From my POV: Rose Parade

Hearts racing, we waited on the streets in the cold. In just a few minutes, we would step onto Colorado Boulevard. Waiting for us would be thousands of pedestrians and millions of viewers watching from their TV sets.

It has been over a year since the band directors first announced that the marching band was going to perform in the Rose Parade. For over a year, we pushed through hours of exhausting practices, even after fall season ended.

The marching band received the opportunity to march in a televised New Year’s parade.

As we inched closer to the start of the parade, band members practiced a few final notes and the guard squeezed in a couple more tosses. Photographers buzzed around, capturing the start of a day none of us would forget.

When the entries in front of us stepped off, we immediately straightened our lines and set. As a member of the color guard, I silently prayed to catch every toss. I knew others were doing the same.

We were about to represent HHS on national television. There were news cameras at every angle, ready to catch any and every mistake we make.

Finally the drumline started off the music and we began to march. Heads high and smiles on, we turned on to Colorado Boulevard.

People lined the streets and sat in high bleachers. Some were even watching from windows and on top of buildings.

News channels had placed their equipment throughout the street. Some of the cameras were right in our faces. I had to remind myself of the color guard rule of thumb: just keep performing.

I spun my flag and waved to the crowd. We interacted with them and with each other. People sang along to our songs, especially the crowd-pleasing mashup of “California Dreamin” and “Shut Up and Dance.” It felt absolutely exhilarating.

Every time we tossed our flags, the audience would cheer louder. They motivated us to make it to the end. They would yell things like “Yeah, Homestead!” and “Get it guard!” Some would even remind us how far we still had to go and to keep pushing.

The parade went by so fast and all too soon we were rounding the last corner. The whole band started whooping and cheering. We did it!

Every flag was caught, every note played beautifully and everyone made it through all 5.5 miles. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and we made the most of it.

It had definitely been a long ride to get there. A lot of hard work, little sleep, three false alarms going off the night before the parade and spending way too much time with some of the most amazing people. But it was all worth the journey. Because that day, we made HHS history.

From my POV: The Great American Eclipse

I
traveled a round trip of 1,575 miles in four days to see two minutes of total darkness in late August, for the first total solar eclipse in America since 1918. And I almost didn’t go.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for science, nature and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. I still hesitated at the offer. My family wanted to go to the zone of totality for the eclipse, where the moon blocks the whole sun and not partially. However, I could look up pictures on the internet of what an eclipse looks like. I could watch a timelapse or documentary. My school duties were calling to me and I didn’t want to be left in the dust.

But people talk about the experience of being in the shadow of the moon like it changed their lives. My family was determined to experience it for themselves, and so I was reluctantly pulled along.

We planned to stay at a relative’s ranch in Baker City, Oregon for the event. It was a beautiful property, with views of the farm fields and rolling mountains; a perfect place to watch the sun rise and set. Therefore, it was an ideal spot for seeing the sun hide behind the moon.

The morning of, we gathered on the hill in front of the house with eclipse glasses, setting up cameras. As the moon edged closer to the center of the sun, it began to dim like lights on a stage. The air got colder, and my gut felt nervous. It was an unnatural sunset; instead of the daylight falling away from one point, it was all of a sudden disappearing everywhere.

Then, as totality began, everything exponentially darkened, plunging me into a strange night. I looked up to the sun, and saw the moon covering the entirety of it, except for three beautiful corona flares popping from each side and a halo of light.

View of the eclipse and the darkness it casts on Baker City and the valley

Frogs croaked. Birds flew out of the trees. Everything was confused as to what was happening, and so was I.

I’ll admit I cried. It felt like the world was ending and for the two minutes of totality, I was in an entirely new dimension.
As the moon moved on, things gradually warmed up and started to return to normal. I was aware of time moving again.

An hour later, my family gathered our things and headed back on the road. The event really made me think about how amazing coincidences in nature can be, as well as the importance of the sun’s energy. Experiencing totality of the solar eclipse was something I definitely didn’t want to forget, and I was beyond thankful for going.

 

From my POV: Down in the dumps

I
nstead of going to class this morning, I saw a herd of goats grazing peacefully on a hill. It may have seemed cute, but the grassy hillside was covering something people don’t normally think about: the trash they created.

