Laurel and I have been best friends since we were toddlers, and one of our favorite things to do together was make videos. We loved making music videos, but our specialty was creating original videos. We also loved editing videos, and would spend hours editing our videos to transition perfectly and look just right. Videos were such a big part of our friendship, and we loved creating together.
The basis for our original video series was very simple, a good guy coming in to fight the bad guy and save an innocent victim. We called these videos "Saving Abby," and have countless clips of Abby getting kidnapped and her twin sister Anna coming in to save her from the bad guy "Monster." Laurel and I would take turns playing Abby and Anna, but we would always force my younger brother to be the bad guy. Every movie ended with Abby getting saved. Looking back it's easy to see that when we were younger we lived in a very black and white world where good would prevail and darkness would always be overcome by the light. We were inspired by movies from Disney and Pixar, and our "Saving Abby" series had a similar outline of a "princess" in a bad situation eventually overcoming the "villain." Our "Saving Abby" series reflected our innocent and simplistic understanding of the world.
I watched "Blackkklansman" last night, and I was deeply impacted by the powerful and heavy message it conveyed. The scene alternating between a gathering of black students and a KKK meeting gave me chills as the words "black power" and "white power" were chanted by the two groups. Their messages couldn't have been more different, and the audience is meant to feel deeply uncomfortable by the way the world used to be, and the racial tensions that remain in our country today. There is no simple victory in the racial tension our country continues to face, and the movie made it clear to see that the relationship between blacks and whites in America continues to be extremely complex.
As Laurel and I grew a little older and began to have a better understanding of the world, we started to love youtube, and we made a channel to post videos. We loved watching youtubers like Zoella, and since we both love Taylor Swift we would watch her music videos all the time and try to recreate them. Movies and youtube were such a big part of our friendship, and I'll always remember the summer days that seemed to last forever as we filmed together under the sun while eating an entire bag full of honey mustard and onion pretzels.
As I grew older, I began to look at the series more critically, and picked up on some of the political warnings that JK Rowling had written between the lines. In the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, a new character, Dolores Umbridge, is introduced for the first time. She worked in the Ministry of Magic, but is hired to become a professor at Hogwarts. She quickly gains power in her position, and even takes over as Headmaster when Dumbledore is arrested. However, despite her role of authority, Umbridge appeared to have a complete and utter lack of a moral compass. She was abusive to the students, pushed her political agenda, and was blatantly prejudiced against “half-breeds.” Although there are no werewolves in the real world, I think that this prejudice she was able to push onto others in her position of authority is comparable to the racism and mistreatment of refugees depicted in “La Haine” by police officers.
Just as Harry and his friends grew up and exhibited countless acts of courage as they fought against injustice, we too must look in the face of oppression and racism and fight for the rights of all people to be treated with respect and dignity. My understanding of the Harry Potter series has matured over the years as I grew older and more aware of the deeper meanings and implications woven into the book, and now my understanding of the world and the corruption of people in authority has also grown.
Although I was never successful in forming a babysitters club of my own, my dreams of babysitting came true when I was in seventh grade, and I’ve been a babysitter ever since. I’ll never forget my very first day as a babysitter. I had just turned twelve, and had agreed to babysit a two year old and four year old twice a week after school. That first afternoon I changed the first diaper of my life, which I accidentally put on backwards and had to be shown the right way to do it by the four year old older sister of the toddler. Talk about embarrassing. But that was only the beginning. We went out in the backyard to play on the swingset, and the two year old started to cough. The cough wouldn’t let up, so I figured that he was playing too hard and wearing himself out, so I decided that we were going to go back inside and have him sit down and take it easy for a couple minutes. As we were walking back toward the door, their mom had just gotten home from work, and met us at the door. The toddler immediately reached out his arms to his mom, and as she picked him up he threw up all over her, and all over the patio we were standing on. I always laugh when I look back on that first day of babysitting, but at the time I felt so bad, and couldn’t help being grateful that he threw up on his mom instead of on me. I can handle blood, bruises, and poopy diapers, but I have the biggest fear of vomit.
Luckily, The Babysitters Club series had me prepared for tricky situations when babysitting. More importantly, each book had great lessons about friendship and family relationships. As I read the books, I couldn’t help but compare myself to the main characters. Each character had an interesting backstory, certain passions, and different talents and weaknesses. Despite how different they were, I found a little bit of myself in all of them. Like Claudia, I have a very close relationship with my grandma. Like Kristy, I have an older and younger brother. Stacy and I both love shopping, but I always felt like I had the most in common with MaryAnn. She was described as shy, quiet, studious, and kind.
The two of us have grown closer and closer as I got older, and she is so proud of me for studying to become a physical therapist. She always asks me to hurry up and finish school so that she can stop going to her current physical therapist and come to me instead. We love to do puzzles together, play games, and bake cookies. When I’m home I go with her to physical therapy and doctor appointments. We also love to go out to breakfast with my grandma, and spend time by the waterfront in the summer.
