobs at 47%. Art majors are statistically proven to be happier with their work, even if they are working more than one job at once. Besides the numbers, there are so many other reasons why we need to continue supporting artists and encouraging our kids to continue exploring their interests. In her piece for The Odyssey, staff writer Stephanie Cham asserts “every form of art is who we are. Art is being.” She further believes that art creates humanity and allows people to better connect with the world. “When humans die away, when the last wars have been fought and the rains fall without us, every form of art that outlives us will be the true captured essence of who we are now.” Similarly, in his article about recognizing the value of art and culture in society, Guardian writer Peter Bazalgette argues that life is the inherent value of culture. “Imagine society without the civilizing influence of the arts and you’ll have to strip out what is most pleasurable in life,” he writes. Art is important to me because it brings me joy. Nothing is more exciting to me than opening my computer up to a blank screen and waiting for the words to come. I couldn’t imagine my life without writing about the characters that live in my head or reading the stories from my favorite authors. Life without art and creativity would be terribly bland. We have artists to thank for keeping us sane during the quarantine. The least we can do in return is to stop the taboo associated with art school and encourage the next generation of artists not to be ashamed of their passions and career aspirations, but instead to embrace them and be proud. Art is a real, meaningful career choice. Art is why you can enjoy your favorite movies, books and games and so much more. In times of chaos and especially in 2020, maybe a little art is all you need to forget the bad in this world. ♦

How our political climate divides our country and our personal relationships BY XOCHITL TAI-DAWSON With our country still torn over our political views, we have forced everyone to pick a side, causing tension in every relationship and environment. Interactions between people that don’t believe in the same ideas as you have caused people to be afraid to leave their homes in fear they might be killed, resulting in a division in our country. Both sides are so eager to be correct that they don’t realize that they both have the same problems as the ones they are trying to fix. With so many unanswered questions and so much uncertainty in the air, people turn to their elected officials for guidance on how we can change and save our world. We, the people, are searching for answers to these questions, but we are only interested in listening to the answers that we want to hear. Over the last few months, our community has seen tragedy, death, injustice and fear and now more than ever we are looking for hope. This hope comes in many different forms: maybe unemployment checks, healthcare laws or the right to leave your house without your parents wondering if you will make it home. We have been so set in arguing with other people that we forget that what we all want is a safe environment for future generations. Human rights and sustainable living aren’t political views, yet these are the things our country has been divided on. Not agreeing on fundamental rights will never let us agree on things in the future This division impacts our relationships because it is very hard to be around people that don’t share your same views; you feel misunderstood and unheard. I fear that if we don’t stop going backward in time and reversing human rights for everyone, our country will always be divided. Farah Stockman, an award-winning journalist and editorial board member of The New York Times, met with me to answer a few questions I had regarding the political divide in the eyes of a journalist who deals with all kinds of views every day. “I’m sure if [Donald Trump] won again those who didn’t vote for him would also be looking for a way out,” she said. “So, in a way, it looks Cultural Criticism | 13


a little like how our country did before the Civil War … I hope people decide it’s worth it to stay together.” History is always written in the eyes of the winner, and if we look back on our history, we see that it looks like everyone agreed. In reality, the person who was writing or telling the story was the one who had won. The division in our politics has become more and more defined over the years and has caused us to almost be split in half. If we don’t try to close the gap between the different groups of people we might be looking at another civil war in the future. “We looked at history and it seemed like we always agreed,” Stockman explained. “Things always look more united than they feel at the moment.” No one is willing to change their views but we are all humans and we all deserve human rights, proper health care and a way to live; these things shouldn’t be considered different political views. The division in our country is a problem because if we can’t agree on some things, how will we, in just a few years, be able to decide the fate of our whole country and future generations? Like many people, I look to my elected officials to help pass laws that will help me and ensure I have a future to grow up in. “When you talk to regular people a lot of them want the same thing … people aren’t sure how they’re going to get these things,” Stockman said. Since people aren’t sure how to get their basic needs met, they don’t trust the government. This creates a problem because the government is supposed to be a voice for everyone. When people can’t agree with each other they stop listening, even if their problems are similar. “If you like Trump then you’re looking for someone else who voted for him, and if you don’t like Trump then you’re looking for someone who definitely didn’t,” Stockman explained. Politics have an effect on everything from jobs and schools to where you decide to live, but it especially affects relationships, both romantic and platonic. The way you present yourself to the world is represented in your politics. People like to surround themselves with people that have the same world views and beliefs, which are reflected in people’s political views. Differences can impact families and friends and, in the end, cause relationships to end. “That’s kinda what we are deciding right now … Trump supporters don’t like the way we have chosen our government up to now,” Stockman said. “There’s going to be some sort of weird divorce between the ones that support him and the ones that don’t.” No one knows what the country will look like in the next few years, or even months, but we do know that our country is more divided than ever. People are more politically involved now than ever, especially young adults. Not many relationships involve mixed political views because politics are so much more than funding for schools; now they are about human rights and who gets to survive. 14 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

Things always look more united than they feel at the moment.

No one can be completely politically unbiased and no one can choose to be completely uninvolved in politics. Being human and living in the U.S. naturally makes every decision you make a political move. Since we are all involved, we are picking a side that aligns most with our values. Picking this side puts you under the label that the person leading that group is known for. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t those things, but because you are trusting that leader, you are believing in their beliefs and actions. There is nothing we can do to change someone’s views because once they have them they are set on them. What we can do is come together as a nation and agree on the issues we all want to change like healthcare, answers to climate change, jobs and human rights. If we can start agreeing on the big picture view, we will see that, because we are all humans, we aren’t that different. “Usually the solutions are different. but if you at least agree on the problems then you can start working on them and where you might find common ground,” Stockman said. ♦


Boomers can learn from Gen Z’ers and Millennials BY SALLY PHAN

It was a Saturday morning in November. I was at VietAid, a Vietnamese American community center in Dorchester. As part of the job, my colleagues and I had to attend an event that would later help contribute to what we were doing at the organization. The room was filled with empty tables and seats, and a few people lingering around the room. There was a table that had trays lined up with food, all of them covered in plastic wrap. My colleague and I stood by the door leading to the room, deciding on whether or not it was time to go in. One thing I started to realize was that the room was filled with much older people. There were no teens, except for the table I sat at with my colleagues. There were barely any millennials. I thought to myself, “What is this event supposed to be?” I knew that it was called “Family Stories,” but what did that mean? Was I going to hear the same things I’m already hearing about in my family? Beliefs like “respect your elders” and “study hard in school to get a good job?” Because if so, I already heard enough of it. The room started to fill up with people, and it was not much different. I thought I would have seen more families, middle-aged parents and their kids, or maybe more millennials, but I didn’t. The event started with a poet who read about coming out to his mom. I was captivated the whole time, but also confused. Talking about anything related to the LGBTQ+ community with my family was completely unknown. I’m fine talking about it with friends, but with family, especially older relatives, I wouldn’t even think of it because I always knew what the discussion would be like. I looked around the room occasionally to see the faces of others. It was always quiet except for when someone’s phone would go off, but everyone was paying attention. Later, there was a skit about a daughter that wanted to pursue a career in the arts instead of a

medical degree. I feel like I’ve grown up hearing so much slander against jobs in the arts because, “You’ll never make money from it.” I was shocked that this skit was happening because it was basically breaking down an all too common belief that older people have imposed on younger generations for years. So many people in the room enjoyed it, watched and listened. At the end of the event, there was a debrief where the hosts wanted someone from each table to share what they learned and how they were feeling. Whenever someone spoke, I would turn around in my chair to pay attention. An older man across the room said that he saw being gay as an illness that can be treated. I felt shocked because after hearing all these people talk about how they are happy to learn about our society, I was starting to believe the older generation might not be so bad. It felt that my world got flipped around and that all of this was for nothing. Quickly, others stepped in to explain to him that what he was saying might have been a popular belief of his time, but that is not actually true — that being gay is not an illness. It wasn’t the first time I had heard that. Many older folks don’t support the LGBTQ+ community, possibly because they grew up in an environment where being gay wasn’t socially accepted. I think it’s possible that many Boomers may be homophobic not because they are hateful toward LGBTQ+ people, but because they just don’t understand what the LGBTQ+ community really is. The differences between Gen Z and Boomers lie primarily in the differences in societal norms at the time each generation was raised. Gen Z grew up with technology, President Barack Obama in office, and the legalization of gay marriage while we were in school. This is different from how Boomers grew up. Many Boomers never got the opportunity to learn about the LGBTQ+ community and only view it as something bad because that is what they are used to hearing. My parents immigrated from Vietnam to the United States. My family doesn’t really talk about the LGBTQ+ community. Older relatives might not really know much about what’s happening. For me, growing up, I didn’t learn about the LGBTQ+ community through my family. I mostly learned through the internet, whereas if my older relatives learned about it, it would be through their kids. With the lack of conversation or the lack of access to learn about what’s happening, I think that’s where the real gap lies with Gen Z and Boomers. Even though what the older man said was wrong, maybe it was a Cultural Criticism | 15


good thing that he said it. Not only did it turn into a learning opportunity for him, but it was a moment where I learned something too. I always hear that it’s rude to correct older people and that you should know your place, but I’m happy someone younger than him stepped in. There are common sayings that go, “If you don’t like how things are, change it” and “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and that’s not going to happen if I keep this idea that I shouldn’t correct someone who is older than me. The first step may be small, but it could have a huge impact later on. Maybe the man who got corrected will have a changed mindset and will share that knowledge with others who don’t support the LGBTQ+ community. It may be true that older generations are more conservative and right-leaning, and it is true that there are tons of differences between Gen Z and Boomers. But what I find to be true after that experience is that we should not just make fun of Boomers for not knowing how things are today. Rather, we should spend time to spark these uncomfortable dialogues as a way to create a bridge between the generations. Older people have different beliefs but some are willing to listen and learn, and that willingness should not be wasted. ♦

Police brutality needs to stop BY JAIDA PINA To state officials,

Thousands of people around the world are well aware of ongoing issues regarding racism. As a 16-year-old rising junior, I am writing to you today to address my concerns about police brutality. Police brutality is the use of excessive force, racial profiling and, in some cases, verbal harassment. It is a constant fight for justice for the countless people that have been killed or assaulted by a police officer who abuses their power. Under no circumstance should anyone have to fight for their life against the people who are supposed to protect us. I have seen both the way people react to police and the ways that police act around people. A few years ago an argument was happening on my street and it got out of hand but my neighbors were very hesitant to call the police; it was almost as if they were afraid that it wasn’t going to help. After someone convinced my neighbors to call the authorities, they arrived a few minutes later and managed to break up the fight. When asking what happened, one of the people involved raised their voice ever so slightly and the police officer moved his hand towards his weapon and took a step back. I was 13 when this happened, and since then I have never really been comfortable with police either. Every time I see them around I’ve always kept my distance. No one should be afraid of someone that you are supposed to trust with your life, but sadly that isn’t the 16 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

case. Samuel Sinyangwe, a data scientist and activist who leads Mapping Police Violence, wrote that in 2019 there were only 27 days where police did not kill someone. In comparison to today, 598 people have been killed by police in the last seven months. This makes 2020 the record-holder for the most police killings during the first seven months of any year. In addition, there has been no accountability! 99% of killings by police from 2013-2019 have not resulted in officers being charged with a crime, including the officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor in her own home. The Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR) is intended to protect American Law Enforcement personnel from investigation and prosecution. This has proven to be effective in many of the cases we see today and those in the past. If the police knew they weren’t going to be protected would they still be as violent? Or would they stop completely? Why do we protect law enforcement from prosecution or investigation anyways? We are all human and we should all be held accountable for our actions. As protests erupt around the country in efforts to stop police brutality and provide justice for those in need, it is clear that this will not stop anytime soon. We should not return to living our lives and turn our back on thousands of people who deal with this on a day-to-day basis. This is not something we should ignore, and to stop it we need to: 1. Track the problem 2. Demilitarize the police 3. Invest in community-based alternatives instead of the police Instead of investing thousands of dollars in the police, we should use that money for things we need like housing, education, health care and even food. These funds will be going towards things that will increase safety in our communities. If you provided more funding for education, housing or food, hundreds of people would be off the streets with a chance to have stable lives. Lastly, if we want to increase the safety of the citizens in the U.S., we need to provide a safe space where people feel comfortable enough to interact with police instead of being afraid. In order to do that we first need to find out how police are being trained, why they resort to violence and what we


can do to stop them from acting this way. Elected officials across the United States — use your power and help keep us safe. Track the problem, demilitarize, invest in alternatives and end police brutality for good. Don’t ignore the issue, be a part of the change and end the cycle. Sincerely, Jaida Pina

To stop [police brutality] we need to:

TRACK THE PROBLEM DEMILITARIZE THE POLICE INVEST IN COMMUNITYBASED ALTERNATIVES INSTEAD OF THE POLICE

Help the Uighurs BY NYLA HAYWARD-GIBBS

The Uighurs are a Muslim ethnic minority group that is mainly in the northwestern part of China, Xinjiang. They are village-dwelling people and live in mountainous areas. However, these people are being put in concentration camps by the Han Chinese government. These camps are also holding other groups such as Kazakhs and Uzbeks. They are arresting people for going to mosques, visiting Muslim-populated countries like Turkey, having more than three chil-

dren and singing messages from their Quranic verses. The government has also forced thousands of women and men to marry Han Chinese people, and to have children with them so they can try to get rid of the Uighur bloodline. They also have to name these children with traditional Han names, instead of traditional Muslim names like Fatima or Mohammad. The government has also sent workers to live with some of these families to make sure they aren’t talking about anything related to their religion whatsoever. This honestly makes me feel so sick. These concentration camps are inhumane and nobody should ever be put through this again since millions of Jews dealt with this in the Holocaust. The world is turning a blind eye to what is happening to the Uighurs in China right now. This isn’t fair, and if they weren’t a group of minorities in China, then they would be free like us to walk around and enjoy life without being punished for their spiritual beliefs. The Chinese government is doing this due to them feeling as though the Uighurs have always been “backward.” During the last decade, Beijing has seen the Uighurs as a terrorist group — this allows them to not feel pity for what they are doing to these poor people. Many countries are turning a blind eye to this crisis, and one of them is the United States. Donald Trump believes that what China is doing to the Uighurs is the right thing to do. This honestly isn’t shocking, since he does the same thing to Mexican people who are just trying to be here to get a better life. I am writing to people of the world. We can solve this problem by bringing more awareness and putting China in the spotlight to make them realize that what they’re doing is wrong. Although they may not agree with the world’s opinions, we can still fight and try our hardest to make a point. Also, the Chinese government has blocked all types of social media due to them thinking it would make their people more “western”. We can raise more awareness by protests since those are verbal and sharing on social media so more and more people will know about what’s going on at the moment. Petitions can also be signed, but other than that, there’s not much we can do to help. Hopefully one day this all ends, and the Chinese government gets consequences for what they’ve done to these innocent people. ♦

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Colorism exists and it’s serious

Growing up in the Caribbean, in Haiti, where most people are dark-skinned, I would always see lightskinned people being treated better. The worst part was that most of the time it would be my own family members telling me things like that. This decreased my confidence all the way down. An uncle who I was pretty close to was one of them. I used to see him every day except weekends, and we had a good relationship because he is a fun person. But I remember getting called “ti nwè” which means “little dark” in Haitian Creole. Every time that happened I would feel like I was ugly. I would feel so uncomfortable at that point that I wanted to cry, especially because he always said it in front of other people. It made me always feel like I was less than everyone else. The most devastating part is that other people would think it was normal and laugh at me too, which led me to think something was wrong with me. I also grew up with one of my mixed cousins, and we were treated very differently in the house and outside. She would always get better treatment. I remember being told I couldn’t have certain food like boxed mac and cheese or ravioli when she would ask for it. I was told that because she’s half Cuban she might have other tastes, but I was full Haitian so I could only eat Haitian food.