As part of the AP Environmental Science class, I was lucky to go on a field trip to LinkedIn’s Net Zero Energy building as well as SMaRT Station, our local waste management system in Sunnyvale.

The class made a short stop at LinkedIn and it’s Net Zero Energy building. The Program Manager of Global Environmental Sustainability, Peggy Brannigan, led the tour and described how the company had recently installed solar panels and sky lights to save on energy bills.

Brannigan described how the building will hopefully create as much energy as it uses by the end of the year. The building has already taken innovative steps to saving energy, by installing LED lights and large industrial HVLC fans called Big Ass Fans which help to heat as well as cool the building.

Students filed inside to take a look at the fans as well as the skylight above and ask questions, while meeting other engineers who worked at Linkedin.

After visiting Linkedin, the class went to the SMaRT Station; a very clean waste processing plant, surrounded by beautiful grassy hills, all of which hold mounds of trash.

The goats I saw were acting as green lawn mowers for the SMaRT Station. They add natural fertilizer to the hills, and act as a cheaper method of mowing. Gas powered lawn mowers would be dangerous to use since the landfills may have leachate, contaminated toxic waste water and natural gases from fermentation process. If these came in contact with gas, it may result in a fire.

The students were able to visit the dumping sites where people can bring their garden trimmings and household waste, also known as municipal solid waste (MSW).

“The amount of trash we produce surprises me and witnessing these workers hand picking the trash surprises me,” junior Winnie Zhu said.

It’s true; many people don’t know the real cost of what they throw away. Space is running out for our trash, and the Sunnyvale landfills cannot hold anymore waste. APES students were startled by what they experienced at the waste processing plant, and it wasn’t just the smell.

“It was really eye-opening to see how all the trash we produce individually adds up, and that we all contribute to this issue,” junior Erica Payne said.

Mounds of sorted trash wait to be shipped to southern California

The SMaRT Station has 7 trucks which are sent out daily, making 2 to 3 trips to and from the facility. They return with 4,500 lbs of trash each day which is then sorted by workers, who hand pick certain materials such as plastics or paper. The trash bags will be torn apart by machines and the contents are spread out on conveyor belts for workers to sort and find plastics and paper.

Yard trimmings were tossed into a giant pile, and workers would feed the branches into wood clippers. The huge mound of organic material was already composting, compacting heat and creating steam which released in clouds at the top of the pile.

 

It may seem gross, but most of the waste in the facility was on a safer journey back into the environment. Electronic waste and plastics are shipped to China, while the rest of our garbage is sent to be buried in southern California.

SMaRT doesn’t burn any of their MSW, which would release harmful carcinogens and toxins into the air. They also recycle energy from existing nearby landfills, by harvesting natural gases in the hills and using it to power the water pollution control plant.

The workers at the facility encouraged sorting curbside trash before sending waste away. On our way out, I looked at the goats sitting on those green trash hills. A greener future is possible.

 

From my POV: Building an iPhone Game

Andrew Zhou_optWhen you tell people you’ve built and launched a game onto the App Store, you’re often associated with the words “nerd” or “geek.” But, in reality, there’s so much more to being a iPhone game developer than many people realize.

When people ask me about the process I went through when I created my iPhone game, they are often surprised when I don’t mention anything about the code that operates it.

Developing an iPhone game is not about knowledge of code or your artistic abilities. While those two skills are valuable and necessary in creating a great game, people underestimate the necessity of application design.

I wouldn’t personally call myself a skilled coder, nor an artist, but by the end of these eight weeks of development, I felt proud of the design choices I had made for my app.

Rewind to June – I had already wasted two weeks of summer binge-watching TV shows on Netflix, and I wanted to spend my remaining eight weeks of freedom doing something interesting. I decided to take on this project.

When I started, I had a vision. I wanted to create a minimalistic, well-designed puzzle game. It was simple conceptually, but I wanted all sorts of cool features added into it.

I wanted so many levels that it would take hours to run out of content. I wanted multiple textures for the ball as well with a system to unlock these textures. I even wanted a mode where players could create their own levels.

