Students Share Learning Experience Through Cum Laude Society Essays
On April 12, 2019, 29 MICDS seniors were inducted into the Cum Laude Society. By a vote of their peers, Jack Cai ’19 and Kat Kosup ’19 were selected to read their essays at the assembly. We’re sharing them here so you, too, can enjoy hearing about how they view their experiences of learning.
Cum Laude Essay by Jack Cai ’19
King of Infinite Space
When I was little, I had an odd habit. Everywhere I went I would embarrass my family with the quirky and unrestrained questions about anything and everything I saw. Just a walk in the park would get me to ask: “why is the sky blue,” “why do the sirens change pitch when a police car passes,” and “why does the sunlight make countless round spots on the ground?” My questions always amused the adults, but most of the time they would shrug and tell me they didn’t know the answer.
My dad’s study is the locus of mystery in our house. Every time I tiptoed into the room, there was always an uneasy feeling. The bulbs were broken and the window curtains were always shut. Sometimes a streak of sunlight shined through, but it was too lonely and pale to illuminate the study. My dad’s bookshelves were tall. They looked over me solemnly like altars. The shelves were full of books stacked neatly together, heavy and still as if they have been there collecting dust for hundreds of years. Many times did I stop dead when I was reaching out to one of the books, but also many times was I drawn back into the dark room. I know that I outstepped the boundaries of my age and my space, yet I couldn’t help but peek my head out of the familiar and warmly-lighted living rooms and into the territory of the unknown in that room.
I could never forget the day I finally gathered enough courage to pick up one of those books from the shelf. It was The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking. There I was, a second grader holding up a book of theoretical physics, full of wonder. Of course, I could barely understand the text, but I was completely caught by the illustration in the book. It’s nothing like the pictures I see in my comic books because they were, just like the book, a human attempt to visualize things outside of our realm of vision: the 12th dimension crunched up like paper inside the smallest particle, the end of time and space in infinite heat, or the floating membranes that makes up the fabric of the universe. The floor beneath me crumbled, and I fell down into a black hole. The oak floors and walls of the study expanded until it had no bounds and each speck of dust became a planet or a star. I was utterly lonely, like a streak of light lost in the darkness. “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself the king of infinite space” was the last line I saw from the book before I ran out of the room. After the incident, I stopped asking questions. It became scary to ask questions that I could never get an answer to.
This eerie experience stuck with me, so much so that I bought the Hawkins book and read it again in high school. This time, I didn’t have trouble understanding it, though I thought the book has lost its magic. I tried to find the same experience that turned my reality upside down, and that is when I started to learn to program. During the summer of my sophomore year, I sat down in front of my computer, typed in “programming classes” on Google and started to learn. Again, I felt like I fell into the abyss, as the texts on the computer screen danced in front of me, jeering at my confusion and loneliness. One thing would start to make sense, but it always led to 10 other things I didn’t know about. It was then I finally grasped the meaning to be the “king of infinite space.” I had to take ownership of my learning and find my own pace in the seemingly endless space of knowledge. So this time, I did not run away from the unknown. I dove head-on into the sea of strange symbols. The same experience that gave me fear was transformed into excitement and motivation for me to learn.
I have come to believe that just like the universe, knowledge is boundless. The vast and dark territory of the unknown scares me, but I would like to always be the child who wanders into his father’s study and discover something he couldn’t even understand. Physically, we are bounded by school work, by jobs, or even by the room that we live in; but when I am learning, I find my mind enlightened and free to roam an infinite space.
Cum Laude Essay by Katherine Kosup ’19
Some of fiction’s greatest battles were defined by transportation.
Harry Potter, for example, rode into battle on a broom; Luke Skywalker rode into battle on a X-wing Starfighter; Captain Jack Sparrow rode into battle on the infamous Black Pearl.
Well, Kat Kosup rode into battle on a compact folding Razor Scooter.
Of course, my battle wasn’t fictional, but trust me, it was a battle destined to be written into fiction. A classic David verses Goliath story: ten-year-old girl on a meager scooter challenges fourteen-year-old boy on an adult-sized bike. Yes, on that blistering mid-summers day I challenged my older brother, Steven, to battle me in a game of “Chicken.”
Chicken. Maybe you’ve never heard of it, maybe you have a different name for it, or maybe you, like me, pushed it to the depths of your mind because so many traumatizing childhood memories were associated with it. To my brother and me, Chicken was a game in which two opponents charged towards each other, and the first to swerve out of the way was, you guessed it, a chicken. That is to say: weak, inferior, worse in every quantifiable way, and in our house, shunned by the other for the next two to three days.