A photo of the author. STACIE BRUILLANT

BY STACIE BRUILLANT Editor’s note: The next two articles discuss mental health, selfinjury and suicide. If you’re struggling, please reach out to one of the supports listed below. If you are interested in mental health treatment, you can research options and apply for financial support using the To Write Love on Her Arms Find Help Tool at https://twloha.com/find-help. If you are in crisis, you can reach the Samaritan’s Hotline by phone call or text message at 877.870.4673 or chat online at the Suicide Prevention Lifeline website https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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It would always confuse me seeing light-skinned people get treated better than me. I began to think “Oh, maybe you have to be light-skinned with long and curly or straight hair to be beautiful.” When I was very young, people would make fun of me by saying things like, “Why are you so dark?” “You could’ve taken your mom’s skin color,” or “Are you not ashamed of your darkness?” They would laugh by saying these things like it was a joke. I felt so bad about myself at the time; I just wanted to be dead and reborn again as my cousin so I could be treated like her. At the age of six, I was always saying that I wanted to bleach my skin because I wanted to be beautiful. Every day while taking my shower I would wash my body multiple times thinking I would come out lighter. Now that I’m thinking about it, I think that this is very sad and nobody should ever go through it. I was determined to bleach my skin once I had money, and it broke my heart when I realized that my family wasn’t stopping me or telling me that I’m beautiful the


way I am. I still thank God until this day that I never had the chance to start bleaching for real. As mentioned, growing up in a country where the majority of people are Black, I shouldn’t be worrying about stuff like that. When I came to the United States I expected it to be worse, but it was better — even if there is still a lot of discrimination going on. I have always lived with my aunt and my grandmother, but at one point I think everyone made fun of my skin and it was painful. The only person that I can say never says anything about my skin is my mother, and I really appreciate her for this. In the U.S., I met people who have gone through the same things as me and have comforted me. They reminded me of how beautiful I am no matter what my skin looks like. They really helped me regain confidence in myself. I came here at the age of 15 and it wasn’t until the age of 17 that I really started to love myself fully because of the people I’ve met, and I’m so grateful. To be honest, I feel like if I was still living in Haiti, I wouldn’t know what it means to be confident. And I’m not saying that to put my country down because I love where I’m from and I love my family. But in that way, they did not do a good job. Colorism is the same as racism, but it’s prejudice towards the same race. It is as big an issue as all the world’s other issues, and people should be talking about it more. It comes from discriminating against people for having darker skin, and it goes both ways where darker-skinned people also discriminate against people with lighter skin sometimes. I think most people who have experience with colorism believe it. A lot of people don’t believe it because they have never experienced it. It’s not a one-place thing, it’s everywhere. Before, because I wasn’t educated enough, I thought people were right and that something was really wrong with my complexion. Then I realized that they are wrong, and no one should experience this. Now it is my job to make sure others know about it, which is why I’m not ashamed to tell my story — as devastating as it is — so people can learn and start making changes. It’s time for us to start seeing colorism as a real problem. I need this to be taken seriously because it can lead to a lot of other problems like depression, selfharm and so on. ♦

“ ”

I still thank God until this day that I never had the chance to start bleaching for real.

The stigma with teen mental health Teens and young adults don’t talk about their mental health enough. BY ANESHIA ALEXANDER Perhaps because they are ashamed, or maybe they feel written off by adults and don’t feel like they can express themselves to the right people. Even if many of us know it’s important to talk about mental health, we often stray away from talking about it. We may pass it off as “teenage angst,” but in reality, there is so much more is going on. Some of us lift others up in a time of need, but at the same time, we forget to think of ourselves and our own needs in the process. We need to talk to our teens and check in with them on how they are doing and feeling. If they are looking for someone to talk to, let’s get them the help they need. If they claim they are fine, make sure they know that asking for or needing help is always okay and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Resources and support systems will always be ready and waiting for them. In 2014, 40% of teens in the United States have been counseled in a clinic, according to the American Psychologist Association (APA). This number is far too low when we have so many qualified people nationwide to help. Government spending has been unhelpful, with only 5.5% of the healthcare budget spent on mental health. Certainly, given the challenges that teens are facing, there should be more money and greater access to mental health for teens. This is especially true for teens that are unable to get help; they don’t have the money for care and the government won’t increase spending on this important issue. According to the World Health Organization, suicide is the third leading cause of death for individuals aged 15-19. Suicide is not random. Oftentimes, these thoughts and plans have been building up for a while. It’s heartbreaking to think Cultural Criticism | 19


that so many of these young people thought dying was better than living. Some teens might have felt alone, while others might have felt unneeded. Whatever the reason, if someone took the time to talk to them and offer them the help they needed, so many of these outcomes could end up less tragic. Talking out about a problem or a feeling can make us feel so much better. Maybe talking is not enough to fix or solve whatever challenges persist, but trying to make a difference is certainly a good starting place. Some teens turn to substance use or abuse as a way to cope with what they are going through. They believe drinking alcohol or doing drugs can help them feel better. In an article focusing on teen mental health and substance abuse, the Child Mind Institute explains that substance use can quiet negative thoughts that plague depressed kids. These methods aren’t just an outlet to stop bad thoughts, they are also tools teens use to cheer themselves up, lift spirits, and distract from problems at hand. Substance use and abuse aren’t the only way teens cope with their mental health. Some also take unnecessary risks. The World Health Organization states, “Taking risks can be both an unhelpful strategy to cope with poor mental health and can severely impact on adolescents’ mental health and well-being.” While taking these risks may be invigorating for teens, like alcohol and drugs the high they are chasing is only temporary. As a result, teens are ultimately putting themselves at greater risk for harm. Some might say that teens cannot have mental health issues because they are “too young” and do not yet understand themselves. In reality, teen and young adult years are the prime age for self-discovery. Teens are self-aware; our emotions can be strong, and we need to be able to talk to someone. The simple act of listening can change the whole world for a teen going through a difficult time. Just knowing that someone is taking the time to talk, showing how much they care and validating these difficult feelings is powerful; it might just save a life. That’s why going to a mental health professional can help open up conversations about serious problems like depression, anxiety or other important issues and challenges affecting mental health. We are never “too young” to understand ourselves on an elevated level and know how to find ways to examine our mental health in a healthy, successful way. Let’s all try to listen or talk or try to understand each other to help make sure any of our friends going through a tough time can get the help they need and deserve. How different would it be if we all took more time to talk to teens, understand their feelings and help lead them to the right resources? Think about this the next time you check in on your friends — let’s do better and be better. ♦

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Language is the key to a voice BY LILY CASTELLO

The cool evening air envelops me like a wellstarched coat, something I wished I’d thought to bring along. I survey the lines for lemonade and pizza, as well as the slowly-growing crowd. Some people begin to settle near the gargantuan screen. The diversity that surrounds me is breathtaking — every race, every culture, every sex, every background. A whole community came together with a sole purpose: to watch a movie in the park. I run behind the inflatable screen to check on the popcorn, soon emerging with a plastic trash bag full of popcorn bags. The other volunteers and I methodically pass out the bags, and soon the air is laced in buttery goodness. At the end of the front row, I approach a blanket where three Latina girls sit. The first two happily accept popcorn, but when I ask the last girl if she would like a bag, one of the first two says, “Sorry, she only speaks Spanish.” She quickly translates what I asked, and the girl politely accepts. Hesitantly, I say, “Hola. Me llama Lily. Como tu llama?” Her eyes brighten, and she says something quickly back in Spanish. I explain that I know very little of the language, and she simplifies her speech. I soon find that her name is Michelle. We spend time talking, at first verbally, but as I run out of words we resort to Google Translate. We talk about the basic things — what our favorite colors are, whether we are excited about the movie, where we’re from and the like. Using Google


Translate makes our conversation choppy and awkward, and we sit in relative quiet, writing things on our phones to show the other, just two teenage girls sitting on a blanket in the grass. The little light left fades quickly, and greasy hands are wiped on the grass in anticipation of the coming movie. I say goodbye to Michelle, walk back to my blanket and sit down. The opening music blares and the world on the screen envelops us. After the movie ends, the crowd trickles out of the field like water through a pair of cupped hands; slow, but deliberate. I wander and help break down where I can. The sky is a navy velvet, with stars like the stubborn flakes you always find after a spill. The air is crisp and breezy, and I make a few quick laps to warm myself up. I help carry things to the cars — a popcorn machine, the folding tables, the speakers. As I turn from the hatch of one car, I find Michelle and a middle-aged woman standing behind me. In beautiful broken English, the woman, who I find is Michelle’s aunt, tells me how grateful she is for my efforts to connect with Michelle. “No one has talked to her since she came,” she says. She wrings her hands, tears streaming down her face. I am too stunned to say a thing. Another volunteer walks by and notices the scene. She happens to be fluent in Spanish, and she and Michelle’s aunt talk rapidly. Michelle and I just smile at each other. Even though I never saw her again, I will always remember her. I have experienced similar circumstances over the years. First, with a little boy at the park who was extremely disappointed with my limited knowledge of Spanish. Short, hesitant conversations with the lady who cleaned our friend’s house. More recently I have practiced my Spanish with people I know, attempting to get ahead in my Spanish class. None of those situations shook my perception of language like this one. It gave me a love for language and the connections they make. Now, I devour language. I love my Spanish and Latin classes, and writing is my passion. My experience with Michelle showed me that words are valuable, and the lack of the right words can leave someone alone and voiceless. Whether you have words and can’t use them, or never had them in the first place, being without a voice is incredibly scary. So instead of leaving people who speak different languages than us to fend for themselves, we should reach out. Reach out with words, love and kindness; give them a voice and an advocate. So many people have no voice, so share yours. ♦ A student writing in a notebook. TEENS IN PRINT / FILE

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The one-size-fits-all model of public education is failing students BY ELLA VERI NDER For part of my elementary school years, I attended a school with a very arts-focused curriculum; one without traditional grades and a non-existent emphasis on standardized testing, except when the state-required exams rolled around. The school’s model was made as a counter to traditional, exam-based schooling, and focused on the various needs of students. It heavily incorporated art, music, games, frequent peer-socialization\ and movement into the lessons. This model worked well for many students but, as a very shy, academically-oriented person with a learning disorder that prevented any skill in art or sports, I struggled in this environment. Due to the model of the American public education system, this is a struggle that a lot of students have dealt with in some regard. Many have a hard time with essay writing or have felt stupid because they haven’t learned the math that their district’s standards say they should have learned at their age. This is because the public education system is incredibly one-size-fits-all; a model that’s failing students and teachers alike. Students have many needs for learning and varied ways to demonstrate what they know. Despite this, most classrooms still have all their students show mastery through essays, standardized assessments, discussions and projects with little variety. The few that break this mold and incorporate things like music, videography or art into their assessments still force all students to use one of these methods, rather than letting them choose what they think will best portray their knowledge. A student with a passion for academic writing could be forced to create a diorama, while a student at a different school who loves art and music could have to take a multiple-choice quiz. Both of them could understand the content well, but get a low grade simply because of the medium they were required to use. With an emphasis on how students show what they know, rather than on them knowing things, the education system sets many children up for academic failure. Along with hurting students on an academic level, the education system hurts students’ behavioral learning. One example of this comes from how schools enforce “good” behaviors and discourage “bad” ones. Many schools, especially with younger children, punish and/or reward kids publicly, so schools can uphold “model students” — the ones who conform to the school system’s rigid expectation of what appropriate behavior looks like. This simulta22 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

neously shames kids who don’t learn best from sitting still, or who joke because humor helps them understand concepts, making them look like they’re “worse” than their peers simply because of their learning style. In an opinion piece that speaks on the behavioral effects of the education system, elementary school teacher Lily Howard Scott describes how a model of behavior tracking that categorizes various behaviors by color, then assigns students’ names to the corresponding color can harm children. “A few students may benefit from the individualized, private support of a color-coded behavior plan,” she said. “But another student — who, let’s say, thrives on positive reinforcement — may become hysterical when his pin is moved from ‘good’ green to ‘less good’ yellow in front of all of his peers.” This is just one of many examples Howard Scott provides for how the education system has become too formulaic with the way it disciplines students, and how this can cause nothing but harm for some children, depending on their learning style and social-emotional development stage. What’s more, this harmful model doesn’t just hurt students while they’re students. It has lingering impacts on them in their college and adult lives as well. One reason for this is that schools teach students to write for essays, tests and other standardized assessments almost exclusively. Jenny Miller, a former teacher and current teaching faculty and program supervisor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, says that the writing kids are taught in school doesn’t correlate with the “real world” writing they’ll need in the future. “Real world writing is not five-paragraph writing,” she said. “The kind of essays [students] learn to write for exams are not the kind of essays they’ll


learn to write in college.” This lack of “real world” writing is just one demonstration of how the school doesn’t prepare students for the future. We also see this when examining the classes that students in high school are required to take. Despite being just years from adulthood, the education system forces these kids into studying things like calculus and English literature, with little or no opportunities to learn common life skills, such as how to get a job, budget, or simply care for themselves and others. This problem only seems to be getting worse as classes like home economics and vocational electives are becoming nearly obsolete in the 21st century. The world expects students to be passive learners one day and productive members of society the next, with no preparation to be the latter. Students aren’t the only ones being harmed by the one-size-fits-all model of public education. This model also takes away from teachers and often stifles their abilities. Teachers who entered the field with a passion for education and a desire to teach students in creative ways find themselves forced to teach formulaic lessons, many that are only made to prepare students for standardized testing.

The ramifications of rising healthcare and drug prices BY HOLDEN MILLER

“Education reformers are pushing a routinized, one-size-fits-all approach to instruction and classroom culture,” Howard Scott explained. “[Teachers are] asked to ignore their instincts and faced with an increasingly systematized, deadening job.” This combination of uninspired teaching and difficult, generic standards can make the education experience a bad one for everyone involved. Yet, even with all these issues, the education system isn’t a lost cause. For one thing, the increasing commonality of alternatives to traditional, test-based curricula shows people are starting to recognize the need to reform, and that there is some possibility of change. Many teachers are also optimistic about newer standards in education, such as Common Core, that rely more on student mastery than just letter grades. Miller even says that many of these standards are helpful both to students and teachers as they measure student understanding and bring more diversity to what teachers are required to teach. She explains that many standards in education are valuable and that the problems come from only having one way to measure students meeting them. All this to say, the education system, despite its problems, has the potential to be a system that truly helps, educates and prepares children for the real world. But until it’s been reformed, it won’t reach that potential. That’s why it’s so important that we continue to call out these problems, support diversity in both teachers and teaching styles and encourage student creativity. The education system can change for the better, but it will go nowhere unless people continue to fight for that reform. For if the education system changes enough to allow one more student to feel successful or one more teacher to trust their expertise, it means that progress is truly possible. ♦

Equipment for testing blood sugar. MYKENZIE JOHNSON / UNSPLASH

How much, annually, do you think the U.S. spends on healthcare? The answer is a whopping $3.8 trillion. According to a survey conducted in 2016 by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 29% of the 2,575 people interviewed struggled to pay their non-medical bills like rent and food as a result of medical debt. Now, one doesn’t have to be a doyen in the field of medicine or economics to know that this is ridiculous. The truth is, hospitals are lucrative. These vital healthcare institutions are often for-profit, not for Cultural Criticism | 23


ensuring everyone’s health regardless of income. These for-profit hospitals get their medicine from for-profit drug companies, individuals get their prescriptions from for-profit drug companies … and so on! The nature of for-profit hospitals and drug producers means lives are not the concern — profit is. Concurrently, there is a concerning lack of regulation on the prices of drugs and hospital visits. The Kaiser Family Foundation collected data in May 2018 revealing that, on average, other first world countries spend half as much money per capita on healthcare as the U.S. Even Switzerland, infamous for its inflated prices, has cheaper hospital stays! This imposes high expectations for the quality of medical care, and, by extension, medical professionals are given little to no leeway when it comes to error. Harsh legal consequences may await doctors whose patients experience unexpected outcomes. This is the crux of defensive medicine, another factor in rising healthcare costs. Defensive medicine is when doctors order unnecessary tests and procedures to avoid a highly unlikely possibility that there is a worse underlying issue. If there’s a 0.5% chance a small medical issue could be a major one, a doctor might order thousands of dollars in tests to make sure that the unlikely complication doesn’t exist. If it did exist and the doctor did not order the additional tests, the patient could sue for malpractice which might jeopardize the doctor’s career. If the unlikely complication didn’t actually exist, it would be a waste of money to get the tests done. Defensive medicine shouldn’t have to be practiced, but it is, and that’s a flaw with malpractice law and lack of regulations. Health costs can be reduced while still improving the system. The prospect of having to choose between affording groceries and receiving medical care is a scary one, which is why this is an important topic, especially during a pandemic. What can be done? Drugs and prescriptions are overpriced. According to an article by Singlecare, a private prescription drug savings plan provider, one 10 ml vial of insulin, a vital prescription for diabetics, can cost as much as $250. Some diabetics require six vials of insulin a month, and then there’s the added price of other equipment like syringes. One would think insulin is expensive to produce. Unfortunately, the exorbitant sums are a result of pharmaceutical companies being largely unregulated. A 2018 study cited by Business Insider found that a vial of human insulin costs roughly between $2.28 and $3.42, and a vial of analog, genetically altered insulin between $3.69 and $6.16. While this information does not account for various other costs, such as quality assurance, it makes one thing clear: insulin is cheap to produce yet sold at criminally high rates. Pharmaceutical companies must be held accountable for the gross exploitation of diabetics and any other people overcharged for treatments. They need to be forced to charge fair rates. It is extortion to overcharge for life-saving medicines. Unfortunately, the cost of insulin, as well as other prescription drugs, is only rising. 24 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

The prospect of having to choose between affording groceries and receiving medical care is a scary one, which is why this is an important topic, especially during a pandemic.