I set a string of what I thought were relatively reasonable deadlines by which I wanted to have features completed, and had an ultimate goal of finishing the product before summer vacation ended.

With a timeline I was determined to stick to, I started the process of development. However, after just a few days, I had already fallen behind.

In fact, at the end of the entire process, I accomplished less than 40 percent of what I set out to do. I was simply too ambitious in trying to cram too much into such a small time frame. I cut out two thirds of the extra features I planned on adding.

If I were to give an aspiring iOS game developer some advice in approaching their first app, I’d probably reference the 80/20 rule. That is, create 80 percent of your product with 20 percent of the effort.

It’s important to focus on that specific 80 percent, and not get off track with the unnecessary 20 percent.

The time I spent adding last minute special features should have been spent polishing and fixing bugs, which were scattered throughout the finished product.

Fast forward a few weeks, and my minimum viable product was done. I was nearly ready for launch, and the deadline I set was a few weeks away. Reluctantly, I decided I would begin to test my game rather than add new features.

One by one, I had people play my game. I watched as they played, and took notes where the testers got stuck.

The feedback I got was astonishing. Despite my incredibly simple game mechanics and my own ability to quickly and easily beat my own game, I found that my tutorial levels were far too difficult. Half the time, I had to explain to the user what they were supposed to do, which was not an option I would have  after the launch.

After weeks of testing and tweaking my game, my five tutorial levels turned into 10, which turned into 15, which eventually turned into 25 levels. Eventually, 100 levels turned into 200 after I added filler levels to smooth out the difficulty curve.

I repositioned buttons, recreated some introductory screens, tweaked some features, and even fixed a few lingering bugs found by testers. Looking back now, I’m incredibly glad I chose to go with user testing instead of whatever features I wanted to add.

The game was ready to launch after weeks worth of testing and two months of work. Despite the mistakes I had made, I was very happy with the game I had created.

And I think this reflected in my app’s results, too. Further back in the development process, I added analytics in, which essentially tracks the users and their progress for feedback.

I remember literally cheering when some guy from Germany got to level 150 in two days. I remember watching the screen as a player from Saudi Arabia finally beat a level they were stuck on for a while. But more importantly, I remember analyzing which levels users died the most and spent the most time on, and going back to tweak those specific levels.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that you don’t really need to be a good coder, or a good artist, to build an app or a game. In fact, I am definitely not, I still have a lot to learn.

I think what’s truly important is having realistic goals and a lot of heart.

If you’d like to see what eight weeks got me, check out my game Surreality here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/surreality/id1143571184?ls=1&mt=8

From my POV: Being adopted in the Silicon Valley

 

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When you think of ‘minority,’ think of me.

People associate the word ‘minority’ with being from a foreign country or of an uncommon race. What people do not take into consideration is people who are adopted.

I found my way to Silicon Valley from Kazakhstan at age three after being adopted by a caucasian couple who were settled in Cupertino. It was the perfect place to start my own legacy.

Even at a young age, I never felt like a minority. While I knew my childhood was different, not once did I ever feel threatened or shunned for having a different background.  

Instead, people were kind and accepting. Due to the very culture and diversity of the Bay Area, becoming accustomed to this new country and environment was an easy transition.

Since I had already been acclimated to the American culture before my first day of school, it was easy to the transition of making friends and becoming comfortable with my classes and teachers alike.

The fact my parents were from Silicon Valley was a key factor in my adoption experience. I am lucky to have been raised here.

Had I been introduced to America in the south or midwest, my experience would have been dramatically different.

My fear of being shunned may not have been just a fear but potentially a reality. When visiting predominantly white areas of the East Coast, I have felt the eyes of passersby on me and my white mother.

I would have not been just a minority as an adopted child, but by my race as well. Living in a predominantly white area would have produced a more sheltered mindset, and understanding different world cultures first hand would have been out of the question. This could have impacted me later in life when it comes to being an young adult in the real world.   

But fate landed me here, where being adopted can be normal and looking completely different from my family is not strange. Here, I am treated as an equal.

I could have not asked for a better place to be a minority.

My POV: Living off the grid

Kira Garlick_optIf I could advise anyone to take some time away from the Internet, I’d say go for it. But I would also say it is nearly impossible.

