Four times a year, we ask our readers to write about the impact recent stories have had on teens around the country. In Summer 2022, we had a range of responses from writers connecting to stories about family income, race, and fitting in. Congratulations to our winners and be sure to apply for our next contest for Fall 2022.
Joel Lee, 15
10th grade, Brentwood School (CA)
Despite My Developed Trust Issues, I Was Able to Make a Heartfelt Connection
You were right about what you said in your story, “Opening Up to the Right People Helped Me.” During my first year of middle school, I had my first unpleasant confrontation. I was that naive kid looking to make friends and fit in, so even if it meant that I had to share some personal information, I didn’t hesitate. However, I quickly found out that the friends I confided in were not the best at keeping quiet. When I discovered that my secrets were revealed to the whole school, I felt so humiliated to the point where I’d rather have had them all see me naked.
Naturally, because of this group of “friends” stabbing me in the back, I developed an issue trusting people. Instead of showing people my true face, I put on a mask that protected my feelings and kept people out. The feeling of betrayal transformed into a sense of aggression, pushing me to act out. Whether it was through physical brawls or verbal confrontations, I was driven to make my so-called “friends” experience the pain I felt. Eventually, it got so bad that the school decided to separate us, ending with me transferring to a different school.
Once again, I was faced with the dreaded task of finding my place. The feeling that I was the problem started to creep into my mind—until I met Jacob. He didn’t seem to belong anywhere, so I approached him. We immediately connected. We talked about our similar experiences and it felt nice to finally be understood. I finally felt that I had found someone I could trust. We became close and to this day we continue to enjoy spending time with each other.
Hongtao Hu, 17
12th grade, William Fremd High School (IL)
The SHSAT Works Against Students, Your Story Shifted My Perspective
I’ve been thinking about fairness in standardized testing for a long time, and your story “What NYC Teens Actually Think About the SHSAT” resonated with me. As an Asian American, your point about being punished simply for doing what is asked raises an important dilemma. People have had to endure test prep and practice exams to gain a better future, but now such hard work is being turned against them. And with tests in general, it often feels like the system is broken.
“Fair” tests only lead to people with tutoring getting ahead, and such “fair” tests are often the single thing that determines whether you’ll end up in a prestigious school or not. Most tests don’t even measure your scholastic aptitude, only how much you’ve practiced for it. It’s a lose-lose situation: low-income families can’t afford test prep to score high on the SHSAT and gain opportunities, and not implementing the SHSAT leads to disadvantaged demographics missing out on opportunities.
Your essay really shifted my perspective on what fairness truly means, and it gives me hope that people who care about these issues can finally have their voices heard. Hearing the different opinions of your peers also affected my perspective on the SHSAT, and the discussion of elitism in test prep programs opened my eyes to the fundamental brokenness of the whole test-taking sphere. In the end, is the system inherently broken? I understand that sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good, but should admissions and the SHSAT really be a zero-sum game, where giving school seats to one minority takes away from another? Decisions like this shouldn’t be lightly taken, and I thank you for bringing the importance of teen voices to light.
Jessica Kwandou, 15
9th grade, Saint Francis High School (Mountain View, CA)
The Transition From City Life to Country Life Taught Me the Importance of Inclusivity and Community
Reading “Trying to Create a Life in the Country” and learning about your experience as an immigrant moving and overcoming adversity reminded me of my own journey. I am a child of Chinese immigrants, yet I cannot consider myself a member of the American-born Chinese group. Instead, I speak “In-lish” (Indonesian-English). I live in two cultures—the intellectually rigorous and competitive community of Silicon Valley in California, and that of the vibrant, hospitable rhythm of my parents’ home country, Indonesia.
Silicon Valley has taught me the importance of success, motivation, and embracing change, while when I spent time in Indonesia, it also felt like your transition from city life to country life, teaching me the importance of inclusiveness and community. As a first-generation American, finding my home has been a journey of conformity, diversity, learning, and unlearning. I think most immigrants struggle because it feels like we still have to prove that we belong. We try hard to bend into one shape that doesn’t fit all.
Your experience of adapting to unfamiliar places gives me the confidence to not only be myself but to also step outside my comfort zone. I hope your message can inspire others in the same way that you have influenced me.