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Senior voices: essays from the class of 2021 Compiled by Valley High School senior Aditi Tripathy

This compilation of essays from nine Valley High School showcases the wide variety of talent, hobbies, voices, and perspectives that our multifaceted high school has. Every single student of our school has their own stories built off their experiences in their time here: recollections that can shine best through writing.

Many of these well-written essays are unfortunately usually not able to be seen outside of the college admissions process. By choosing to honor the senior class, who went through unprecedented times, these essays can provide inspiration and hope to the future students of all West Des Moines Community Schools.

This project was created for GT Seminar, part of Valley's Gifted/Talented program, where students facilitate seminars, participate in enrichment, explore life beyond high school, and dialogue about aspects of giftedness. The project was facilitated and supported by Mrs. Karen Downing, a GT Seminar and Advanced World Literature teacher at Valley.

Vidya Iyer

Future Plans: Environmental Engineering at University of Southern California

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

As an LGBTQ, female, student-of-color attending a Midwest suburban public school, I experienced and witnessed my fair share of bigotry: macroaggressions like students wearing the Confederate flag to school without any visible consequences and others yelling the n-word or the f-slur at students in the halls, to microaggressions - asking me if I'm a citizen of this country, telling me I'm "exotic", or not bothering to pronounce my name.

After 10 years of simmering, I needed to do something about the treatment of minority students. I started working with CORE (Community of Racial Equity), an organization dedicated to creating racial equity in the Des Moines Area.

Through CORE, I realized I could make a difference and fight for change in my school.

Following the horrific police brutality deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, I helped to plan and lead a series of socially distanced outdoor town hall-style discussions this summer focusing on race in the Des Moines area. State politicians and local leaders, Ras Smith and Abdul-Samad, and even my principal came to support us.

I worked with the school superintendent to create a more equitable school environment for all students - the position of an Equity Director was created. I was the only student in a panel of adults interviewing candidates with Ph.Ds for the job - at 7:45 am in the middle of summer break: it was surreal.

I then co-hosted a series of zoom discussions with the West Des Moines community to explain our plans. Parents spoke up -stories of kids being excluded, not wanting to go to school because of racist taunts were heart-wrenchingly relatable, further fueling my fire.

I would change the system so that these children wouldn't have to change themselves.

Before I joined CORE, I felt my voice didn't matter: often my friends' and classmates' experiences at school were invalidated by authority figures. In CORE, I met teachers and administrators who cared, wanted to hear what I had to say.

My work at CORE has been life-changing and eye-opening activism and I love every moment of it - ensuring that future generations of BIPOC students, my sister included, entering the scary world of (high) school would not have to face the ugly inequity of racism.

Change is hard and frustratingly slow but the results are of great consequence.

I stand proud.

Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

My mom said that I could draw before I could write. I would take dry paint brushes and "paint" the pages of colorful books. I played with driveway chalk, delighted by the powdery pastels and streaks of bright color - a 4-year-old Van Gogh wannabe.

My life has always revolved around art. As a first-generation, Indian-American immigrant, academics often took precedence over everything else. I think when my parents decided to name me Vidya (Sanskrit for learning), they didn’t expect their daughter to have such a bold artistic streak.

Actually though, it’s in my genes: my mother is as much an artist as I. Growing up a promising student in India, her options were medicine or engineering; she became a doctor because “she could draw well”. Thus I was raised with paint in my veins, graphite under my fingernails, and an utter fascination with creation. The younger me would look at my mother’s paintings and think I could never create that. Now, my mother gushes over my work saying she never could paint like that.

My art portfolio lives under my bed - a shoebox holds my smaller sketches and studies, and a bigger box - my charcoals, paints, graphite, and paper towels smeared with color. I often open those boxes, flipping through old sketchbooks, laughing at odd proportions, or ripping out pages I don't like.

Practically, I apply my skills in creating T-shirt designs for STUCO Dance Marathon fundraisers, unique birthday cards/gifts for my friends, displaying at local art shows, and selling stickers on Redbubble. I would like to bridge the chasmic gap between rugged industry and art, bring beauty where least expected, create an endless flow and peace in the mundane and make it feel just right.

There is a drawing of my father cradling me as a baby while he sang Blackbird to me. "Take these broken wings and learn to fly/all your life/you were only waiting for this moment to arise."

College is my moment.

Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

My pounding heart feels fit to burst. My lungs are on fire; sweat stings my eyes. Moving my legs has become less of a conscious action and more of a reflex. When I finally stop to catch my breath, lactic acid burn kicks in - my calves and thighs feel like jello.

This particular breed of torture is called cross country and, believe it or not, there are over 150 students at Valley High School who take part voluntarily!

I am not good at XC. Coming from a family of affirmed nerds, my cross country aspirations were met with bemused tolerance. It was hard for me to accept my ineptitude; I had never been so bad at something before.

