5 Books You Need to Read Before You Graduate High School

As you might have gathered, I’m a sucker for good writing. An avid reader, I think good literature is key to understanding the world and the people in it. I’ve read a fair number of books throughout high school, some of which have resonated with me more than others have. With just under 2 months left of high school, I’ve decided to compile a list of 5 books that I would recommend every highschooler read before they graduate.

Oh and as for any book, I would definitely recommend reading from a tangible text, but in case that is not an option, I’ve included links to pdfs for all of the books.

5. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

This book was probably one of the first I had read about Afghanistan, so it definitely enlightened me about the culture, especially the religious and political turmoil there. The book is fiction, but many aspects of the book are derived from Hosseini’s actual experiences, as someone who fled Soviet-imbued Afghanistan. The stark imagery and chilling details contribute to a reverberating story. The symbolism in this novel is also heavy, which is always a penchant for me. Personally, I love symbolism and when it is utilized well in literature, I automatically am more captivated by the text. The book does break hearts, but leaves readers emotional yet inspired, as it ends on an extremely hopeful note. Please read.

4. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Although the book is as dismal as its title insinuates, I was compelled by the Capote’s take on the plot. Instead of simply reporting on the murder and its repercussions, Capote takes a controversial stance. He digs into the pasts of the murderer, analyzing what led him to kill, ultimately revealing a soft side of him. Influencing an audience to understand and even sympathize with a murderer is neither easy nor universally condoned but Capote accomplishes it. This unconventional approach to such a story was fascinating and it inspired me to also stray from the orthodox in my own writing in the hopes of shedding light on important yet often ignored ideas. Most importantly it showed me that sometimes, the most interesting and worthwhile stories are hidden in the obscurity of the atypical. Oh and by the way, In Cold Blood is a true story. Happy reading!

3. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

I read this book during the summer before my sophomore year, a period during which I was quite aware of my insecurities and lack of confidence. A book about a young 2nd generation immigrant boy’s struggle to discover and make peace with his identity, The Namesake really struck a chord with me. I could completely relate to Gogol – feeling lost, unbelonging, and ashamed. Seeing his journey of self-acceptance over the span of decades really inspired and guided me to forge my own similar path. Overall, this novel is beautiful, intricate, and highly symbolic (again, I’m a sucker for that stuff). Jhumpa Lahiri is my favorite author of all time and I would actually recommend all of her works to anyone in search of a good read.

2. I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

I’m pretty sure everyone knows who Malala Yousafzai is but just in case you don’t, she is a young girl from the Swat Valley who was shot by the Taliban because she wanted to go to school. Her autobiography details her culture, upbringing, and heroism. It not only tells her story, but that of her country and the injustice and violence that has swept the Middle East. Inspiring and eye-opening, I am Malala will make you feel guilty for everything you have ever taken for granted, especially the right to education.

1.  Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Throughout the novel, Gladwell discusses the concept of success and some of the arbitrary and often unrecognized factors which allow some people to rise to high success, becoming outliers in their fields. The depth reached in this book is achieved through examining the roots and elements of different scenarios and the research and analysis presented in this book is unlike that of anything I’d ever read. In searching beneath the surfaces of facts that most people just accept, Gladwell analyzes the unsuspecting components and criteria that can determine and explain success.

Hamilton the Musical: My thoughts

Warning: this article includes heavy use of Hamilton references. 

How does a bastard, orphan, son of whore and a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence impoverished in squalor turn out to be the best musical to have been ever brought to Broadway?

If you know me, you know that I am completely obsessed with Hamilton the Musical. It’s a Broadway musical that tells the life story of Alexander Hamilton and the American experiment. Hamilton is not a traditional musical, as it incorporates contemporary styles of music, such as rap, British punk, and hip hop. Basically, it fuses together the three things I love most: history, music, and beautiful writing, so it’s no surprise that I have been swept into the Hamilton craze. Oh and also, it’s race-blind. The cast consists of people of all ethnicities so yes, GW is African American. So is Angelica Schuyler. And Aaron Burr. Lin-Manuel Miranda (the composer and star) explains that Hamilton is a story about “America then told by America today”. Pretty freaking brilliant, if you ask me.

Favorite songs include:

You’ll be Back, Yorktown, Schuyler Sisters, Satisfied, Wait for It, Election of 1800, Cabinet Battle #1, and Cabinet Battle #2.

No particular order.

Perhaps one of the best characteristics of Hamilton, though, is that it is very inspiring. It shows the rise of a man who was born into poverty and low social standing, but managed to become a hero and a scholar. It shows the difficulties our country faced in its early stages and the people who fought to work through them. It is the story of someone obsessed with his legacy, who made mistakes, who suffered through his character flaws, and who helped set the groundwork for our nation.