Also, doctors should be paid less. According to a Physician Compensation Report published in May by Medscape, primary care providers earned an average of $243,000 and specialists an average of $346,000. Reducing doctors’ pay would cut healthcare costs by significant amounts and force medical schools to lower tuition to accommodate this. The most common argument is that doctors are hard-working, and their high rate of pay is needed to justify the years of schooling, residency, and hard work. This is true, but doctors most certainly wouldn’t be financially stressed if their pay was cut in half. Nurses and nurse practitioners perform many tasks doctors do, with grueling schooling, but they aren’t paid enough to live in luxury. Many other countries’ doctors are paid half of what an American doctor is paid. With all this in mind, just think past the numbers. Think about lives. People need medicines and healthcare to survive. When prices go down, deaths go down. It is our responsibility to advocate for lower healthcare prices from for-profit hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. ♦


Therapy access: the unfair truth

My family has to wait on services that we never received and were promised to us and many others, all because of our area code. BY JHADA NICHOLAS

It was a Tuesday morning and the sun was shining as I opened each window in our two-family house. I was sitting on our washed-out gray couch with the fan blowing cool air toward me. I was studying my little brother as he ran back and forth from couch to couch, which is one of his favorite exercises to do throughout the day. He was watching his favorite YouTube channel, which consists of nursery rhymes and funky-looking characters. He jumped up and down and clapped his hands every time they did something that sparked his excitement. My little brother is three years old and has autism. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that occurs on a spectrum, meaning that there are different challenges that a child may face. Some of those challenges could be not being able to talk, getting stuck in repetitive behavior or problems with social interactions. He’s just like every other little boy and girl; he just interacts differently socially and behaviorally. Right now he is non-verbal, so he will make noises to go along with the built-up excitement that he has. There are many types of therapy that could help my brother, like A.B.A., which helps with behavior, occupational therapy that helps someone develop life skills they may need and speech therapy. None of the specialists that he needs are able to come to our neighborhood due to high demand and a lack of specialists in the field. A friend of our family lives in West Roxbury and is able to get specialists, but it’s not the same in Mattapan. So, his seven-letter name sits on a forever-long waiting list. After watching my brother for a little while, I decided to go and get something to eat. I opened the fridge door and found nothing that piqued my interest, so I settled for a speckled banana that was sitting on our overcrowded counter. My sister had finally woken up from her beauty sleep and joined my brother in the living room. I decided to stay in the kitchen and catch up on what was happening on social media.

The author’s brother. JHADA NICHOLAS

A few minutes later, I heard a huge crash and then horrendous cries. My brother doesn’t normally cry like that unless he’s hurt himself pretty badly. Dropping everything in hand, I ran to my brother whose face was red with tears rushing down his cheeks. I asked my sister what happened, and she said he tripped. In a panic, I searched his Cultural Criticism | 25


body for any sign of hurt, but I couldn’t seem to find anything. As he screamed bloody murder in my ear, I brought him to my mom who was able to calm him down. She also searched my brother’s body and found nothing. She asked me what happened and all I could do was repeat my sister’s words. A week later my mother asked me if I could change my brother’s shirt. His big brown eyes wandered as I put on a blue-and-white-striped tank top. As I’m putting it on, I noticed a big red graze behind his ear that seemed to be healing up. It took me back as I realized that this was the reason why he was crying in such agony the week before. He must have scraped the back of his ear. My heart sank, and I wished I noticed sooner. The media makes it seem there’s a lot of help for people who have disabilities, and I had believed it at first because it was not something I had to deal with until my brother was born. It’s sad to think that my brother could have told us out loud what happened if he had the right help. I want my brother to sing his ABCs and 123s. I want him to be able to call our names when he wants something. Now there are even bigger reasons why I need him to talk. Even if he can’t use his words to talk, there are other tools out there that can help with communication that we do not have access to. He could have told us what was wrong. It’s scary to think that something more serious could happen to my brother and we wouldn’t know. Many homes like mine are dealing with the same thing as they hold countless worries on their shoulders. My family has to wait on services that we never received and were promised to us and many others, all because of our area code. ♦

BAHA BEAMAN / FILE BAHA BEAMAN / FILE

Adolescents and internet access Presenting the idea of internet safety as early as possible is likely to improve adolescents’ response to dangerous situations. BY JUSTIS PORTER

At 10 years old, Annie Burns was targeted online when she met a man on Google+. Although her experience with this man was in the short span of a few months, their interactions left her scarred. After Burns spent hours talking to this man, he convinced her that they had a mutually beneficial relationship when, in reality, he had alternative motives. He often relied on her to emotionally support him and used her for his gain. Now looking back, Burns said, “I just wish I didn’t talk to people online when I was that young.” 26 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE


A YouTube feed featuring Shane Dawson and David Dobrik, two creators who have been criticized for racist content.

Adolescents should be educated about internet safety, and their actions should be monitored until they can navigate the internet safely. With this happening to hundreds of children worldwide, action must be taken to combat it. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2018, 94% of children ages 3-18 years old had internet access with 88% of them mainly having computer access at home. The COVID-19 pandemic only increased the already-high percentage of adolescents having internet access. During the current pandemic, people have resorted to communicating and learning in ways we would not have before. Parents often allow their children to use their internet-connected devices without time restrictions, seemingly as the only source of entertainment for their child. Although adults are often quick to sniff out a scam or danger, children cannot do those things as easily. Children are often curious about the world, and when that world is without limits, easily within their reach, it is easy for a child to be misguided. With the rebellious nature of adolescents and their abundant knowledge of the internet and technology, it isn’t hard for teens to find themselves in dangerous situations that they may keep private. Social media, group chats, websites and other forms of digital communication are all often abused for dangerous situations.

Over the years of internet challenges such as the “Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge” or the “Sharpie challenge,” it is only natural that more sinister challenges are bred from these. The majority of “scary” challenges which make their way around the internet are fake, but there are still some that target vulnerable adolescents. One of the most infamous challenges is the “Blue Whale Challenge,” supposedly created in 2013. This challenge required young people to comply with a certain set of demands each, many of which were dangerous acts, and to report back to whoever was behind the demand chats. If this list of demands was not met, the victim was threatened with consequences such as cyberbullying, harassment, stalking, hacking, and etc. Many impressionable children partook in this challenge, and some died. This, of course, was not the end of these challenges. It is evident that challenges such as these, which target adolescents, are bound to keep appearing. This is why the safety and education of adolescents is Cultural Criticism | 27


important. The effects of dangerous situations a child may find themselves in are infinite. According to the NSPCC, online abuse of adolescents can lead to anxiety, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts and more. In most cases, a lack of education or acknowledgment from both adolescents and parental figures is present. With this, it is evident that online child abuse could greatly decrease if everyone was educated properly. As parents often give their children internet access, it can only be assumed that they will thoroughly educate their children about being online. However, this is not always the case. With new chats, platforms and language, it is no surprise that parents often find themselves out of touch with what their children are doing online. This issue has increased with COVID-19 forcing most adolescents to increase their internet usage. By presenting the idea of internet safety and what to do in dangerous situations to adolescents as early as possible, it is likely to improve adolescents’ response to dangerous situations. Setting restrictions on websites, explaining how to stay safe online, monitoring your child’s internet activity and having an open line of communication are all ways to keep your child safe online. Meryl Alper, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Northeastern University, wrote, “Children need to feel confident and comfortable coming to their parents with the problems that they face, including those on the internet.” When it comes to keeping adolescents safe, the best route of action we can take is education. Teaching youth about the dangers, traps and behaviors of people we meet online can help youth navigate their online interactions, and help them identify what steps they may need to take if they end up in a dangerous situation. ♦

The downfall of the great Donald Trump BY HIWAN MARU

Donald Trump: reality TV star, billionaire and the 45th President of the United States. On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump won the highest seat in the country, which many begged — pleaded — to not come true. While Trump’s supporters brought out the red, white and blue banners following his controversial win, the very loud outrage seen all over social media did not go unnoticed. Countless people from all over the world professed their anger, sadness and confusion with the results of the 2016 presidential election, including celebrities. Katy Perry, a famous American pop singer who repeatedly showed support for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, reminded Americans to not feel defeated over the election, tweeting: “Do not sit still. Do not weep.” Although that election was quite possibly the most talked-about election most of us have ever seen, the shock of so many indicated that other underlying reasons played a bigger role in why Trump won. But why was the turnout of the 2020 presidential election so different from that one? Was the fear of keeping Trump in office the ammunition of this year’s surge in political promotions on the internet? Or did Trump lose followers over the past four years with his careless, money-driven, white supremacist self? I believe both played a role in Biden convincingly beating Trump. The countless disrespectful remarks Trump has spat at others, especially women, and the lack of political experience behind him called for a loss, so imagine the shock on my naive 13-year-old face when I found out Clinton lost to him. I was not alone. Researchers at Pew Research Center conducted a poll where an astounding 73% of voters, including ones in support of Trump, felt shocked when they learned of Trump’s win. During Trump’s presidential term, he not only frequently used discriminatory ideology against minorities but also disregarded issues that demanded his attention, such as police brutality, climate change and so on. According to the American Progress Action Fund, Trump, in a speech from 2017, encouraged officers to have a more violent approach to handling lawbreakers or even just potential offenders: “Please don’t be too nice.” Jeremy Venook beautifully explains in the article, “Trump’s Record on Police Brutality and Peaceful Protests: Making the Problem Worse” that Trump does not look to solve issues for the sake of protecting civilians, but rather how to

28 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE


silence the hurt. Additionally, Trump has gone on record multiple times expressing very little care for the coronavirus outbreak. Just earlier this year, in a speech at a resort in Florida, he responded to a reporter who asked how worried he was about the rising number of cases of COVID in Washington, D.C. with the following: “No, I’m not concerned at all.” Trump’s tendency to not take action when the time calls for it became clearer throughout his term; therefore, people, regardless of what political party they identified with, realized that Trump should not be the voice of the American people. Although the argument that Trump had the potential as a visionary to improve America has valid aspects to it, like his understanding of the simplicity of smuggling illegal substances from countries bordering the U.S., Trump’s continuous negligence significantly hurts the very system Americans have spent centuries trying to build. Lots of Trump’s defenders still to this day actively fail to acknowledge the undeniable truth of Trump’s poor handling of his presidency, however, their voices are fortunately overwhelmed as the fight against Trump is louder, which shows as we now have a new president. ♦

There’s more than one way to be nonbinary BY MAKAYLA ROBINSON

Flat chest. Short hair. Androgynous. All three checked? Then the typical cis, straight person will accept you. Anything else is questioned immediately. Growing up in a liberal state, I didn’t think that anyone would try to invalidate my own identity — especially here in Boston, where people are strong advocates for LGBTQ+ rights and typically vote Democrat in state and national elections. But I was once questioned by someone who was basically asking why I didn’t look like what I said I was. The feeling of invalidation slowly crept in, like a cool breeze in warm weather. Soon after that, I started comparing myself to my nonbinary friends. At the time, they did fit into what they said they were ... but not me. I started to question myself once again. I knew I wasn’t the gender I was assigned at birth. I also knew that I wasn’t the opposite either. It sucked that an identity had to be proven. It felt like a best friend turned into a total stranger — but the entire feeling is towards you and yourself. If one was to go on Instagram three years ago and look up nonbinary it would be a lot different than what you would see today. The

A non-binary flag pin. NITO / ADOBE STOCK

most popular search result would have a person who is the perfect blend of masculinity and femininity with skin clear as day. I looked completely different than what the media told me I should look like, and, eventually, that did not stop me from being me anymore. The media has a huge influence on how people think about others and certain groups of people. It’s not only media that plays a role; gendered items in stores and gender roles in everyday life end up shaping people’s ideas about nonbinary people and cause confusion. There is no “nonbinary section” in the stores yet. And the craziest thing is, putting one there most likely won’t solve many problems. ♦ Cultural Criticism | 29


Black history in American schools BY BENDU DAVID

It’s the beginning of the school year and you’ve just entered your United States history class. As you sit at your desk you’re given a piece of paper — a syllabus that details the topics that will be covered during the school year. You skim over the contents: Pre-Colonialism, Colonization, American Revolution, U.S. Presidents, Manifest Destiny, The Great Depression, World War I, World War II, Civil Rights Movement. You take a closer look at the Civil Rights Movement heading, which directs you to look further down the syllabus and see that it’s being taught for a good two weeks right before break. As the school year goes on, you can’t help but notice that the content being taught in 11th-grade history is the same stuff you learned in previous years. The only thing that’s changed — depending on where you live — is that you now learn Columbus did not discover the New World. When it comes to Black history, however, you realize it’s condensed to the teachings of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement — almost as if Black people don’t have history outside of these two periods. You sit through yet another lesson about how Martin Luther King Jr. was against violence, therefore making him a better person than the oh-so-notorious Malcolm X who you’ve never learned much about aside from his “radicalism.” You learn about Rosa Parks and how she refused to give up her seat, but as you speak to a friend from another state about how you’re feeling, you come to find that they are not aware that she refused to give up her seat at all. You come to find they aren’t aware of sectionalism, or of the bus boycotts that followed. You sit in front of your laptop and teach yourself things you were never taught in school. For example, M.L.K. wasn’t against violent forms of resistance, Malcolm X’s views were only seen as radical because they didn’t appease white ears and Shirley Chisolm was the first African American woman to run for the presidency in a major party in 1972. You learn about the ways in which enslaved people carried on and kept faith and hope. You realize that what you’ve been learning in school is sanitized, greatly lacking in substance and essentially inadequate information on Black history. It has a name, the “Master Narrative.” Now you’re left with one question: why is Black history so condensed, sanitized and incorrectly taught in schools? Black history is inadequately taught in American schools. This, 30 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

along with the “Master Narrative,’’ has resulted in a disconnect between the actual truth and what people believe to be true history, ultimately creating an inaccurate understanding of Black history amongst Americans. This inadequacy further drives racial tensions and ignorance in this country. The “Master Narrative,” in relation to the Civil Rights Movement and Black history, is a narrative that emphasizes the idea that Black people waited patiently for freedom and obtained it through nonviolent means. It’s the idea that there was a common desire to resolve conflict by working together with the oppressor. It instills that all there was to the Civil Rights Movement was peaceful protests and that everything else was not as important. This narrative places a heavy emphasis on painting Black people in a light that doesn’t present them as “radical,” hence why MLK is taught to students in a different light than Malcolm X or how for some time Rosa Parks was described as being a tired elderly woman on the bus when in actuality her refusing to give up her seat was very intentional. Many Black educators feel as though the history being taught now, if not sanitized, is far too focused on violence and suffering rather than teaching issues like systematic and institutional racism or Black political figures and their achievements. A clear example of this inadequacy is how Juneteenth is not taught at all in schools. This important day in 1865 marked the day enslaved people of Galveston, Texas were freed. Juneteenth marks the end of slavery in the United States, yet so many Americans are completely unaware of this at all. LaGarrett King, director of Carter Center for K-12 Black History Education at the University of Missouri, said in an article for MySunCoast, “‘White people don’t acknowledge Juneteenth, but yet we’re supposed to be a country that believes in freedom. We have been taught July 4, 1776, is the real Independence Day, but it’s not. The vast majority of Black people were still enslaved.” Furthermore, schools across the country are not covering important aspects of Black history such as the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Party, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and more. Curriculums either breeze past or don’t touch on who figures like


Stokely Carmichael, Ella Baker and John Lewis were or what they did; and many schools do not teach about who or what COINTELPRO was and their involvement in dismantling the Black Panther Party. The history we are taught in schools is sanitized to a worrisome extent. Now, many will argue that there isn’t enough time in the year to properly teach Black history. That there are “so many history topics to cover in American history” that an extensive focus on Black history just wouldn’t work. There is also the argument that teachers are not equipped, skilled or knowledgeable enough to teach Black history. But all of these claims and statements are incorrect and prove only to be excuses created to avoid the problem that some teachers, schools, districts and states do not want to teach Black history properly. The idea that there are a ton of history topics is true — there is a lot to cover and as someone who took AP U.S. History in high school, I know this to be true. Our end-of-year paper was about a topic we wish we had covered more extensively during the school year. I wrote about the Black Panther Party and how it compares today to the Black Lives Matter movement. Upon doing my own research, I found out so much information I hadn’t known before — information I had never been taught in school at the time and even now as a senior. Information that had only been touched on in one of the classes I took, which happened to be an elective exclusively taught at my school. If there is “too much history” to teach, then the only solution for this, and for all the other problems presented, is to create a national curriculum for U.S. history. This curriculum would be taught to teachers who would then — regardless of state and school district — teach it to their students. If teachers are not equipped to teach Black history, they should not be teaching at all. The inadequacy with which Black history is taught in the U.S. and the sanitization of Black history is harmful to us. I want those reading this to leave with the understanding that even you are a victim of these inadequacies and have been taught lessons of the Master Narrative. I want readers to leave with the understanding that this is not okay, and that something needs to be done about it. The lack of in-depth Black history taught in schools across the United States results in professionals in fields of health, business, politics and more, as well as leaders and government officials of this country, being uneducated and ignorant about the histories of the people they serve and the histories of their own constituents. As we continue to see the ways in which this country continues to move, the lack of understanding and care for Black history will cause only more harm. Until a national curriculum is instituted or until states mandate that Black history be taught throughout the school year, we can only educate ourselves. ♦

Students work on computers outside. TEENS IN PRINT / FILE Cultural Criticism | 31


