Words and Big Life Changes

I did not post this past Wednesday because the last two weeks, words were difficult.

I’ve learned a lot about words recently. It is so important to use our words to build, to create, to encourage, to love, to comfort, to unite.

Moving forward, there are so many changes coming to my life that it is pretty hard to fathom. I graduate high school next week and in the fall will be going to Emerson College to pursue a journalism degree. My last day of classes is in 48 hours. Prom was on Friday. I performed with my choir for the final time last Thursday (On the car ride home after that concert, I cried as hard as the last time I had a tantrum when I was like seven). It’s all moving too fast, and I just feel that I am hopelessly trying to cling to this intangible thing called time, in the same manner as if I was clinging on to a tractor trailer trying to stop it from speeding down the highway. In both cases, it is to no avail.

The greatest thing that I have learned from the conclusion of my senior year, however, is just how important it is to savor every moment you have with the people you love. I’ve learned this on two different levels over the past two weeks. I’ve also discovered that the worst of times aren’t going to be the times you remember. We hyper-focus a lot on our mistakes in the moment. I made plenty of mistakes in high school, but looking back, those aren’t the memories that jump out at me (unless they’re really funny). What I do remember are the times I was laughing, singing, having fun, interacting with people I love.

I’ve been doing my best to journal my last days of high school, but of course life goes by so quickly it’s hard to keep up. But I’m trying, and I’m so glad I am, because I’ll be able to look back on exactly how I passed through these moments.

Time is a jerk, but you don’t have to let it bully you too much. Take in everything. Put the phone down and form real connections. Unless you’re taking pictures, then keep your phone out. But don’t take too many of those either. Write it all down at the end of every day. This is life is such a gift, get as much wear out of it as possible.

All right, it’s time to head back to school and make some more memories.

Trip Report: Spain

As part of adding travel as a major component of this blog, I am going to be doing trip reports after my travels, which essentially are just posts about my trips detailing what I enjoyed and possibly didn’t. This week: Spain!

There were ups and downs, but on the whole my trip to Spain with the school was an incredible opportunity that I am very grateful to have been a part of. I learned so much about Spain’s history and how that intertwines with the history of America.

The tour began in Madrid, which is a bustling metropolitan area that shares many similarities with Times Square – down to the freaky cartoon character costumes running around the main area. Even amongst the city, however, there was still so much rich history to be found. We visited the Prado Art Museum on our first day in Madrid. Some of the paintings were breathtaking, and it was surreal to see in real life the famous works that I had studied in Spanish last year. On our second day, we got to tour the Royal Palace, which is still used by the Royal Family of Spain to host events.

Our third and fourth days were by far my favorite. We stopped in Toledo, an old-fashioned city tucked into the rolling hills and filled with castles. It reminded me a lot of Sorento, Italy. We watched sword making and gold etching by actual masters of the craft. Then, we went to my favorite place, the Alhambra. The Alhambra is essentially a Moorish palace, but within the palace grounds is a giant garden like something straight out of a fairytale. Arches of roses, flowers of all colors as far as the eye can see, fountains and orange trees, paths lined with hedges a mile high. It was breathtaking. We could have spent the rest of the trip in that garden, and I would have been perfectly happy.


On the fifth day of Spain my teacher gave to me…a vey relaxing day in Marbella. The majority of the group went on a catamaran ride, but my family and I chose not to sign up for that excursion, so I spent my day with the other kids not on the excursion lounging by the hotel pool and shopping. When the rest of the party returned, we spent the day at the beach.

I cannot recall a lot of what happened in the last couple days, as that was when I came down with an intense stomach bug and had to spend one afternoon sleeping in my hotel room. I do have pictures from Segovia, which was cool from what I remember. There were lots of traces of Christopher Columbus’ presence and influence on the Spanish.

Again, I enjoyed the trip overall, however I do not ever want to tour a country in that way again. We were constantly on the go, and that took a toll on all of us. Everything always felt rushed – that day by the pool was like a miracle! It also felt like we were being forced to see every nook and cranny of each city we were in. While I love history, six cathedrals later it starts to be a lot of the same, you know? I would have appreciated maybe seeing a little less but going at a slower pace so we could really take in the beauty and history around us.

