Why?

Just Because

There have been many moments at Project Just Because that could be considered “life-changing”. Considering the organization has been operating for around two decades and I’ve only volunteered for 2 of these years, this means there have been so many more that I have never witnessed. And it’s interesting because these moments of realization don’t change your entire outlook on life, but they make you realize how important what you are doing is.

I very distinctly remember my “life-changing” moment. I began volunteering in September 2015 and this moment occurred in January 2016. In between the beginning of my life at Project Just Because I was volunteering because I wanted to volunteer and PJB was the closest option I had. By January I had built better relationships with the other regular volunteers once they realized I was actually coming in on a regular schedule. I had been promoted from sorting clothes to distributing them, and let me tell you, I’ve never been happier. Now this is going to sound kind of weird, but I remember vividly what this woman looked like. I had just walked out of the backroom after completing the children’s portion of the order and I looked up and saw this woman just standing there wearing a tank top and leggings in the middle of winter. And since PJB is really sensitive about keeping client’s identities private I don’t want to say what she looks like beyond that. The other volunteers and office manager are kind of frantically rushing around and talking to this woman trying to figure out what they can do. Routine is that a request form is sent in and then a week or so later you come in and pick up your order, but this woman had never submitted an online form and she just came in hoping we could get warm for her children.

She kept repeating that she only needed stuff for her children and she didn’t need anything if her children weren’t going to get something because she did. I was instructed to go get some winter coats and clothes and eventually we got her clothes for herself and her children. I came back into the main room and I caught onto tidbits of the conversation as she explained her really troubling situation that I won’t go into detail about (again for privacy issues). And it wasn’t until later when I got home and I could not stop thinking about it that I realized how important my work is at PJB. So many of the orders that I fill everyday are changing someone’s life somehow and it’s an easy thing to forget. There are occasionally times when I don’t want to sort through 6 bins hoping to find 32×34 pants for Adult Male #2 that I’ve never met. But then I think of how important it is for these people to have size 32×34 pants because they can’t just go out and buy them. These kinds of moments when people come in with their heartbreaking stories are the ones that remind me to keep pushing. And for those 4 hours a week I’m able to be a part of something bigger than myself.

It may sound silly, but the best parts of my days are the ones where I get to go to Project Just Because. It’s such a loving, calming, healthy environment. The other volunteers who are all retired act as my mentors and treat me as one of their own. I owe so much of my growth to this small, local charity. Sometimes I forget how integral volunteering is to my existence. It makes me so much happier and excited about my future of changing lives. I believe that for the rest of my life I’ll try to find some place as wonderful as Project Just Because.

Project Just Because is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that serves as both the Hopkinton Food Bank and a donation driven clothing redistribution service for all of Massachusetts. There are also seasonal programs such as Back-to-School and Christmas. If you or a friend are in need of services from Project Just Because or would like to donate please visit their website. 

A Random Ramble About a City I Love

Boston, Boston, Boston

In my mind, I have possessed the city of Boston since I was young. In reality, I have never possessed something so magnificent or grand.

Only a few days of my childhood were spent shopping for overpriced Christmas gifts for my mother and playing in the fountains near the Mother Church after Sunday school. Of course the airport and field trips to the Science and Children’s Museum were sprinkled in there as well. Yet these fleeting moments accumulated and allowed me to believe that I’ve known the city better than my peers. I don’t know street names, nor do I know what color T line connects South Station to Back Bay. How far away is TD Garden from Fenway? I couldn’t tell you. I have never known what the streets smell like in summer or how it differs from what they smell like in the winter. I’ve been misinformed about the history of the city and the injustices that have occurred on the same streets that smell of molasses on a warm summer’s day.  

The Red Soxs were the last MLB team to desegregate. When I first heard this fact I thought I had hear them wrong. “You mean Austin, as in Austin, Texas?” No, Boston. I would continue to repeat “Boston, Boston, Boston” until the word sounded foreign on my tongue. The word sounded nearly as foreign as the possibility of Boston being a racist city. How could my cherished city be one that harbors a racist history?