Necessary improvements for our foster care system BY EMMETT HUGHES Governor Baker, Here in Boston, there have been recent efforts to improve our foster care system with what we have been given. Mayor Walsh has begun improving communications with foster parents and making promises to continue to better the system here as a whole. However, there are still some serious issues with what happens in the foster care system — and more so what happens to transition-age youth. Too many young adults who are leaving or have left the foster care system are not given the support that they should be, and too often they experience homelessness or become unable to sustain themselves. At the age of 18, now-adults in foster care are emancipated from the system, also known as “aging out.” As legal adults, in many cases they are presented with all of the responsibilities that other people their age would be able to share with their parents or guardians. However, with the majority of them being removed from their parents because of neglect, abuse or other inabilities to cope with the responsibility of taking care of a child, many of them do not have any safety net that everyone needs at such a vulnerable age. As a result, in the following two years, more than a quarter of these youth will experience homelessness. Yet the solution needs to be more than just keeping in touch — because 90% have been connected with an adult in those two years yet youth still experience homelessness. This indicates that a further step needs to be taken in order to give financial and educational support to these individuals before and after their release from the foster care system. The way I see it, an “easy” solution to this issue of homelessness or lack of a safety net would be to dedicate more funding to providing the necessary resources and connections to create an extra layer of fiscal and emotional security. The “money side” of it all could be covered through housing dedicated to the emancipated youth or financial aid programs to set them up on their own. Either way, I think a critical step in making this happen would be to create some sort of curriculum for emancipated youth to follow in order to prepare them for this all-too-sudden switch to an individual lifestyle. After reviewing the budget of the Department of Children and 32 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

Families (DCF), I understand that there is clearly a lot of money and resources dedicated to not only supporting youth in the foster care system but also their families. That’s why a source of education on how to make connections, become employed and set yourself up for a functioning life is essential — because while all of this money is being poured into social workers, grants, funds and other functions to help get these now-adults living on their own or go seek higher education, a quarter of them are still ending up homeless within the next two years. Now, it’s easy to say that all of these systems are in place to prevent that from happening, and while it’s true, it doesn’t make sense to continue doing what we’ve been doing for years. There aren’t many people who ever have to manage their entire life on their own — and nobody should ever have to. So as a unit, DCF needs to make sure that they help build connections and strong relationships for these kids and improve their communication with the emancipated youth in order to ensure their sustained safety. That is why soon I am hoping to see some well-needed improvements in our foster care system — starting here in Massachusetts — that will make sure that none of these kids become homeless, and especially not 25% of them. Thank you, Emmett Hughes Tenth Grade Boston Latin School

MORE THAN 25% OF YOUTH AGING OUT OF THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM WILL EXPERIENCE HOMELESSNESS IN THEIR FIRST TWO YEARS OUT OF THE SYSTEM.


onion grow. Knowing that I contributed to the end result is really fun and enjoyable for me. On Instagram, I was following an artist who does a lot of nature-inspired pieces. They posted their resin projects and a lot of them included having dried flowers encapsulated into the resin. I love seeing the flowers on the farm, but always missed them when the blooming season was over. Resin seemed like a good way to remember the flowers that bloomed and keep them with me forever!

A person weighs and prepares resin for a project. THIRDMAN / PEXELS

Not everything is about profit BY YASMIN MOHAMED

Over the December break, I started to try out resin crafting. Resin is a liquid that cures in 24 hours when mixed with a hardener. I set some lo-fi on, put on a face mask to protect me from the fumes and got to work. It was a horrible experience, and it was pretty obvious I was ill-prepared. My resin liquid started off horribly. While I did have equal amounts of hardener and resin, I had disregarded the instructions of stirring slowly. Instead, I mixed it like I had an electric hand mixer. The clear concoction turned cloudy and bubbly, and not in a way that looked like raindrops falling on a window — it looked identical to a toddler’s tantrum snot. Hastily trying to get rid of the bubbles, I put my cup into hot water. This did little to help and only sped up the curing time and ruined any chances of it curing correctly. It looked like a sludge villain. My phone and hands were sticky beyond belief. Discouraged, I cleaned up and put all of my materials in a box and didn’t pick it up for months.

Before trying resin art, I did studio painting. While it was fun at first, It got really draining. I didn’t like how things could look “wrong” or look “right”. It was a self-portrait I had to paint, and the idea of me getting how I look wrong was discouraging. I mean … I look at my face the most out of everyone! I also didn’t really enjoy planning and pitching projects. It quickly came to feel that my art needed approval from someone else, and having to pitch a new painting over and over again is tiring. Art is subjective, but I was obviously limited in what pitches were approved. I learned that studio painting wasn’t for me, and I enjoyed just making things for the sake of doing so, even if it could be observed as weird, or wrong. Buying resin materials can add up and get a bit pricey. Epoxy resin isn’t cheap at all! I was okay with spending money if it meant I would enjoy the time invested in creating new pieces. My friend told me that I would be able to make the money back if I sold the art, and it set a nagging feeling in me. I wanted to experiment with resin because of my own curiosity — I didn’t want to create art for profit. If I did, I’d have to worry about my errors. I was already busy enough. I didn’t want to add on another responsibility. Growing up, we’re always told that things we are good at can become our careers. If you’re good at coding, you should work in computer science. If you’re a great football player, maybe you’ll go pro. I’d like to think I’m a decent gardener, but I don’t think I’d become a farmer or florist. Most of my hobbies are just things that I want to keep as hobbies; they bring low stress and enjoyment and that’s okay. ♦

As someone who is very hands-on for most of my hobbies, like baking and gardening, being able to touch and observe with my hands is really important. Seeing a cake rise is similar to watching a green Cultural Criticism | 33


Girls’ basketball players gather during a game. ZOË POWELL-MCCROEY

My experience as a student athlete BY ZOË POWELL-MCCROEY

As I walked into the chilly classroom on that November morning, I instantly realized that I was the only Black kid in the class. This was not something that bothered me because it had been the case for many of my other courses as well, but this time was different. This time I was supposed to be in this class, not randomly placed. I felt that I had put a strange pressure on myself, because for me as a student of color in a predominantly white space it was a constant feeling that I had to prove myself to my peers and teachers. So, the fact that I was in an honors class just stressed me out more. That same week I had also started practicing with the basketball team, and so at this point, the news about the roster spread around the school, making it common knowledge who was and who wasn’t on the team. At one point during my first week in the class, one of my classmates asked me, “Why are you in an honors class if you came to 34 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

this school for basketball? Isn’t that just making it harder for yourself?” I was taken aback by this question for two reasons. One reason is that I was accepted into this school based on my academic achievements at my previous school, not my athletic ability. The second reason I was surprised by this question was that, though I am an athlete who plays on the varsity level of my school’s girl basketball program, it does not mean that I can’t or don’t have to excel academically. This fall, I started at a new school for my freshman year of high school. My school is a predominantly white private school located in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, filled with kids whose parents have either made substantial donations to the school


or are “legacy students” who have a long family history at the school. Though most of the students are white, there are also people of color who attend the school. One of the things I noticed in the first couple of weeks at my new school was that most of the students of color, primarily the Black and Latinx students, were some of the best athletes at our school. White students commonly asked Black and Latinx students questions such as “Aren’t you here to play basketball?” or “Are you here on scholarship?” which I found to be incredibly invasive and disrespectful. Though I was an onlooker to this behavior a multitude of times, I never saw it happening to me until I was in the same position as the other athletes in my school. At the end of the fall term, I tried out for the Girls Varsity Basketball Team and made the squad. Around this same time was the final exam period, where teachers assessed the skills you learned and placed you accordingly into either honors or standard class for the next term. I never saw myself as an overachiever. Though I always try to give my best work in all my endeavors, I never felt as though I outperformed my peers. So, when my physics teacher selected me for his honors Physics II class, I was surprised. A common misconception when there are people of color within private institutions is that there is a specific reason why they are there. Something that we should all realize, both people of color and white people, is that in today’s society where people are more accepting of different backgrounds, there is always a reason to break the norm and diversify spaces. What I experienced at school was eye-opening because it never occurred to me how people viewed my presence as a student. I will strive in the future to show people that yes, I am Black, and yes, I am an athlete, but that doesn’t make me incapable academically, and that doesn’t mean I don’t strive for greatness on and off the basketball court. ♦

The great American deceit BY ANDREW HARNISH COVID-19 hit the shores of the United States with the force of a speeding truck, exposing the deep-seated flaws and failures that have plagued this country for decades. Few memories of mine will carry the same weight as walking home from school on the day we were dismissed from in-person learning into the then-uncharted and apocalyptic world of online school. Upon arrival we were greeted with all the doors propped open for us, all the teachers wearing masks and rushing around in a worried frenzy. The schedule for the day was simple: get your computer and go. Being practically shoved out of school by my teachers was a foreign feeling to me. The walk back to my house from Josiah Quincy Upper School is a short one, but at that moment it was long and lonely with the chilly March wind piercing and biting my face that wasn’t covered by a mask at that point. Along the way, I could see the businesses closing their doors, putting up signs and lowering the grim-looking security gates at the entrances. The most nauseating and stomach-churning thought that arises from a scene like that is, How many of those stores will be lucky enough to lift the gate up and open their doors again? The answer to that question, as sobering and demoralizing as it may be, is not many. The pandemic has ripped through the heart of America and uprooted the very grounds that so many people sought stability and assurance upon. The government knew for months prior that a monster was upon them and people and businesses would need relief. It’s no secret that the federal government has money, and it is also no secret that the government will do everything in their elected power to withhold from the people all they can while creating the illusion that they are the saviors. To put up the veil of this illusion, Congress acted fast. By early April, the whole country was almost entirely shut down and businesses big and small were crying for relief to sustain themselves during the seemingly endless lockdown. In April, the Senate approved a relief package for small businesses of $349 billion. By May, that money had dried up and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) had been a failure. The goal of the PPP was to give businesses money to allow them to continue paying their workers during the economic shutdown. Due to the government’s failure to alert people of the enormous threat as they were first made aware of it, the PPP funds were near impossible to access for some. According to NPR, various businesses could not even use the application website for days after it launched, which put them at an immediate disadvantage due to the program’s first-come, first-serve ideals. Add on the fact that all of the money ran out in 13 days and you begin to scratch the Cultural Criticism | 35


surface of the deep hole of government failure. The other program launched by the Small Business Association (SBA) to provide economic relief was the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program (EIDL). It fell victim to scammers, con men and grifters who saw the hastily-provided funds and rushed the website to take their shot at fulfilling the American dream by becoming rich at the expense of the less fortunate. Many businesses that may not even exist signed up for and received government funding for issues that they claimed were caused by the closures due to COVID-19, according to NPR. The reason for this could be the fact that the hastily-made website was filled with loopholes and the sheer amount of people who requested loans overwhelmed the system. Its knees buckled and collapsed under the pressure of the pandemic. It would be unfair to say that all businesses have had a torrid and nightmarish time during the pandemic; the majority of big businesses have had the time of their life. Big corporations have always thrived on the struggle and toil of small businesses and this pandemic has provided them a trough of struggle and pain to feast out of. Companies who would lose little received the most, according to the Washington Post. Businesses with private investors received vast relief while small businesses with no private support bled out on the sidewalks. This has been the unsung motto of the United States: the many suffer, the few profit. The companies who reaped the most in federal aid say they were doing it to save the jobs of their workers but in the application for the loans, few companies specified how many jobs they would actually save. This further blurs the lines between who was getting the most money and why. This pandemic has changed the way we live and think. Millions cried out for help and relief and their wailing can still be heard in every corner of the country while those with more money than they know what to do with are increasing the distance between themselves and the disenfranchised. The course of the economic relief for the pandemic — though it may seem as if it was a rushed, halfmad and poorly thought out plan to “save” the people — worked almost exactly as it was intended to. The small businesses that were barely scraping by before are gone now, the owners likely deeply in debt. Meanwhile, those who were in decent shape are now in the position of the former and big businesses who monopolize their industries are raking in the millions that should be going to the masses of struggling Americans. This is how it was intended to play out. The system is not broken — it’s functioning as smoothly and effortlessly as ever. The issue is the system itself, the disease which will eventually be the downfall of this planet and its people. That disease is not COVID-19 but capitalism. ♦

Tax forms for self-employed individuals. KELLY SIKKEMA / UNSPLASH 36 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE


FEATURES

LIFE DURING COVID-19 Jamaica Pond. ELIZABETH CHOI

Local business leaders reflect on surviving one year of COVID-19 BY MARIA O’MALLEY As the first anniversary of COVID-19 is just around the corner, we can’t forget everything that has happened or what is currently happening to our neighborhoods. Many families have loved ones who have lost jobs, homes and cars. Our local stores, restaurants and shops are going out of business. The things that make our neighborhoods our neighborhoods are slowly disappearing.

COVID-19 has made it so that small, local businesses are struggling to survive with stores closing, reduced staff and profits falling due to less business. “Job growth returned to the U.S. in January, with non-farm payrolls increasing by 49,000 while the unemployment rate fell to 6.3 percent,” the U.S. Department of Labor stated. Life During COVID-19 | 37


LIFE DURING COVID-19 With people losing their jobs and not having money, the last thing they think about is going to restaurants or local shops. This causes those places to go out of business.

During a time like COVID-19, small and local businesses are some of the hardest-hit establishments in our neighborhoods. These businesses are what make our communities our communities. They are mostly run by people who work in the neighborhood or city and are kept up and running by the public. Once the public stops working and stops going to these businesses, these businesses also stop working.

EG: Yes we did. It lasted for a little while to help keep the light on but a PPP loan is like someone putting a safety net for a little while but you still have to walk on the tightrope. MO: Have people been more or less compliant when coming into the restaurant?

I interviewed Ferguson Herivaux, CEO of One Gig, a local skate and apparel shop located in the downtown Boston area.

EG: People around here, because we are a neighborhood place, really want us to stay and they don’t want to lose us. So for the most part they have been really good to us, plus because we are a neighborhood place we know a lot of people so they have mostly been compassionate.

Maria O’Malley (MO): How was business like at the beginning of the pandemic?

MO: Do you have any [COVID-19] protocols set in place in case someone has it?

Ferguson Herivaux (FH): Steadily growing. We were growing 20 to 30 percent annually prior to the pandemic.

EG: We tell our staff if you don’t feel good don’t come to work.

MO: How is business like now that the public has become used to a pandemic?

MO: Is there anything else you would like people to know about how [COVID-19] is affecting your business?

FH: From June to November we were busy nonstop … from November to now the streets have been quiet. MO: Did you get a [Paycheck Protection Program] loan? FH: No, we were not qualified because we had just expanded when the virus hit. MO: Do you have any plans or precautions in place in case an employee gets [COVID-19]? FH: We shut the store down if we even think somebody has it. MO: Have you made your business more online during [COVID-19] or is it still more in store? FH: We are more in-store, we are working on our online but our culture is very personal. I also spoke with Eleanor Greene, owner of The West on Center, a local restaurant in West Roxbury. MO: What’s a typical day like now? Eleanor Greene (EG): A typical day now is we don’t do lunch anymore. We are just open for dinner, takeout and brunch on the weekends. MO: How different is the environment now? EG: We are in the hospitality business which means making people feel welcome. Even though masks keep us safe it doesn’t represent us. We had to re-invent the word hospitality here by wearing our masks [and] gloves and social distancing. MO: Did you get a PPP loan, and if so, did that money last? 38 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

EG: Eat out if you can and support your local business if you want to see them stay. After interviewing both of these local store owners, I got the chance to go see them for myself. At One Gig you immediately feel comfortable when greeted by teens your own age who also skate. They also have hand sanitizer everywhere and social distance protocols that you can visually see as you walk throughout the shop. At The West on Center, you can visually see the social distancing protocols put in place: social distancing with the tables and hand sanitizer as soon as you walk in, as well as all employees wearing gloves and masks. At the end of the day, if you want to see your local businesses stay, go shop at your local businesses — go eat out, go support your local businesses, and help save the places that make your neighborhood your neighborhood. ♦


Yarn to Masterpiece BY SHEILIN SANTIAGO

It’s eight-something in the morning and everyone in my house is asleep. It’s just a boring day during quarantine, but for some reason, I woke up earlier than usual. The house is so quiet that I can hear the birds chirping. I’m sitting at my desk right by the window and smell flowers. Then, I grab the blanket that I am halfway through with. It looks beautiful so far, with its white and teal yarn. Crocheting is peaceful and calming — just the yarn and me. I feel like making that blanket is the only thing I needed to do. My head is blank, and all I can think about is how the crochet hook was going through the holes so seamlessly. The more I crocheted, the more my stress went away. It all started when online school began. Our schedules changed, and all the teachers changed their styles of teaching. Most of the

teachers were confused about how they were going to change projects and get everything to work online. I was stressed out because everything was changing so fast and no one could explain exactly what was going on. My teacher for ELA (English Language Arts) was having an easier time because we used computers for most of our projects, essays and tests. I liked her class the most during online school because there wasn’t that much change happening. She knew that some of us were having a hard time, so she gave us an assignment where every week we had to write a journal entry about how