Cross country taught me tenacity: to reach into myself when all seems hopeless and grab that last fragment of my energy to pull me over the finish line.

Early on in the sophomore season, I got a tibial stress fracture. I know, right? I had a boot on 24/7. But I was still part of the team, so the entire season, I rode a stationary bike- 16, 20 miles a day. Blasting Radio Gaga on Spotify, I did mental math, created an indestructible Avatar who would run for me, help so many people experience the wind-in-the-hair magic freedom of running., and thought about after-practice popsicles.

At the end-of-season banquet, I was voted “ Most likely to win RAGBRAI”.

XC taught me to persevere, push my limits, take down mental barriers, accept my inadequacies, and be part of a team.

I learned my lessons well. Pacing myself with assignment planning: enduring a day of feverish AP school work, hospital volunteering, “Brown Baddies” dance practice, and a calc test the next day. It taught me teamwork and the value of another perspective- with group projects in class or working in the uVoice community garden, planting, weeding, and eating cherry tomatoes - showing teamwork and endurance in the summer heat.

I am often alone on the trail, peaceful and at one with nature...until inevitably the pain kicks in. But I keep going; I know I can make it.

The end is just around the corner, and so are popsicles.

Quinn Clair

Future Plans: Biology (Public Health/Epidemiology) at Florida State University

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story

Living In The Eye Of The Storm

I jolt up from my notes just as the voice over the intercom pierces the room, releasing me from my last class of the day: Anatomy and Physiology. Immediately, I am off to the next item on my agenda and speed home to start on a lesson with my 6th graders over factoring counting numbers, part of my Mathematic Honors Project. The goal of these lessons: to instill in a younger generation a love for math that many elementary schools are devoid of. After traversing the barren lands of elementary mathematics, I grab a protein bar and rush back to school so I’m not late for our HOSA meeting at three. In this meeting, I talk with a psychiatrist and learn more about his profession, and then I dash down the emptying halls to football practice for the next hour. It’s Thursday, so we have a walkthrough (the only slow part of my day) followed by a team meeting and dinner. Between mouthfuls of carbohydrates, I find time to joke with my friends and teammates about the events of the school day and practice. After about three trips through the dinner line, I rush home to give my sweat-stained skin a quick rinse before heading directly to Acapella Reign practice at eight. We sing in the stairwell for the acoustics and ambiance. Around 9:30, our doo-wops come to an end as we head out to the cool fall air and drive to Taco Bell for a late-night snack before heading home. As soon as I arrive home, my parents greet me with hugs and questions about my day. I sneak away to my room where I am once again greeted by the warm glow of my computer screen. I bounce from task to task from my AP Gov DBQ to AP Statistics assignments, before finishing with terminology for my Anatomy test the next day. Finally, at around 12, I collapse into the soft embrace of my pillow and spend much too long scrolling through social media before giving in to exhaustion for my 5-7 hours of sleep.

While many use high school to find a single group of friends or one sport to play, I would be incomplete without my whirlwind schedule and jack-of-all-trades high school experience. The diverse encounters garnered from this approach have taught me how to build meaningful connections with strangers and blessed me with a passion for service. Additionally, I’ve learned to juggle the stress and workload of a full schedule of athletics and activities while still taking AP classes and performing well in school. I have every intention of continuing this hurricane-like lifestyle through college and beyond as it has become a source of great joy for me. Although my life is a constant rush of “what next?”, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

What sets me apart from other people my age isn’t the things I’ve done or been a part of, but the skill set that I have gained from my experiences. Being calm and collected despite my hectic lifestyle has given me the ability to be comfortable with long nights studying and early mornings working to improve myself. My confidence in the face of chaos coupled with a love for helping others has drawn me toward a medical career. Because of my sprinting lifestyle I know I will be comfortable with the constant rush of tasks present in a hospital, and confident enough to lead and make important decisions. I would love to be able to spend the rest of my life using my abilities to save lives, an occupation where I am constantly building new positive relationships and helping anyone who needs me. Amidst the constant rush of life around me, this is my eye of the storm.

Tell us about the most significant challenge you've faced or something that didn't go according to plan. How did you manage the situation?*

The cancellation of spring and summer athletics left student-athletes everywhere devastated. No more team lifts, conditioning sessions, or even team meetings as we were forced out of schools and into quarantine. Aware of the impact this could have on our season, I, along with other leaders on the team immediately searched for innovative ways we could overcome the virus that was taking the world by storm. This was no small task as we were unable to meet with coaches, use our school's weight room, or even get on to our field. However, we persevered. In April and June, we organized groups of two and three to lift while socially distancing and wearing masks using equipment available. We also safely organized conditioning in position groups (we were easily able to spread ten feet apart from each other while all sharing in the suffering of running the same hill). Eventually, I was able to contact a Valley football alum who owned a gym and allowed us to work out there. This led to multiple supervised lifting sessions to limit group sizes and maintain social distancing. Effectively, we were able to pioneer an offseason program with full lifting facilities and conditioning five days a week, despite no support from our coaches or school. Without these offseason workouts, I don't believe it would be possible for us to be moving into the quarterfinals this week like we are, and it was all possible due to our perseverance and brotherhood.