The Other Side

I begin this post as I lounge poolside with some of my friends at a hotel on what is appropriately called the Costa del Sol. If you had asked me a week ago how I was feeling about traveling to Spain with a group of my classmates, relaxed would have been the last word on my mind. 

I was majorly anxious for this trip not because this is my first time traveling abroad, but because this is my first time traveling anywhere without my parents. I was worried about everything: I would forget something without their reminders, I would accidentally eat something that I’m allergic to. This anxiety rose to the point where I was physically sick and had to stay home from school the day before our departure.

While I laid in bed that day trying to get over my nausea, I was scrolling through Facebook and something compelled me to watch a video of Will Smith giving a speech. In it, he said the following: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” I don’t know for sure whether he is the original author of that quote, but I repeated it to myself in school, in the airport, and on the plane the next day until I fell asleep in my seat and awoke to our descent.

Once we touched down in Madrid, all of my fear disappeared. Each day I have gained more confidence in my abilities to advocate for myself and take responsibility for myself and my belongings. Not only did I make it to the other side of the world, but I have made it to the other side of fear. And what I’ve found on this side of both is absolutely incredible. 

Spain is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen. From the Moorish palaces in Toledo to the gardens of the Alhambra to the bustling city life of Madrid, each of our stops have been uniquely fun and educational. There will be another post when I return describing my trip in detail. 

The biggest way you can combat your anxieties about foreign travel is simply positive thinking. None of my worrying was warranted – everything has been fine. I wish that I had been able to convince myself of that, then I could have spent my time being excited about the trip! 

Foreign travel can be scary, but once you get to the other side of your mind’s limitations, it is worth it. 


My biggest fear did come true: I got sick the last two days of the trip and am still battling a stomach bug. But I survived and even thrived in Spain despite it!

On What It’s Worth – guest post by Evan Moloney

My dear friend Evan Moloney is an aspiring novelist, whose work I greatly admire.  Even though our fields of writing are different, we are constantly offering one another advice and a shoulder to lean on. Writing a novel is a daunting but incredible task, and I encouraged him to share his perspective on what drives him to continuously take on the challenge. 

As Nicole and I discussed the content of this post, one of her suggestions was to speak about motivating oneself to write. That topic is deep, meaningful, one of the places wherein there will always be more room to give input. And yet, as I thought over the sort of post that might be, I began to realize how unqualified I am to write it.

Nicole and I met in high school, from which I managed to escape a while ago, and ever since then I’ve admired her work ethic*. She’s able to get things done, to set her mind to something and conquer it nearly free of procrastination. And that’s something I haven’t been able to replicate for myself.

During and since high school, I’ve begun eighteen novels. I’ve finished two, and will hopefully write THE END on a third by April. My collective word count must, at this point, be somewhere in the millions. But even still, the need to motivate myself to write is something that I’ve struggled with since I began…and I will likely continue to struggle with it for a very long time. And yet, I write. I’ve been forced recently to think about what else it is that keeps me going, keeps my pen on the paper, and in that regard, I’ve begun to find some answers.

One of my mentors as a writer and a human is author John Green, and he once described his favorite part of the writing process to be “having written”. That is something that hits home for me—and in fact, it’s a huge part of what keeps me going. I can’t describe how often I’ve thought of opening a letter or an e-mail from a reader, and hearing their story. I’m not looking to hear that my book has made an impact on them or changed their life, or anything like that…but to have forged that human connection, to have created something that brings me closer to the world, has always been a guiding light.

I’ve feared in the past that it’s something like Polaris—a star to be followed, but never reached. But the possibility that I could one day be in that place is beyond alluring. It is beyond motivation. It’s hope, in a way, that what I do is more than meaningless. It’s an expectation that it will be more. And of course, I’m not saying I’m inspired by a simple desire to receive fan mail. Rather than some exercise in narcissism, I’m searching for that knowledge that what I do can have a greater meaning than that which I assign it. We all chase that knowledge, and in a way I seek confirmation that it can exist.

