When you click on the writing pieces below, they’ll expand so you can read the entire piece. Enjoy!
Human – Scarlett Xie, Class of 2019
I have live passed many years,
Forty eight, to be precise.
Old enough to see through many things.
Hovered around me,
I hate people bullying people.
Reminded me of my past.
Worst memory ever.
I decided to help.
That boy again.
When he came on another day,
I slammed the door.
I don’t have any friends.
Guess I don’t deserve them.
But I want one.
I promise I’ll change.
Silmarillion Final Essay – Chase Kidder, Class of 2020
The nature and creation of everything has always captivated us. In every civilization we find stories and depictions of how the world and the creatures living on it came to be. It is always one or multiple omnipotent beings that shape the earth, color the sky, move the waves of the ocean, and bring life. They can be merciful and beneficial or wrathful and destructive. They watch over us and judge our actions. J.R.R Tolkien was captivated by these creation stories and of the mythological adventures that came with them. He created his own mythology, one he considered to replace the Christian adventures of King Arthur. He was Christian himself and there are Christian influences throughout his creation story. He was influenced by polytheistic religions, like Norse mythology, as well.
All the gods in Tolkien’s mythology are reflective of both Christianity and of polytheistic mythologies. Ilúvatar is most reflective of the Christian god. He is the creator of everything and most omnipotent, for he knows everything while there are things the rest of the gods don’t know. Ilúvatar’s plan is also mentioned many times, which is very similar to God’s plan. What it means is that everything that happens on Earth/Arda are all according to the plans of God/Ilúvatar. What these plans are leading to is unknown.
The Valar are most reflective of polytheistic mythologies. There are many of them and they each control/rule aspects of the world. There are both male and female Valar and the aspects of the world they control/rule are very similar to what you would see in other mythologies. Ulmo ruled the sea, like Poseidon of Greek mythology or Ægir of Norse mythology. Oromë was a Valar of the hunt, like the Greek Artemis or Norse Ull. Yavanna was responsible for all things that grew on Arda, like the Greek Dionysus or Norse Freya.
Both Melkor and Sauron are reflective of the Christian devil. Like the devil, Melkor and Sauron are both against their creator of everything, Ilúvatar. They are destructive and corrupt people to turn on one another. Unlike in Christianity, both Melkor and Sauron are defeated and an eternal age of peace reigns on Arda.
The mythological creatures of Arda are mainly from European mythology and folklore, especially from the Scandinavian region. The most important of these creatures are the Elves and the Dwarves. They originated from Norse mythology and are two of the three dominant races on Arda. Unlike in Norse mythology, the Elves are specifically stated to have been created first, with the Dwarves being created second. The Orcs and Uruk-hai are of Tolkien’s creation, but are influenced by goblins, creatures that show up in many Scandinavian folktales. Unlike the Adam and Eve of Christianity and the Ask and Embla of Norse mythology, when the Elves, Dwarves, and Men are created, they are placed in large groups.
The whole creation and shaping of Arda is the most unique aspect of Tolkien’s mythology. The world is created through song and it is shaped by the Valar, but is constantly messed with by Melkor. The world also starts out flat as well, but is eventually made round. The whole concept of leaving Arda by heading straight forward in the ocean, while the curvature of the world goes downward as you continue going straight is so bizarre and unique as well.
Tolkien has created a thoroughly interesting and creative world. He takes aspects from other religions and mythologies, as well as his own ideas, to form a world of beauty and struggles between good and evil.