I challenged myself to go a whole week without using the Internet, including no emails, SchoolLoop and (gasp) iMessage. So many people wondered how I made it through a whole week without using Google or Snapchat, but I think the real question came to be how everyone else survived without being able to contact me.

I’m the kind of person who lives on Youtube and Netflix, so I missed binge-watching “New Girl” after school and felt a real loss without my  music on Spotify.

Although the initial withdrawal was tough, I found I had a good couple of hours added to my day. I realized how much time was wasted daily watching meaningless cat videos and scrolling through posts on Instagram and Facebook.

Everyone asked me how I was able to do homework if it was online. “What about SchoolLoop assignments?” I was lucky I had no projects requiring research or Google Docs. That is, until it came time to write this article… quite ironic.

I also didn’t know what my grades were at all times, a convenience we all take for granted.  If I received a zero on an assignment and only had a limited amount of time to turn it in, I would have no idea. I wouldn’t be able to check what assignments were given in class if I forgot. I had to actually take notes the old-fashioned way instead of just printing them out.

I got in a lot of trouble taking time off social messaging systems. There were way more people who were affected by my challenge than I realized. I missed a club meeting during lunch where I was supposed to present a topic because the meeting times were changed and the notification was sent out using Facebook Messenger. My lab group was really pissed at me because they couldn’t contact me through texts and I wasn’t responding to their calls.

There were, however, definitely some major upsides to living the modern hermit life. I put more effort into homework and improved my studying habits since procrastinating on the Internet wasn’t an option anymore. I actually went to sleep at a reasonable time because I finished my assignments during the hours of daylight.

Living without social media surprisingly lifted a lot of weight off my shoulders. I didn’t have to respond to group chats, which had caused me more stress than I realized. I didn’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations over the Internet, and it felt great. I had room to be me.

I learned it is definitely not possible to go offline for students taking courses that require printouts and online research, or have extracurriculars and clubs which require communication via Facebook.

However, living day-to-day off the grid was an ignorant bliss. I was disconnected from my friends, my life at school and my modern duties as a student, and it left me wondering, “Is this how teenagers in the 90s actually lived?” I have to admit — it wasn’t half bad.

From my POV: Growing up under a dictator

Mila Sviderskaya_optI

If I tell people, “I grew up in a dictatorship,” they’re usually confused and don’t believe me at first. Well, I grew up in a country literally labeled “Europe’s Last Dictatorship.” I lived in Belarus, which has been ruled by the same dictator for 22 years, until I was 10, and still visit every summer.

If you’re lucky enough to work as a lawyer or a programmer, you’ll find yourself living in a nice apartment and owning one or two vacation houses, maybe even in Bulgaria.

If you’re a doctor or teacher, too bad for you because education and medical treatment is free, so you probably won’t get as much money as others. But that’s great news for everyone else.

School is of the highest quality, with competition and discipline encouraged and practiced everyday. It’s fast-paced and extremely hard, and only after 11 years you’re free to go. But physical punishment and insults to children are a daily practice.

The cities are clean and organized to perfection. The streets are free of litter and covered in countless Belarusian flags on both sides. It looks like a perfect picture from a perfect postcard. A little too perfect sometimes.

 

minsk

But of course with each dictatorship there are negatives as well. Businesses and stores are often of lower quality, with rude personnel and little product choice. Over 80 percent of those businesses are government-owned, eliminating competition, and leading to an  unemployment rate of only one percent. It’s great long as you’re on the government’s side of course.

There are no honest elections, with forged numbers every time and countless candidates gone missing or as we later find out, beaten or locked up. When people try to stage protests, it never ends well. For example during the 2010 elections, people gathered in the city to ask for freedom, and in turn, around 700 men and women along with 7 candidates were arrested and/or beaten.

If you want to watch television, you shouldn’t. It’s mostly lies portraying the president as the one and only father figure of the country, and at the same time brainwashing you to believe that other countries in Europe and America are much worse.

Americans are all illiterate, and their government will kill you with GMOs, unless of course you aren’t raped by a teacher or killed in a school shooting first. All these things I personally heard either on television or social media in Belarus. People grow up brainwashed to believe they have a much better life than they would in another country.