Although I am not even close to being “tech savvy,” I’m always the first one she calls when her iPad isn’t working or she wants to download a new app. We play bowling, yahtzee, and pacman on her iPad together, and love to play scrabble or cards at the kitchen table with my grandparents and brothers.
I have absolutely loved watching The Intouchables. Philippe reminds me of my Aunt Patty. Although she is able to move, and even walk a little bit, she is often bound to her armchair at home, and her wheelchair when she leaves the house. It’s really hard for me to accept that my Aunt Patty will never be able to walk without help again, and that she is fully dependent on the caregiving of my family. The Intouchables helped to illustrate that a disability does not mean that life is over, it is merely changed. I think that my aunt has been able to stay so cheerful despite her lot in life because she was willing to adapt to the challenges life threw at her. Instead of becoming miserable and asking “why me?” after suffering from a stroke years after surviving a brain tumor, instead she always looks on the bright side, loves fully, and is always excited to try out a new joke she read in her joke book.
One of my favorite parts of high school was Magic Belles, the competitive, all-girls bell choir I was accepted into my freshman year and became captain of as a senior. Bell choir was my heart and soul. I made all of my closest friends, and we traveled to Dallas, Orlando, and LA together or competition each spring. I loved the music, the camaraderie, and the uniqueness of belonging to such an unusual group.
My favorite song we ever performed was Sabre Dance. This song was really challenging, and took countless hours of stressful rehearsal. This song was special to all of us, because it is played at every Buffalo Sabres hockey game. Although most of us didn’t (and still don”t) follow the NHL closely, we had all experienced at least one Sabres game in the arena, with excitement so tangible you could almost reach out and grasp it, and the thrill of each goal the Sabres score. We were able to recreate some of this excitement in the way we performed the song in the bell choir. Because we knew the song in a special way, we were able to put emotion and feeling into our ringing, which I thought was really cool.
Way back in the beginning of the semester we watched “Cinema Paradiso,” and the love and care that was put into each movie clip reminded me a lot of the careful attention, hard work, and emotion that went into our bell choir performances. Each song was unique, just like each movie, and they all told a different yet beautiful story in their own unique way.
Here come the Irish! My older brother graduated from the University of Notre Dame last May, marking an end to an incredible four years. Notre Dame football became a staple in our house, and I visited South Bend, Indiana countless times while he was in school. The University of Notre Dame is such a special place. Every single building on campus has a Chapel, which was a mindblowing concept to me when I first visited. The campus is breathtakingly beautiful, and I loved getting to visit my big brother during my spring breaks in high school. I’ll never forget cheering for the Irish in the student section of the stadium with an incredible view of Touchdown Jesus, and staying up until 3am every night with my brother’s friends to build snow forts, make movies, and explore campus in the middle of the night.
Rudy is an incredible movie about a man who dreams of playing football at the University of Notre Dame, and overcomes all odds to gain admission and work his way onto the team. Rudy is one of those movies that left a special mark on my heart. The heartwarming story is set on campus, and I think it is so cool that this Catholic University is central to this successful film.
I went on a retreat for high schoolers at the University of Notre Dame the summer before my senior year, and it was truly life-changing. I grew in my faith tremendously, made incredible friends, and found a home at Notre Dame. There is nothing quite like a walk around the lakes, a visit to the grotto, or a Mass in the basilica.
Despite graduating the year before, my brother and his girlfriend spent this Easter at the University of Notre Dame. They visited all of their favorite spots, remembered countless adventures, celebrated Easter Mass in the basilica, and most excitingly of all GOT ENGAGED in the grotto. I couldn’t be happier for them, and I’m so excited that they got engaged in the place where their love story began several years ago. There is nothing quite like Notre Dame.
There is nothing quite as magical as walking down Magic Kingdom’s Main Street in Disney World. I cherish the memories I have with my family and friends in Disney. Magic Kingdom used to be my favorite park, because I loved Cinderella’s Castle, the princesses, and of course, the fun rides. When I went back to Disney in high school with my bell choir for competition, I realized that I liked new things and found new favorites. Epcot became my park of choice, and I had so much fun walking around the countries with eight of my good friends. It was the first time I had walked around the countries, and I loved experiencing the depictions of different cultures. When I was in high school, Canada is the only other country I had ever visited (which, at 15 minutes away from my house, didn’t feel like a different country at all).
Walking around Epcot was the coolest thing in the world. I got to explore Japan, China, Italy, Germany, England, France, and Morocco over the course of a couple hours. It was the first time I had ever experienced other countries, and opened my eyes to the fact that the world is much bigger than the city I grew up in. Watching Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring in class was really interesting, because it gave me another taste of a different culture. The movie was set in Korea, which isn’t one of the countries in Epcot, but the floating house in the movie had similar architecture to a restaurant in Disney’s Japan.
