My Memorable Experience "I have something to tell you... " There was a pause, her tone was worrying. "It's your grandfather, he's passed away. " I was stunned: the grandfather who had always been there for me was no longer there. I could feel someone grinding their fist through my stomach; the pain was unbearable. For the first time ever I was lost for words. Tears started to form in my eyes. I could not contain my emotion. All my memories of my grandfather seemed to rush through my head as I sat in my room isolated from the rest of the world.

I had been asked to write a speech for the funeral; it seemed a daunting task at first but as my emotions took over, i found I was able to express exactly what I was feeling. The speech read: My grandfather was a man of few words who enjoyed the simple pleasures of life: a bet on the horses and the odd bit of chocolate. I can still taste the Polos that he would give me whenever I came to see him and as I stand here before you today, I know that every-time I open a pack of Polos, my grandfather will always be in the back of my mind.

As a younger child, he would often take me to work with him, down to the school or Letham's farm where he would teach me about birds' eggs, crops and the types of plants and flowers. Pleasure was found in the simple things that I (and the rest of my brothers and sisters) did with him and his country life. I would often go into the back door at Mitchell Avenue where my granddad worked to a familiar scene and the smell of 'Old Holborn' lingering in the air. The smell of warm pastry hung in the air as my nana would always be baking and listening to Radio Two and preparing granddad's lunch for when he came in from work.

We thought they were infallible and would always be there; now their bungalow stands empty as a shell. The last time I saw my grandfather, he was sitting up in his hospital chair wearing his floral shirt, looking as eccentric as Spike Milligan and with a familiar twinkle in his eye. That's how I'll remember him. The funeral was held Becoming A Dancer? By Jennifer M. , East Providence, RI Email me when Un. contributes work Standing in front of the mirror one day, I came to the harsh realization that I fell short of the requirements of my dream. The reflection that stared back was of a skinny brown-haired girl who stood a mere five feet tall.

My entire life had been about dedication and striving to be the best dancer in my studio. I'd always had elaborate dreams and high aspirations. I never noticed how hard it might be to achieve something that you really want. Most people spend their whole lives searching for their calling or their nitch, but I've known that I was born to be a dancer since the first time I stepped into Thoroughly Modern Dance Studio at one and a half years of age. I've devoted sixteen years of my life to helping my dream come true, and also taken time out of my personal life to be a dance teacher at my studio.

Last summer I attended what is called an audition class in Boston taught by a highly respected Broadway dancer. At this seminar he explained the procedures for getting into a dance company or production. While I was listening and taking notes, I was thinking that I certainly had the experience, but there was one area in which I didn't quite measure up. He informed us that at most auditions all dancers under 5 feet 6 inches are automatically eliminated or simply overlooked. He said that most casting directors are looking for the stereotyped dancer with long legs, a long neck and a size one waist.

Standing half a foot under this height, I felt my heart drop to the floor. It really is hard to listen to someone basically tell you: "Sorry, but you've been working really hard for sixteen years for nothing, so find a new dream. " Unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way. Dancing isn't just some hobby for me; it's more like an addiction. My complete heart and soul are exhibited in every step. Through dance I find a sense of pride and satisfaction that I don't think anyone could understand or appreciate. To have all that I've ever wanted instantly shot down created a sick feeling in my stomach.

Furthermore, I knew that at that moment I could do one of two things. I could settle for a second choice, or I could commit myself to the tedious uphill battle to come. Well, I've never been known as a person who gives up easily, so I've been working even harder to make up for in skill what I lack in inches! Nevertheless, it really doesn't matter how high the odds are against me, for I will rise above them. It's time for me to "put my nose to the grindstone" because, despite what anyone sees, the only direction my life is going is up.