Bailey Walke

Future Plans: Aerospace engineering with a leadership and mathematics minor and twirling at Kansas State University

Tell us your story. What unique opportunities or challenges have you experienced throughout your high school career that have shaped who you are today?

At the early age of two year old, I found my unique passion. Little did I know the effect it would have on my life.

I met baton twirling while watching my cousin’s dance studio perform a twirling routine at their Christmas recital. I am told that I was entranced from the start. I was so in love that the second I got home, I asked for spoons from our kitchen to twirl and try to mimic what the performers had been doing. My mom signed me up for lessons, and the rest is history.

The view of baton twirling that I was attracted to that day comes with plenty of up’s and down’s.

Twirling is a physically, and sometimes mentally, grueling sport, especially starting from such a young age. It is extremely competitive, demanding, particular, and subjective. Twirlers are literally told directly whether they are good or not, and that type of critiquing can sometimes be detrimental to a young twirler’s confidence. One judge may love a twirler’s routine, and another judge may not. It’s all based on opinion. For example, I had one of the best competition solos of my life at the State Championships in 2018, with no drops or noticeable mistakes, but I was picked second because the specific judge preferred the first place winner’s style to mine. I’ve been very discouraged at times in my career when things weren’t going my way, but thankfully, my love for the sport and desire to get better always outweigh these frustrations.

One of the boundaries I had to overcome was learning to fully commit to the lifestyle of baton twirling. This sport takes hours of dedication per week. My daily practice workouts are very strenuous and time-consuming, consisting of repetitive drilling of routines, dropped tricks, body work…I joke with my mom that if I haven’t gone a day without getting a bruise, then I’m not practicing hard enough. When I was elementary age, while I still loved twirling, practicing became a burden. I was jealous of my friends who had lots of free time when I had hours of baton every day, on top of softball practices and school work. Thankfully, I was held accountable by my parents and my coach and eventually learned to love and appreciate practicing. Now, I independently work myself and stay focused on my goals, and the results are worth it. This was of immense importance to my development as an athlete and in the other aspects of life, such as softball and school. I’ve learned that consistent practicing or studying will bring positive results.

I could practice for twelve hours a day, but when it comes to performing or competing, my nerves never go away. I will never forget moments, such as my first marching band performance when my high school was playing its rival school and our 8,000-seat stadium was filled, or stepping onto a basketball court by myself to entertain 2,000 fans at a high school playoff basketball game. There is nothing more nerve-racking than the moments before a performance, sweaty hands, heart racing, butterflies in the stomach. But after I step onto the field or court, it is just me and my skill--everything else around me fades. It’s a surreal, lonely feeling, but it’s something about the adrenaline of these moments that I have fallen in love with. I thrive in high-pressure situations, and I credit this to twirling.

For as many successes I have had, I have had my fair share of blunders. A silly drop of the baton or forgetting part of the routine can throw off one’s mojo in the middle of the performance, and it’s difficult to keep composure and avoid a snowballing effect. When it goes wrong, the convenient solution is to blame it on anything but oneself. It is so easy to blame a poor performance on how slick the floor is, lack of warm-up time, how high the ceiling is, how one’s hands are sweaty, etcetera. I've learned that what separates the good from the great is intolerance for excuses. Someone who is truly elite at baton twirling--or anything else in life-- accepts the failure, learns from it, and moves on.

Baton twirling is not my whole story, but it certainly is a big chunk of it. Twirling, with all of its frustrations, has shaped me into the woman I am today. I’ve gained confidence, level-headedness, persistence, and composure from 15 years of this unique talent. Who knew that spinning spoons in my kitchen would change my life?

Abby Bishop

Future Plans: Political Communication and Theatre Performance on the Presidential Scholarship at University of Northern Iowa