One of the author’s crochet projects. SHEILIN SANTIAGO Life During COVID-19 | 39


the week went. From those journals, she noticed that we were stressed out because we were only thinking about school. That led her to assign a project which was for us to find something useful and interesting while still learning important skills. It was based on the concept of “Genius Hour,” used by successful companies like Google, that allows employees to research skills and topics of their choice to create something of real benefit. This is actually how Gmail was invented. I started my project by trying to improve my drawing skills. I tried watching YouTube videos and reading articles with directions, but nothing worked for me. My drawings came out horribly. I also wasn’t interested in drawing. I just couldn’t see myself drawing for fun. Since drawing didn’t work, I tried doing baking as my project. The first time that I made a cake and I stepped away to do homework, the cake burned. I spent a lot of time laughing that I had forgotten about the cake, but at the same time, I noticed that baking wasn’t for me. I also had to take pictures for the project, and I knew that I most definitely wasn’t going to take pictures of that cake. I had already tried two different hobbies, so I decided to take a break from trying stuff out, and instead, I was going to do a little bit more research. I didn’t have to rush to pick something since I had a month to figure out my choice for sure. One day I was at my neighbor’s house, and she told me that her online art club was teaching her how to crochet. At first, I saw the yarn thought that she just meant that she was knitting. I was so confused when she started using a hook instead of the two sticks. She started crocheting, and all I could think about was how amazing it was that the yarn was turning into something so beautiful. We watched a movie, and she was still crocheting, which was awesome because she wasn’t even looking at her hands. The blanket that she was working on looked stunning. She picked an ombre-colored yarn that looked so nice. I asked her if she could teach me how to crochet, and she said she would be glad to. She showed me everything I need to know to start crocheting. She also suggested some YouTube videos that I could watch to learn how to create different types of crocheting patterns. The first time that I crocheted was the most difficult. The pattern I used was granny squares, which are made by working in rounds from the center outward. It is often one of the first patterns a person learns to make when first learning how to crochet. I was creating a blanket. At the time I had a beginner crochet hook that was big, so the circles were huge. The blanket came out large, but it looked kind of stretched out and messy since I didn’t make the double crochets tight enough. I didn’t like the technique and how the blanket looked, so I started to look for different patterns. The pattern that I found that I liked was grit stitch. Grit stitch isn’t as difficult, and although it is more time-consuming, it creates a tighter blanket. My second blanket came out much tighter and I loved the pattern, so I’ve stuck with grit stitch. So far I have created three blankets, two scarves, and I am learning how to make animals — a 40 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

Another of the author’s projects. SHEILIN SANTIAGO

bumblebee. Most of what I have created so far I have given away to relatives or friends. I did keep the first blanket I made because it showed how I improved on my crocheting skills throughout the blanket. I love crocheting because it is effortless, and I can create something beautiful that I can wear forever. When I make things, it also reminds me of a peaceful time when I was crocheting. Learning how to crochet helped me because before I was always stressed out about school and everything happening around me. Crocheting helps me create a quiet environment when the world is loud from school and stressful things. I learned that when I come out of my comfort zone I can find things that I like and enjoy doing. We all need to find the things that we enjoy doing, especially during these hard times. Finding new things to do like hobbies will help us stay calm and take care of ourselves. ♦


Hope and worry during a quarantine school year BY MARIE KAS ONGO September 14, 2020 It’s been a week of my freshman year. You’d think that’d be exciting for all of the fun high school events along with this new chapter of my life, but lately things have just been rather melancholy. With quarantine, I have to go to all of my classes virtually and can’t have any high school fun like going to school dances or pep rallies or joining a sport. I can’t believe how much I miss going to school … I never really thought this was a point in life someone could reach. Sometimes I am so tempted to click that red “leave meeting” button, but I know it is important to keep a high GPA so that isn’t an option. Instead, I have to bear through it. I mean, at least I won’t have to do a frog dissection in real life. It would probably be more like a double-tap to dissect the frog’s stomach or something. I know I just said I would bear through it, but if prom is a virtual event I will honestly not even attend it. What if we have no more in-person school!? What if for the rest of forever, all school will be virtual or in the future kids go to school as a hologram!? What if in the future kids start to think that your mouth and nose are your private parts? What about joining a sport in high school or making new friends? What about … I need to calm down. The year just started, it can’t be that bad. Maybe this school year might even be easier than others since everything will be online. All I have to do is hope the wi-fi doesn’t randomly shut down and kick me out of class.

because the school website was lagging. Another time I couldn’t get access to my documents at all. Ughhhh, it’s so frustrating! Usually, all of this frustration would be balanced out with having friends you can talk to and chill with, or maybe even getting to play in after-school sport, but I can’t do any of that. I understand of course that it’s better to give up high school events than become sick with an awful virus. So many people have been affected by this virus, and school changing the way it works isn’t the worst thing in the world. I just need to remember to stay positive. At least I’m healthy and safe, that’s more than other people could say. Maybe a cure will come out before I graduate high school or go to prom. The future still has hope. I mean, if we can have enough technology to get a robot to Mars, we can find a vaccine! I just have to remain hopeful until that happens... March 1, 2021 Hope has come! The vaccine was created and is going to be distributed soon! Woo hoo! At this rate, I might just have prom and go to pep rallies and even join a sport! Woo hoo! Thank goodness for modern medicine and scientists for creating a vaccine. Now all we have to do is take the vaccine and we’ll be safe, but I hope it doesn’t have any weird side effects like I’ve seen on social media. This one lady on Instagram got a rash and weird bumps on her arm after taking it ... I hope she’s okay. And I have more good news! The school year is almost over! In about 4 months I’ll be sleeping in and eating chips without a care in the world. All I have to do until then is study, study, study for the finals. And, also, I have to try to keep my GPA at a really high level so just in case I do badly on the finals my grades won’t drop too much. Although, my mom told me that studying too much can give you a headache which leads to really bad medical issues, so every once in a while I’ll remember to take a nice long break! ♦

January 12, 2021 It’s the middle of the school year and it’s hard keeping up with my classes. I do the work and try really hard, but there’s always something technical. One time my assignment didn’t get turned in

Life During COVID-19 | 41


The author with digital schoolwork. NATHAN DEJESUS

Who’s to blame? Is procrastination my main enemy during this COVID era, or is there a more profound reason behind my lack of work? BY NATHAN DEJESUS

42 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE


I wake up early every morning, except for the days where I sleep through my alarms and I’m late to class. I shower and I eat breakfast. I go to my room and I put an outfit on — the part of the day I look forward to the most — and I log on to Zoom. I unmute, say, “Hi Ms.” or “Mr.,” and I take my phone out to text my friends about how horrible school is. Teachers don’t hold us to the same standards of effort compared to in-person learning. I don’t blame them because I think a lot of us are unmotivated and reluctant to complete any work. For the past month and a half, I’ve been able to do more self-reflection and meditation than ever before. I’ve made discoveries about my identity and my connection to the people and environment around me. I’ve been able to produce several articles that I’m proud of for Teens in Print, and I’ve had valid and vital input on the Institute of Contemporary Art’s Teen Arts Council. So, why does it seem like the technical and academic side of me has stalled? I was in New Jersey for the start of the school year. Much like Boston, Jersey City started to open up and lean away from its heavy restrictions and COVID mandates. Both cities made massive mistakes in doing this, in hindsight, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t snatch that freedom and run with it much like every other Bostonian or New Jerseyan while I could. I was going to the mall, going to the movies, eating at restaurants and was constantly out of the house. Fast forward to now, the holidays are nearing, and surprisingly the overall holiday joy seems the same as it’s been every year before. The first term of school has ended, and when I look back on it I see that I’ve improved a nice amount of my midterm grades. Should I feel guilty? The biology worksheets that we’re given are incredibly easy for students to read, answer and pass along to other classmates. It’s disheartening to those of us that continue to drive on empty to get assignments done. The teacher assigning that work is actually a substitute and a former algebra one teacher, which should explain itself. Also, a failure to communicate my eighth-grade knowledge effectively, which landed

me in algebra 2 for freshman year, has come back to kick me in the behind in pre-calculus. This school year isn’t all about potential cheating and regret, though. I’ve excelled in my Spanish class, and I’ve begun to pick up the language quicker than I had been in person. Humanities is going well, too, because of how easy it is to unmute and say what’s on my mind without being the center of attention. I’m not angry or sad that school has been a bit rocky this year. It seems like these situations where the students and teachers contract COVID and students lose motivation to put effort into the work have been happening around the state. Many schools started hybrid learning only to be shut down due to surges in cases. As that happens, do we look at the schools or the people at the top? The governor and the superintendent are leading the schools around the state into danger, and now they must quickly backtrack to save themselves from any more damage. Students also have to be consulted in how this school year runs — I’m not talking about a small Zoom call and a “thank you so much for using your voice” response, either. Students need to be validated, and they need to be able to see the change that’s so desperately wanted. It seems that teachers are following a virtual version of the in-person teaching rubric. Why don’t we create a completely brand new rubric with new lesson styles, new forms of communication among teachers and students and new forms of learning? Following a stale, or toolenient form of teaching will only result in stale or satisfactory learning. Why settle for satisfactory when we can reach beyond that? I’m a junior in high school. This year my grades count more than they ever have before for college. Do you think I want to walk into college with my head held high using grades I built like a child piecing Legos together? ♦

Life During COVID-19 | 43


One bug is a crowd, two is an attack BY EDDIE CONLEY 1. I am so conflicted with how my school year ended. Initially, I was excited to be out early, because March break started a couple of days early. Then the headmaster said we wouldn’t be coming back for the foreseeable future, meaning online classes were going to dominate the end of my six years at this school. That needs to be broken down: Six years. The current year is 2020. I started going to Roxbury Latin in 2014. Ever since, the school’s traditions were displayed to all of us. Every year we have an opening ceremony that celebrates the seniors, who sit prominently in the front of Hall. Then, we are busy raising our grades, taking College Board scam tests, writing essays and applying to colleges. All the while, the teachers do not let up on the workload. For six years we have been buried under schoolwork. I used to finish homework in under two hours and now I am getting sleep deprivation because I get home from school at four and stay up till 1 a.m. studying for a Latin quiz and a math test, editing a history paper, preparing for a Spanish presentation and rehearsing an English speech. How did they expect me to play three seasons of sports and do extracurriculars?

Graduates throw caps in the air. BAIM HANIF / UNSPLASH 44 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

After getting accepted early into one of my top schools, I got involved in the yearbook committee because it was all graphic design which was a good way to relax while also being excited to do the work. Of course in typical Roxbury Latin student fashion, I overworked myself. One night I didn’t leave school until midnight because I was working on the yearbook. As we were finishing the yearbook, we would read headlines of the COVID-19 virus crawling about the world. Putting the finishing touches on the book, the virus had arrived in the U.S. I was proud of the yearbook, and it is probably my greatest accomplishment in those six years. My friend and I won the publication prize for our hard work. But that’s just it. As we had finally been let off the hook — final grades in, yearbook done, March break about to begin — schools were closed, never to reopen. I mentioned how my schoolwork was … well,


there was just a lot of it. Anyway, a lot of the time, upperclassmen and teachers will tell you it’s all going to pay off when you get into college and get to enjoy senior spring. Well, that was completely robbed of us. What were those six years for? This whole experience has had me mentally racing to extremes. While I cherish my time at that school, especially my friends who I consider to be brothers, I wonder what my life would’ve been had I gone to a different school. What would my life have been like? 2. Around midnight, it was starting to get late (an indication of my now-amended quarantine sleep schedule). I was sitting at my desk and had just got off a call with my friends. The lights in my room are still on to lessen the impact the screen has on my eyes, yet one of those tiny little bugs that likes light (not a moth) flew past my screen. I hate bugs, especially in my room. Channeling my inner ninja, I fling my right arm out to catch the intruder. Dead. I go to clean my hand and wash the brave flier to Valhalla. As I return to my room I hear something that sounds like buzzing. All color leaves my face as I fear the worst: a bee or a hornet or something like that, in my room. I don’t want to kill a bumblebee, but I also wouldn’t want it in my room. As if taunting me, the new intruder lands behind me on my door. I scan the whole room and can’t find him. I walk to my desk and in the corner of my eye, I see a spot of black. I turn to see a black-gray bug on my door. What I thought were wings is actually a hard shell. I know this because I killed one of his brethren a couple of weeks back. Obviously, his shell would be no match for me, but I was already tired of this situation. One bug is a crowd, two is an invasion. I trotted downstairs and out to my front porch. I brandished my old silver shoe and promptly slammed it upon the invader. Dead. I quickly glided to the bathroom to get toilet paper. I picked him up from the wall, folded him neatly, and sent him into the Boston sewer system to rest. I got into my bed with my computer and Nintendo Switch. I had some Reddit text-to-speech videos playing in the background. My lamp was on to help my eyes and as I lay there, I caught a glimpse of a THIRD intruder, surely the younger brother of the first. He was comfortably trotting on my roof. ENOUGH! I reached over my bed to the floor where I had discarded the day’s socks. I folded them into a compact, weighted ball. Channeling killer instincts, I launched the socks at the poor fellow. Dead. I wrapped him in tissue and buried him in my trash can. So ended the night of carnage.

3. My fourth of July experience was one of reflection. I was thinking of a private experiment I would be conducting on my family. In the wake of all the racial turmoil in the country, many people were calling for the boycott of July 4th as there would be nothing to celebrate about this country. A friend of mine reflected on this situation and thought this boycott would achieve nothing. He explained that for his whole life his Haitian family celebrated on July 4th, but they didn’t celebrate Independence Day. That is to say, his family all gathers together, but they don’t celebrate the country. This really got me thinking, and he continued by saying he thinks this is the case for all minorities and immigrant families. After I collected my thoughts, I agreed. I celebrate July Fourth with my Dominican family, but we don’t go around singing “God Bless America.” It is just a day that Americans have off from work, which allows them to gather with their families. I continued this discussion with my friend and we agreed that this is the case for the overwhelming majority of Americans from all races and socioeconomic standings, citing our friends from all different walks of life and my own white family. So when July 4th came around, I decided to silently observe how my family celebrated the holiday. We ate mostly Dominican food, but the main item was hamburgers and hot dogs — a traditional American choice on this day. Aside from that, nothing happened. My mom likes to decorate, so she chose a red, white and blue aesthetic. The neighbors launched fireworks (as they had been doing for the past month) and we watched from my yard. So ended the day. Not once did we say the word independence, sing a classic American song or wave a flag. With the experiment concluded, I determined that my friend was right. The Fourth of July is just a day on which Americans are off from work, which allows them to gather together either as a family or as friends. We also traditionally wear red, white and blue and eat grilled food. July 4th is a consumerist celebration with family away from work, and our society is conditioned to watch fireworks, eat hamburgers and hot dogs and buy decorations and clothes in the colors of red, white and blue. ♦

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Staying positive despite the Coronavirus WRITING AND PHOTOS BY ELIZABETH CHOI

It’s no understatement to say that 2020 has been an unprecedented year. If someone told me 12 months ago that the whole world would be under lockdown and that I would spend my freshman spring term and the following fall learning virtually at home, I would have laughed. It was unthinkable to me that school could exist in any way other than in the building. Back then, I had never even heard of Zoom. But despite the challenges we’ve all faced — whether it’s the fatigue of sitting in front of a computer screen all day, the inability to see friends or maybe even the loss of a loved one — there have been positive results of the lockdown if you look for them.

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I was an avid reader when I was younger, but upon entering seventh grade, I felt guilty whenever I opened a book that wasn’t for school. I had less and less time to read, and even when I did, I felt like I couldn’t. There were always homework assignments that I could start early, or quizzes weeks away that I could prepare for. My months in quarantine gave me ample time to read, and I am very grateful. Reading also lets me explore other subjects that I’m interested in, such as music, art and film.

I had always wanted to keep a diary but would continually forget to. The pandemic pushed me to write every day, partly because I realized that I was living through history and partly because I wanted something to do. In July, I filled a journal for the first time. My entries have become shorter since school started, but every night I still jot down the main events of that day and a couple of things that I’m thankful for.

Since March, I have seen an unhealthy amount of movies. Watching them was a relaxing way to unwind at the end of the day, and it often led to stimulating discussions with my family members. Beyond entertainment, I gained a deeper interest in film history and film production. Although movies played a large role in my life before the Coronavirus, it was only after I had time to expose myself to so many different kinds of movies that I considered seriously studying film.

Life During COVID-19 | 47


I attended a program that taught me the Arabic language and customs in the Greater Middle East during the summer before my freshman year. Before buildings closed in March, I borrowed books and CDs consisting of lessons in Arabic from the library. Every day since then, I would spend thirty minutes before school studying Arabic. Right now I am taking weekly Arabic classes, which I would never have had time for if school took place in person.

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I wish I were with my crew team rowing on the Charles River, but I am not due to the Coronavirus. However, I now jog every day around Jamaica Pond, a feat that I would normally only accomplish a couple of times a year. As I am not a runner, the 1.5-mile path was once seemingly endless. Now, completing it is just part of my daily routine to take a break from the screen and get some fresh air.

My family and I hiked almost every week over the summer, which was a pleasant chance for me to appreciate nature and wildlife. We would see colorful birds, funny-looking mammals and beautiful forests right here in Massachusetts. I even kept a pad of paper for sketches of plants, although I am still not even mediocre at drawing. There is less time for hiking now, but I enjoy looking at the autumn leaves and the sparkling pond whenever I jog.

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Most importantly, the lockdown has given me time to bond with my family. My sister and brother came home from college, and we spent the summer together taking trips and playing games. I also saw my dad more, who is usually never home during the day. This year was bittersweet for me since next year all of my siblings will be at college. 2020 is the last full year when at least one of my three siblings will be around. However, the house won’t be lonely with my parents around! ♦

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TiP staff writer Mariella Murillo holding a camera.