Beyond that, I’ve always found it incredibly helpful to keep my goals in mind. The first ten percent of a story is easy enough for me; so is the last thirty percent. But the meat of the story has always become somewhat difficult—progress, if I get that far, will slow to a crawl. The moment of genesis of every story I write is something of a scattering—dozens of threads of plot and character are thrown out in all directions. As a story ends, those points are all brought together into a single close. But at some point in the middle, the outward-going velocity of those threads must be slowed, and redirected, and pulled in so that they are made to focus toward a single goal. The image chosen for this post illustrates this: From the point of origin, everything goes out in all directions. But eventually, it must be wrestled into the correct angle and made to converge.

During these times, I replay the foreseen ending of my story over and over in my mind. Every moment I can’t wait to write, every character I love…and especially, the thrill and relief of writing those two sacred words THE END to cap off the piece. In some ways, it can be discouraging to be so far away from the goal, and so constantly reminded. But that feeling can be fought through…and once that is done, the intoxicating pull toward completion is impossible to resist.

And in a certain way, writing is a release, just as much as it is a journey. Coming to the close of a book, I’ve begun discussing it more and more with my close friends, the vast majority of whom are not writers themselves. Among all the other questions they ask, one is a constant: they want to know why I write. They want to understand why I want to sit and slave away for hours each day, producing something that may never be read…and I’ve realized that it is for two reasons. Firstly…I have the story. It’s inside my head, and it’s captured my attention in a way that I can’t help but want to explore it. In order to get it out of my head, I need to get it out…to write it, to put it on paper, so that it’s there instead of inside me. But the second reason is far more important…and it’s one of love.

I’ve made a practice of falling in love with my books. Not the plot, perhaps—I never manage to fall in love with those, but then, they’re always secondary. My stories are defined by three main aspects: the characters, the world in which they interact, and the philosophy that guides such interaction. Most of all, the characters capture my attention—the project I’m wrapping up now is the first time I’ve ever really loved them, and the effect that has had on writing cannot be overstated. Even when I’m terribly busy, even when the last thing I want to do is to write, I want to be with them…and I know that the only way to do that is by writing. By that action, and that action alone, I can see them again. I can breathe their breaths, feel their hopes and fears and their beating hearts.

To be there with them…that is what makes everything worth it.

*No, Nicole did NOT ask me to write that or insert it afterward. She’s genuinely an awesome person and deserves to be recognized for it.

Tour of New York and New Jersey

I have not been active the past couple of weeks because I was recently on the trip of a lifetime with my Honors Choir.

My choir teacher graduated from the acclaimed Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. Thus, he has many connections throughout the school and was able to arrange an incredible experience for all of us.

On our first day, we stopped in New York City and received both a vocal and choreography coaching from members of the Broadway cast of Aladdin. We then got to eat dinner with members of the ensemble and ask them questions. It was incredible. Of course, we then got to see these people in a showing of Aladdin immediately after. After “Friend Like Me,” one of the cast members looked up at our section and waved!

The remainder of the week was spent in Princeton, where so much magic happened. We got to sing with choirs from across the globe, receive evaluation and coaching from a renowned Latvian conductor and perform our own repertoire at a Friendship concert, and perform our repertoire in a historic Princeton church. I was able to meet my favorite choral composer in the world, Dr. Morten Lauridsen, shake his hand, and rehearse two of his songs including my all time favorite under his instruction.

On our final night in Princeton, we, along with a couple of other choirs, performed these two songs during the closing ceremonies. During the second song (which has become my second favorite of all time), “Sure on This Shining Night” I experienced an incredible moment. There I was onstage, in the choir music capital of the country, singing my two favorite Morten Lauridsen pieces as Lauridsen himself sat at the piano five feet away from me accompanying us. I stole a glance across the sea of singers and looked at each member of my choir, my conductor, and the audience, until finally my focused settled back on the beautiful sound that was coming from us. My heart swelled as I was reminded of what it truly means to be in a choir.

Singing in a choir is not all about the music, nor the technicalities of singing, nor learning intervals and chord structures. That is only a small part of it. The act of making music as a group, the act of unity through a shared goal, is something intangibly magical. Music is something that can bring together all walks of life, in all different languages. Choir is a place where discrimination does not happen, where isolation does not happen, where the madness and chaos of the world cannot enter so long as we continue to present this message of togetherness, hope, and love. Music will be the thing that unites our divided civilizations. I am so, so thankful that I get to be a part of a choir family forever.

I will return to Princeton someday, but for now, you gorgeous city, I leave you with all of my love.

