Madeline Hopper '21
Dear Readers of The Exchanged,
As both seniors and Editors-in-Chief of The Exchanged, Nisa, David, and I decided to create an edition of the paper that allowed seniors to share a small part of their college process with the community in a meaningful way.
This edition intends to show that everyone has their own compelling and unique narrative and that they deserve a platform to share it. No college decision, acceptance or rejection, can change one's worth or identity. After all, these essays were most likely written long before any admissions officer even got the chance to look at them, and if our own personal experiences are any indication, these stories have been years in the making.
Seniors, congratulations on the end of the college process. We sincerely hope everyone enjoys this issue.
Madeline Hopper ’21
Nisa Quarles '21
When I was fifteen, I was excited to receive my first paycheck as a counselor at an arts summer camp. I became the youngest counselor after convincing my boss to pay me a year earlier than I was technically eligible. I soon recognized one of the older male counselors from when we were campers together. Although our friendship began innocently, after I publicly denied his false claim that we were dating, his advances became more aggressive. He made vulgar sexual comments to and about me in front of my other male coworkers, body shamed me in front of campers, and repeatedly touched me non-consensually.
While I felt humiliated and powerless, I did not deem his behavior as legitimately inappropriate at the time. The older counselors laughed at his advances, so I never officially reported him to my boss. However, I was ashamed of my response to his behavior, or lack thereof. Since middle school, I have attended an all-girls school where women’s empowerment has been the cornerstone of my education, and I am a passionate debater at the lunch table and in the classroom. Why was I completely silent when it was most important to defend myself?
There has not been a day since that summer that I have not wrestled with this question. I have spent my time during quarantine reflecting on this painful experience and learning about other women’s stories of sexual harassment. I have concluded that expecting and accepting mistreatment and sexualization from men was a foundational aspect of my childhood. Early on, my parents routinely instructed me on self-defense strategies against men who could potentially violate me. I was forbidden from wearing clothes that might attract unwanted male attention. In elementary school, whenever boys would make annoying and even offensive comments towards me, the adults’ dismissive response was always “Oh, that just means that he likes you.” This gender socialization led me to accept this workplace harassment years later. Even though my coworker was significantly bigger, older, and stronger than I, I had subconsciously internalized from a young age that it was my responsibility as the girl to have the emotional maturity to excuse his inappropriate behavior as a sign of affection rather than call it abuse.
After this realization, I was finally able to acknowledge his misconduct and relieve myself of the blame that I carried for years. Now, I am striving to direct my energy towards defending myself and others against mistreatment. For example, this past summer I participated in Zoom meetings with students from St. Albans to address the sexism and colorism with which they have targeted black girls at NCS. Even when some of the boys attempted to invalidate my statements, I kept speaking because I no longer yearn for others to validate my feelings as I did three years ago. Instead, I value myself enough to know that my feelings and experiences are worth sharing.
I have also learned that I cannot just share my experiences with sexism when I am prompted, but I must also use those experiences to inform my leadership decisions. For instance, as a Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Exchanged, an online publication between NCS and St. Albans, I have worked with my fellow Editors-in-Chief to ensure that there’s more gender equality in both editing and writing positions. I want to seize every opportunity I have to empower women to share their voices, stories, and ideas.
I am pleased that I am now confident enough in my voice to continue advocating for myself and other women in my future schools and workplaces. I hope that my efforts will inspire other community members and leaders, regardless of gender, to do the same.
*Portions of this essay have been slightly modified for the purposes of this article.
The most educated and truly intelligent people that I have met in my life have all impressed me with their displays of empathy. Over dinner tables and across the Senate floor, I believe the most educated people are the ones who have considered a topic from enough perspectives that they can empathize with their peers. I believe people are the foundation of every industry, community, and movement. To me, being educated is not the memorization of the newest headlines or ancient philosophy, it is having the vision to understand how culture affects people. I have learned this through Government Club, with weekly debate-style meetings in which I have gotten to observe and participate in controversial and emotional topics of politics. I have a reputation for bringing “social issues” into each debate, no matter the topic. However, I believe no political decision is exempt of its “social” consequences. I am incredibly passionate about women’s and race issues in politics because they express how people, specifically marginalized people, are truly affected by every legislative decision. Adding a human aspect to politics, I believe, is central to maintaining a supportive society. Without empathy, without consideration of the people, there is no intelligence and there is no debate. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and I believe truly educated people recognize that above all else. I may not learn every possible approach to these complicated issues, but if I can apply selflessness and empathy to form my opinions, I will be proud of my education.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved traveling. Whether I’m just walking through an adjacent neighborhood or driving to Florida in one 22-hour stretch, discovering new things about the world ignites an unparalleled passion in me. In the past several years, my wanderlust has inspired a unique passion – planning road trips.