MARIELLA MURILLO

PERSONAL ESSAYS Personal Essays | 51


Why I chose a film major BY MARIELLA MURILLO

At my performing arts high school, I’m a theatre major. Every theatre major spends their first two years studying acting, and then has the opportunity to switch concentrations from acting to either design or film before they start junior year. At the end of my sophomore year, I decided that I needed some advice from my theatre teachers. Each time, I made sure to catch them in the moments they were alone at the end of the school day. While students trickled out and their attention shifted, I felt like space opened up for me to ask an important question: Should I switch to film? I love acting, but I was given the opportunity to learn about something exciting and new — something scary and enticing — instead of spending several hours a week acting. I loved taking the film elective for my first two years of school and considered making the switch, but I wanted to get input from my theatre teachers first. So, I approached them all individually to ask them what they thought about it. I was expecting some kind of insight and reassurance of my skill as an actor, or thoughts about whether I should wait until my senior year to switch. It wasn’t a decision that I was making lightly, but when I talked to my theatre teachers, there was one question that all three of them felt the need to ask: Are you sure you’re not switching because of your boyfriend? When I first heard this question, I was taken aback. When I heard the question the second time, I was confused. And the third time, I was angry. This isn’t a surprising question. My decision, despite brewing for the past two years, seemingly came out of the blue. It also followed right after my boyfriend’s decision to do the same thing. Of course, any teacher who didn’t know about my previous interest might wonder if there was some other motivation behind the change. That doesn’t mean that the unsurprising question didn’t hurt, especially from teachers that I thought thought more of me. It doesn’t mean that the question didn’t make me angry. Being young and in love doesn’t mean that I can’t make independent choices outside of that relationship. I’ve been performing for as long as I can remember. Singing, dancing, acting; all different ways to express myself on stage while telling a story and entertaining others. Not to mention, I loved the attention when I got it. As I’ve grown and matured, however, I’ve leaned farther away from the performance aspect. While I still love performing, I’ve found myself becoming even more fulfilled by my writing. As I took film as an elective and watched movies, I became more and more fascinated with that kind of storytelling. The more that I held a camera, the more I didn’t want to put it down. The more 52 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

I came up with shot lists and ideas, the more they stuck in my head. I had shot the idea of switching concentrations down for the previous two years because I didn’t feel comfortable with my acting skills yet, but by the end of sophomore year, there didn’t seem to be anything holding me back. Looking back on it all, I still can’t say that I don’t understand where they were coming from. I think the question came from a pure place. Women, historically and culturally, are often put into boxes. Before the last few decades, women had this expectation to be submissive, complacent and obedient. Even now, women still suffer from suffocating gender norms. If the roles were reversed, would they have asked my significant other that question? I’m not trying to say that the question, simple as it was, is deeply rooted in thousands of years of sexism — rather, it brought up these thoughts in me. I’m lucky that there aren’t many times in my life where I’ve felt discouraged purely because of my womanhood. But this was one of those times. Never, have I ever wanted to be the woman who was nothing more than a mindless puppy dog who followed their partner around, no questions asked. I have a duty, not just as a woman, but as someone who’s Latina and the daughter of an immigrant, as someone who’s queer, and as someone who lives and breathes for passion and creativity. I have a duty to make choices based on my goals and ambitions. Also, if there’s anything that I’ve learned from the relationships around me, it’s that there’s a difference between doing things for the people you love and changing your whole life to revolve around that one person. I’ve seen that happen to too many people since I was a little girl, including the adults closest to me. It was something that I’ve strived to never let myself fall into. I’ve always sought to be whole, and not someone else’s half, and to feel like my own teachers couldn’t see that made me angry. Even so, I know I made the right decision as I start looking for universities with film programs. And that’s what matters. ♦


day. The oddly-curved, wheely desks that the school district “upgraded” to a few years ago were moved around to vaguely assemble a courtroom setup: a judge’s table heading the classroom in front of the whiteboard with the “counsel desks” a few feet away from that. The air in the classroom mixed our burned-out stress and the multiple boxes of pizza we’d ordered.

A statue of Lady Justice holding scales. TINGEY INJURY LAW FIRM / UNSPLASH

The mock truth, the whole mock truth, and nothing but the mock truth BY HARUKA NABESHIMA I walked down an unfamiliar hallway on the second floor of my high school feeling like my freshman enthusiasm had gone too far. Joining mock trial sounded fun, but this distressing walk was almost enough to deter me from even trying to find my way to the first meeting. It was my first week of high school, and I hardly knew the building apart from the routes I would take between classes, so I was very much in uncharted waters. Luckily, it at least seemed like I was going in the right direction, given that the numbers on the gray plaques posted outside each classroom were getting closer to the one I’d received in the interest-form email. When I finally found the right room and walked in, I discovered that it was littered with some lost-looking underclassmen like myself and a few upperclassmen who clearly ran the club. Besides looking older, they had a certain presence — unbothered and in-deliberate — as if the space they took up was truly but simply theirs. I wondered if it was an upperclassmen thing or a mock trial thing. Five months later, I was in that classroom as part of the team. We were having a late-evening scrimmage that night — and this was after having had a couple-hour-long practice after school that same

Mock trial is a club that consists of being given a legal case for two teams to prepare both “sides” for. Usually, this falls along the lines of a prosecution and a defense. The teams field three attorneys and three witnesses on each side. There are opening and closing speeches, direct examinations where attorneys question a witness on their own side and cross-examinations, in which an attorney questions a witness on the opposing side. People make objections based on the rules of evidence during both types of examinations (the type of thing you see in a movie’s courtroom scene). Although this was not our first scrimmage, I knew it was a significant one. We even managed to get two lawyers to judge it. Our competition was also only a few days away and I had a team I was terrified of letting down. I was the only freshman on the team who had been assigned an attorney role, so I felt the weight of this scrimmage, especially. I was tired and light-headed from the nerves, but there wasn’t much time to let my focus drift. I was giving an opening statement, performing a direct and then a cross-examination after that. When I get nervous, my hands get cold and shaky, my mouth turns dry and my brain feels like it’s short-circuiting. None of these symptoms, as you might guess, are things you want when performing. But at that point, I was used to it. Despite the nerves and need to polish (which is perpetual in mock trial), it was obvious to me that since I had first walked into that classroom, I had improved. A lot. I even allowed myself to feel some modest satisfaction — I’d dedicated a lot of my past five months to this. The sun was out when we arrived, but it was pitch black outside by the time we finished. I had never stayed at school so late; but this, as I learned in those five months, was just part of mock trial. Mock trial is also demanding. It’s demanding of your time, effort and energy — demanding of you. Personal Essays | 53


You need to think on your feet, shed your hesitations and speak with conviction. I joined the team because I liked to write, which, as it turned out, was a significant part of mock trial. However, writing also gave me desirable safety away from on-the-spot mistakes, which is why mock trial was so challenging for me. I could no longer hide behind the page, which had previously given me all the time in the world to write ambiguous sentences and call it a day. Mock trial was fast-paced and unforgiving, requiring that I understand logic while equipping myself with an unfailingly assertive demeanor and ability to articulate.

Love languages BY ALENA TRAN

At first, I thoroughly enjoyed drafting while absolutely hating the performance. Speak up! Vary your tone! Pause here for effect! It was a cold slap of reality to understand my writing, which I had long considered “good,” was not enough. However, that cold slap was exactly what I needed to send me into the inertia of improvement.

When I was younger, I was sure that my mom loved me. If not, why would she be the first person running to help me after I fell off of the swing? Why would she be the first one with a barf bag after I threw up from eating too many cherries if she didn’t actually love me?

So, I got better. I learned to speak up, vary my tone and pause here and pause there for effect. Everyone has something they’re good at, but it doesn’t end there. Mock trial taught me that it means a lot less to be superb in mediocrity than struggling in something to be better. Mock trial didn’t fix every single one of my flaws — nothing can — and mock trial didn’t just push me to get better at mock trial itself. It built my everyday confidence and dexterity — not over-thinking before speaking up in class, taking the lead in group settings, barefaced approaches to experiences unknown and uncertain.

But, as I grew older, I began making friends who I saw at birthday parties or getting dropped off at school, and I heard something consistent from their parents each time — a simple 3 word, 8 letter phrase that my mom never said to me. I began to step back and grow distant from her, wondering if there was something wrong with me. Was I not lovable enough? Did my mom feel some sort of obligation to take care of me because she was the one who birthed me?

Mock trial taught me about what it takes and feels like to truly improve myself. Most of it is uncomfortable, embarrassing and filled with sour self-doubt, but the process — even barring the final product — is rewarding in itself. I found a family in my mock trial team, and that, alone, proved invaluable.

This continued plaguing my thoughts until I began preparing for the ISEE, an exam that each Bostonian sixth and eighth-grade student takes to determine if they meet the requirements to attend one of three prestigious schools in the Boston Public School district: the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, Boston Latin Academy, or Boston Latin School. The summer before I took the exam, I spent grueling hours studying and was too busy to care about whether or not I was loved. Even when I went on vacation with my family to New York, my backpack held only math textbooks and stacks upon stacks of vocab cards. I practically ingrained the “lo-fi hip hop radio” girl animation that studied alongside me the whole season into my mind. Of course, I took plenty of breaks, which were supposed to be 5 or 10 minutes long, but somehow turned into an hour of YouTube.

I only had one year with my team, as I had to move this past year. Although I did join the team at my new school, I’ve also been able to join my old team over Zoom (where we all are anyway). They’ve given me a sense of belonging in a time where that can be scarce. They are the people who pushed themselves with me, and who I push myself for. ♦

Mock trial taught me about what it takes and feels like to truly improve myself. Most of it is uncomfortable, embarrassing, and filled with sour selfdoubt, but the process — even barring the final product — is rewarding in itself.

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I received my results for the exam later than everybody else in my school. All of my friends had reassured me that this meant that I must’ve gotten into Boston Latin School. I was supposed to have nothing to worry about: I was consistently at the top of my grade and I spent all (well, some)


of the summer studying. My class had a field trip to the Museum of Science on the day that everybody got their results, and I spent the whole time biting my nails and ignoring the museum guide. You should’ve spent that excessive study break studying instead of wasting your time watching cute videos of puppies! Or, you should have taken that chance to attend the 4-hour math class Mom was talking about because if you did, you wouldn’t be in this situation, I thought. On the bus ride back, while my friends gushed over the cute stuffed turtle from the gift shop and shouted over the creepy spider exhibit, I was silent. Wow, your sister goes to Boston Latin School? That’s so awesome! You must go there too then, right? I thought to myself. When I got home, I dove right into my bed. The weather matched my mood perfectly, too: rain pouring with no intention of stopping, and thunder and lightning raging like a furious sea storm. For the first time, I didn’t even care about what my teachers might say about me not doing my homework. My grades no longer mattered to me — since I didn’t get in, my dreams were already floating away from me and down the drain. I was busy wallowing in my misery until my mom woke me up with glassy eyes and shaking hands and told me, “You got into BLS! All of your hard work paid off! I’m so, so proud of you.” In that split second, I knew that my mom loved me, and expresses it through her unwavering support and ways that aren’t words. We cried a lot that day, but for different reasons. Sure, I was ecstatic that I had gotten into such a difficult and highly renowned school, but I was even more excited about the fact that I knew with utmost certainty that I was loved. Even if I hadn’t gotten in, I know that my mom wouldn’t have loved me any less. But, without this experience, I would have always thought that I wasn’t worthy of love. Now, I’m closer with my mom than ever! I still express my love verbally, and she still doesn’t, but I know that I can always depend on her to bring me a plate of meticulously cut mangoes or carefully peeled tangerines while I’m cramming last-minute for a finals exam, or a hug after an especially long day of Zoom classes. In a lot of households, nobody says, “I love you,” out loud, and a lot of people aren’t close with their parents, so it’s easy to feel unloved. Especially with COVID-19, many families are around each other more or are entirely separated. No matter how many fights you may have with your loved ones, or how many days you’ve gone without seeing them, they still love you and show it in ways that aren’t always with words. Everybody has their love languages, and you might need to push a little bit to find them. ♦

Pink bicycle in front of Love display. BERNARD HERMANT / UNSPLASH Personal Essays | 55


Same blood, own soul BY DANIEL MERCHAN “En el nombre de Jesus. Amén.” I open my eyes to the same setting from before I closed them. The tall, small, black plastic table, made to last a family 12 years, is still here. The hazelnut-colored beans that stood on top of the steaming rice are still there, too. I swiftly grab my spoon and perform the crescent movement of air-plate-air, then mouth. After four scoops of the basic Latino dish, arroz y frijoles, my dad clears his deep voice from scarfing his plate. “Sophia, your mother and I are very happy that after all your studying on the SSAT, you got into Dexter Southfield.” I look at my sister, two years younger than me, who holds a gleeful 11-year-old grin. It’s contagious, catching on to me as a smile. After remembering her study all summer for the test, I couldn’t be more proud of her accomplishment. My father continues, “But when you get in, I want to see A’s. Your mother and I are paying for you to go to school so that you can get the best grades and experience. It’s not fair to your mother and me.” I turn my head to where my mother is sitting and glance at her hands. Familiarly, they were cracked and painted with callouses, previous burns and cuts. I knew how her hands became that way — those hands came here from Brazil when her mother was sick, and rice past its expiration date was the only food on the table. Those hands came from a 16-year-old who dropped out of high school to come to America for money. Those hands came from her unending love for her children; she would not let them starve as she did. It was those hands that cleaned and cooked for multiple houses so she could give my sister and me the comfort that she didn’t get. I look from her hands back to my plate with a sense of duty and responsibility. Although my parents were not speaking to me, they would expect no different when I changed schools in a year. There is no way I’m not going to get A’s, I thought. It’s not fair to them and to how hard they work to send me to school. I will do everything I can to make sure I get A’s to make their hard work worthwhile. I continue eating my now-cold rice and beans and leave the future me to deal with the promise I made to myself. I wish I took the saying “time flies” to heart, because, quickly, a year passed. “Daniel!” my mom calls, in a manner that would sound like a yell to the normal ear. But after years of hearing this yell, it’s like she knocked at my door and quietly asked for me. I chase the echo of her voice from my room to the kitchen to see my parents standing 56 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

near each other. The black table has reached its 13th birthday, with cuts on its sides and a shortened leg. “What happened, Daniel?” my mom asks, with less of an understanding tone more of one wondering if I slept through my classes. I don’t respond. I still look at her hands — they’re the same cracked hands that they were a year ago. My dad already told her my first quarter grades after they closed, and a bold physiognomy of disappointment and shock was the only thing her energy could give. The last thing she whispered before my father had his say was, “C’s, Daniel. I don’t believe it.” Questions were all I took away from the scolding. My mom and dad are working very hard to send me to school, I thought to myself. How could I disappoint them? How could I hurt my mother with these grades? Will I become like my mother, cleaning toilets and floors for other people? Am I a failure? Am I my mother, or am I myself? Wait, who is myself? WHO AM I? I questioned my identity — whether I was destined to follow the path my mother took, or be what she wanted to be. I spent months running from trying to find who I was, but at the same time, I started letting my grades fall. I only really started to think about my identity when COVID-19 spread its name to the world. I lay in my bed, staring at the ceiling and wondering, What makes me different from the blood of my family? I kept thinking about my mother’s past of poverty and hardship that led her to where she and I are today, which made me believe that I was different from my mother by circumstance and by my soul. My mother had parents who didn’t love each other, and who lived in poverty. I have it easier with parents who not only love each other but me, as well. The love that I get from my mother makes me different. I also realized, though, that I carry something that weighs more than money and cannot be replaced — a soul. No matter how similar my blood may be to my family’s, they do not control my decisions, thoughts and actions. For every single moment in my life, I stood behind my actions. I don’t have to worry about who I have to be or what I may be; I have to focus on who I want to be. I am not my mother or a failure. I am my irreplaceable self. It’s been months since that time of meditating on who I am. Self-acceptance was not an easy


mentality to obtain as my mind was accustomed to the identity of failure, especially when my grades, which consisted of effort-filled C’s, came to my mother. However, I am blessed to be surrounded by friends and other family members, who remind me of my uniqueness through their positivity. My mother and I never act like strangers to one another as we laugh and talk about life when the opportunity presents itself, but we stay away from the subject of academics as it remains a sensitive topic for us both. Now, she is trying to overcome her past by talking to a therapist while I do the best I can to show her love to help her appreciate the person she currently is. The future of my life is a mystery, like a painter with constantly changing inspirations for his craft. However, the flowing present will remain with the certainty of my value and identity. After all, I’m an irreplaceable soul with an irreplaceable, unpainted future ahead of me. ♦

Living.