The first wedding I ever attended was my own. I can still recall the popsicle sweat staining my small palms cherry under the sweltering July sun. The groom was an inch shorter than myself at 3’4 and had chalk dusting his flushed cheeks. My twin sister was our officiant, and our vows were one liners stolen from our favorite movies: Sleeping Beauty and Star Wars. In that blissful moment I was rather convinced I’d done what all of my heroes had done before me: found my prince and my Happily Ever After. However, every clock must strike twelve at some point and unfortunately for me, mine struck some eight hours early. As my mother herded us into the minivan because she was “making a family dinner at 5”, I was quite content with the idea of having reached the peak of my life as a four-year-old. Little did I know, that hour of spellbinding romance was all I would get with my prince charming for he moved away less than a month later. And so for most of the thirteen years since that day, it seems I’ve been lying in wait to find my HEA once more. I’ve sat in the safety of my ivory tower, comfortable if not satisfied, believing if I stuck to the straight and narrow somehow I’d be able to find that perfect life. When the pandemic struck, it forced some long overdue introspection. Like most kids my age, I became severely depressed and unmotivated. The idea that I’d been waiting for life to happen to me and the horrible feeling I’d missed out weighed heavy on my mind. My mom sensed this and encouraged my participation in a volunteer program that delivered food to people in need in our community. At first, I simply liked the feeling of helping people but, as the weeks passed, I came to a startling realization. These families I delivered meals to were helping me just as much as I was helping them. As I spoke with them, it became abundantly clear to me what the real pursuit of “Happily Ever After” looked like. It’s not pixie dust but it is faith and trust in something beyond the day-to-day. They showed me what true work was and the labor that goes into choosing joy each day. After school started again, I decided it was time to take my life into my own hands. I dedicated myself to new relationships and activities, throwing myself into our school play which had gotten me through quarantine. This, however, was not my happy ending. A few days ago my immuno-compromised father and brother were diagnosed with Covid-19. These past few days I’ve been asking myself the same question: why? We’ve done everything right. Now, the few things that got me through the first quarantine I can no longer participate in and I can only see my severely sick family through a phone screen. As I continue to ask “why”, I’ve found myself sinking deeper and deeper into desolation. There’s too many things I can’t control, too much still up in the air. And yet it's the families I helped months ago that are back on my mind. Within the past 48 hours, I’ve realized I have to live life in the little moments. This world doesn’t reward those who get it right the first try, it’s about getting knocked down again and again and still fighting through another day. It’s seeing my brother laugh over FaceTime, finding a way to support my friends even though I am no longer performing. The truth is, I have no idea what life is going to throw me next and sometimes the carriage is going to turn back into a pumpkin before it reaches its final destination, but ultimately I don’t need the Happily Ever After-- I just need to find my happy.

Sean Eddy

Future Plans: Computer Science at University of Arizona

The Happiest Place on Earth

To the best of my recollection, the swimming pools of Western Florida were always filled with prepubescent children and their families seeking a joyful escape from the monotony of their regular lives. Like the grandiose tourist traps to the east, wading in cool water on a humid Florida day really felt like I was at The Happiest Place on Earth. However, the boundaries of my comfort zone as a nine-year-old never expanded beyond the pool steps; I couldn’t swim. Thus, the prospect of crossing the nearly 20-foot deep abyss of chlorinated water I had always known as our condo’s pool never crossed my mind. It wasn’t within the realm of possibility.

Swimming was a distinctly unique type of fear, in that, I never felt my safety was truly accounted for. While I found some of the thrilling amusement park rides in Orlando frightening, I was never without the reassurance that the ride was designed with my safety in mind. Back in Longboat Key, no roller coaster could launch me across the water. I was left to rely on my own stamina and perseverance to escape the terrifying sensation of drowning—to escape death. Nearly every summer my family succumbed to a multi-day national expedition for the allure of warm nights and palm trees. And just as routinely as we drove 3,000 miles, I sat alone on the steps of the massive pool and thought nothing of altering the status quo.

“Are you ever going to swim?” My parents pestered incessantly. Watching kids half my age enjoying themselves in the open water eventually got to me. At nine years old, I decided this summer, the summer of 2012 would be the year I would make my perilous voyage. With no prior experience, I began imitating the crude doggy paddle of the smaller, braver kids in the pool. I felt slow and incapable—as if everyone around me were Michael Phelps and his relatives. Vacation was not the time to feel powerless.

Not long after practicing my newly-learned imitation of a stroke the next day, I established today was the day. The sun had tucked itself behind the clouds, perhaps ashamed of my certain imminent failure. As the sun faded, so did the playful screams of the children surrounding me. My dad’s hollering voice broke my concentration. “Just do it already!” My parents’ sentiments now reflected my own.

As my feet left the pool floor, the far side seemed as distant as Mexico to the west. The pool was no less forgiving than the endless ocean. Right. Left. Right. Left. I only found comfort in the repetitiveness of my strokes. After what felt like an eternity, I nervously rose my head from the surface of the water. I hadn’t covered half the distance to the other side. Fear overcame me as the reality of the situation began to literally sink in; there was at least 5 feet below my toes before I would touch the floor. It was then I felt the effect of fear-induced adrenaline.

It was a paradoxical sensation; I simultaneously felt helpless and superhuman. My sight was locked on the approaching ledge and my hearing dominated by the frantic splashes of my aching limbs crashing through the water. Beyond that point, I lost my sense of time and dedicated none of my remaining exertion to contemplating my demise. I noticed my vision blurring; I was on the verge of collapse. And so, at some unknown moment later, I outstretched my arm to grasp the only thing keeping me from plummeting into the trench below.