So here we were, in our driveway, facing each other, eyes locked. Naturally, the first part of this ceremony called for intimidation tactics. The most respected, of course, being a thunderous “rev” of the engine. That is to say, growling. Growling at each other. Two minutes of this was enough to sicken any onlooker, but I, for one, was petrified.
Then it came time for the charge. The time was now: heart rate was high, pupils were dilated, digestion was inhibited. I stared into the enemy’s eyes seeking no less complete annihilation, no less than a win on all accounts.
You should know that this was not the first time we had battled in this fashion. In each of these past battles, however, I had swerved. Swerved and swerved and swerved. I was sick of swerving.
Our officiator, our neighbor Will, chopped his meaty hand through the air signaling the beginning of our battle. My bare foot kicked my scooter forward on the hot pavement. Kick, glide, kick, glide. I don’t mean to exaggerate, but when I think back, I can only conclude that I must have been hitting speeds of roughly 20 miles an hour. Steven, too, wasn’t holding back. He began as a small speck on the end of our driveway, but in what felt like seconds, he was nearly 15 feet away.
As we approached collision, I squeezed my eyes shut. “Don’t swerve,” I chanted. “You can’t swerve, don’t swerve.”
Why did I care so much? Why was I so determined? I can’t remember. I only know that the sole thing that would cause me to lose that day was someone physically pushing me out of the way—
In what must have been among the top five stupidest moments in my life, Steven, my much older and larger brother, ran over me with his bike. Literarily, his bike practically decimated my flimsy scooter… and my 10-year-old body. Neither of us had swerved. Lying on the pavement, crying of course, I remember thinking only one thing: Why on earth had I selected the Razor scooter? Especially when I knew Steven would pick the bike? Especially when I knew that I was not going swerve? What did I think was going to happen? How could I have taken an already stupid game and somehow made it more so?
Little did I know, that at the age of ten, playing perhaps the most idiotic game humanity has ever invented (in the most idiotic way possible), I was subliminally learning about the inner workings of the United States Government.
The game of Chicken, it turns out, is a metaphor used by Game Theorists when analyzing the outcome of political standoffs.
For example, in breaking down potential outcomes of the recent January 20 governmental shutdown, the game of Chicken was used extensively as a reference. President Trump and the congressional Democrats disagreed on whether or not a wall should be created on the US border with Mexico. Simplified in short, Game Theorists showed that Trump and the congressional Democrats could come to a compromise on the issue, both effectively swerving, or Trump could concede to not building the wall, swerving and losing approval, or the congressional Democrats could concede to building a wall, swerving and losing approval, or neither could concede, the government could remain shut down, and both sides would lose approval, crashing into each other just as I did with Steven.
And that is why I love to learn.
Because a crash that I have regretted my entire life taught me about a governmental issue that didn’t even exist until roughly six years after I found myself crying on the pavement that day. Because the day I chose to participate in that game, I was choosing also to learn.
Just as Steven and I were battling for superiority, so too were Trump and the congressional Democrats. Their superiority just related to the issue of the wall. Just as Steven and I knew there would be consequences for swerving, so too did Trump and the congressional Democrats. Their consequences would just come in the form of lost voters.
I don’t think that learning is defined by a school environment, nor do I think it is quantified in one’s ability to store knowledge. That is not to say that these are not important aspects of learning, but I have always found that the best type of learning happens when you least planned it. It happens every day, both during those times when one is actively thinking about it, and those times when one is squeezing their eyes shut in preparation for a planned collision.
In my experience, learning is not concrete, and learning is not linear. Rather, learning is fluid. It adapts and molds itself, revealing secrets to each person when that person least expects it. As I learned about the recent governmental game of Chicken in AP Gov class, I found myself again and again returning to my experiences.
I chose to participate in a game of Chicken, which was dumb. I chose the scooter, which was dumb. I chose to deliberately crash, which was especially dumb. But, the experience altogether was not dumb.
It was an unexpected learning moment. In the current governmental game of Chicken, perhaps one of them is riding the scooter, coming out on bottom even if both sides crash. Perhaps not, but would I ever have considered this possibility had I not crashed that day? To that same token, would I have even been so fascinated with the governmental shutdown in the first place had I not had a personal connection to it?
Maybe, but possibly not.
Midsummer of 2010, I rode into battle on a compact folding Razor Scooter and crashed. That crash reminded me why I will always love to learn: If you choose to pay attention, even the dumbest decisions can lead to smart connections. Time teaches us many lessons, we just have to pay attention to them.
In keeping an open mind, keen eyes, and accepting the possibility of a thin bike tread slicing diagonally through the apex your stomach, anyone might just begin to understand the governmental shutdown…
and infinitely more.