BY KASANDRA WILCOX We are alive right now, all of us, whether we want to be or not. We are living. Living takes so many forms and displays meaning in all different kinds of ways. We breathe to stay alive. We experience things so that we can grow and change. We are taught things that are deemed necessary for survival, and yet we are never truly taught how to “live.” Living life has always seemed so easy for those around me, in a sense that they’ve never questioned their existence to the extent that I have, or that they have not felt the meaninglessness of it all. They have never felt so small or so insignificant in light of the question, “Why me?” “Why now?” “Why anything?” Since I am somehow still alive, why is it so difficult to live? Is it the relentless repeating of the questions, “Who are you?” “Why are you?” “Why aren’t you?” Is it my personality that constantly wants to see the positive, but always somehow sees the negative instead? I have yet to discover that answer myself, but I feel there are many factors as to why this thing called life is so difficult for me to get a proper handle on. I cannot say I’ve had the easiest life, but I know it’s far from the hardest. I have always had the love of my mother, sister and family in Mexico. I have a roof over my head and food on the table, and my body is complete and functions properly. What’s not to love about my life? This is all stuff I have been told before. I have been asked many times why I hate my life and don’t like living when I have “everything.” I have never felt as if I had everything, for I am lacking a lot of things that others just had handed to them. Others just have this innate will to live, and I don’t think I’ve ever had that either. As someone as young as I am, you might be thinking that I have yet to live enough to know what I’m talking about. I haven’t gained enough experience or lived life long enough to really give an opinion on life. Yet, I have always been told that these will be the best years of my life, that these are the times that life is worth living. If these are the so-called “best years of my life,” I don’t even want to begin to experience what the rest of my life is going to throw at me.

A collage of the author’s personal photos. KASANDRA WILCOX If you are in crisis, you can reach the Samaritan’s Hotline by phone call or text message at 877.870.4673 or chat online at the Suicide Prevention Lifeline website, https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

I have this primordial fear of aging, not because I fear death, but because I fear living itself. I fear all that comes with getting older and gaining responsibility, as well as my body functioning less and less. Yes, again, I may be “too young” to fear this. And yet here I am, in fear of becoming older. I am alive and I am living. It may be unwillingly most of the time, but here I am. I still find it hard to live and accept life as others do for more reasons than I can even count. And although I struggle to find meaning every day, I am still alive and living. So there must be a reason to keep going. ♦ Personal Essays | 57


Dear diary BY MABEL CHEN 2/23/2021 The strongest choices require the strongest of wills. It takes a lot of acceptance to make choices that impact ourselves and others. I often find that when it comes to making choices, I struggle the most. As someone who often hypothesizes a lot, it takes a lot of contemplation in the brain to figure out what choice I find is beneficial. It’s like trying to choose between two flavors of ice cream, as well as knowing that too much ice cream isn’t healthy for the body, and, knowing this, making the strongest choice of denying to buy ice cream. There are so many consequences when making choices that my brain often struggles with itself. A choice that may seem good at the time can eventually be argued out. It’s summarized to be the ‘’what if” type of mindset. What if I had made this other choice? What if it doesn’t turn out the way I wanted it to? What if I’ve hurt someone because I didn’t mean to? What if it turns out all wrong? The multiverse theory is the idea of which there are many other different universes, similar, but also different. Many of those can be ideally created by choices. It makes your “what if” choice a reality — the result of you choosing something else that was an option. The amount of power you hold when making a decision is eerily scary. Indecisiveness plagues and evokes a panic whenever presented with options. I never had a choice to be indecisive. 2/25/2021 It doesn’t come as a surprise that school is stressful for everyone, if not most. I’ve found that a good way to cope with it is making a schedule ahead of time or making sure to take breaks in between. Often the expectations of trying to achieve high grades and “compete” with other students cause sleepless nights, a decline in health, and, overall, a numbness to the mind. It’s been a rather tough week on my end. As the grades roll in for midterms, teachers find it as the time to cram as many grades, tests, quizzes, projects, you name it. It’s undeniably frustrating as a student to juggle so much work all at once. The stress it’s given me has often pushed me past my capacity and limits. The overload causes my brain 58 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

The author making half a heart with her hand. MABEL CHEN

to give out less quality work. I can’t help but stare at the homework of the half-quality answer I’ve given, and I can’t feel the shame, nor motivation, to revise unless given an incentive to do so. The sleepiness blocking me from ever opening the document again. I can’t help but lay my head down as I struggle to stay awake doing the work. Wishing I could just get it over with. After all, how can I get work done when I lack the motivation and excitement to do so? 2/30/2021 Being sad is a normal thing. I’ve come to realize that feeling sad is just an emotion that comes and goes as it pleases. For different time periods, during different parts of the day. I’ve ingrained into my head that being sad is as important as being happy. There are days where it just isn’t “it.” I don’t feel like I’m at my best, and that’s perfectly fine. It just helps me grow and better myself in that frame to make the next day even better. I take a break and step back to really understand how I’m feeling and recognize that it’s “one of those days.” Those days honestly really let me reflect and figure out why I’m sad; think about if there is anything I can do tomorrow to combat it, etc. Normalizing having sad days or down days is something I feel should happen. Just like it’s okay to cry. Emotions just happen, some things are just too much and tears can be a result of it. Just as much as laughter is a result of being overjoyed. It happens to everyone. Not every day has sunshine and not every day has rain. However, both can occur during the same week or even back to back. After all, we need a little sunshine and rain to create a beautiful rainbow, don’t we? ♦


Butterfly effect BY ALBIN CASILLA

When I lived in the Dominican Republic, I was a follower. I followed along with what everyone else liked, but there was one unique thing that I especially enjoyed more than anyone else — writing. I have always loved writing because I have always loved anime and I wanted to create characters. Anime was different from the many other cartoons I watched when I was little. It had a sense of storytelling and diversity in content that made me like it more than other cartoons from early on in my life, and the thought of creating an anime of my own and inventing a new subject of my liking was something I wanted to do for a long time. The feeling of being able to put all of my knowledge into this thing that I fell in love with from such a young age was amazing and exciting, and a new experience for me as well. As I grew older, I drifted away from writing because it was not in line with what my friends liked. I stopped doing what I liked because I wanted to be just like my friends. On a random day in school, I was doing what I usually did back in those days … writing on a piece of paper, bored in class, late into the day. This time, I was writing about a girl I liked. This was eighth grade, so I was still in love with the idea of writing to girls. I tried showing it to a friend of mine, and the girl I wrote the piece about. When they saw what I did, they just laughed. The disgust on her face after reading it crushed my heart. I felt so mad and sad because I wanted to make everyone see me differently, and I thought writing would do this. When my writing failed me, I decided to stop doing it. Two years later, when I moved to the United States, I had to stay with my grandma for a long time. At first, it was pretty normal, but then it became an experience that wasn’t pleasant. When we’re surrounded by negativity, we become negative. The problems and the bad vibes inside the house and the overall situation took a lot of my positivity. I lost the will to do anything, and I found myself focusing on energies that hurt me during this time. It left me in a bad state of mind, and I was going through it all with major changes going on. The fact that I had to bear with a new style of school was difficult and so different from what I was used to. The difference between high school in the Dominican Republic and the United States is like night and day. From the education system to the people, everything was different. In the D.R., everything felt normal and equal. We mainly had the same background, we shared the same life stories and we all did the same things. Perhaps because of this, it also felt like we also misjudged people on what they liked. When I was in the D.R., it felt like being different or going against the norm was a bad thing. In the United States, people seemed to

have more diverse backgrounds. They tended to have lots of different interests and didn’t always relate to each other. The big changes that came with a new school and new life in the U.S. came fast. I didn’t come as a younger child. Instead, I got thrown into high school right away. I couldn’t relate to anyone and was an outsider. I was the “new boy” in everyone’s eyes. All of this was not helpful for me during my first year of high school. Even though I was a good student, right away one of the best at my school, I didn’t have friends to rely on. When I was in my new school, surrounded by new people, I needed a way to deal with everything going on. I tried listening to music that I liked during my years in D.R., but that didn’t help that much. If anything, doing this made things worse because it reminded me of everything I left behind and the people that were always there for me. I went deep inside my head and decided to open that lock that I long forgot about, something that I knew was my favorite thing to do. I decided to open myself up to being “me,” and began writing again. This decision came to me after looking inside myself and seeing that I was alone, and needed something that would make me happy. I didn’t have anyone that would bring me as much joy or happiness as writing, and I knew writing would ease my mind. It was a helpful way for me to deal with the many things that were happening in my life in such a short time and was one of the first of many decisions that made me realize that I needed to do things based on what I liked instead of what others thought. This turned my whole life around. Writing helped me get through many problems, and it helped me think about the many wrong things I decided not to do or the things I never got the chance to. When I started writing again, it was difficult to keep up with my mind’s pace because of how out of touch I was with myself as a writer. I tried to write about the things I wrote in the past, things that were more about love rather than creativity. I tried to write as if I was the same person Personal Essays | 59


as before when I lived in the D.R. Then I realized that it would be better for me to think about how I had changed as a person and a writer since I moved to the U.S. These changes lead me to finally creating my own stories with my characters. One day, I decided to show my writing to a group of my friends in the U.S. I was worried about doing it because of my experiences back in D.R., but I tried it anyway. As it turns out, a lot more people liked my writing because of how real it felt to them. They started telling me how good it was, and I felt really good about myself once I showed them. For the first time, I felt proud of my writing and my decision to follow through on being myself. I was fully accepted by others instead of being clowned for doing what I liked. Now, I’m a very independent person and I see how all of those previous challenges and insecure feelings helped me realize how important it is to just be myself outside of what anyone thinks of me. I’m doing better now, but I still struggle to find happiness. School is still as easy now as it was before, which is one thing I never lost focus on. My writing has evolved a lot from when I was younger, and I am proud that I have become a writer without the fear of trying to do anything new and spontaneous. I keep trying my hardest to become better every time I write, but always try to keep my comfort zone in place. Through this process, I feel as though I have grown up and opened up about being me, thought on my own and realized that I can do things if I put my mind to it. I might not be the best person I can be all the time, but I work very hard to fight my demons and best myself ‘til the point that I find myself being happy about myself and what I do. This experience was a very bittersweet one, but it all happened for me to learn and tell my story. I hope my story can inspire others to change their ways and to just be themselves. And, even now, people in D.R. love my writing now that I have evolved and made more progress. My writing has even inspired my friends to write now. These events, and my journey as a writer, remind me of the evolution of a butterfly. Butterflies need to stay in a cocoon, stuck and waiting to free themselves, to first flap their wings and fly forward. This happens when changes, little by little, lead to a big transformation. ♦

The moon on a cloudy night. ALBIN CASILLA

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Learning about social anxiety allowed me to finally understand myself BY BETHANY SOTO-GOMEZ

As I walked to my desk, I could hear the kids talking and laughing. I felt a sudden discomfort and nervousness that they were judging me. Even though they weren’t talking about it, I could feel my face turn red and my heartbeat pound. It was because I felt self-conscious. My palms got sweaty and I became too aware of my surroundings. It was the first day of first grade, and that’s when it started. I wouldn’t answer questions in class anymore because I didn’t want to participate. The thought of making friends didn’t sound fun anymore. My mom would say I was shy. It was a different type of shy, the type of shy that made me want to disappear at any social interaction; be anywhere else in that moment. I felt like I was more than shy, but I didn’t understand. My mom didn’t understand, my family didn’t understand and neither did anyone else. There were always excuses made for how I was: that I liked to be alone, that I was just quiet and, of course, that I was shy. I was always “shy” because there was no other word that could describe me. It became the main identifier about me and people would always use it against me. It was because I was shy that I would not make friends. It was that I was shy that I would be threatened to be left home. It was that I was shy and that I would feel strange and out of place. People were angry with me for it because of all the things I struggled with doing. I was angry


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Everything I struggled with was for a reason, and it gave me a sense of relief. goals I wanted to achieve and actually been able to try different experiences that I never would have if I didn’t find out I had social anxiety.

The author as a child and today. BETHANY SOTO-GOMEZ

at myself for not being able to fix it, it got worse and worse. It was a constant struggle up until recent years. I got older, but I was so in my own head that I was disconnected from the world. One day in a new school, I talked to a teacher. I had talked to many, many people about my problem, but no one could really say anything to help me. She didn’t tell me anything specific; it was more that she hinted towards maybe it being something else that I should try and research. That maybe, I should try and take it upon myself because I was the only one who could be sure of what I felt. It wasn’t until that day that I actually got told something useful, something that could help me identify with something other than “shy.” Social anxiety. I had all the signs: excessive fear in social situations, worry about embarrassment and the feeling of isolation. It gave me an explanation for most of my life. Everything I struggled with was for a reason, and it gave me a sense of relief. No one really paid attention to how much relief I felt from this new understanding at first, and still, they probably don’t get how much it affects me. But for me, I began to feel like I was just a normal person who just had to deal with social anxiety. And for so long, something that defined everything about me was not me anymore and I could finally find my own personality. I was out of this isolated world I had put myself into. My first steps were just understanding and getting a grip on what I was feeling. I felt very new and strange, but I knew it was something I had to do in order to get myself outside. A couple of years later and I’ve tried 100 different hobbies, found

I had to struggle with something I didn’t know anything about because people took one thing about me and made it all they could focus on. I got turned into a zombie for a couple of years. People stopped attempting to really talk to me or understand me, and they would just begin to excuse it as how I was. It’s all because people don’t accept people who act differently, and will cast them out for it. You’re not allowed to be too anything or else that’s all that you are. I was always treated like it was just something I could turn off and on, but even to this day, I have social anxiety. I still struggle with it, but I’ve learned to manage it by understanding what triggers it and knowing what helps my nerves. It was uncontrollable, and won’t just go overnight. It may have been worse back then, but I found a way to make it better now. Now, I find that people may think of me as more normal because I can mask it better. My parents, teachers and peers don’t cast me aside as much anymore, but I wouldn’t say they understand me any more than they used to. All people know now is that I’m a little less shy, but they don’t understand what I went through or why. They still don’t really know how to support me, but they try to listen to what I say that I need or what’s making me more uncomfortable. That doesn’t always work, though, because sometimes it may not make any sense to them and I don’t expect them to accommodate me personally. I just have to learn how to adapt to them rather than expect others to adapt to me — it’s how I mask my social anxiety. I have realized this part of me, and I have come to accept and welcome every part of myself. I’ve learned to appreciate the other side of me rather than letting the things that I overly focus on take over. ♦ Personal Essays | 61


My first softball tryouts With a bit more practice and more confidence, I could have been good at baseball. But I didn’t want to. BY LAUREN JOHNSON It was a cold and windy Sunday in April 2016. My dad and I walked up to the softball field for me to try out, not knowing what to expect. The field was not well-kept, the grass was very overgrown and the dirt had turned into mud from the rain on Saturday. There were around five girls already there, as well as three coaches. This was when the nerves set in.

the forms were signed, I nervously said goodbye to my dad as I was dragged away by one of the coaches. We started off by playing a simple game of catch. Every good throw and catch made me slowly lose my nerves and realize that I could actually do this.

I was 12 years old when I first tried out for softball. I had been playing baseball for three years before that and I had no idea how to play softball. I only knew that the ball was bigger and yellow. What I definitely didn’t expect was that I would be playing fast-pitch instead of slow-pitch because I was in the older league.