Another Disney park that is slowly becoming another favorite of mine is Animal Kingdom. The entire park is heavily influenced by Africa. The Kilimanjaro safari is an amazing Disney attraction with a safari vehicle that drives around acres of Disney property filled with animals native to Africa, like elephants, lions, hippos, and zebras. A few months ago I got to experience a true African safari in Uganda, and I had to keep pinching myself to remember that what I was experiencing was a real safari with true wildlife. Apart from the guided safaris in the Animal Kingdom, and watching The Lion King nonstop for years on end, I never really knew much about Africa. I was fully immersed into African culture after stepping off the plane in Uganda, and was blown away by the different landscapes, colors, animals, and places I saw. I can’t wait to go back to Africa one day, but for now I’ll have to be satisfied watching The Lion King on repeat.
One of my favorite Jesuit principles is “Finding God in all things.” I personally feel God’s presence the strongest in nature, which is why I love to hike. At home, I often go to Chestnut Ridge park with my family, and we hike all over the park. No hike in Chestnut Ridge is complete without a stop at the Eternal Flame, deep in a ravine. So many of my favorite family memories are centered around hiking in Chestnut Ridge.
The summer after my freshman year in college I went on an Ignatian Pilgrimage to Spain and Italy. While we were in Loyola, Spain, the birthplace of St. Ignatius, we hiked to the top of a mountain to reach a huge statue of St. Ignatius that overlooks the village of Loyola. This was one of the most arduous hikes I’ve ever experienced, and without the constant support and encouragement of our group, none of us would have made it to the top. I learned an important lesson that day. We are strong as individuals, but by working together as a group, people can accomplish anything.
Last summer I went to Hawaii with my family. My older brother Matt had just graduated from college, and my younger brother Michael graduated from high school. It was one last hurrah for my family, before we began a new stage of life with my older brother moving to Wisconsin, my younger brother moving in to college, and me spending most of my time in Scranton. We had an incredible vacation, and had a blast exploring the islands and making precious family memories together. One of my favorite parts of the trip was our hike to Diamond Head in Oahu. It was absolutely amazing to hike all the way to the top of the volcanic crater, and the views from the top of the mountain took my breath away. I couldn’t stop thinking about Lilo and Stitch during the hike as my family had a blast racing each other, taking breaks, laughing, and driving each other crazy. In Lilo and Stitch the phrase “Ohana means family. And family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten,” kept running through my head. It was really cool to feel the spirit of Ohana during the hike, and throughout the trip, because it made me feel a lot better about the fact that my family was about to be living all over the country.
In Uganda, I got to hike through the Bwindi Impenetrable Rainforest, and saw countless monkeys in the trees. We hiked to three waterfalls, and got to swim in them. It was such an incredible journey, and I’ll never forget a moment when I was walking quietly by myself and saw a purple butterfly peacefully flying through a bush. I stood there mesmerized for a couple of minutes, watching it fly by. It was one of those God moments that I’ll never forget, and it’s hard to describe the sense of peace that came over me as I watched it fly around.
Although the concept and construct of NBC’s “This Is Us” is much different than this Korean movie, the themes of family and forgiveness are closely related. This Is Us is my favorite TV show, and it follows the Pearson family in multiple timelines as they navigate through the ups and downs of life and loss together as a family. Kevin, Kate, and Randall are triplets. Randall was left in a fire station and brought to the hospital where Rebecca had given birth to Kevin and Kate, as well as to a third baby who did not make it. She was convinced by her husband to adopt Randall, and believed that he was truly meant to be a part of the family. Throughout their life, Kevin and Randall come into constant conflict because Kevin is more athletic, and often gets jealous of the coddling Randall receives from their mom, claiming that he only gets so much attention because he’s adopted. This tension continues into their young adult life.
However, one touching scene in Season One shared a beautiful moment of forgiveness and the unconditional love of family. Kevin is about to step on stage for his play’s premiere, when he gets a weird call from Randall that sounds odd. Kevin sacrifices his big moment, a potentially life-changing moment in his career, to check on his brother. Randall was having a panic attack, and was so upset that he couldn’t even see out of his eyes, and Kevin came right in time to comfort him. This is such a touching scene because a flashback is played showing a time in their childhood when Kevin saw Randall having a panic attack, and turned the other way, leaving him to face his anxieties alone. Watching Kevin comfort Randall as adults almost brought me to tears, I thought it was so moving and such a sweet moment of sibling love that transcended the jealousies and insecurities that had marred their relationship for years.
The word family gives me a sense of peace, comfort, and loving calmness. Family is a feeling of unconditional love and the ability to be yourself. It’s filled with people, who aren’t necessarily related to you, who build you up and are with you in your lowest moments. I’m so blessed to have such an amazing family back home, and to have found a second family in the beautiful souls of my friends. It doesn’t matter if family is the relationship between a monk and his apprentice, a family with an adopted triplet, a group of friends, or anything in between. A true family loves, supports, and forgives one another.
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