Of Mice and Men Essay – Alexander Terris, Class of 2019
John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, a Great Depression era tale about two men, one of whom is intellectually disabled, has come under fire for it’s anti-American values, primarily due to the books criticism of the American dream. However, that criticism is what makes the book valuable- it raises the question of if the American dream is achievable for everyone- a question necessary for us to consider as a society. George and Lennie, our two main characters, are impoverished laborers with a dream of buying their own property and living “on the fatta the the lan’” (56). Crooks, another worker at the farm, warns them that other workers “…come, an’ they quit an’ go on; an every damn one of ‘em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ‘em other gets it.”(74). Crooks is right- when Lennie, who has an intellectual disability, accidentally harms the wife of the boss’ son, George has to shoot him before the other workers can torture him to death. Lennie has done this previously- at their old job, he grabbed a girl’s dress and scared her to the point where they were run out of town. Lennie’s disability prevents Lennie and George from saving up enough money to purchase land- Lennie cannot change himself, and their failure is inevitable. The American dream, supposedly something everyone can accomplish, is completely out of reach for George and Lennie, as well as, based off what Crooks said, thousands of other laborers like them. Questioning the practicality of the American dream- a cornerstone of American culture, makes Of Mice And Men controversial, but also a book that brings up a valuable, though uncomfortable, realization.
The Things They Carried Essay – Annette Hasnas, Class of 2019
It’s hardly original and undeniably trite to say that war is Hell. In some ways, this little saying is fundamentally at odds with the themes of Tim O’Brien’s 1990 collection of linked short stories about the author’s experience in the Vietnam war The Things They Carried, themes mostly concerned with the chaos and seeming pointlessness of war. It is an offhand remark, a neat little way to tie up the horrors of war without really thinking about them. And yet, the message it expresses – that war is about as close someone on Earth can come to experiencing eternal damnation – fits right in with the collection. Throughout, O’Brien employs uncommon narrative devices to express how traumatic war is more effectively that more traditional war books – or war adages – often can.
The most prominent of O’Brien’s techniques is his penchant for frequently and deliberately confusing the reader, which creates a sense of the disorder and confusion that a soldier experiences in war. Typically, authors want things to be clear. There are of course several exceptions, but even if there’s mystery involved in the middle, and even if it requires some digging to find, by the end of most books the plot is fairly definitively defined. In this story, however, everything feels somewhat chaotic in a way that mimics the chaotic experience of being a soldier in Vietnam. This chaos continues throughout the book, never being truly resolved as it would be in many otherwise similar books. How much of the book is true is repeatedly called into question, with O’Brien even going so far as to tell the reader that “almost everything … is invented” (171), then revealing an earlier story to be fabricated, then revealing that that reveal might also be untrue. Several of the stories lack linear structures and seem to circle around themselves. In “Speaking of Courage,” for example, or “How to Tell a True War Story,” certain especially traumatic events from the war come up multiple times, each time describe slightly differently, with slightly more being revealed. This makes it difficult for the reader to truly pin down what happens, exactly, causing confusion that mimics that of soldiers.
One key part of the way O’Brien handles such traumatic moments beyond simply presenting them in a chaotic fashion is having his characters react stoically, at least externally, in order to demonstrate the extent of what these characters have experienced. In many kinds of media, including literature, one way creators get across that something terrible has happened is by showing the audience how distraught the characters are based on their reactions. They cry, or shout, run valiantly through a firestorm to avenge their fallen comrade. In The Things They Carried, however, the characters most marked response to gruesome experiences is a lack of reaction due to their desensitization. They line up to shake the hand of a disfigured corpse. They refer to dead babies as “crunchie munchie”s and napalm-fried nurses as “crispy critter”s (226). Even when O’Brien himself (as a character, and perhaps as the author as well, though it’s unclear) is clearly mentally tortured by having killed someone, the reader is never told about how upset he is, simply shown that he freezes up and can’t or doesn’t respond to prompting from Kiowa, one of the members of his platoon. In this way, some individual deaths have less of an impact, but the desensitization of the characters shows just how bad it is. To have reached such a place of desensitization, the characters have seen and been a part of such horrors that they have no choice but to be desensitized, as they wouldn’t be able to handle all the suffering they witness otherwise. Thus, were they to react viscerally to the tragedies shown in the stories, this would actually show that the war is less horrible than their lack of reactions show it to truly be.