Something important to know is that I sucked at baseball. I was always placed in the right field where no balls were ever hit, and when one came I rarely made a good play. I would always freeze up when it was my turn to bat, and I only got on base once in my three years of playing. The coaches were always really supportive of me, but I never felt like I belonged on a team where I

I walked up to the tent and checked in and my dad signed all of the liability waivers while I watched the other girls trying out. After 62 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE


was the only girl. That’s why I chose to try out for softball. The next events were batting and fielding. I was fearing the batting portion most because in baseball I would always freeze up and never swing at strikes. My nerves increased when I realized that this was fast-pitch softball because I thought I would be in the younger league. As the ball came towards me, I thought, just swing. And that’s what I did. I didn’t hit the ball very far, but I hit it, and that’s what matters. That was when I regained my confidence and I was then able to hit a majority of the balls. Fielding was surprisingly easy. The coaches would hit the balls slightly to the left or right of you, and you have to catch them and throw it back to the pitcher. This is not a very accurate representation of what an actual game looks like, but it was helpful to see what exactly they expected from me during the season. I got through this event with no problem. Something just clicked in my brain. I could actually play softball, after trying so hard to just be decent at baseball. This was a huge confidence boost for me, and the main reason why I love the sport today. I remember seeing my dad’s smile as I walked off the field and gave him a high-five. I knew he was proud of me for trying something new. I left tryouts feeling proud of myself, super excited for the upcoming season and with a ton of mud all over my clothes and my brand new cleats. I was more of a tomboy when I was younger. My mom would always buy me dresses and girly clothes and I would want to wear sweatpants and a sports jersey. I loved going to Red Sox games with my family and in 2013, when my brother decided to start playing baseball, I wanted to try it too. When I played baseball, it seemed like every adult I told was super happy. I heard the phrase “girls can do anything that boys can do” all the time. They were trying to be supportive and encouraging but it felt more like a challenge at the time. I was never that good at baseball, and I questioned if that statement was true. I thought, If all of these boys can do it, why can’t I? Even today I still hear it. When I tell people I started playing softball after playing baseball, it’s

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I am in full support of encouraging young girls to follow their dreams, but the phrase “girls can do anything that boys can do,” isn’t the most encouraging thing to say. almost as if they are disappointed. They wish I would have stuck with baseball to prove that girls can do it. The truth is that I could have done it. With a bit more practice and more confidence, I could have been good at baseball. But I didn’t want to. I now know that I don’t have to prove that I can do something to other people. Just knowing that you can is enough. I wanted to be on a team with more girls because sports are also social events. You want to be friends with the people you are on a team with, and I didn’t have that connection when I played baseball. There are a few key differences between baseball and softball that made the transition somewhat difficult for me. The ball is bigger and heavier and, contrary to popular belief, not soft at all. The pitching style is different: in baseball you pitch overhand but in softball, you do more of a windup and pitch underhand. The field is slightly smaller and there are a few different technical rules between them, but other than that the two sports are very similar. Almost every girl has heard “girls can do anything that boys can do” at least a few times in their life. People often say this to encourage and support young girls in following their dreams. In many science and math careers, there is not enough female representation. There are also far fewer opportunities for women in professional sports careers. When people say this, they think it is helpful to get girls interested in these professions at a young age in order to increase the representation of women in different professions. I don’t think the phrase is as helpful as it seems. I am in full support of encouraging young girls to follow their dreams, but the phrase “girls can do anything that boys can do,” isn’t the most encouraging thing to say. For me, it made me see boys as being in a league above girls and that for girls, it is possible to be equal to them, but you have to work harder for it. It made it seem that boys and men are effortlessly able to be the best, and girls and women have to work much harder. In some ways, this is true in society, but it can discourage young women from even attempting to try challenging things. Separating and comparing boys and girls at a young age is part of why we have such a misogynistic society today. Using this phrase is a step in the right direction, but it could be made better. “Girls can do anything that boys can do” creates a divide and calls for comparison. If we instead said, “girls can do anything,” we would be more encouraging and supportive to young girls trying new things and finding new interests. ♦ Personal Essays | 63


Things I like BY BRAXTON ROCHA

64 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

The author and his family on a ski lift. BRAXTON ROCHA


10/21/20 This was in March, and we were at Ragged Mountain in New Hampshire. I got to snowboard that day and my mom, dad, two sisters and I took a group photo. It was pretty cold, but I enjoyed my time and was happy because I got to ride a lot of new trails and eat overpriced food. Starting school during the Coronavirus has been tough for a lot of people, including me, because it’s kind of new being home every day. It’s challenging because this is a new school for us. The difference at home is how everyone behaves because it’s been less strict, and because of the fact that we are all in the same room. During the pandemic, I have been able to go to my second house in Vermont and social distance but make new friends. I’ve also been able to hang with my best friend and FaceTime people more often. I am still able to play football for my flag football team, the Tiger Cats, while wearing a mask. We are 4-0, so we’re pretty much the best. A new game I’ve played is Rocket League because it’s finally free, and I also play Forza Horizon 4. I like reading Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland and will get the next Trials of Apollo book next month. I’m watching the new Last Kids on Earth show based on the third book of the original series, and I also like the new Maleficent: Mistress of Evil movie. Overall my time has been packed and not as fun as before, but I am still enjoying my time and the extra things I can do now. 10/27/20 This summer I went to my grandparents’ house and we had this powder that we put in the fire to make it change color. While at my grandparents’ I went next door to my aunt’s house and swam in her pool. My sisters, cousin, uncle and I went into the woods to make a fort, but I cut my left hand with a saw. It didn’t hurt that much even though it was bleeding a lot. During the last few weeks I have been going to community rowing on the Charles, and last week I fell in because I got to use the fastest, skinniest boat. My coaches were proud, and I laughed a lot. Yesterday I went to football practice and I got this super low pass swerved around to the left just near the sideline down low and juked my friend into next week. This Saturday, I have a double header football game, but it’s also Halloween so I’m gonna buy candy and watch a movie. Lately, I’ve been playing Roblox because I spent like $400 dollars on one game, but I like it and I’ve been playing Rocket League. I have been able to watch a lot of Netflix and Disney+ but also I will be able to preorder my favorite books which will be available as soon as December 29 and March 2. During COVID and after, my best friend and I are gonna publish a book series and I am also going to play some Fortnite. I plan to get my sister a present because her birthday is on November 3 and I haven’t got her anything yet. Personal Essays | 65


When I do, my Mom has already picked a gift for me to give to her. 11/05/20 This photo is from after we got our new puppy, Ginger, who is now one year old. Let me tell you, she is so fluffy but will eat anything. Literally anything. I like playing video games like Roblox and Rocket League because they are interactive and they are really fun. Just this week, my friend and I have started to plan our book and we are gonna work on Fridays. I enjoyed the recent snowfall, but it has postponed some of my football games so I have had less to do with my life. There has been a lot of tension politically, but I know that Biden will win because Trump makes really bad choices. I like graphic novels but lately I am trying to find new ones. My Vermont home is almost done and that is exciting. When it’s cold enough we might ice skate on the lake and have Christmas up there, or here at our home in Boston. I finished my rowing crew season until next spring, and for Christmas, I want a new phone or drum set. ♦

A multicolored fire. BRAXTON ROCHA The author’s dog, Ginger. BRAXTON ROCHA

66 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE


The author and a friend with a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton in 2016. LAUREN CHOY

Hope for the presidential election BY LAUREN CHOY

It was the day I’d been thinking about — lights and color spinning around me and the loud noise of a pounding speaker surrounding me as I sat on the edge of my seat. I waved a little flag I was given when I came in, and in anticipation and brewing excitement, I waited with my close friend by my side and mom behind me. It was 2016, and I was watching the live results of the presidential election unfold before my eyes. With the huge crowd and millions of decorations, you would’ve never guessed that I was at Wellesley College. Everyone around me was hyped, ready to see Hilary Clinton defeat Donald Trump and break barriers by becoming the first female president ever. Throughout my life, my mom has always been my female inspiration. She shows me the power that women have, making me feel capable of doing anything. And now, with my mom’s strength by my side, I was ready to see Clinton inspire girls like me all around the world. But as hours passed, the crowd began to grow quiet. The bubbling energy I’d felt earlier that day was gone. The numbers going up on the ginormous screen didn’t make much sense to me, but it didn’t seem like it was showing anything good. My friend and I continued to play mini-hand games to try and pass the time, but deep down I was feeling uneasy.

We left before it was over. On the car ride home, I sat slumped over. It was very late but I wasn’t tired. The energy inside me was gone: replaced with emptiness. My mom’s hands were clenched tightly over the wheel as we drove home. Meanwhile, my hands still grasped the little flag I was given. It said “History in the making.” The fact that Trump was elected changed the way I looked at the world. Previously living in a world led by President Obama, I never had to feel truly worried about politics. As an Asian American girl, I felt both disgusted and terrified at the fact that a man like Trump would be my president. I’d seen him be directly sexist towards women and racist towards people of color. Growing up, my entire life, I’ve lived in an extremely liberal family — my mom taught me about the importance of standing up for myself. I was sent to a small school where everyone supported one another. Along with my mom, my teachers Personal Essays | 67


taught us about the social injustice in our society, and together they helped us discover our beliefs and fight for change. But on the day that Trump was elected president, my ideas about the society around me transformed. The little bubble of welcoming and happiness I had in school popped, and I began to see the world the way it really was. The hate, racism, marginalization of others, all of it gathered before me. How could the country I live in vote for someone like Trump? Because of him, I had friends who were scared they’d get deported, and hesitant to come out as gay, feeling targeted by their own president. But I also came to a major realization: I had the power to do something about it. Everyone does. I understood that one thing Trump couldn’t take away from us was our voice and I couldn’t help realizing how important voting was. Although it often doesn’t seem like much, it is a way that every citizen in the U.S. can have power. Donald Trump didn’t even get the majority vote, so every single person’s individual vote is so important. If all the people that chose not to vote had voted, there could’ve been a huge difference in the 2016 election. There are also certain people who don’t have the privilege of being able to vote. Many non-citizens and incarcerated or undocumented people live in the U.S. and are affected by the rules of society, but aren’t allowed to vote. This misrepresentation of certain groups of people gives them fewer rights and shouldn’t be acceptable. So if you have the right to vote, you should feel lucky that you do and feel eager to use your vote that many other people don’t have. In the next election, which is coming up later this year, make sure you go out and vote if you can. I will never forget the anger, fear, confusion and disbelief I felt from that night in 2016, but I’ll also never forget the lessons I learned and the ways that I changed. Although I still always wish things could’ve gone differently, it also reminded me of the voice I have and made me determined to vote as soon as I’m able to. I also realized that there will always be hope. And on that car ride home, I realized that even though Hilary Clinton lost the election, there were still women all around the world inspiring others. My mom is still my female inspiration: she reminds me every day of how strong I am, and every day I remember how strong she is. I clutched the little flag in my hand, reading the words “History in the making” until we got home. I remember thinking that this quote was over — but now as I look back on this day, I can understand that this tiny statement is still true. We are making history every day with the Black Lives Matter protests, spreading awareness of injustice on social media, electing many congresswomen of color and more. So, no matter how many problems are in our country right now, there is always hope and the opportunity to fight for change. You can do this by speaking out in your community or even just ensuring that you vote in November. Because the most valuable thing I learned from that day in 2016 is that every small action matters. ♦ 68 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

CREATIVE WRITING

Love in lyrics BY LUCAS AHO

We love each other in song lyrics. I am so in love, I sent them the lyrics to “Chinese Satellite.” It was the only way I could say it, in words that aren’t my own. There are raw, unexpressed feelings that I can only show this way, and I know they feel the same. They send me songs of their own, a simple: this makes me think of you. I get those messages and can’t help but smile. There’s something about those playlists and mixed CDs that make it seem like we’re next to each other again like we were when they played Neutral Milk Hotel for me for the first time. When we play those songs in sync, I can feel them. Now I send the links unprompted, and they know what I mean — no words needed. ♦


Artwork by the author inspired by Phoebe Bridgers’ I Know the End. LUCAS AHO

Creative Writing | 69


For no longer strangers! BY AMMANDA PIVA

Your time

BY SOPHIA ENCARNACION Why is it that all the time The effort The love I put into you Doesn’t seem to reach It’s as if you can see And you’re ignoring it Are you ignoring it Do you think the Effort time and love Isn’t enough A selfie taken by the author. AMMANDA PIVA

It’s the same

Someone is living the same 24 hours as you right now

Everyday

Waiting for you We’re all strangers... You don’t know them And they don’t know you Yet. Maybe they live hundreds or even thousands of miles away Maybe they’re in the same town as you Or maybe you’ve passed in a crowd...

It seems that You’re too good for me And you’re right I’m only here For you But you can’t see that Can you You’re blinded

Completely strangers

By yourself

Until one day, a moment … you will find this person who will make you smile in your dreams

And once I leave

Who will give you thousands of reasons to wake up every day

You’ll see

Who will love you no matter what

That you needed me

If they want, they will

And you’ll miss me

When they walk into your life, it will change forever

But if you don’t

You will look at them at first as a friend

Then I’m sorry

Until you realize, you love them

For wasting

They’ll be the one

Your time ♦

Your soulmate And from then on, you will never be the same For no longer, we will not be strangers. ♦ 70 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE


A series of short poems BY BRIAN HUANG

Niagara Falls on a cloudy day. KOSUKE NOMA / UNSPLASH

OUR DESTINATION, THE SUN

FORGOTTEN MEMORIES

The journey is done.

A distant memory, vague in my mind.

The battle is won.

A silent story, left behind.

It was not fun,

I heard that the universe is aligned,

But we have reached the sun.

So why is it, my thoughts are undefined?

And we have outdone.

Ever since COVID, started affecting mankind,

Anyone and everyone.

I’ve had not much time to unwind.

We are number one,

It seems my thoughts are confined.

For we have reached the sun.

But when will they be unbind(ed)?

TODAY

SEASONS

What is today?

It seems so strange.

Is it the day after yesterday? The day we felt the sea spray? It could be the day we heard a blue jay.

Warm and cold are exchanged. But can these two be interchanged?

Is it the day we saw the sun’s rays?

NIAGARA FALLS

The day we touched the milky way?

Raincoats, worn all around.

Perhaps the day we rode on Santa’s sleigh?

Rain gently falling, it surrounds.

Today is not a holiday.

Thundering water from the falls.

It might be the day my work is displayed.

Almost as if they were crumbling walls.

I don’t know what day it is,

Rainbows high in the sky.

but I hope I don’t have to write an essay.

And in the corner of my eye, I watch as birds fly by. ♦

Creative Writing | 71


Shhh... BY MICHAELLE MOTA Shhh.. Rattle Did you hear that?

“Why aren’t you sleeping?” It’s a rat, I tell her It’s lurking in the shadows I have no idea how it got inside Is there a hole somewhere I don’t know of?

Rattle

The owner mentioned for us to keep the windows closed

Flash is on

They like to jump in

I see...

I never thought it would actually happen to us

I see.

However, our windows were already closed I’ll sleep in my mom’s bed tonight

A dark figure immersing from the floor Too fast!

It’s cold

It jumped!

I want to cuddle but I hold myself back

So sneaky

She’s coughing

I stay on my bed

Not too close, I tell myself

Will it jump on me?

This pandemic is really serious

I hesitate

I huddle, forming a fetal position with my legs and chest

I think

Now covered in goosebumps

What now? What do I do now? I grab my things I stuff them in an empty backpack Making sure I don’t touch the floor Tiny little feet scattering around me Pit-a-pat, pit-a-pat I turn the lights on. It’s gone. I wait for the perfect timing. I quickly sneak past, Closing the door behind me as to not let them escape and go somewhere else I walk over to my mom’s room It’s dark and chilly She wakes up

The author’s radiator in front of a window that’s been sealed with blankets and tape.

“What’s wrong?”

MICHAELLE MOTA

72 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE


I’m chillin’ Like chillin’ chillin’ Literally chillin’ Drinking cocoa like I’m sipping down water Air particles almost as if dancing out of my mouth Hands are wrinkly cold Under five layers of blankets And a hoodie that’s thick but not thick enough It’s freezing The heater’s on But I don’t feel like I’m cooking enough As I speak, Talk, Scream, Scream? Ah yes, the heater is also screaming.

Go enjoy life BY ALIKHAN ROMEUS Time flies by fast It’s almost like things never last You think of the future at a young age But when it comes to the future you can comprehend how much you’ve really aged It’s almost like a clock is ticking and you’re running out of time So you end up trying to find ways to spend that time, knowing you don’t have much of it That’s why its important to do things now instead of wait It’s important to do things before it’s too late I never used to pay much attention when people would say “time flies,” but now I see that it’s true

It tries … but not enough

There are many things I regret not doing and before it’s too late I’m doing the things I didn’t do before and the things I’ve always wanted to do

Not warm enough

The best thing to do to avoid time is not procrastinate

It’s icy

Make sure you stick to what you want to do and never lose faith in yourself

Working its tiny little buttocks to the core

I freeze It’s not warm enough How can I suffer twice? Living my next morning in a freezer? ♦

I had to learn things the hard way, and although I’m still young I still see the clock ticking So please take my advice, and go out there, go enjoy life and do the things you’ve always wanted to do. ♦

A close up of an analog clock. ALIKHAN ROMEUS

Creative Writing | 73


STAFF WRITERS ALBIN CASILLA ALENA TRAN ALIKHAN ROMEUS AMAIYA ALTAMIRANO AMMANDA PIVA ANDREW HARNISH ANESHIA ALEXANDER BENDU DAVID BETHANY SOTO-GOMEZ

WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE A year-long, COVID-19 response project by Teens in Print.

BRAXTON ROCHA BRIAN HUANG DEBORAH ADEBANJO EDDIE CONLEY ELIZABETH CHOI ELLA VERINDER EMMETT HUGHES GISELLE BERENTS HIWAN MARU HOLDEN MILLER JAIDA PINA JHADA NICHOLAS JUSTIS PORTER KASANDRA WILCOX KENNY MAI LAUREN CHOY

CINDY TRAN DANIEL MERCHAN DAVID SANTANA HARUKA NABESHIMA LAUREN JOHNSON MARIA O’MALLEY MICHAELLE MOTA NATHAN DEJESUS XOCHITL TAI-DAWSON

LAYOUT AND DESIGN JASMINE HEYWARD

WRITEBOSTON

LUCAS AHO

SARAH POULTER

MABEL CHEN

CARLA GUALDRÓN

MAKAYLA ROBINSON

JASMINE HEYWARD

MARIE KASONGO

LUCY LEVIN

MARIELLA MURILLO

SOPHIA SALAZAR

NYLA HAYWARD-GIBBS

ELVIS ALVARADO

SALLY PHAN SHEILIN SANTIAGO SOPHIA ENCARNACION STACIE BRUILLANT YASMIN MOHAMED

74 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

ALEX CHOU

LILY CASTELLO

PAYTON QIN

PHOTO: MARIA O’MALLEY

STUDENT ADVISORY BOARD SY 20-21

ZOË POWELL-MCCROEY


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PHOTO: ALENA TRAN 75


Writing through the Distance and all of Teens in Print’s 2020 and 2021 programing was made possible by our supporters. Thank you for continuing to believe in TiP during this unprecedented time. TIP AND SUMMER JOURNALISM INSTITUTE FUNDERS

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PHOTO: LAUREN CHOY 76 | WRITING THROUGH THE DISTANCE

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