I’ve filled entire notebooks with journeys. I’ve designed a month-long traipse across the country in search of skies with low light pollution to feed my burgeoning interest in astrophotography. I’ve drawn up a massive backpacking adventure across Europe to witness the Western world’s most significant landmarks (the Colosseum, Notre-Dame, and the Berlin Wall, among many). I’ve outlined an intensive culinary tour of India from Kashmir’s haak to Kerala’s avial, mapped out a hike on Yosemite’s Half Dome Trail inspired by my love of rock climbing, and drafted an excursion to some of Cairo’s thousand mosques to better understand the world’s fastest-growing religion.
Now, my itineraries don’t just include the usual notes on lodging, food, and activities. I learn stretches that help combat jetlag. I draft grocery lists for meals to make on the trail. I even make Spotify playlists for every trip, each fitting a unique mood. My trips take on lives of their own, escaping the confines of my imagination, and that’s what makes the activity a perfect stressbuster.
When I need a break from regular life, I can escape to any number of destinations, just waiting for me in my notebooks. The tantalizing taste of possibility – the idea that I really could embark on all these journeys – motivates me to keep working hard and reminds me that taking breaks allows me to dream. And hopefully one day, I’ll be able to turn the dreams of those adventures into reality. I can’t wait.
On Veterans’ Day 2002, a future artist weighing only two pounds made her way into the world. That artist was me, and that day was the beginning of an unpredictable journey into the open waters of life. The first length of the journey was choppy with my mother’s fear of losing her baby girl. Yet I was able to sail right through the storm, surviving my days in the NICU without any tubes or machines. Although I don’t remember my first days in this world, I view my beginnings as a reflection of how I steer through life. The guidance of my family history gifts me the traits of love, hope, and positivity that help me stay on course through the rocky seas of life and continue my creative endeavors to aid the weary.
I come from a family of strong women who have been fundamental in shaping me into the person I am today. My grandmother was born as one of 14 children in the Puerto Rican countryside. Growing up in poverty, she had to leave high school to support her family as a seamstress. My grandma lived a humble life, yet it was still brighter than the island sun, and her willingness to help those in need bled into the soul of my mother, who moved to the states for radiant opportunities at 18 years old. However, a seismic shift later on shook my mom’s life, when she was forced to live in the housing projects of Edgewood, Maryland, along with my older sister and grandma. Despite all the crime and fear that surrounded her, she still held on to her Joan of Arc spirit by working three jobs while studying. My mom’s perseverance and positivity led her to achieve a Master’s degree in Computer Science, and my family was able to move out of the projects and into the much safer haven of Friendship Heights. Even when their path appeared cloudy, my mom and grandma never lost their inner sunlight.
It is my family’s resilience that has influenced who I have become as my voyage sailed into my teenage years. Since a young age, my joy would leap like a whale jumping out of the sea when I found a way to illuminate the lives of the disadvantaged, such as building holiday care packages for the homeless. But then a category five hurricane hit my ship during high school, and the thrust into a competitive and privileged environment spawned enormous waves of debilitating emotions. Despite these challenges, I became my own Caroline Abbott, using my family’s story of survival to steer through the storm. My perseverance and desire to use my creativity to help others propelled me through those arduous times; at my school’s Diversity Forum, my short story served as a glimmer of hope to those who might have been in those same choppy waters. I also penned an illustrated
letter for an English girl with a rare degenerative disease who had suddenly lost hope to uplift her spirits. My creative work not only strived to help others, but it was also part of my process for overcoming and keeping hold of my family’s values no matter how angry the sea may be.
My heart is full of gratitude for my family’s sacrifices. I know I can always count on their love and support as I keep making advances in my voyage. I have learned from my family that if we seek our life’s purpose, we can reach the coastline of our goals and dreams. It is my dream to make an impact in the world through creativity that helps people find light, no matter how gloomy the weather. Whether it is writing a story or illustrating, I want nothing more than for my quiet, resilient, and creative personality to uplift our sinking world.
When I started sharing the lavender flyer across Instagram, I never expected so many people to show up. I still did not quite believe my eyes as they rolled in by the tens and then the hundreds, filling up every bare inch of space on the grass. Despite my stomach performing intestinal gymnastics, we had done it. We had managed to host a Black Lives Matter sit-in in front of the National Cathedral, even without any help from our school. I stood in front of the rainbow of facemasks as my co-coordinator Anaya whispered in my ear, “Read your poem.”
