Four times a year, we ask our readers to write about the impact recent stories have had on teens around the country. In Winter 2022-23, we had a range of responses from writers connecting to stories about family, race, online culture, self image, and the importance of a name. Congratulations to our winners and be sure to apply for our next contest for Spring 2023.
Ntsongmboma Tayem, 18
12th grade, JJ Pearce High School (Richardson, TX)
Our Shared Experience Made Me Feel Less Alone
Dear Boluwatife Ogunbodede,
Thank you for sharing your story, “My Name is Boluwatife Ogunbodede.” I, like you, see many tongues become tied when I introduce myself.
My parents immigrated from Cameroon to the United States and had me shortly after. They decided to give me a name in my father’s native tongue (Mundani) which was “Ntsongmboma” (In-song-bow-mah), meaning “God’s favor.”
Throughout your story, you expressed the longing for a more “normal” name that didn’t result in hushed giggles and raised eyebrows from classmates that I also experienced daily. I had the same desire, especially around the 3rd grade when I decided that when I was old enough, I would legally change my name to Grace after a singer I idolized. “Grace” sounded more normal, similar to the name you chose to go by, “Viola.”
But when I entered high school, I befriended a student who had a similar name to mine. Her Yoruba name was a few letters longer than my whooping eleven letters and she wore it proudly unlike I did.
Similar to how you were called out in history class, I felt called out slowly by my friend’s confidence. As an artist, I have always been an advocate for showcasing different cultures. But when it came to presenting myself to the public, I would rather go by “Grace” on a Starbucks cup than “Ntsongmboma.”
Your story has encouraged me to be proud of who I am and the cultural significance behind my name. When you finally started to embrace your name, you started to find more confidence beyond the norms of what is considered a “normal name.” And I admire that.
I have recently started this same journey of expressing my culture and personal stories like yours are a big encouragement to continue on this path of embracing genuine authenticity.
Thank you, Boluwatife “Tifie” Ogunbodede.
Fiona Li, 14
9th grade, Brooklyn Technical High School (Brooklyn, NY)
My Name is Home to Myself and Others
Your story “My Name is Boluwatife Ogunbodede” made me ponder over my name. We are both daughters of immigrants and I would like to share my story.
I was born with a name that symbolized my culture: Hoi Tong. It represented wisdom, courage, and generosity. I was proud of my name. It made me feel special because of how unique it sounded, but, sometimes, being too special does not feel too good — not when every single teacher has struggled to pronounce my name, and definitely not when people would make fun of me. And slowly, instead of being unique, I wanted to be normal.
I remember one day very clearly: my whole family of five huddled together into a circle, eyes wide, brows furrowed while scrolling through lists of names. Selina. Felicia. Chloe. Fiona.
What does this mean?” My mom asked while pointing at the name, Fiona.
“Fiona means intelligent and pleasant.” My sister replied with a smile.
“Fi-ona. Fiona.” My mom tried to sound out the syllables before asking me: “Do you like it?”
I remembered that I had nodded, not knowing the impact one word would have on me.
On the first day of third grade, my hands were sweaty as I waited for my homeroom teacher to call my new name.
That moment in third grade seemed to be the first acknowledgment that I finally belonged somewhere.
I am no longer unique. My name is home to so many others other than myself. But I’m okay with that because, despite the change in my name, I am still the same. Your name is a part of your identity, but it does not define who you are. It is your actions, thoughts, beliefs, and values that truly represent you.
9th grade, Razi School (Astoria, NY)
From a Young Age I Learned How Cruel the World Can Be, I Am Doing Something About It
Thank you for sharing your story “Not Your Lesson.” As hard as it is, racism has been heartbreaking around the world. Coming from a Yemeni family with four other siblings with me being the youngest. I was in fourth grade at the time getting ready to sleep. But as I was coming out of the bathroom I heard a cry. It was coming from my mom’s phone. My mom’s cousin was shot at Buffalo and was at the hospital paralyzed not knowing if he was going to live or die. My mom’s aunt was crying on the phone telling her what happened. An officer had shot him because he looked like the person he thought was doing drugs. This caused outrage in my family. We didn’t know what to do. This has happened to many other Yemenis before but they never got an answer or the officer was found not guilty.
Seeing how my mom’s aunt was crying made me feel something. It made me think that the world is a cruel place for people. They have standards they want to fulfill in each individual and when a person doesn’t fit that standard they try to find a way to eliminate them. Although I was young, I understood how the world worked. Like other people and fighters, they each had something awakened in them and for me, it was this day.
Since then, I have joined multiple clubs and organizations in my neighborhood. I’m now in a Muslim Society club in my school and joined other organizations to help other families of color. My mom’s cousin passed away a couple of days after he was shot. To this day my mom’s aunt is still angry at the government. My heart goes out to all the families that dealt with this situation.
Maanya Rao, 14
9th grade, Adams High School (Rochester Hills, MI)
I No Longer Want to Fit into Society’s Beauty Standards
The aftermath of my thoughts has come to a conclusion when reading your story, “I Look, Therefore I Am?” This story is very much relatable to me as an individual and a person of color by stating the flaws that society has turned into an insecurity. Growing up, I would compare myself and body to skinny, tall, and beautiful models with “perfect faces.” Thinking that something was wrong with me, I would proceed to eat less to accomplish the skinny model figure and plaster my face with makeup at a young age. Instead of being care-free and energetic as a child should be, I would lock myself in my room and experiment on my face in order to make myself fit into society’s beauty standards and be accepted by others. People would comment and laugh at my appearance. How my skin was a bit darker than my peers, my hair was darker. Thicker, compared to the other girls with their fair skin and blonde hair with blue eyes. Blonde hair with blue eyes, tall, skinny. That was what society wants and loves. I wanted to feel accepted and loved other than my family. My friends would mock and laugh at the way I dressed and presented myself in my own style. My appearance was a joke. Pure entertainment for the people that could get a good laugh. I was a mockery for the “better looking” individuals. But the older I got, I realized that I didn’t need to fit into society’s norms. My “flaws” were what made me unique as a person. I have learned to embrace and love myself. I shouldn’t have to care what people perceive of me because everyone is insecure about something.