Alexander Hamilton embodies courage, confidence, ambition, justice, intelligence, as well as arrogance and worry. Hamilton knew that above all, he wanted to be remembered. He wanted the world to know his name. He wanted to leave a legacy and he was willing to do anything to make that happen. And for that, I am inspired by him. I want the same things he does and I think that inherently, all people do. Perhaps that is why the musical is so well-received. Alexander Hamilton is the epitome of the American dream: an immigrant who made his way to the top and continued to fight for those at the bottom. And if the ten-dollar founding father without a father can achieve the American Dream by working a lot harder, being a lot smarter, by being a self-starter then so can you. At least that’s what Lin-Manuel Miranda is trying to convince you of.

I think that many of Hamilton’s ideals are still relevant today  (@DonaldTrump please listen to the soundtrack and rethink your campaign. Actually, you live in NY so you should really go see the musical. You, of all people, can afford it.) Immigrants are not lice upon society. Our nation was built by immigrants, quite literally. Hamilton, a founding father, was born out of wedlock in the Caribbean. Marquis de Lafayette was a French general who America could not have won the war without. In fact, every person in the musical is a immigrant because it doesn’t feature Native Americans. So all the despicability about immigrants as social and financial parasites needs to end. Also! Women’s rights! I’m perplexed as to why it is 2016 and women still make 77 cents to the dollar a man makes, even when they have the same positions and qualifications.It’s crazy that the ERA, started by Alice Paul DECADES AGO still hasn’t been passed. ??????????? no.

Alexander Hamilton, Angelica Schuyler, and George Washington would not be proud. So @AMERICA please… let’s do something about it. Do not throw away your shot because after all, History has its eyes on you.  I’m not sorry for the puns and references. Please go listen to the soundtrack. Also, the show is coming to Pantages this August-December so if you want to buy me a ticket, please do it. Please.

Soundtrack links:

Spotify:

Youtube:

 

 

Summer Sixteen

 

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Alas, September is here. And that means summer is officially over. Over. Well at least in California it is. I hear on the East Coast, they don’t start until after Labor Day. Am I jealous? Maybe just a little.

This summer was beyond extraordinary. Yes, I’ve been saying that every summer since 2014, but in my defense, each one just keeps getting better. I had the amazing opportunity to attend Stanford University’s High School Summer college this summer and I could not have asked for a better 8 weeks. Before I left, many wrinkled their noses at me and asked why I chose to take more school during my no-school period. Well, yes I did go to school, but that’s really not at all just it.

First of all, I got to live on the most beautiful campus. From the moment I stepped onto the Farm, I was entranced, but as I was able to explore more and more parts of Stanford, I fell in love. It wasn’t just the weather, which by the way, is so beautifully unreal. It wasn’t just the gorgeous palm trees, cool breeze, or intricate buildings. I fell in love with the vibe, the culture, the people, and the way of life.

I was lucky enough to be stuck with a group of amazingly talented and interesting people, with diverse backgrounds and bright minds. We quickly became a family and formed friendships stronger than most I have held for years.

I was lucky enough to choose from a wide selection of courses and take classes that I would not otherwise have been able to. Who knew I was into etymology and classics? Not me, until I enrolled in Greek and Latin Roots of English. I thought I knew what fiction was. Apparently not because I was introduced to a whole new way of writing, reading, and thinking when I took a Fiction Writing workshop class. Both classes were taught and taken by charismatic, intelligent, and creative people. I learned much from my professors, but also from my classmates. Never had I been so excited to attend class or participate in discussions. Never had I been so intellectually stimulated. Never had I found a space where I was so interested and comfortable in academics. Were the classes difficult? At times, yes, but the challenges were all part of the thrill and I learned to appreciate them.

Most importantly, I was lucky enough to be a part of a community culture that respected diversity and tolerance. Where people from all around the globe could gather and learn from and with one another, some (like me) for the summer, and others, for years. Where learning didn’t just happen inside the classroom, but outside of it. Where I learned that many of my beliefs and views were not inclusive of the whole picture. Where listening to other people’s experiences and thoughts fed my own and helped me to understand things just a little bit more from their perspectives.

And in the end, I concede, it was very difficult to say goodbye to the new family we had just formed, but the sweetness counter-weighed the bitterness. August 13th and 14th marked the weekend I cried for almost 48 consecutive hours saying my goodbyes. As my car pulled away from the curb for the last time, I honestly thought I felt my heart break. As I boarded my flight, I felt a sinking in my stomach and had my eyes not already been swollen and puffy (seriously, my mom thought I had pinkeye when I got home) I would’ve let it all pour out again.

I’m a crier. It’s not something I’ve been able to control because when I get emotionally attached, I can rarely hold back the stream so it’s what I’ve just accepted. But I’m also a lover and I can say from the bottom of my heart that this summer has been finding new ways, things, ideas, and people to love. More than I expected and more than I signed up for.

So thanks, summer sixteen. For the ride, the lessons, and the memories. It was wonderful.

The hammock that swings

Apologies for an overdue post, but as you may know, I am enrolled Stanford’s high school summer college program this summer. One of the classes I am taking is English Fiction Writing and the first assignment was an object description paper. We were to describe any object of our choice, and I chose the hammock that swings in the Cardenal courtyard. 