There are positives, there are negatives. When people hear the word “dictatorship,” they think of nations discussed in the news like North Korea, or unofficially Russia.

They imagine run-down, poverty-stricken nations. But there are many more countries no one’s ever heard of ruled by dictators. Modern 21st-century countries, with high-tech cities, and great education.

 

Belarus Riot_opt

It’s a reality for the people living there, planning futures and going about their day. It was a reality for my family and it still is every time I go visit. But it’s not a scary reality, it’s a sad one.

I want people to realize that what we learn about the Soviet Union, or the Dominican Republic isn’t the past, it’s happening right now, even if you personally haven’t witnessed it.

From my POV: What it means to be transgender and what it means to speak up

donnie denome pictureI owe a lot to The Epitaph, but I think my largest debt is that I figured out that I was transgender from an article.

Emi Kamezaki’s article, “The ‘T’ is not silent,” published in November 2013, was not without fault but still gave me a name for the unrest I was feeling. I saw myself in the students she interviewed and in their stories. I no longer felt out of place.

A transgender person, to put it in simplest terms, is someone whose gender identity does not match the one they were assigned at birth. Think Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono, or Angel Haze. Trans people might identify as men, women, or a gender outside the traditional binary. Gender nonconforming people (who may or may not be transgender) are people who do not dress or present themselves in a manner usually associated with their gender.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, “between ¼ and 1 [percent] of the population” is transgender. The number varies based on political atmosphere and cultural values. The Fremont Union High School District, with about 11,000 students, is probably home to 110 transgender students, if not more.

I’ve done my best to make my mark on this school when it comes to trans students. In an article published last year, I discussed the lack of gender-neutral restrooms open to students, which is a problem across the whole district. As renovations continue both at Homestead and at the other schools in the district, renovations to bathrooms are being considered.

I’ve also fought for students to have their preferred name on their ID cards, a right established in California by a lawsuit brought against the Arcadia School District in 2013. Although, to my knowledge, district policy has not been officially amended, the district now allows for unofficial changes to the name on a student’s ID card.

But even if school and district policy is changed, we still have a long way to go. The trans community, and especially trans youth, face issues that can’t necessarily be legislated away.

According to “Health Disparities Faced by the Transgender Community,” an infographic produced by Fenway Health, 41 percent of transgender adults have attempted suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 0.6 percent of the general adult population has attempted suicide.

When it comes to students, 80 percent of trans students felt unsafe at school because of their gender expression and 58.7 percent of gender nonconforming students experienced harassment at school because of their gender identity, according to “Why Trans People Need More Visibility,” an infographic produced by Trans Student Educational Resources, an outreach organization. While I’m sure cisgender (not transgender) students experience harassment at school, it almost certainly doesn’t have to do with their presentation relative to their gender.

I could go on. About 40 percent of the nation’s 1.7 million homeless youth are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, according to Safe Horizon, an agency for victims of abuse. Trans women have a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered, according to “Why Trans People Need More Visibility.” About 30 percent of trans people report putting off health care due to fear of bias according to “Health Disparities Faced by the Transgender Community.” The list goes on.

We must do more. Even in the Bay Area, the streets and houses may not be safe for transgender youth, but schools can be.

The School Success and Opportunity Act (also known as AB 1266), which took effect in California in 2014, provides certain protections for transgender students. The SSOA mandates that schools allow trans students to use the restroom of the gender they identify with and participate on their gender-identified sports team.

There are similar guidelines being issued in Maryland, New York and by some federal agencies, although these are not laws like the SSOA.

Students, cisgender or transgender, who feel safe enough, should speak out against to inform and educate their peers of the effect words can have. Snide comments about transgender celebrities, jokes that reduce trans people to what set of genitals we have, and statements that assume all people fall into one of two genders that correspond with one of two sets of reproductive organs can’t be legislated away. We can, however, teach people of why these things are so hurtful.

Furthermore, anti-discrimination have few monetary costs or other drawbacks. The costs of the policies laid out by the SSOA probably amount to buying new signs for restrooms. Cisgender students do not suffer from trans-inclusive policies. If they do have a problem with sharing a restroom with a transgender student, they can find another restroom. There are, after all, no shortage of restrooms on school campuses.