Don’t cry baby girl, because black girls don’t cry when their hearts are breaking.
Growing up as a black girl, there were so many instances when I wanted to cry. The first instance, that defined my future, was after my father handed me my first book. There was only one character who looked like me, and she died. He kept handing me books, one after another, and I kept watching in despair as black boys and girls kept dying before my eyes, forgotten at the turn of a page. But I didn’t cry. I used a different outlet instead, grabbing my pen and furiously scribbling against the pages. I rewrote the books in front of me. I rewrote the story so that I could see myself in the pages — I wrote about black witches who went to Hogwarts and black demi-gods who went to Camp Half-Blood. When I set down the pen, they were alive and staring back at me. I had breathed life into these characters, and I wouldn’t let them die.
Growing up as a black girl, there were so many instances when I wanted to cry. There were so many times that the veil separating reality from childhood fantasy blew in the wind and showed me the imperfections and inequalities of a world I barely knew. There were so many times a boy told me I was “pretty for a black girl” and that curtain fell. There were so many times I was told “I don’t date black girls” and that curtain fell. There were so many times when I felt the world on my shoulders. I watched as my best friends, boys, cried and mourned the death of someone who was distinctly like them at the hands of evils we did not create and did not deserve to face. And when someone distinctly like me, a girl, died… I had to straighten my shoulders, because black girls don’t cry.
Do cry, baby girl. Cry for me, cry for you.
I cried. For the first time since the death of George Floyd, I cried, reading those words in front of nearly four hundred people. I felt their support and their conviction. I felt deep within me that everyone there understood my pain and anguish. I felt them through their testimonies, their snaps and claps, and their silent clenched fists. I felt that no one wanted another little black girl to hold in her tears as she juggled the turmoil of centuries on her heart.
Up until the sit-in, my rebellions had been private. They had been silent, personal, and down-played. I never trusted or believed in myself to do more. I was always told that I would change the world “one day,” but I made June 5th, 2020 myday.
And what a day it was.
The little girl who wrote in sloppy cursive on the small pages of a spiral notebook would have been proud of me on June 5th. She will also be proud that I will never stop fighting to be seen in the place where I feel most at home: in books. Little black girls deserve to see our heroes, and ourselves, embraced and loved in the pages.
I will be the one who gives us what we deserve.
The last time I was there, I barely recognized the home my family had lived in for sixteen years. It had been stripped of everything that had made it ours, reduced to a sterile husk of a place I might have once recognized. Painstaking efforts had been made to erase traces of my family from the place, down to the scuffs on the basement walls, which were covered in a shade of white paint carefully chosen by my mother in a final possessive act. It was somehow stranger to see the house completely emptied than it was to live in rooms filled with boxes for so many months. There is no unpacking empty space, no way to label or mark it. Sharpie scrawl on the side of boxes no longer distinguished “Ed’s Office” from “Luke’s Room.” For the first time in my life, the house felt unfamiliar.
It would be dishonest to describe the last time I stood in my bedroom as a purely melancholy experience. There was venom there, something unhealthy, a jealousy of whoever would come after me and inhabit the one space I had long claimed as my own. My room was different from the rest of my house: it had been built for me when my mother became pregnant with my youngest brother and we needed to add a third bedroom. My room was the only space in the house that had only ever had one inhabitant. It was mine and mine alone. Seeing the space my bed had once occupied, the posterless walls, and the carpetless floors made me feel a sort of bitterness I’m not proud of. This was the place I loved most in the world, and if I couldn’t have it I didn’t want anybody else to. I wished I could tear the room right off the side of the house, and that we could sell the place in its original form. I wanted my room to die with me, not become somebody else’s.
I looked out the window and saw the little playhouse my grandfather had given me over a decade ago, nestled between the trees in the backyard, barely visible from my second floor bedroom. It was the only thing we were leaving behind, too large and inconvenient to pack onto a moving truck. I wasn’t sure if the family who came after us would keep it. It was old and
infested with bees, untouched since my younger brothers and I had grown out of it. I figured its days were numbered, but I held on to a little bit of hope. Maybe they’d keep it, and one day a neighbor would come over and recognize it as the Hudsons’, and we would be brought back home for the duration of a story.
I didn’t want to leave. There was an elemental attachment I felt to my room that kept me glued to the floorboards. I tried desperately to conjure up the memory of what the room had looked like only weeks before. I wanted so badly to have some kind of final emotional experience, to have all the memories of my life in this space come flooding over me in these last moments. But they never came. The emptiness of the room I stood in overpowered my memory of what it once had been. I realized in that moment that I was already gone, that my final look at this place had happened long ago, on some random day in a time before my home was flooded with cardboard boxes. A new phase in my life wasn’t on the horizon, it had already arrived. This was not a goodbye, it was a post-mortem, a final, bare reminder that I shouldn’t linger. That the car was waiting. That I had to go.