My Top 5 Apps for Student Journalists

In the four years I have been practicing high school journalism, my old notepad and pen have gradually become obsolete. I do just about everything on my phone now, and because of this, I have been able to figure out which apps work best for my needs. I’m sharing with you the five that I use most often in my work.

1. Snapseed

Snapseed is a photo editing app, and is perfect for when you need to edit a photo on the go or don’t have access to Photoshop where you’re working. Simply upload a photo from your camera roll to get started. It has all of the essential features: cropping, Dodge and Burn, and color tuning. But it also comes with a wide variety of other tools and tons of filters. You can even add text.

2. Google Docs

All of the writing we do for my school paper is done through Google Docs, so for me at least, having this on my phone is a necessity. I can access articles from wherever I am and send them to my advisor or whoever else. Most importantly, I can write on the go, making it even more possible to be a mobile journalist.

3. Legend

This is one of the coolest apps I have ever used. It was introduced to me at the Free Spirit Conference, and all other text-to-photo apps pale in comparison. Not only can you put the text onto your photo — you can MAKE IT MOVE. It’s hard to describe in writing, but you should definitely try it out. This is especially useful for your newspaper’s social media. It makes the visual super enticing for your audience.

4. Voice Memos

Yes, this app comes preinstalled on most iPhones, but I use it in almost every interview I do. It makes it so easy to just listen to the person and therefore have a more in-depth interview than if you were furiously writing down what they were saying. Also, when you go to write the article you have their exact words recorded rather than having to decipher your shorthand. The only feature I wish it had was the ability to provide a written dictation of the memo you select (nudge nudge, Apple!)

5. Your own website!

This is more for fun, but having your website accessible on your home screen is convenient and useful. Not only will visiting it a couple times a day jack up your viewership, but checking in on how the mobile version of the site is functioning is just as important as upkeep for the desktop version. Also, it’s a nice touch that makes you feel all official-like. 🙂 But props to you if you have the capabilities of making an actual app!

Those are the apps I absolutely love and use all the time. Download them for yourself and let me know what you think!

I wrote a play…at 2 in the morning.

There was no post last week because I had (my last!) midterms, and my posting policy is that school always comes first. So this week, I’m going to talk about the incredible 24-hour journey I went on last weekend.

I am a part of my high school’s chapter of the International Thespian Society, which is essentially the national honor society for students in theatre. At our meeting about a month ago, we realized we needed to do something this year as a fundraiser. Something big. We originally had the idea of doing a teachers vs. students lip sync battle, but it wasn’t approved in time to get the ball rolling. So, our advisor and director posed a new idea: A 24-Hour Play Festival.

We had the option to be a writer, director, or actor, and in the weeks prior to the event we each put in our preferences. I put writer first, actor second, and director last. The (actual adult) directors then assigned each student to a role, but weren’t allowed to tell us until the start of the Festival.

At first, I was dreading the very idea of the event, and wanted to be a writer primarily because I wouldn’t have to give up my entire Saturday learning a show – or worse, directing one. But as the date crept closer, I began to embrace it and got very excited…until I realized the day of that I had no idea what I would write about. I then secretly hoped that they had made me an actor.

On Friday the 13th I attended an improv show at the school, and afterward those in the Festival stayed to hear their fate. Sure enough, I was chosen to be a writer along with three other students. We picked our actors out of a hat, were given brief directions, then sent home to create our works.

I left terrified. What on earth would I write about?  How late would I be up pacing the floor, trying to think of something? The plays needed to be in by seven the next morning. What if I failed?

On the car ride home, however, the word came to me out of nowhere, splashing across the blank slate of my mind: birds.

At first I rejected the idea, because I knew exactly where that was going: to a very personal experience that would be a risk to write about if I didn’t do it right. But, after 45 minutes of racking my brain and coming up empty, I knew that was the plot I had to work with.

At two in the morning on Saturday, January 14th  I submitted my first original, ten-page play: Birds. The show, on the surface at least, is about a young bird who learns to believe in himself and find his wings, despite other birds around him who discourage his efforts. After I hit send, I fell asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow.