Despite enduring the greatest fear of my life, I felt happier than ever. The instant I felt the wall my feeling of helplessness disappeared, dwarfed by the overpowering confidence I felt in that moment. I came to justify fear, to reason that life without fear was a life without challenge, a life without the thrill of overcoming adversity. The Happiest Place on Earth needn’t be in the comforts of Disney World, I had found it in my own swimming pool.

Jalyn Wu

Future Plans: Political Science at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, I was young and innocent. My world could be explained through rainbows and smiley faces. I twirled to "Today Was a Fairy Tale" by Taylor Swift and rocked singing Skechers to school. Even when my parents divorced, I didn’t realize anything had changed, choosing to sashay through imaginary meadows rather than confront the darker world around me.

Visiting my grandparents one summer, I started to overhear snippets of stories from their past. When my nose wasn’t buried in the latest "Magic Treehouse" book checked out from my third-grade classroom, my newly pierced ears would piece together their past like a mismatched jigsaw puzzle. Whispers in Mandarin of “Communist” and “so long ago” haunted me with every flip of a page. My grandfather would tell me bedtime stories about “running from soldiers” and “hiding in the snow”. I believed they originated from imagination, just like everything else around me. Years later in school, I would learn about World War II and the Communist Revolution. Suddenly, everything made too much sense. The “soldiers” my grandfather ran from were the Japanese invaders in his village. The “black sheep” my grandmother whispered about was never an ewe at all – she was a symbol of my family’s anti-Communist history. As my mind and stomach churned with all this seemingly new information, I had a recurring thought every night before I willed myself to sleep:

Why didn’t anyone tell me?

Coming to terms with these tales took time, leaving me vulnerable in its wake. I resolved to learn more about our family history, from loved ones disappearing suddenly during the Revolution to our ancestral roots in Mongolia. I thirsted for hidden knowledge. However, I failed at remembering the finer details, so I found myself jotting down bullet points in scrap notebooks like a detective on a case. I gradually joined the ranks of my favorite authors as I began writing down my family’s stories.

I bury my desk in yellow sticky notes, draft dozens of blog posts, and scribble on my hands and arms, refusing to surrender to time’s woeful effect on my aging grandparents and the wrath of my short-term memory. My pencil abandons its eraser as grammar flies out the window. As I write, I can sometimes feel my words mocking me on the page and the whispers of my insecurities in my ear. I can't say I've always been able to win this battle with myself, but now I tune them out and turn up "folklore", because Taylor's music has grown up with me.

My stories haven’t changed me; they’ve changed how I express myself. I’m not a new person; I’m simply living "Jalyn Wu, Volume 2". My blog is the sequel to my family’s stories. I write every time I have a story clawing out from inside my chest. Sometimes, they’re rants—angry beasts, wrought with hysteria, and driven by madness. Other times, they’re melancholy observations—lazily floating leaves on my stream of consciousness. But mostly, they’re whimsical—my nod to the sparkly pink princess I left behind in chapter three.

I can still imagine tugging on my grandfather’s wrinkled hands, begging for one more story before bedtime. Those same strong hands would steady me as I took my first steps and his arms would be the ones I’d run back to. I’d like to believe that I am still my grandfather’s stubborn little princess, but now I know my own story is much more complex than that of a storybook character. As I take my first steps out of high school and into college, I can’t reasonably predict the future. There is no flipping to the last page of this chapter and no happily ever after awaiting me. I can only wish upon the furthest star that this story—my story--inspires others, the way my family’s stories inspire me.

Abby Feldmann

Future Plans: Creative writing and literary publishing at University of Iowa

Dew Drops on Rose Petals

With beautiful almond-shaped eyes and a deceiving grin, Jannay Towne, co-anchor for the channel thirteen news, tells me not to speak for an extended period of time or take deep breaths during these days of record cold. It can permanently damage your lungs, she says, smiling at the camera as if her words aren’t at all concerning.

The next afternoon finds me at my locker, pulling on a hat and thick gloves, shrugging on my coat and zipping it up to my neck. Towne’s words resonate with me. I’m not taking any chances. In an effort to look and feel less ridiculous, trudging down the hall in my anti-blizzard suit, I avoid eye contact with those I pass. While making my Great Escape, I zoom past stragglers in the hall as if I am Jimmie Johnson on his final lap. Thankfully, I am ignored by all, leaving me to weave around groups of twos and threes and listen to a few seconds of various conversations. Most of what I hear is pointless chatter, but one pair (obviously a couple, judging by the way they use the precious minutes as a stolen moment of passion) stands out to me. “Love you,” the guy says, pulling away from the girl. She repeats the sentiment, letting their connected hands linger before starting down the hall.