Every year on the last Saturday in July, my sisters and I pile into the car with our parents to make the road trip from DC to Surry, Virginia for the annual Pierce family reunion. The three-hour car ride feels like days, dragged out by the anticipation of tables loaded with mac and cheese, collard greens and cornbread, of sizzling ribs and burgers on the grill, and of seeing our uncles, aunts, and cousins for the first time in months. However, there is always one moment on the ride that stands out from the rest: passing the 80-foot-tall Confederate flag along I-95 in Stafford, VA. For years, I never really understood the flag's significance; I only knew that my parents absolutely despised it. In the brief moments as we passed the unavoidable landmark, the air in the car was different. My father gripped the wheel more tightly. His usual laidback attitude turned cold, and his jaw tightened. And after a period of silence, we would return to singing along to the radio and playing road trip games.
The summer before freshman year, I sat with my family and watched as the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally unfolded. Three months later, I became one of two black girls on my school's crew team. My teammates are like family to me, and I trust each and every one of them, yet when we take our annual spring training trip to Tampa, Florida, I feel completely and utterly isolated. At the start of training week, we'd make a team Walmart run to stock up on snacks and supplies for the long intense days of training ahead. I'd watch my teammates happily roam and play games throughout the store, their only concern choosing between flavors of Gatorade, but as soon as I stepped inside, I was on high alert. Everywhere I looked I saw Confederate shirts, hats, blankets, and keychains. I felt the eyes of the people wearing them trailing me, watching me closely, as I made my way through the store. The message was clear: I wasn't welcome. To make matters worse, there was also a Confederate flag on the house right outside where we rowed three times a day. Our coach would joke about how the neighbors had a shotgun. Every day when we would drive past that house and see that starred cross, my heart would beat a little faster. I'd start to sweat. I felt like I couldn't breathe, and then we'd move past the gates to the boathouse and I'd feel safe again.
Though I've always been outspoken and seldom hide my opinions, for some reason I never told my teammates how I really felt. It wasn't until our first black student union meeting following George Floyd’s murder that I realized I was hiding my own discomfort and fear to make my white peers comfortable. Black girls, especially in predominantly white spaces, aren't allowed to be too strong and too opinionated, but we're also not allowed to be vulnerable and weak. There are so many moments when we feel isolated, uncomfortable, and unsafe, but we're often too afraid to say anything. Too afraid to not fit in. Too afraid to seem angry. Too afraid to seem vulnerable. In that meeting, each of us decided we'd been holding back for too long. In a schoolwide town hall later that week, I let out all my feelings and the years of pent-up frustration, sadness, and fear. And I was fortunate enough to find that my school community was there to listen. When I drove past that Confederate flag on the way to Surry this summer, I didn't feel paralyzed. Instead, I felt determined to fight back against my fear.
Prompt: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
“Do you even know how price controls work?”
My male opponent towered over me, voice soaked in disdain. I spent an entire month researching everything about pharmaceutical price controls, but he looked at me like I’d never debated before. Did I have to look like him to appear as a worthy opponent?
In debate, like most places, women face rampant discrimination. If we speak softly, we’re “unconvincing.” If we sound assertive, we're “sassy.” A recent analysis of 125,000 Public Forum debate rounds found that female teams were 17.1% less likely to win against male opponents.
When I became the captain of my all-girl-school’s debate team junior year, I thought preparation would protect the younger girls from sexism. So, I spent hours outside of meetings drafting lesson plans, working with girls individually, and reviewing case arguments. I wanted these young debaters to leave each round with their heads held high, so everyone could see the strength and power they possessed.
But debate is a time-consuming activity, so as their schoolwork increased, the debaters started skipping meetings and leaving cases unfinished. I started worrying that if I didn't teach them everything I knew, they wouldn’t overcome the prejudiced judges and condescending opponents. Or worse, they would see their losses as a reflection of their value.
That February, I attended the Harvard National Forensics Tournament. I put in more hours of research than I ever had before, but round after round, judges stared blankly during my speeches and handed their ballots to my opponents. Strong arguments transformed into flimsy claims.
That night, I was devastated. With tears welling up in my eyes, I asked our team’s coach, Ilana, how I could improve. I always thought of debate as cut-throat, so I expected her to rattle off a string of critiques and walk away. But Ilana gave me two things no coach had ever given me before: strength and comfort. She said, “Anita, the knowledge that you learn from this tournament is priceless. That can’t be measured by a trophy. You are smart and capable, and as long as you keep on learning from each round and trying to improve, you’re successful.”