My sister wrote her capstone about the desegregation of busses that occurred in Boston from 1974-1988. In history we read about the bussing problem and saw a picture of a white man trying to stab a black man with an American flag. An unexpected, and unwanted, surprise. How much do I really know about the city I claim to have grown up in? I can recognize the skyline, but I can’t recognize the continued displays of racism. The tradition of singing “Sweet Caroline’ at the bottom of the 8th inning must have made me deaf to the racial slurs chanted at the players on the other team. It makes me wonder to what other injustices I have been ignorant to.

Boston is a beautiful city with an ugly past. I loved walking on the streets with my cousins and siblings during hot summers, but I loved marching with my mother, sister, and little brother to stand for women’s’ rights even more.

A Love Letter to Getting Mail

What Time Does the Mail Truck Come?

There’s something quite romantic about receiving a handwritten letter. I always love to see a letter waiting on the counter with my name written on it, although recently it’s almost certainly an advertisement for a certain college. But sometimes it’s not. It could be a ‘thank you’ or a birthday card, or hopefully it’s a love letter from Harry Styles. No matter who wrote it or how much they wrote, opening a letter is always lovely. I don’t know why it’s the best feeling, but I have some assumptions…

  1. Someone spent time actually sitting down to handwrite a note just for you
  2. Typically the reason people write instead of text nowadays is because the contents of the letter aren’t urgent, so getting mail means something good or exciting has happened
  3. You can keep the letter forever and never accidentally delete it (unless you throw them out)
  4. The person who wrote it probably loves you a lot
  5. It’s a pleasant surprise
  6. Letters are a simple, but thoughtful gift
  7. They feel more professional and more heartfelt
  8. Opening envelopes is extremely stress relieving and gratifying

I assume my letter loving addiction was founded soon after I first attended camp in Maine. Homesick and friendless, I waited for mail time each day hoping that my mom replied to my tear stained letter. It was the only way we could communicate so letters were often lengthy and took my mind off missing home. One year when my best friend wasn’t returning to camp with me, my sister packed 21 letters (one for each day of camp) into my trunk so I could open one each day. A thoughtful gesture that helped me feel a little less lonely and inspired me to not waste my time at camp.

Writing and receiving letters has got to be something that I most love.

What makes us ‘smart’?

The Distinction in Intellect

Have you ever read a novel so well written that you have to pause to appreciate how each sentence somehow transcends the previous? Or have you seen a painting that was so beautifully done that it consumes your every thought for the next 8 weeks? How about that time the boy from your english class captured the attention of every student in the room, even the boy who watches lacrosse videos all period, with an explanation on how well the journalist uses commas?

We all have this quintessential image of a ‘smart’ person. Our definition of a ‘smart’ person changes as we move throughout our schooling years and eventually our professional lives. You start to realize that being able to do the whole times table in less than 5 minutes doesn’t make you smart. In high school ‘smart’ is having a 4.0+ GPA or getting a 2300 on the SAT. But the problem with these definitions is that a. they’re one dimensional and b. so many people can reach this level through tutors and hard-work. Not to belittle these methods because they are most certainly understandable and acceptable ways to get ahead, but it’s not genuine intelligence.

We can all be book smart to some degree, granted some will be more book smart than others, but we can all know what the square root of 4 is and the correct spelling of ‘conscience’ (I just had to use spell check for that word if you must know). It’s all accessible knowledge. These people are those who became our class valedictorian and the ones that got into Stanford. You go about your whole life wishing you were them, but then you come across a person who is on a whole other level of intelligence.

It’s truly humbling when you find yourself in the presence of a genius. It’s like every single cell of your body realizes how inferior they are and how they’re all okay with it. It’s fascinating that an experience so rare can be so universally recognized. We must establish something though: this feeling isn’t produced every time you stumble across an above average intelligent person and it’s not only unique to those who can get into an ivy league college.

Intelligence isn’t something they have to work for. It just is. Some do things with their gift and some don’t. Being exceptionally smart is just another trait that some are lucky enough to possess, like beauty or a natural singing voice. But with this realization we must understand that being this ‘natural smart’ doesn’t make them better than the person whose textbook is their bible.

