By Rachel Rosenstein
Now that the end of my senior year is approaching, I’ve allowed myself to take a step back and reflect on what my journey was like to get to this point. The first thing that comes to mind is how fast the time has gone. It feels like just yesterday that I was getting on that daunting yellow school bus with a massive pit in my stomach. I recall peering out the back window to see my mom following the bus. Did she really think the dark sunglasses and big floppy hat would prevent me from recognizing her car? As I walked into Chestnut Hill, I put on a brave face, but running through my head were thoughts such as: what if I can’t find my classroom? Who am I going to sit with at lunch? I arrived at the classroom to finally meet Mrs. Scherman, the teacher who to this day I credit for providing me with the sturdy foundation that I needed to set the wheels in motion. I’m not sure many of you have ever read the book All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten, but in the book it gives examples such as share everything, clean up your own mess, don’t hit people, put things back where you find them, and flush. Yes, Mrs. Sherman covered these critical life lessons, but went so far above and beyond that it jump- started my entire academic experience. I now realize that positive first experiences can truly set you on a path to success and that the importance of kindergarten should never be minimized.
As the years progressed throughout elementary school, I was fortunate enough to have incredible teachers who helped mold me into who I am today. I remember my focus became, how do I get my name up on that giant wall with that painted giraffe. I found out I had to stick my neck out to help a fellow student, and if it got recognized, my name would be painted on the wall. It became my mission! I’m proud to say today that my mission was accomplished. In the blink of an eye, fifth grade graduation had arrived. We stood proudly and belted out the words “Chestnut Hill, Sure and Strong as a Chestnut tree.” I find myself still humming it today. Speaking of trees, I’ll never forget the first day I walked through the doors of West Hollow Middle School. There were trees in the middle of my school. REAL TREES! I later learned it was called the atrium, and I often re-navigated my route to class in order to walk through this incredible space. Upon starting middle school, I first wondered if it was good to be in the middle. Sometimes it’s not, like when you’re in the middle seat on a long car ride, but other times it is, like when you’re in the middle of a great movie and you’re anxiously waiting for what will happen next. My “middle” or transition experience was filled with immense changes, but allowed me to grow as a student and individual. No more walking in single file lines, but rather waiting for that piercing bell to ring at the end of class and learning to master the combination lock. Yes, I did practice all summer the “right, left, right, pull,” so I was a pro at opening a lock before middle school began. West Hollow was only three short years, but in that time I learned how to work independently, be responsible, and establish lifelong friendships.
High school. Those two words can nostalgically bring out the most amazing and most terrifying memories in anyone’s life. Here, I was able to test my academic and social abilities as every decision affects your future. I developed and pursued my true passions at this special place, writing being one of them. I’ve always been an avid reader and writer, and upon entering high school it seemed logical to check out what the school newspaper was all about. Never did I imagine that four years later that I would hold positions for the Thunderbird, such as School News Editor, Restaurant Review Writer, and Executive Editor. I’ve truly enjoyed every role I’ve had from the actual work to the wonderful people with whom I was fortunate enough to interact, including Mrs. Dalton and Mrs. Davis. By being able to attend events such as the Long Island Press Awards and Student Press Day, I enjoyed the creative process and greatly broadened my scope of knowledge as far as writing opportunities in the future. Furthermore, because I had taken studio art in 8th grade, I was eligible to take a photography course as a freshman. I did not know much about photography, but was intrigued by the idea and decided to give it a shot. I quickly fell in love with the art of photography; it gave me an outlet to use my left brain and express my creativity. Not too many people get to have a teacher they admire tremendously for four years of high school. Whether she knows it or not, Mrs. Uttendorfer has taught me a whole lot more than just photography techniques; she has inspired me to look beyond the surface and find the depth in all people and situations.
Although I started my charity when I was only 10 years old, once I reached high school this once seed of an idea had quickly grown roots. As I got older, I became much more socially conscious of what was going on in the world around me. Compelled to improve the world around me with warmth and empathy, I continued to grow “Covers Cause We Care,” a charity that collects and donates used blankets to those in need. Over the years, I have navigated the world of volunteering without a budget, learning the language and procedure involved in running a thriving nonprofit as I go. When the blanket donations arrive, I spend hours sifting through each shipment, making sure all blankets are in thoughtful, respectable condition. As I have transformed messy piles into stacks of neatly folded gifts, my outlook on life has been transformed. I know how lucky I am to have my basic needs met and then some, and I feel passionately about bringing that luck and love to others. To date, Covers Cause We Care has proudly donated over 5,300 blankets to those in need on Long Island.
A few years ago, I was humbled to find that I had influenced my younger sister’s outlook on service and desire to give back. Together we started “Baking a Difference,” a monthly event for our local shelter’s population of underserved homeless men. Every month we set a scene, cooking for the shelter’s 25 guests, around a theme. With every meal, we aim to emphasize our diners’ humanity and throw a momentary shadow on the pain of the homeless experience.
Five days a week for nine years, I danced on a competition team. Dancing was by far my favorite hobby of all. During my freshman year of high school, I tore my right hip labrum; I turned down an intensive surgery that provided no guaranteed results, forcing me to turn in my dance shoes as well. The loss of a passion to which I devoted so much heart and time could have darkened my vision for the future. I suppose I was mature enough to realize that I could either let this defeat me or find a way to pick up the pieces and move on. Instead, I brought new interests into the picture. No longer limited by the massive time commitment dance required, I eagerly jumped into new commitments, making the Varsity Swim team and elevating my rehabilitation exercises into a full-fledged extracurricular pursuit. I also set my sights on impacting my school community, addressing the widespread issue of bullying as a Peer Ambassador, and creating a program called Leveling the Playing Field, in which I offer free academic tutoring to students who do not have the resources they need to succeed. With my injury came an opportunity to refocus and reframe my goals. High school has taught me that life can often throw you a curveball, but ultimately it is how you handle the situation that defines you and builds true character.
High school generally imposes educational growth, but I didn’t expect that I’d grow this much as a person. For me, I can say my four years in high school were anything but ordinary; at times they were challenging, at times they were chaotic, but nevertheless they were incredibly valuable. Over the years my viewfinder has become even more pointed at harnessing optimism, empathy, and action. I have sculpted my worldview and crafted an artful and inclusive perspective to make a positive impact. I have to thank every teacher who has ever taught me, Dr. Woodberry, several different coaches as well as my family and friends for sending me off to college the person I am today.
I am excited to become a Blue Devil, and while at Duke, I plan to continue writing for their newspaper The Chronicle. Duke’s campus is home to spectacular gardens called the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. When I need a break from my studying, I will grab my Canon Rebel T5 and continue to find beauty behind the lens. As I prepare for my college journey, I cannot help but wonder where dorm-room blankets go after they are done being used. When I begin this next chapter of my life, “Covers Cause We Care” will come with me, planting its fully formed roots on Duke’s campus. I am not sure what the fate of dorm-room blankets has been in the past, but I am confident I can predict their future. Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and although this chapter in my life is ending, it will certainly never be forgotten.