Um, what? Are the two actually in love, or is it the thrill of a high school relationship making them act the way they were? Did they recognize the weight of their words, realize they will most likely fall apart before the year is out? What do those three fateful words, I love you, even mean in today’s society?

First and foremost, I must recognize that there are various types of love. According to Doctor Neel Burton, psychiatrist and philosopher, many deep thinkers of both ancient and modern times recognize seven different pieces to the puzzle of affection, the definitions of which are as follows:

Eros: sexual or passionate love most akin to our modern concept of love

Philia: friendship and shared goodwill; love between friends

Storge: familial love that differs from philia in that it tends to be unilateral or one-sided (in the case with small children, the parental unit performs nearly all of the caregiving)

Agape: universal love for strangers, nature, or God; unlike storge, it does not require familiarity

Ludus: playful or uncommitted love, involving activities such as teasing, flirting, and seducing; regarded by the general public as lust and a form of intense desire, rather than pure love

Pragma: practical love highlighting reason and duty above sexual attraction

Philautia: self-love, which is either healthy or unhealthy; the spark to one’s fire of confidence

It’s an extensive list, from true love to lust, sweeping love for all beings to what seems like more of a business contract than a marriage ceremony. While it seems as if each and every one of us is full of countless tales of these forms of love, to me, eros, philia, storge, and philatua stand out from the rest. Case in point: my parents.

To some, I seem old-fashioned in my belief of soulmates and true love (known as eros), but to the doubters, I present a challenge. Spend one day in the company of my mother and father, and watch a lack of faith turn into solid conviction. My parents married and had children young but my father can still crack a cheesy joke and make my mother erupt into giggles. Just last week, my mother dropped the bag of frozen peas on the kitchen floor. My father, sitting at the island, makes eye contact with her and says, in all seriousness, “you peed on the floor.” If that’s not true love, then I don’t know what is. My parents represent the ultimate team, even when performing the most menial tasks: he cooks and she cleans, he rotates the laundry and she folds it, he watches football while she crochets. As each other’s best friends, they have both eros and the second type of love, philia.

Philia, identified above as love between friends, has a myriad of examples. My best friend Heather and I speak nearly every day. We often joke that we are twins: she is a righty to my lefty, black-haired to my blonde, scientist to my author, and the most brilliant and beautiful person I’ve ever met. The beginning of the school year brought extreme disappointment, as Heather and I discovered we had no classes together, but that didn’t stop me from promising her this: “Heather, if anyone gives you crap or anything you don’t like, you tell me and I’ll beat them up. A student, teacher, whatever. I have your back.” She laughed, tilting her head toward the ceiling as giggles rose like bubbles on a warm summer’s day.

“You too, man,” she grinned. Man. An odd term of endearment, seeing as we are females. But that’s the thing—Heather and I are full of inside jokes and ridiculous pet names. We’ll make stupid faces at each other from across the hall, contorting our features into the most grotesque shapes. Our cringeworthy one-liners range from shouting What a nerd! when one of us complains about schoolwork to pretending to buy tickets for the next flight to Alaska when life just gets to be too much and a tiny cabin in the middle of a forest sounds like a wonderful escape from our dismal realities. Even the smallest interactions between Heather and I are the best examples of philia. In the opposite sense, however, the unequal relationships of storge are best highlighted between the interactions between myself and my cat, Duck.

In a word, my cat is petulant. Though he acts like it is a complete coincidence he’s trying to sit on my chest, the moment I don’t give enough ear rubs or squeeze his tiny paws, he’s off sulking under the bed. But I wouldn’t trade my fluffy, fifteen pounds of cat for anything, even though he has been in congestive heart failure for almost two years. I remember the day of his diagnosis: I’m laying in bed with Duck on my stomach, per routine (if I’m not in bed by my usual time, Duck will come find me and wail in my ear). While running my hands down his back, a surefire way to calm both me and him down, I notice that he’s panting, stretching his neck out from his body like any breath could be his last.

The issue was fairly obvious and the examination swift. Throughout his life, the walls of Duck’s heart have been slowly thickening. Now, in his old age, it is extremely difficult for his heart to pump blood to the rest of his body, causing fluid to build up in his lungs. To counteract the deed which will eventually take his life, Duck is on two different liquid medications, given at six and eight in the morning, two in the afternoon, eight in the evening, and ten at night. His teeth are so rotten that he can no longer chew solid food, so a pain pill is catapulted down his throat every twelve hours. In addition to the pill, a pureed mix of canned cat food, beef-flavored baby mush, and water is served. My family calls this putrid mix “chicken soup,” which really puts me off from eating the real dish.