I can’t, nor can anybody, change the thoughts of those opposed to anti-discrimination legislation. But those who do oppose it, and those who support it but refuse to be supportive in smaller ways, create an atmosphere of fear and pose a risk to the safety of all transgender people.

I suppose the most important thing we all can do is to talk so people will listen and listen so people will talk. Transgender voices will always take authority on these issues but the best thing cisgender allies can do is to be microphones so that we can speak, unafraid and uncensored, about our lives.

 

If you are transgender, gender nonconforming or questioning your gender identity, you are not alone!

 

  • Trans Lifeline, a transgender-specific support line: (877) 565-8860 and translifeline.org
  • Santa Clara Valley Health & Hospital System: (408) 683-2482

 

 

From my POV: Being a human Etch-A-Sketch

Courtesy of Edmond KwongFor many children, going for a swim during a hot summer day is a normal activity. For someone who

struggles with sensitive skin, like myself, the consequence of going into a chlorine-filled pool is annoying dry and itchy skin.

Growing up, I always knew I had sensitive skin and often encountered products that would cause an allergic reaction, which meant itchiness, blemishes or rashes. Even the simple act of going for a swim fostered a routine: get out, run to the shower, scrub myself with sensitive-skin Dove soap and apply skin-relief Aveeno bath oil all over myself to lessen the itchiness.

When I was about 10 years old, I went to a dermatologist who confirmed I had a skin condition called dermographism urticaria, in which the slightest scuff causes inflamed, irritated blemishes to appear on my skin. Simply, this means I can scratch or write on my skin with a rough object, such as the end of a pen, and raised, red marks will appear and subside within 20 minutes.

I am often asked why I might have red lines somewhere on my body, which makes me insecure about having no control over my skin.

Undoubtedly, other students can relate to having no regulation over some aspect of their body. The important idea is for students to figure out how to take control of any insecurity.

Being diagnosed with the condition helped me better understand my sensitive skin problems and made the responsibility to take care of my skin much more real.

As for my condition, the doctor first gave me prescription medicine to limit my irritation, and I eventually switched to over-the-counter antihistamines, such as Zyrtec and Allegra. After taking these pills for so many years, my body has adapted to the medicine, and I cannot go through the day without it.

If I forget to take my medicine, I can immediately tell after the 24-hour pill wears off since I begin to itch and feel like a cactus is prodding me from the inside. Taking my medicine has become a part of my daily routine, as well as the use of other products I have found to be the least harmful to my skin.

In terms of acne treatment and moisturizers, I have enjoyed brands like Clean & Clear, bareMinerals and Burt’s Bees, which are extremely light on my skin and cause little irritation.

These products are much more expensive than other brands with interesting scents, but they are definitely worth the cost since I can feel good about using them.

I recommend that students who suffer from sensitive skin go to a dermatologist to figure out which medications can help them have healthier skin. It is also great to experiment with different products to determine which ones make students feel confident about their skin.

Eliminating a teenager’s insecurities seems like an impossible task, and so is finding a solution to sensitive skin. But for some, a huge difference can be made by simply finding the right skin routines or visiting a doctor.

It is a relief to have reached a point in my life where I can have control over my skin while dealing with my dermatographia, which is a satisfactory feeling I hope other students with skin problems can eventually have as well.

From my P.O.V: Christmas at two houses

Raven Bautista_optFor the last ten years, my sister and I spent the holidays either with my dad or my mom. Every Christmas is different, and we never know what to expect. Sometimes we will be out-of-state with my mom, or at my cousin’s house with my dad.

Holidays with divorced parents are not as depressing as they might seem. I do get to see both my mom and dad during Christmas week. However, I spend Christmas with one parent and New Year’s week with the other. My sister and I make the most out of it and are glad to spend time with both parents instead of neither.

It is the same routine every year: we open presents on Christmas Eve and then leave for the other parent’s house first thing the following morning.

It is difficult trying to plan things during winter break and I usually end up doing nothing and sleeping in all day. My sister and I do not know who we are going to spend Christmas with until the first week of December.

Throughout the years I’ve gotten used to the uncertainty of what will happen for Christmas. It has developed into a tradition, something that happens every year.