 

Dedicated to the boy in my english class who is so humbly brilliant. You somehow awe me each day. Your wit, wisdom, and unmatchable control of the english language is something I appreciate everyday.

The Double Standard in Pop Culture

Sports Fans = Boyband Fans

There was a period of my life where one of my bedroom walls was completely covered in cutout One Direction photos. Yes, I was that kid who spent an entire weekend cutting up all my One Direction magazines and hanging my 5 posters on my Honolulu Blue wall. 40 Harry Styles saw my naked ass every night for six months.

My family loves to make fun of me for my juvenile obsession.  Constantly reminding me that my existence is unknown to the *four boys I’ve dedicated hours of my life to. Or mocking the tears shed over Zayn Malik quitting the band in 2015. Oh and let’s not forget that they take every chance to mention that One Direction is on an indefinite “break”.

But as my brother taunts me when I swoon over Harry’s magazine cover (#blessed), I remember that time he chased Patrice Bergeron, 1st line forward for the Boston Bruins, down Commonwealth Ave.. He couldn’t stop smiling as he looked over the paparazzi like pictures we took of Bergeron walking.

It’s easy to scorn teenage girls at a concert for screaming so loud and singing at the tops of their lungs, but for every teenage girl at a concert there is an adult male at a football game screaming just as loud. When was the last time a violent riot broke out over a boyband? How about a violent riot for a sports team? I don’t think there has been a violent riot over a teenage heartthrob; however in 2011 a large scale riot broke out in the streets of Vancouver, BC after the Vancouver Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in the 7th game of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Why is there a double standard? It isn’t fair to shame boybands fans if we aren’t going to ridicule sports fans. Either way, neither should be ridiculed. If something like a concert or sports game can invoke so much positive and passionate emotion in someone it’s completely worthwhile .

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*Rip Zayn

Throwback to that time I flew to Peru just to recreate this photo with my friend……okay so maybe sports fans don’t take their dedication that far.

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I’m just kidding, this photo was an after thought.

Do.

The Meaning of Life

Do More. That’s the answer, not 42.

Existing isn’t living. Existing is breathing and living is doing. Life is meaningless if you never do something more. That doesn’t mean travel to every country or find a cure for an incurable disease. It means don’t do less. Always work towards something, and don’t just work, work hard. Fit 30 hours into a 24 hour day. We can always do more.

People will tell you to wait. But what is the point of waiting? Your limited time will pass while you just sit by and wait. Life isn’t a given, we have no clue when or how we will die. It’s completely unavoidable. Life won’t wait with us.

Make it Count.

Make life worth it. It coincides with doing more. Make everything you do count. There is nothing more wasteful than living a life that has no purpose. Give it purpose. Push your limits and think beyond what you’ve been told to do. Don’t play it safe. By playing it safe, you do nothing and don’t live. Make the most of your time here.

Do what makes you happy. Following the beaten path is meaningless. If you die today wouldn’t you want to make sure everything you’ve done thus far was purposeful. That wasted hour spent worrying about how you’ll afford college could’ve been spent do something you love or meeting new people. Never waste what you have.

There is no meaning unless you create one.

Do more and make it count.

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“Teachers don’t fail, only students do”

Here But Still Forgotten

An anticlimactic and disappointing article about Trump was why I first picked up the Boston Globe magazine sitting on my kitchen table, but it left me unsatisfied. To fulfill my want for a good morning read, I continued to flip through the magazine to find the cover story about the future of my state’s standardized test, MCAS. I discussed my opinions on standardized testing in the past so I wasn’t planning on writing this post, but a quote jumped out at me and I just had to respond.

Linda Hanson was introduced as a literacy tutor/teacher for the Arlington schools who applied to the state’s committee for redefining the test. In response to not being selected she offered up this quote “Teachers are the only ones who really can see how students react to the tasks that’s put in front of them. Why would you want to produce something that doesn’t have strong teacher input”? I wholeheartedly agree because this is something I have been saying for years, although I typically argue that students should have the input.