The whole plane ride home, Ilana’s words echoed in my head. If I tried my best during every tournament, why should others’ judgments take away from my sense of self-worth? Ilana’s words helped me realize that I was a powerful female debater because of my determination, not because of the rounds I won. Now I needed to pass her wisdom to others.
I completely reevaluated my job as team captain. My job isn’t just teaching debaters how to succeed, but also giving them the strength to overcome failure. Sure, teaching them how to write a block file could make sure they were prepared enough to evade one prejudiced judge. But teaching these young women that they are smart, strong, and important people would help them combat sexism for a lifetime.
So when some freshmen signed up for an online tournament a few months later, instead of pushing them to do last-minute research, I settled their nerves and urged them to take breaks and grab food. No matter whom the judge voted for, I celebrated their accomplishments after every round and made sure they knew how hardworking, strong, and capable they were.
Ever since February, I’ve judged 35 debate rounds and taught at 2 debate summer camps. After giving constructive feedback, I always end each round or lesson with, “You all should be so proud of yourselves for working so hard.” Not out of pity, but because it’s true.
This year as we start debate online, I know that I want to be more than just a leader. I want to be a guide and supporter. I hope that the next generation of young women won’t need reminders that they are absolutely fabulous, whether that’s in debate or beyond.
Walking along the dark freeway outside Gloucester, Massachusetts, my eyes scanned the horizon for signs of life. After hurrying past foreboding fields for an hour, with Glenn Medeiros playing in my ears, I questioned my decisions to embark on this 3AM journey and, more broadly, to spend my sophomore summer traveling alone around the northeast, studying fisheries management.
The day before, I’d been standing in a fish-gut-covered blazer in a seafood processing plant, watching men swing sacks of Redfish off a boat. As I conversed with the workers, scribbling notes in my journal, I watched a red-bearded giant guide his tuna boat to a nearby dock. After he unloaded and butchered a monstrous Bluefin, I swallowed hard and asked him whether we could talk. Sure, he said, meet me at the docks at 3AM; we’ll talk and fish.
On the boat, the fisherman—Johnny Johnson—told me that fishing’s in [his] blood. He’s fished for decades, and seen fishermen get caught in tuna lines, dragged overboard instantly and drowned. I’d never been this far offshore. Indeed, until recently, my interactions with the ocean had mainly involved sushi. Then, searching for an environmental policy topic to research, I had stumbled across fisheries management—a microcosm for resources management, but with macro consequences. Armed with a generous grant from an alumnus of my school, I embarked on a 4-month study of American fisheries. Through it all, I was amazed at people’s willingness to speak with a persistent highschooler. I interviewed almost a hundred people, many for an hour or more. Indeed, I only met Johnny because a processing plant manager had given me free range to roam his facilities.
My interviewees’ passion was eye-opening. They forced me to think about fisheries management issues as more than abstract philosophical debates. For Johnny, a misplaced or ill-considered regulation would mean he was out of a job and a vocation. As I stood with him on the shore that night, with nothing to show but empty hooks, I understood better than ever the human side of the policy issues I’d been researching.
I’ve always been fascinated by government. My four parents are lawyers, and I’ve been surrounded by law and policy my whole life. When I was six, I refused to let my parents drag me away from Obama’s first inauguration despite the freezing temperatures. At seven, I sat in my mom’s torts classes, taking color-coded notes. At ten, I met the service dogs at my dad’s office at the National Counterterrorism Center.
Then, at the end of my freshman year, I attended my school’s Government Club for the first time. I still remember the debate topic that night: legalizing prostitution, a subject I knew nothing about. I was hooked. When the Club resumed the next fall, I attended every meeting, took more notes, and had goosebumps each time I rose to speak.
Arriving in Massachusetts a year later, I was still that excited, overly curious student. My experience had, thus far, been theoretical and here I was, standing at the brink of a new world full of characters I couldn’t imagine. I was overwhelmed, but Johnny—and so many others—taught me to listen, and to judge fairly and neutrally. When I returned to school, I taught my classmates about fisheries, and shared the perspective I had gained about the real-world impacts of policy choices.
I developed that perspective through careful research, cultivated relationships, and sustained passion. I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to follow my passion for two years. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which such opportunities are unequally distributed, and natural disasters are proliferating in the face of poor resources management and a climate crisis with disparate impacts. Addressing these problems won’t be easy, and remedies will take a lifetime or more. But, I still have a lifetime, and plentiful passion, and so I look forward to my next opportunity.