One Christmas, my sister and I woke up early to open presents at my dad’s house, an hour after which we left for our mom’s house to open more. The perk of more gifts is one nice thing about divorced parents.

Every year, one parent will have nicer gifts than the other, a somewhat low-key contest between them to show who made more that year. Every year when we get gifts, we cannot really bring them with us to the other’s house because our parents will think we are trying to show them off.

In the end, presents never matter to my sister and I — the time we spend  with our parents is what we cherish the most.

We live with our mom and visit our dad throughout the year. The way we celebrate Christmas is not very different from the way other people do — we still gather around the Christmas tree, open presents and celebrate the New Year, just not as a complete family.

Having divorced parents for a decade has taught me to appreciate the little things in life, like having vacations and gifts, and has made me value time with family more.

From my P.O.V: Living as a Muslim American during the peak of Islamophobia

FullSizeRender(5)_optNews of another shooting is all over the Internet, and all I can think while scrolling through my Facebook feed is: “Please, please don’t let it be a Muslim.” It is. Or that’s what the headline reads anyway.

It seems the time between extremist attacks has been decreasing quickly. At first it was months between attacks, then weeks, then days – and recently –  six in the same night.

I wasn’t in Paris on the night of the ISIS attacks, but I felt the Parisians’ fear, and some of my own as I immediately thought of the backlash Muslim Americans like myself would face in the following days. I prepared for the drill I knew all too well: condemn the attacks, explain the “real Islam” to anyone who would listen, take a deep breath and brace myself.

The post-attack procedure is standard for Muslim Americans, but lately, the anti-Islam sentiment worldwide has reached an all-time high. The fact that I feel unsafe living in the diverse and accepting South Bay is enough to tell me so.

What is more upsetting is seeing many of the Muslims around me doing little to influence a change in this attitude. Violent backlash against Muslims has drastically increased around the country, and sharing a Facebook post of “solidarity” isn’t going to make any of it go away.

Instead of criticizing ignorant politicians and media in the privacy of our homes, Muslims need to take some responsibility to change the circumstances of Muslims in America. While understanding that no, the Muslim American community has not done anything wrong, we still  need to participate in campaigns, petitions and everyday acts of goodness in the name of our faith, and with the intention of changing its image.

People may be afraid for themselves and their families, but safety is never something that comes with change. Of all American movements against discrimination, none of them succeeded without the risk of alienation or violence.

It is scary sometimes to be the only Muslim student in class during a discussion about terrorism, but I know that speaking up in those situations is what will educate people on the difference between Muslims and self-proclaimed “Islamic” terrorist groups.

But sadly, many Muslim youth are not equipped to deal with Islamophobia. It’s not easy, and many kids don’t know how to deal with questions or accusations about Islam because they haven’t discussed it with their parents or a role model.

Recently, I have had the opportunity to be a mentor to younger Muslim kids, which has helped them deal with recent tragic events connected to the Muslim community – like the San Bernardino shooting, the ISIS attacks in Paris, and an event that hits closer to home – the stabbing incident on the UC Merced campus in early November.

“He was so smart. He was like a big brother.”

This is what I heard one of my 6th grade students sob as I walked to the back of my Sunday school classroom with a box of tissues. He was talking about Faisal Mohammad, the 18-year-old UC Merced student who stabbed four people on campus before being shot by campus police.

As a graduate of Wilcox High School in Santa Clara, Mohammad had previously been part of the local Muslim community. Because many of our students knew him personally, my co-teacher and I decided to take a class period to discuss the event.

We used the incident to open a discussion on school bullying, since Mohammad was said to have been bullied.

After hearing their experiences with bullying, I found myself trying to protect this group of 11- and 12-year-old boys as if they were young men – telling them to be careful because their religion and the color of their skin could put them in harmful situations. But at the same time, I needed to remind them to be proud of who they are.

Unfortunately, they knew the reality of Islamophobia better than even I do, with stories of being verbally and physically assaulted by classmates because they are Muslim, or having to defend their mothers in public for wearing a headscarf.