O’Brien also includes a few stories from outside of the war as a way of touching on how far-reaching the consequences of being a soldier can be. Rather than constantly refocusing the reader on a few horrific stories, he also shows the more quiet, insidious side of going to war: just how long-lasting the trauma is. Norman Bowker, another platoon member, “hang[s] himself in the locker room of a YMCA” (149); Jimmy Cross, the First Lieutenant, can’t seem to move on from a girl he knew in college, who he never even really dated. These things aren’t grand or dramatic (even the suicide, clearly a serious and shocking event, is conveyed to the audience in a prosaic half sentence), and might not be included in a more typical book, which would instead constantly hammer home the gory parts of war. However, showing just how far reaching the effects of being a soldier can be is a major part of why The Things They Carried works so well. These moments make clear to the reader the fact that for many, it is impossible to ever return to normalcy after seeing combat. It can be easy for people who never go to war to get a picture of how terrible war is while one is there, but fail to see that there’s anything more to worry about once one comes home. By including stories of post-war life, O’Brien shows that the deleterious effects of war don’t end when the war does, but instead can haunt soldiers for the rest of their lives.
A lot of the techniques O’Brien includes in The Things They Carried may seem odd, or antithetical to the goal of conveying the horrors of war. Ultimately, though, it’s these non-traditional touches that give the reader the impression that war truly is a Hell.
How Social Media Affects Social Movements and Political Tensions – Julia Nassau, Class of 2020
The internet is an infrastructure where information and opinions flow rapidly, making platforms a potential breeding ground for new ideation. It has allowed for several advancements in our society, making life easier, yet also bringing in new complications. When algorithms, social movement propaganda, and the human need to belong combine, the results form exclusive groups that tend to shut down other opinions. This issue is about the use of the internet not informing the public of all sides and all facts, but also about lessening the amount of contempt in the world, allowing for more tolerance, acceptance, and ideally, kindness.
Social media has been one of the most significant outcomes of the internet, allowing people all over the world to spread information and create relationships. Although it is certainly useful in the modern world, the users tend to not be aware that they are not the ones in control of their profiles. For example, Facebook and Youtube both started as small platforms used by only a select few, but upon their rapid growth, commercialization became a priority. And further expansion was and is their goal. By tracking what profiles clicked on and and their correlation to the posts that have already received widespread attention, algorithms used by artificial intelligence now control what’s recommended to their users. Through ads, recommendations and auto-play, users are constantly prodded by what computers assume they have an interest in. Our computers are smart, so it isn’t surprising that often times it works. (Warner, Christine, May 3 2018, This is Exactly How Social Media Algorithms Work Today, on www.skyward.com)
The algorithm recommends what has received the most widespread attention, and those generally tend to be some of the most outrageous things. From conspiracy theories to shocking news stories, people are simply drawn towards excitement, even if it is outright false. In an article written by Guillaume Chaslot; a former programmer who worked on the Youtube algorithm in 2011, states “Flat Earth is not a “small bug”. It reveals that there is a structural problem in Google’s and Facebook’s AIs: they exploit weaknesses of the most vulnerable people, to make them believe the darndest things”(Chaslotte, Guillame, The Youtube algorithm that I helped build… on threadreaderapp.com). As someone who used to have their interests placed in a company, this opinion is striking because he now sees the level of manipulation used by companies at the expense of misinforming the people.
These algorithms go hand in hand with propaganda that points people in the direction of either for or against the philosophies of their organization. To gain following, social movements create posts and hashtags to cause a reaction from the viewers while putting out matters that most of their following would support. For example, the Me Too movement focuses on sexual assault, their goal is to lessen the amount of pain that comes with it and to lessen the amount of abuse itself. When trying to gain more following, they are likely to post cases of blatant sexual assault, and not anything that goes against their argument, such as false accusations, abuse of their power, along with other topics that could turn people away. While that is true of all marketing, this situation is more extreme due to the serious lack of information distribution.