There is a lot of money, time, and effort spent on bettering schools and improving education. Tests are created and recreated constantly; new curriculum is introduced each year, but student input is never asked for. Us students are more aware of our needs than a committee of adults who attended school 30 years ago. Naturally they are stuck in the past, an era of less stress and less tests. A picture from the article shows test creators sitting around a table, 3 out of 6 have white hair. Yet here they are designing more tests because they are blissfully ignorant of the students’ reactions.

It’s almost as if the education board forgets that the students are living, breathing children who don’t want a state test every other month. Not only this, the test questions are scanned by adults who know the material better than the students. How is that fair? If a 59 year old man can answer this question, then surely an 8 year student can as well. It’s impractical and clearly not well thought out.

Yet despite being a test designed solely for children and teenagers, the article focuses primarily on how tests affect educators. But what about the students? A question I’m sure is never asked at these meetings. How are the people most negatively affected by testing forgotten? The students are the ones losing sleep, developing depression and anxiety, learning how to test rather than learning, not eating, becomingly dangerously stressed, and feeling the need to cheat.

Students continue to be forgotten and left behind although they are the ones most affected. It’s tragic.

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Standardized Testing

Less Stress = Less Tests

Standardized tests are something I have felt strongly about since the beginning of my testing career. No kid likes tests, okay well maybe some do, but as a general rule kids hate tests. I’m no exception. They’re asinine and inaccurate.

My state’s test is the MCAS, Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, taken grades 3-10 with the exception of grade 9. There is a reading and writing section as well as a math, and select grades have a science. The questions themselves I never found to be too hard, the typical “If Daniel eats 3 apples and Frank eats 4, how many apples were eaten in total?” never really bothered me. It was the principle behind the whole thing. The energy and the time spent learning how to answer the questions is ridiculous.

In 5th grade we had a practice math MCAS open response due pretty much every week in preparation for our upcoming math MCAS. During math the following week we would go over the good responses, all student examples, and my teacher would tell us where and why people lost points. I always got a 3 out of a 4 because I never quite explained enough and therefore my work was never used as an example (that really busted my ego). You see, the question says “show OR explain”, but my teacher always insisted we  “show AND explain”. But how do I show and explain that I added 2 and 3 together and got 5.

It was frustrating even as a young child to spend more time learning how to answer the MCAS than actually learning the skills. In past grades we would spend weeks practicing just how to properly format the answer, valuable time we could’ve spent actually working on math or english.

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John Oliver, the most knowledgeable American who’s really a Brit, is brilliant. He mixes dry humor, facts, news, sarcasm, popular culture perfectly, yet also delivers a very informing spiel. Basically, he is my kind of guy. He sums up my frustration in an eighteen minute video on testing.

These tests are doing nothing for us besides taking time out of learning and giving more unnecessary stress to students. I take 28 benchmark tests, 14 exams, hundreds of tests and quizzes, and other tests such as MCAS, SATs, PSATs, ACTs, etc. a year. That is insane. The funny things is, teachers hate it too! They lose teaching time and then they have to spend more time grading the exams. Also, at least this is true in my town, if students do well, the teacher receives a bonus. But in other towns and states, a teacher’s job may rest on how well a student does. How has our education system become more focused on doing well on standardized tests than actually having kids learn. Education and school are not synonymous and it’s time for the United States government to recognize this.

Standardized testing is not the solution to ranking better in the world. Funding should be increased for lower income schools and the standard for education should be increased across the country rather than decreased. Yet increased funding is not the solution either.

Finland is beating nearly every country in PISA test scores and humiliating the U.S. who spends more time and money on education. #1 in math, reading comprehension, and science, Finland is doing something right. Most Finnish students have less than an hour a night of homework, shorter school days, nearly triple the amount of recess time, learn real world skills, and only have one standardized test throughout their secondary school education. And Finnish teachers are highly respected, paid nearly as much as Finnish lawyers and doctors, and not required to follow a certain curriculum. The U.S. education system could learn something from Finland.

