On the Boardwalk

by M.M.
In a photograph that my aunt managed to snap in Ocean City, NJ, a pod of pelicans swarms down on my family. The 15 of us, from my brother Charlie to my great-grandma Mimi in her PVC beach wheelchair, are all shrieking and trying to shield each other. It’s a moment that perfectly captures my goofy, wonderful family and fills me with gratitude.

But I haven’t always realized how lucky I am. In grade school and middle school, I remember the constant worry of not fitting in. I cringe to admit how silly and spoiled I was, but after my dad lost his job during the 2008 financial crisis, my friends’ wealth left me feeling insecure. Why would anyone want to come over to my boring house, I wondered, when they had game rooms, large TVs, and trampolines? When my dad found a new job, I felt awkward because my best friend’s dad was his boss. It got even more awkward in 2015 when my dad was laid off a second time. The house I had taken for granted had to be put on the market, and my dad took a job in Houston while my mom, brother, and I stayed in Chicago.

Seeing my dad commute so that my brother and I could stay at our school was a turning point. I finally began to realize how much I have to be grateful for. No matter how tired or stressed he was, my dad always arrived home with a big smile. He is one of the most positive people I know, despite losing his dad to throat cancer when he was 19, his brother to ALS, and his sister to breast cancer. A light in the darkness for him was his education, and he was able to earn his way through college and grad school. He and my mom, who lost her mother at a young age, have endured so much in common, from growing up in homes with alcoholism to abusive stepparents. As I’ve gotten older and asked more questions about their lives, I’ve become prouder of them than I can adequately express.

My appreciation for my life has grown exponentially during high school. Loyola’s emphasis on social justice and serving others has helped me understand the kind of person I want to be. With more confidence in who I am, I’ve made good friends who really care about friendship and not status. In class, I’ve learned about racial economic inequality and realized that the upward mobility my dad achieved, while it inspires me, is not available to others due to the color of their skin. At the Howard Community Center, I’ve looked after kids as young as 2 who don’t have their first meal of the day until they get to Howard. Meeting people who struggle to survive has given me much-needed perspective. When I think back to my childhood, I feel ashamed at taking such profound privileges for granted, but I am glad to understand what it feels like to fear you’ll be judged based on what you lack materially. I strive to treat everyone with kindness because there’s no way to know when someone needs compassion the most.

The chance to help people on a larger scale is one of the reasons that studying business excites me. In many ways, the world revolves around our economy and who gets affected by it. I want to help fix the corruption that hurts the less fortunate. It’s my dream to use my love of math, my entrepreneurial spirit, and my passion for building relationships to create a successful career and someday run my own company.

And every summer, I hope to treat my parents to a beach vacation, where we can stroll the boardwalk together, laugh at the memory of pelicans swooping overhead, and carry on the tradition of being there for each other no matter what.