The ignorance and misinformation propagated by mainstream media quickly finds it’s way to classrooms, supermarkets and social media, and many young Muslim Americans have to choose between being a proud Muslim and being safe.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric has a constant presence on social media – it feels like every time I open my Facebook feed, there is someone calling for Muslims to be deported (to God knows where) or that another Muslim American has been attacked on the basis of their skin color, or the fabric around their head.

I can’t help but fear that my own community will be next.

However, there is an equal amount of educated people fighting back against ignorance, especially within the Homestead community. It’s reassuring to know that there are people on campus who have my back and that of my Muslim classmates.

Muslims and non-Muslim Americans alike need to come together and do their part to eliminate stereotyping and bigotry so our country can be safe for people of all faiths and colors.

From my P.O.V: Marching Band in Indiana

Lindsay Goddard_optOn the first day of school, my literature teacher asked us to anonymously write the thing about ourselves we are most proud of, and put it on the wall. One little pink Post-It hanging on the corner of the whiteboard read: “band geek.”

When people ask me why I am in band, I never know what to say. No one understands why we spend over 14 hours a week working on the same eight minutes of music. I usually smile and shake my head, as I can’t even begin to explain it.

The reality is, all the tough days and all the times we are pushed to our limits and forced past them are what make the work worth all of the literal blood, sweat and tears.

On the outside, we look like one huge clique of band nerds. On the inside, it isn’t any different, and the best part is, none of us care. I have met some of my best friends in marching band. They are some of the greatest people I’ve ever met and will ever meet.

It was not until we all went to dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe in Indiana that I realized just how much they all mean to me.

Music started blaring and band kids started getting up and dancing with the waiter. The band directors and parent volunteers all went up too. By the end of the night, we had an entire restaurant full of people dancing and singing to Taylor Swift.

Homestead Marching Band in Monument Square in Indianapolis. Photo courtesy of Jim Zumsteg.
Homestead Marching Band in Monument Square in Indianapolis. Photo courtesy of Jim Zumsteg.

After placing 19th on a national level in semifinals in Indianapolis, nobody on the field could be happier.

This was my first year as a student leader, and I still remember meeting the freshmen who joined in May, when they had never touched a flag, or marched at all. From day one to the final show, watching their nervous smiles in the Homestead gym and their huge smiles on the jumbotron at Lucas Oil Stadium in front of a screaming audience, was the most rewarding thing I have ever experienced.

Inside Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time. Photo courtesy of Jim Zumsteg

Walking into Lucas Oil, I was so nervous and scared of being consumed by the huge stadium. Blinking hard to adjust to the bright stadium lights, I looked up at the silent room, at the big awaiting crowd. I said good luck to the people who lift me in the show one final time, and after one more deep breath, the announcer started.

Your “show face” is the expression you are supposed to have when you perform, and this year it was smiling. I did not even have to think about it because I already had the biggest smile on my face while doing what I love with the people I love, in this huge stadium at this insane event I’d only ever seen pictures of.

Eight minutes later, the very last note of the show sounded. The applause started and slowly everyone in the stands stood up to give us a standing ovation. The second we could move, I rushed to the closest person and hugged them, tears streaming down both our faces.

Walking off the field, knowing we would never perform that show ever again, or perform with that group of people, we all put down our equipment and ran to hug and congratulate each other in one big group.

When I think back to why I do color guard, I realize it is because of the tough times we all go through together, because they make the end so much more worth it. Marching band is my second family and my home. In the end, you get out what you put in. And when you are with this group of 203 other kids all working for the same thing, all the rough days do not matter.

It is easy to get lost and forget what we are working towards, when school starts and you are practicing over 14 hours a week. But in the end, the feeling after that last show motivates me to keep going.

Looking back at high school in ten years, I won’t remember that one test I failed, the nice boy from the library or the time I messed up in a French presentation, but I’ll always remember band. I’ll remember the long hours, hard work, our shows and all the people I shared these experiences with.

Band after their prelims performance in Bands of America Grand National Championships. Photo courtesy of Carl Gutekunst

People will continue to ask why I am in band, and I’ll keep smiling and shaking my head, knowing they’ll never have any idea. The family I have found in the Homestead marching band is what inspires me each day, on and off the field.

Two hundred and four people, six and a half months, over 300 hours of practice, only eight minutes to impress and zero regrets.