The hammock that swings in the Cardenal courtyard calls to me. The sheet of pastel oranges and reds looks flimsy from afar, but is actually intricately woven and supports the weight of four men. Nudged by a gentle breeze, the carriage sways from side to side. Tightly-fastened ropes hold the apparatus intact, and when plucked, hum as a bass does. They attach the firm, layered cloth to thin wooden planks, which are then chained to strong, black, steel beams that dig into the grass and dirt.

The hammock that swings in the Cardenal courtyard seems to represent tranquility. Its steady rhythm promises an alleviating session. Its constant movement searches for an equilibrium that has yet to be reached. Yet, the hammock stays and sways, its stripes of reddish hues flashing in the sunlight.  But when tipped a bit too far, even in the slightest, it gives, flipping over entirely, and emptying its contents onto the grassy bed over which it hangs.

A small tear on the frontal right hand side is a result of excessive weight and mishandling. But despite its flaw that is to some a sign of instability, the hammock that swings in the Cardenal courtyard remains a popular site for tired students seeking relief, peace, or simply a view. At dawn, the hammock is a platform to watch the sunrise. In the afternoon, under the blazing sun, it functions as a warming mattress, a tanning area even. As the day closes and the sun goes back to bed, frequenters return to see the sunset and when night penetrates, the hammock invites sleepy individuals to gaze up at twinkling stars amidst a quiet sky of black.

AP Testing 2016- Reflections

The most dreaded two weeks of my junior year career have fluttered by & away. I’m a bit nostalgic, but I sure do not want to rewind.

If you think high school students are melodramatic when they groan and moan over AP season, you’re exactly correct. However, being part of the crowd, I must say that the exaggeration does reflect elements of truth.

“Why do you take so many APs?” is the question I get quite often.

Well first, I only took 3 AP classes/tests this year, so it’s not the stereotypical 6 or 7 (really though, very few – if any – schools even offer that many AP classes to juniors).

Anyway, my generic answer to the question is: college credit. AP tests are $92 each but if you pass them, you pass out on a college GE class, which saves money in the long run. And, the quicker you get sophomore standing in college, the quicker you can graduate. With higher education being so expensive nowadays, APs are a smart route.

Another main reason to take APs are GPA boosts. An A in an AP class is worth 5 points, rather than the usual 4, which is why people are able to achieve GPAs over 4.0.

But behind the practical and superficial reasons I give out lies the sort-of ugly truth: Pride.

For as long as I remember, being smart was my characteristic. I think that there’s a part of me now that craves it – being on top and ahead of the game. That’s why it’s so important that I get accepted into the highest placing classes (we have to test into APs at my school), that I score high, and that I pass the AP exams at the end of the year (hopefully with 5s).

And the scariest part is, I am insecure. I am constantly frightened that I won’t do well or that I won’t do as well as I have before. On one hand, it’s great, because I’m always seeking to better myself. But on the other hand, it’s not, because every success I experience is another addition to the burden I carry. The burden of being myself. People are constantly praising me for my hard work and intelligence, but what they don’t know is that though their lauding relieves me, it also adds to my burden.

The only thing worse than being compared to someone else is being compared to yourself. And that’s why (in part) I try so hard. Because I don’t want to be the girl that used to be smart or was once so bright and achieved so much. I want to be in the present, forever. And so, though my past exerts pressure on me, it also propels me forward. I’ve never bought the (what I called) BS that “pressure can be good or bad”, but I’ve recently started reconsidering. I’m no physics nerd, but it’s basic knowledge that pressure can come from various directions. It can push you down from above, but can also push you forward from behind. Do I get a say? Because if I do, I choose forward.

And though some may say that pressure of all sorts is not positive, I’m deciding to trust that I can use pressure to better myself and achieve greater things.

Being the best will always be my aspiration. I’m still trying to figure out if that’s a good thing or not.

A tribute to stila eyeliner

Jet black

.016 oz

$22

 

Stila stay-all-day, you’ll never know your worth

Inky black lines, tattooed onto my lids

Never to smear, never to leave

until I gave the word

 

Stila stay-all-day, you’re what I strive to be

Your smooth, effortless glide

Waterproof and undeterred,

Liquid flexibility

 

Stila stay-all-day, you really stay all day

Through wind, through tears, through accidental eye-rubs

When I break down in public restrooms

And the gates of hell flood out

When the rest of me breaks down

But not my pointy wings

 

Stila stay-all-day, you hold through

You stand boldly

My glistening orbs, though swollen and puffy

Retain their crafted rims

 

They say the eyes are the window to the soul

Well, you are their guardian angel

And though they may be weak and they see not all they should

At the end of the day, it’ll be okay

Because their border stays

 

Stila stay-all-day, you are my daily constance

I know not what I will receive

What life will toss to me today

But despite my teenage angst and craze,

I know that you will stay

 

Friendships fade

Loved ones die

Boys will change their minds

But amidst the volatility, when no one else remains

You always stay all day

 

To keep your pigment

To keep your shine

I know not much but I do know

My liner will stay intact

Even if I cannot.