That day, my friends who were actors and directors worked ceaselessly to learn, costume, and block the four shows. At around noon I stopped by to see how my show was coming along. Watching people speaking my words and acting out my stage directions was one of the most exciting and surreal things I have ever experienced. It was very good fortune that my friend Lauren ended up as the director of my show, because she got everything exactly right, and made it even better than I had pictured it.

That night, all four plays were presented in the auditorium. It was so wonderful to see the fruits of everyone’s hard work, and I think the message of my show was received well by the audience.

The mother of one of the actors in my show is the librarian at the lower elementary school, and after the performances she came up to me and said that with my show’s message of perseverance and inclusion, it would be perfect to perform at the elementary school during a future assembly on bullying. Which is beyond amazing.

If that is able to happen, I hope my show can inspire those kids to spread their wings, just as the 24 Hour Play Festival inspired me to spread mine.


Book Review: The Monopolists by Mary Pilon

When I attended the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference this past June, I was fortunate to meet (and actually have a long conversation with) journalist Mary Pilon prior to a banquet honoring Chris Berman. After Ms. Pilon spoke at the program’s commencement, we received autographed copies of her book, The Monopolists.

For years, Parker Brothers have touted the tale of Monopoly‘s origins: a young man named Charles Darrow dreamed up the game and presented it to Parker Brothers, who went on to market it and the game turned into the company’s biggest hit. But what if that story isn’t entirely true?

It turns out that the idea for Monopoly began when a young woman named Lizzie Maggie created The Landlord’s Game in the late 1800’s, intending for it to educate its players on the dangers of monopolies. The game evolved and was passed through hundreds of hands before catching the eye of Charles Darrow. So, many years later, when a man has the idea of a game called Anti-Monopoly and Parker Brothers sues, will he be able to prove that Monopoly may have been in the public domain all along?

This book was extremely well-written. Pilon perfectly mixes fact with narrative to tell the story in a way that is as entertaining as it is educational. Especially during potentially boring court-related scenes, I felt as though I was right there witnessing the action. I became attached to the people she writes about as if I knew them. The coolest part is that all of them are – or were – real. The book is extremely eye-opening, and it is crystal clear that Pilon did plenty of painstaking research in order to present an accurate telling (as is expected with a journalist). I would passionately recommend this to…well, anyone who has played Monopoly and wants to impress their friends the next time they sit down for a game. 😉

My 2017 Book-It List

The adorable bookmark shown in the above picture was given to me as a Christmas present by one of my best friends, with whom I share a love of puns. Getting that bookmark reminded me of the numerous novels that are on my to-read list. So, I’ve narrowed that towering pile down to the six books that I want to read this year. It turns out that 2017 will be the year of the biography (but mostly memoirs).

1.) The Stranger: Barack Obama in the White House by Chuck Todd


During the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference this past June, my friends and I were able to watch a taping of Chuck Todd’s Meet the Press and speak with him briefly afterward. When we returned to the Newseum after the show, we each received an autographed copy of his book The Stranger. In it Todd discusses the challenges Obama faced in his first term trying to change the culture of politics. I am super excited to read this because as we say goodbye to one of our nation’s greatest Presidents, it is better late than never to learn more about the trials and victories of this fantastic man.

2.) Michelle Obama: A Life by Peter Slevlin


Barack is my President, but Michelle is my inspiration. Throughout the Obama Administration, Michelle has been an icon in public health and female empowerment. I look up to her in so many ways; she is driven, brilliant, compassionate, funny, and strong. Being able to read more in-depth about her life I’m sure will only strengthen my love for her.

3.) Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick


Ok, Anna Kendrick is super cool. She’s real, she’s tough, and she totally killed it as Cinderella in Into the Woods. Not to mention she’s hilarious, and I expect her memoir to be nothing less. According to multiple reviews I’ve read, the book is a collection of personal essays by Kendrick that let readers into her brain as she recounts both the incredible and the ordinary during her rise to fame. I can’t wait to read this because…come on, it’s Anna Kendrick. She’s so cool.

4 & 5.) Wishful Drinking and Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher


Oh, the beautiful, wonderful Carrie Fisher…Princess Leia was my childhood hero, and I will forever be grateful for your inspiring portrayal of a strong, badass, yet humble leader that always will inspire me. You yourself embodied those qualities, and through your open conversations on mental health and the strength that women truly possess, you have inspired millions. Thank you, my dear. Rest easy.