Testing should be reduced in the United States and more effort should be focused on rewriting the system rather than editing it. I hope that by the time my children begin their education that there will no longer be the stress and pressure that surrounds standardized testing.

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Interesting Article about Standardized Testing

Standardized Testing and the Education Dilemma

 

Sibling Appreciation Post

To my BFFs

I think about it a lot: what would I do without my siblings? For school we’ve been reading In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. Three sisters from the Dominican Republic were assassinated for starting an underground resistance against Trujillo’s dictatorship. There was a fourth sister that never joined and ended up living. I read the epilogue right before I went to bed, so I was left thinking about living without my three siblings.

I don’t know how I would do it, all three of them are my best friends. I’m closer to my older sister and older brother who are 22 and 20 respectively, than to my younger brother who is 9. Understandably so as I have spent most of my life with the older two and we had nearly the same childhood. Yet my younger brother just completes the group. I’m glad I had the opportunity to grow up with them.

All three of them have shaped my personality and define who I am. My younger brother has made me more responsible, conscientious, patient, and motivated. And even if we rarely get along, and even if I’m not allowed to babysit him anymore because all too often babysitting him ends in tears, I would still die before watching him get hurt. He’s my Bug and I’m thankful for him everyday.

Earlier I walked by my brother and put up my hand for a fistbump and he put his hand up for a highfive, we both had enough time to change our minds, but neither of us did resulting in a fistfive. I think that describes our relationship very well. We are two completely different, stubborn people that wouldn’t be friends in a million years, but it works. One night neither of us could sleep and we sat on the couch talking and he said to me “We are actually very similar”, and that may be a stupid line to remember, but it meant a lot. It meant a lot because later he said to me “I know I love someone when I can see a part of me in them”. He is someone I admire a lot. He has helped my opinions become more concrete, even if our views are polar opposites, and motivated me to become a better arguer. 10 years ago, he would tell me daily he hated me, but now he occasionally buys me chipotle and tells me he loves me.

My sister is someone I absolutely adore. She works so hard and is such an admirable person. I look forward to every weekend when she comes home in sleeps in my bed, allowing us to talk until 2 am. We have matching shirts, dresses, and a matching face. Christina is always supporting me and guiding me through life. She edits all of my papers and keeps my focus straight. I can’t imagine having a better relationship with my sister.

I wouldn’t care about politics or feminism if it wasn’t for them. My older siblings introduced me to politics and the way the world works. My older brother’s opposing views on feminism sparked my interest. I used to depend on them for all my views, but in the process of learning more about their opinions, I have created my own.

If my necklace, the one that has four circles with an initial for each of my siblings, isn’t proof enough, I’d rather die by my siblings side than have to live without them. I love them dearly and I’m eternally grateful.

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Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor

A recurring question of mine is, are all the other people in the world figments of my imagination? I think that everyone around me doesn’t exist until I need to interact with them. My mom doesn’t walk into my room until my brain decides she should. It’s an idea that I hate, but also love; my favorite contradictory thought.

My brain looks a little like this when it happens: Is my brother actually showering right now? Or am I just making up the noise of the shower and the sound of the shampoo falling? Is everything in my life a façade? Am I in a coma and this is my dream?

One day as my older brother was driving me home from school, I told him of my theory. Of course, he just loves to debunk all of my creative theories and fantasies. He told me that there is in fact a philosophical law that’s called Occam’s Razor that completely overturns my discovery.

Basically, if there is more proof and less doubt that one hypothesis is true over the others, then that hypothesis is correct. For example, the sky is blue. More people have said it is blue than people who have said it is red so it is blue. Also there is more scientific data to prove that the sky is reflecting the blue color, or whatever it is that makes the sky blue.

He went on to brutally tell me I’m wrong and stupid. He didn’t actually do that, but that’s how it felt. It does take more reasoning and explanation to prove my theory than it does to just accept that everyone around me is alive and exists just like I do. It kind of sucks though, I thought I was a genius for figuring out life. But I guess that wouldn’t have amounted to anything if everyone else around me didn’t exist?

Or maybe, I just made this up so I wouldn’t burn down my mind palace (@ Sherlock).

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