The algorithm brings the user similar posts, and through sharing and approving, a community of people form with similar values. Community brings a lot of positivity into people’s lives, since humans thrive when they’re social, and feel accepted. Matthew Ingram, writing for Gigaom speaks well of the impact social media has on movements when he states “That kind of organizational feature can have a powerful psychological impact… because once people know that others share their beliefs or feelings about a movement it becomes easier to take collective action”. (Ingram, Matthew Jan 28, 2015 How Social Media Affects Protest Movements on gigaom.com)
However, such an intense community can have negative effects. When people join a group with substantial power, and that perspective is all they are surrounded by, exposure to the mindsets of those who disagree become less valid in the minds of the group. Through arrogance and intolerance, there have been several examples of protests going too far. A recent example took place in Charlottesville in 2017, when a White Nationalists and Black Lives Matter protest ended up in violence, death, and several injured. President Trump made a statement about the outcomes. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides — on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It’s been going on for a long, long time.” This quote further demonstrates how much of a growing problem hate is in our country, and how it is not the responsibility of a certain individual, but all individuals. (Keneally, Meghan August 8, 2018 What to know about the violent Charlottesville protests and anniversary rallies on abcnews.go.com)
So although some movements can be meaningful to their community, it has become surprisingly easy to grow in toxicity. When enough people fall under certain umbrellas, and are exposed only those who think like them, close-minded contempt forms for those who don’t have the same values. This drives opposing movements apart, escalating conflict and tension both by the people as a whole, and by their political parties, which tend to adopt whatever movements fits the basics of their own agendas.
The issue of hate and intolerance is not an easy one to be fixed, in fact most of the work is up to the people wanting change. They have to want to be open to all sides so they can decide for themselves, instead of being handed what beliefs they should have. In a research paper focused on political polarization, a reference is made to Sunstein, a well established legal scholar focusing on behavioral economics, stating that “He suggests that deliberation should be directed in such a way that polarization is a result of learning rather than group dynamics (Sunstein, 2008). Even like-minded people who belong in the same groups will have varied opinions and perspectives such that within-group discussions can lead to debate and a diversity of views” (Sarita Yardi, Danah Boyd, An analysis of Group Polarization over Time on Twitter on danah.org). This hones in on the distraction of a communal following, and how it can stray from the initial goal.
Social media platforms are unlikely to change unless there is serious pushback from the people; the algorithm is in their favor, and it works very well. People tend to keep watching, keep clicking, because of the recommendations displayed. Propaganda works hand in hand with that, as the algorithm, whilst not always intending to, supports this kind of communal growth. And so expecting propaganda to change is nonsensical. People who lean towards certain beliefs are going to be pointed towards articles, ads and campaigns that associate with them, but why not have regard for opposing ones, or un-opinionated articles? Even if a person’s opinion is not affected by it, it still gives them knowledge on others’ points of view, and allows for a logical argument. The more knowledge, the more power.
It is easy to be pointed towards a way of thinking, but the most important things in life don’t come easily. Identity is not relying on fitting in and allowing those around to shape who you are. Identity is knowing where you stand in relation to everything else, and being confident in what you believe in as an individual. What we can do to make a more diverse and accepting community comes from within, with questioning sources, analyzing topics, viewpoints, counter-arguments as well as continuing to push these platforms for change.
People will always disagree with one another, but by limiting the amount of influence and allowing people to develop their own viewpoint, they are more likely to accept others. Perhaps not everyone can be friendly, but violence proves that intolerance has come too far. People should be able to communicate, argue their points reasonably and stay true to themselves while not using hatred and bigotry to further escalate the divide.
Warner, Christine, May 3 2018, This is Exactly How Social Media Algorithms Work Today, on www.skyward.com
Chaslotte, Guillame, The Youtube algorithm that I helped build… on threadreaderapp.com
Ingram, Matthew Jan 28, 2015 How Social Media Affects Protest Movements on gigaom.com
Keneally, Meghan August 8, 2018 What to know about the violent Charlottesville protests and anniversary rallies on abcnews.go.com
Sarita Yardi, Danah Boyd, An analysis of Group Polarization over Time on Twitter on danah.org