Having admired Fisher my whole life, the news of her death yesterday morning broke me to pieces, and I realized that I had to learn more about her. I definitely plan on reading her two memoirs because now I’m old enough to fully understand and appreciate what she has to say. It won’t be easy for me, but it will be worth it.

6.) Confessions of an S.O.B. by Al Neuharth


Yeah, I know, I probably should have read this book a while ago…you know, like before I went to the Free Spirit Conference. To be fair, junior year was hell and I was taking finals up until literally the DAY BEFORE I left for D.C. So I had zero time to read it. Now I do (kind of), so I’m going to knock this off my book list as soon as possible. Neuharth was such an incredible man, and I can’t wait to indulge in his passion and witty humor while reading one of his multiple memoirs. Of course, I have a lot to thank him for, so appreciating his work is the least I can do.

Ok! Here’s hoping come next December, my mind will be full after devouring all of these fantastic books. Happy New Year! *

Dealing with Disappointment

This time last school year, I auditioned for the school musical and was cut, and afterward I wrote this piece for my school newspaper. Now, though the circumstances are much better, I am dealing with similar disappointments again, and I thought it would be wise to share this once more, both for others feeling this pain and for myself.

For my entire life, theatre has been one of my passions. There is nothing I love more than stepping onstage and getting to escape my life by assuming that of a character, no matter how large or small their role is in the story we are telling. Over the past three years, I have been a part of five theatrical productions here at HB. While I only once have known more than ensemble, I am immensely grateful for every moment I’ve spent on that stage.

Nevertheless, my dream for junior year was a simple one: to get a lead in this year’s musical, Into the Woods. In the weeks prior to auditions, I practiced relentlessly, though I was down on my knees praying for a chance to reach my goal more often than I was standing and singing.

When the big day came, I was ready.

I felt my audition went well. I even got my first callback! However, the day after, I was heartbroken to see that my name was not on the cast list. There wasn’t even an ensemble.

Disappointment, especially when it involves something you deeply love, is hard to deal with. However, it’s an immensely large part of life, especially for teenagers who are applying to colleges, going to job interviews, or simply asking someone on a date (I’ve had plenty of those disappointments as well, trust me). In cases like these, it may feel like the world is falling down around you. But it is totally possible to get through it.

First off, go ahead and have a brief pity party. Kick a wall, scream into your pillow, cry on the shoulder of a friend. An article on PsychCentral states, “You need to experience your emotional reaction to the event. It’s important to let yourself feel so that you can figure out what the event means to you.” Don’t keep things bottled up. However, I’m putting a lot of emphasis on brief. Let yourself feel, but don’t keep beating yourself up, or beating down others for that matter. The more you complain and bar yourself from getting over it, the worse it will feel.

Another thing to keep in mind is not to take action until you are in a better state of mind. Don’t immediately begin pointing blame at those you feel wronged you. Don’t even begin figuring out what to do next. Just wait and breathe.

The other thing you have to remember is not to take it personally. Have faith that you did your best. Yes, I had a pretty good audition, but what I needed to remember was that there were 51 other students at auditions, all of whom are incredibly talented, with the same dream as me. I decided to be proud of what I had done and to accept the result regardless. The directors had unbelievably tough decisions to make. And if I wasn’t right for the cast, well, they had done their job correctly.

Above all else, in the face of failure the key to success is having a good attitude about what happened. Believe that this occurred for a reason. If a door slams in your face, know that there is another one down the hall that’s open and ready for you to walk through. Having a positive attitude does pay off.

When I came into choir class on Friday, our teacher congratulated us all on auditioning. Then he said that he and his co-directors had decided to add an ensemble to the show.

I was asked to join because, as he said, I had kept a positive attitude and supported those who were cast.

Life can knock you down, kick you again when you’re on the ground, and kick you a third time, harder still. But then everything quiets down, and you can stand up again. When you get your bearings, you’ll see that you may not have ended up where you wanted to be, but you will be in a place where you can look around and say, “You know, I’m ok with being here.”

So, I’m looking forward to dancing in the background once more, and cheering my friends on from the wings. Because that’s what it’s about: the experience and the fun. I know I’m going to have another amazing time onstage this March.

That’s the power of positive thinking, right?