Why have I taken care of him for two years, and will continue to do so until the day he passes? Because, whenever I see him, trotting down the hall with creaking joints or curled up on the pile of blankets, smirking like he’s king of the mountain, my heart swells with the knowledge that this is the tiny kitten that has been with me my entire life, the one who would wear the baby bonnets I tied around his head and watch Sesame Street with me. He’s the one I cried for the day he ran away and the one I held after he was found. He’s the only being on this earth who can draw out a decidedly immature squeal from my lips as he does even the most mundane of actions. And while Duck acts as if my entire existence is purely for his comfort, I know that my love for him will never fade, like a one-way road where all of the lights are green, all at once.

The final type of love I am familiar with, philautia, is one that I have trouble defining. There are two sides to this coin: hubris and humility. Hubris, given to modern man by the ancient Greeks, is extreme, overbearing cockiness. It’s failing to admit to one’s faults. Humility, on the other hand, is recognizing that one has both strengths and weaknesses; there is always something to be worked toward. Philautia is a moderate amount of self-confidence, taken with a teaspoon of modesty. Multitudes of occasions show me as being both conceited and timid, but no example highlights this occurrence more like the Renaissance project, introduced to me by my Literature and Composition teacher, Mrs. Graves.

On paper, the project seems simple: pick an aspect of Renaissance-era life and formulate a creative, interactive presentation. The day of, however, as I am setting up my model of a Tudor farmstead, my hands shake violently. Did you really think you’d be able to wing this? I demanded to myself, furiously recalling the night before, where I had proudly rejoiced in my complete understanding of the Tudor period of history. At that moment, standing in front of miniature cows and pigs, I have absolutely zero self-love for myself. In fact, I am brimming with self-hatred. But as time goes on and I explain my research and findings to new groups of curious strangers, I grow more confident. I am able to pull lines from previous recounts and stitch together a speech. “It was unlikely for the Tudor farmstead to house horses,” I say, gesturing to the lack of plastic stallions. “They were exceptionally scarce and expensive to maintain.” At the end of the day, as other presenters come up to my booth and gasp in delight at my splendor, congratulating me on a magnificent board, I am full of cockiness, of hubris. In my mind, nothing can go wrong. I had just made up an entire speech, and if I can do that, I can do anything. As time progresses and my philautia rises and falls like chaotic ocean waves, there is still one definite truth: I am in love with myself, and no matter how melancholy I become, there is always an aspect of myself I find beautiful. Usually it’s my hair.

Love is in the eye of the beholder. As someone whose most intimate action has been a high five, it is easily determined that I am not exactly a connoisseur on the art of close affection. But eros isn’t the only love written on rose petals. Found in the dew droplets that stick to the innocent blooms are philia, storge, and philautia. There’s private love and flashy love. Quiet love and loud love.

Turning on the television and hearing the dulcet tones of Jannay Towne recount horrid events with a sort of detached tranquility, listen to her speak of shootings and hate crimes and acts of violence so despicable it hurts my wearied soul to contemplate how twisted someone must be to even think about committing them. It seems as if society has forgotten that love is so much more than chocolate and pink hearts. It is possible to love without receiving it back, and that’s what love is: yelling and shouting and whispering and grinning, laughing and crying so hard our entire bodies tremble and waiting with bated breaths for the next chapter in our lives, tiny puffs of air fogging up the frosted window.

That’s what love is.

Henry Shires

Future Plans: Computer Engineering at Iowa State University

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

As I sit back at my desk, twirling an orange, Dixon #2, I zone out from the math equation in front of me. That’s when I glance to my right and see it: glowing strips of LEDs, dancing from red, to green and blue, plastic fins whirling away, cooling adjacent metal components with ease. Some would say it’s just a computer tower, however, my eyeballs glue themselves to the glass case as it shields the delicate chips from the outside world. From a young age, I became a rabid admirer of computers. Every time my elementary class would enter the school computer lab, I would be the first of the first to plant my fingers on the keys and hack away at my password until my screen came to life. Fast-forwarding to my current contemplation, I ponder what exactly is going on inside my tower. I examine every minute detail, every spec of dust, every metal fragment as my mind screeches to a halt at an abstract idea: What if computers were more than electrons floating through tiny pathways? Suddenly, my frontal lobe squeals with excitement, frantically trying to visualize tiny people replacing the job of pesky computer wires. I imagined electron-sized humans traversing my computer, delivering emails, shopping lists, my math problems, and those awkward family Christmas photos from one end of the machine to the other. This extraordinary amount of complexity and collaboration of “people” could improve the competency of the computer immensely! I constantly witness people--usually the old folks--struggle to get their computer to seemingly understand what they want it to do, bringing them one step short of smashing their monitor with a baseball bat. However, if tiny electronic organisms could speak human languages, this problem would disintegrate into thin air! I first envision the computer people taking form, but knowing the limitations of physics--and perhaps the terrifying dystopia of evil robots--I instead browse the bottomless pit of information and technology—conventionally known as the internet—to refresh my computer knowledge and treat my curiosity. I think about discussing ideas with my innovative friends or perhaps sharing a post about my impossible concept. As I tap on my phone, I embrace a sudden desire to apply the computer’s potential. I recall the concept of software engineering: the incomprehensible art of designing, collaborating, building, publishing, and sharing a tool for the betterment of humanity, and suddenly realize where my computer contemplations have led me. I have to make something! Using my prior knowledge and experience in AP Computer Science classes, I spring up from my desk, gain air for a few moments, call up some of my programming buddies, and slam back on my keyboard whirling away at the screen in front of me. As time moves like a bullet through the air, my hands achieve supersonic speeds as I drag, drop, click, clack, copy, paste, fix, and draw. After seconds upon minutes upon hours upon days upon months, I finally possess the finished product. My collaborators and I agree it is exactly like we had hoped. Our software benefited our school in various ways, found opportunities to help educate a local class, and gave us skills and experience to move further up the ladder in our future careers. As I breathe the world’s biggest sigh of gratification, I understand that my days of spontaneous work were only possible because of the computer. In fact, the computer is quite contradictory! They are very “dumb” and simple in how they function, yet they are able to provide resources to billions of people and make the world a better place. In the back of my head, I engrain my wish to explore the mysterious world of computer science, but as I look at the clock, realizing I have returned to reality, I lose my ability to keep my eyes open and decide to let my mind fall away into subconsciousness.

