So what did we do in English?
We wrote two major essays, on a personal belief and write to a prompt of our choice.
This I Believe Essay
The This I Believe Essay was our first assignment this year. We were prompted to write about an essential belief and how it affects us. I chose to write about empathy.
An Expression of Empathy
I believe in kindness and compassion for those around me. Be nice. Be Kind. These are the words drilled into my head every day of my elementary school experience. For so much of my life the words “Be Kind” meant very little to me. I heard them so frequently that they became redundant.
I struggled with self awareness and social interaction throughout my life, but particularly in middle school. In my first year of middle school my friend group dissolved and I struggled with my academics. I felt extremely isolated and felt inferior to my peers. I was unkind because it meant I didn’t have to deal with social interaction, I used my cold exterior as a shield but in the process I was hurtful to a lot of people and it made it even harder for me to make friends. I was wrapped up in my own problems and struggles.
Throughout middle and high school kindness began to regain meaning. I slowly came to understand kindness as smiling and friendliness. Nowadays that definition has expanded to mean withholding assumptions, offering compassion regardless of how little I may know about others, and attempting to empathize with those around me.
I still blurt out random thoughts and insensitive comments sometimes, but struggling with my own mental health and watching my peers hate themselves and knock each other down forced me to consider how I treat others. I now believe that regardless of how annoyed, angry, or frustrated at the world I may be feeling on a given day, everyone still deserves to be treated with kindness and decency.
We all have our own struggles, some of us struggle with eating disorders, some with self harm, with mental illness, suicidal tendencies, abusive home lives, financial burdens, systematic racism, self image issues, the list goes on. The point is, we cannot possibly know what those around us struggle with and so the default as to how we interact with anyone, should be with kindness and compassion.
Treating people around us as less significant than us is a way of displaying power. I think that this is why so many adolescents are unkind, it provides a sense of power when we feel out of control, or insignificant. But I have concluded that choosing to be kind, even if others don’t reciprocate that kindness, is a sign of maturity and an expression of empathy.
The second essay we worked on in English this year was a common application college essay. For those of us who had already written our common app essay, we were allowed to write from a list of prompts from the University of Chicago.
I chose a prompt that asked us to reflect on a large societal issue and how it affects us personally.
Privilege is one of those very subjective things, many people dispute its existence within modern day society. That said those same individuals benefit from the very privilege they deny exists.
The topic of privilege is a common source of conflict within my household.
My parents grew up in working class families, my dad grew up in rural eastern washington in a farming town, my mom in the suburbs of seattle and los angeles. My parents attended the same university. After college my mom put herself through medical school and residency. My dad attended Harvard Business school while my mom attended georgetown. My mom graduated at the top of her class. Halfway through graduate school my parents got married. A few years later they moved into a house in Mountain View, California. They had three kids and worked hard. My mom is the director of pediatrics at palo alto medical foundation. My dad has worked for apple, amazon, and several tech startups.
I am their oldest child. I grew up in a high middle class family. I had all the academic support I could ever need and a mother who was very present. My parents were together, I never had to worry about money. I grew up in an area in the process of being gentrified, in a community that valued academic success and college.
In middle school I joined a mock government program. We didn’t have discussions about politics or national issues at home so this was my first exposure to any political discussion. From there my interest in policy and human rights grew. Trump was elected my eight grade year, this further pushed me into politics. I began to talk to my peers, not just within my mock government program about politics. My parents never discouraged me from social justice, they just never said very much about it. Until this year the only political views I heard from my parents were those condemning trump.
Within the last few months America has experienced a massive racial justice movement based around police brutality disproportionately affecting black americans. I began to educate myself, to read and to listen to back voices and creators. The more I understood about how the systems are used to further suppress marginalized groups, the angrier and more passionate about the subject I became. Two months ago I brought up the recent protests going on in response to George Floyd’s death at the dinner table. My parents were oddly reserved and quiet on the subject. I continued to talk about the protests, wanting them to engage. Slowly my parents would make comments, I mentioned the broken policing system and my dad cut in, “Yeah, but not all police officers are bad, most are good people.” I asked them their opinions on the riots and my mom responded, “I just think violence isn’t okay. I don’t even know what they want us to do.”
After the presidential debate I was amused that Trump called Biden a socialist, I told my parents that Biden was a moderate democrat. They sort of nodded dismissively. I then told them I had recently taken a political compass test and that I was a socialist. My mom laughed. She told me that the younger you are the more left you are, that when I was older I would become more conservative because I had more to protect. “You know we pay almost half of our income in taxes, I just think that I don’t really want my money funding someone’s habit” I was a bit astonished at the amount of privilege and ignorance her comment encompassed. I had said that I thought that the rich should be taxed. I was talking about the billionaires that exploited workers, who hoarded wealth for the sake of hoarding wealth.