Aditi Tripathy

Future Plans: Biomedical Sciences at University of Iowa

Saga of Stereotypes

Tracks of neon braces with chunky glasses set the ideal blueprint for immediate failure on the social ladder. Combined with the permanent book I carried, my chance to be read as anything but the teacher’s pet was slim. To my classmates surely, it seemed, I had no real story.

This bookworm journeyed through fictional universes, cursing at Kitty’s desire to marry up in Anna Karenina while her own parents worried for their other daughter’s hospital debts. The bills gathered with the piles of books spanning my floor, creating a heap large enough to displace my sick sister across the globe. It was easier to read “Encyclopedia of Greek Mythology” in the empty house, to contemplate who my divine parent could be, during times my own family was separated by impassable borders. I taught myself multiplication in one day from workbooks uncovered in my quiet basement. Books created my fondness for numbers, every digit representing a different persona in my mind. I could always rely on twelve times twelve to create 144, no matter who was family or which apartment we migrated to next.

This dissociation from reality, with reading as my egress, crumbled in fifth grade. My father’s talk for career day had “friends” pointing out the funny way he spoke. My initial reaction was requesting him to never enter my school again. Being assaulted on our public bus had me speaking English instead of Oriya loudly in public. Missionaries stalking our house to convert our “oppressed souls” had me removing religious jewelry. “I am one of you,” I silently pleaded to my classmates and the world.

However, when facing leering classmates, respect for my Papa and his sacrifices as an immigrant parent outstripped my darkest thoughts and instead, enraged me. Seeking solace, I turned to my ever loyal companions: books. Tears flowed when discovering Malcolm X’s Learning to Read: his anger detonating because darker individuals were falsely taught their lack of significance to the world around them. My precious beads of escape transfigured into pearls of liberation when unearthing the Mahabharata- an illustrious Hindu epic warning against evil. The advancement of this holy spiritual guide written thousands of years back enraptured me for weeks through warring clans, sacrifice with dharma and deep symbolism of agni. After this, I was addicted. History books taught me that India was once an empire of gold before it was exploited under the British crown. I was befuddled when discovering the Indus Valley’s technological advancements, how my ancestors invented the Fibonacci sequence from algebra class and hatha yoga used everyday. My country had been vibrant, robbed of 45 trillion and reduced to “third world”.

These books helped me walk the Valley International Night's Fashion Show in a fuchsia lehenga I usually kept hidden in my closet and defy familial patriarchal traditions by pursuing the hardest classes offered, elucidated by I am Malala. South African apartheid in Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime conflicted with revered Gandhi’s deep history of racism in this same country. Train to Pakistan about the bloody Partition forced me to reckon with the rampant Islamophobia indoctrinated into my culture before I dragged the ropes of Jaganath’s chariot around our Hindu temple.

Golden bells suffocated my ankles as they flirted with the floor, dancing kathak (traditional Indian dance) in central downtown. Driving through fog to see the jewel of the Sahyadri Mountains. Eating lentils on massive banana leaves, inside mud huts of my ancestral village. In turbulent times, books navigated me through realms of varying histories and cultures, shaping my values and helping me escape with a comprehensive but non-linear view of the world.

The homecoming queen in my AP Physics class who studied calculus and started a Rocketry club at Valley to pursue being an aerospace engineer. The dropout at work that understood more politics and had more empathy for the world than actual politicians. Alone, our struggles are separate pages in books of our lives; tales of stereotypes read once and eventually discarded. It is only when we come together to build libraries of our experiences that we can create change and meaning in the world around us.