Whether I end up becoming a professional Broadway dancer or open a local dance studio is irrelevant, because I will do one or the other by choice, not because I wasn't qualified. I'm comforted in knowing I'm not alone in this battle. My mentor, Lorie Bernier, who stands at 5 feet 1 inch and has taught me everything I know, always inspiring me by saying: "You have to believe you can reach the stars before you can actually touch one of them. " - Failing Successfully By Candace M. , Berea, KY More by this author Email me when Candace M. contributes work Image Credit: Hailey J. , Lake Oswego, OR

My day in the sun had arrived – my magnum opus would be revealed. I had just delivered a memorized speech that I had labored over for weeks, and I was about to learn how the panel judged my performance. The polite but sparse audience leaned forward in their folding chairs. A hush fell across the room. The drum rolled (in my mind, anyway). The contest organizer announced the third-place winner. Alas, the name was not mine. Then he read the second-place winner, and once again it was not me. At last, the moment of truth came. Either I was about to bask in the warmth of victory or rue the last several months spent preparing.

While neither of these came to pass, my heart felt closer to the latter. Losing is a part of life, and I have dealt with the emotional baggage that travels shotgun with it on more than one occasion. However, it was an indescribably underwhelming feeling to drive 200 miles round trip, get up obscenely early on a freezing Saturday morning, and yet still finish fourth out of four contestants. After Lincoln lost the 1858 Illinois Senate race, he reportedly said, “I felt like the 12-year-old boy who stubbed his toe. I was too big to cry and it hurt too bad to laugh. Oh yeah, I could relate. I had spent many hours in front of a computer and in libraries doing research for the Lincoln Bicentennial Speech Contest. As I pored over several biographies, one notion stood out: Lincoln was handed many sound defeats, but he never allowed them to (permanently) hinder his spirit or ambition. While I believe many history lessons can be applied to modern life, I hadn’t considered “the agony of defeat” as a historically valuable learning experience. I never dreamed I could relate to Lincoln! A president no less, and the greatest at that.

I thought “failing successfully” was a very appropriate topic, given the many letdowns Lincoln experienced, and so this became the title of my speech. After not placing in the first year of the speech contest, I really wanted to compete again. Lincoln had been the epitome of persistence, so I was not going to give up on a contest about a historic individual who did not give up! I reworked my speech for the following year, and while I did not come in last, again I did not place. Some days you’re the dog, and some days you’re the hydrant, and this was definitely a hydrant day that brought me down for a while.

I couldn’t accept the fact that I had failed twice in something that I had worked so hard on, until I contemplated the individual whom I’d spent so much time learning about. Never mind the lost prize money (ouch, major) and praise (ouch, minor) – I had learned, really learned, about a great man who had experienced failure and disappointment, and had many chances to give up. We remember Lincoln because he didn’t take this route; he didn’t throw lavish pity-parties, and he persevered to become, according to many, the greatest American president.

While I did not earn monetary awards as a result of this contest, I did gain a new perspective. Through learning about Lincoln, I discovered that I can fail successfully, and that it is possible to glean applicable wisdom from the lives of those who have come before us. Now, whenever I’m faced with a setback, I remember what Lincoln said after his unsuccessful 1854 Senate race: “The path was worn and slippery. My foot slipped from under me, knocking the other out of the way, but I recovered and said to myself, ‘It’s a slip and not a fall. ’” Not Just Any Thunderstorm Unknown Email me when Un. ontributes work Image Credit: Heather H. , LaHarpe, IL Discuss the greatestchallenge that you have faced or expect to face ... As the sun melted intothe distant horizon, I saw the thickening of the ominous clouds overhead. Therain began to pelt the roof of my old house, but nestled in my canopy bed underall my covers, I felt safe. Flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder shook thehouse and tears began to roll down my cheeks. This was not just any thunderstorm,it was a moment in my life when I struggled to keep my faith and hope. Ispotted my mother's face, eyes ringed with smudged mascara.

I peered up at herand knew something was very wrong. "It's Dad and me," she began. "We have decided to separate for a while until we can work thingsout. " "But you're not getting a divorce, are you? " Iquickly asked. She shook her head, but I knew things would never be thesame. Soon after, my dad and I packed our bags and moved in with mygrandparents. He tried so hard to be strong, but I could see that he was feelinga lot of pain. He read me books to try to help me fall asleep at night. Iremember one was about a single dad and how things around the house weredifferent without a mom.

He even tried, unsuccessfully, to put my hair up in anon-bumpy ponytail. My dad helped me to develop my faith, and without it, I donot think I could have made it through this difficult time in my life. He taughtme the Lord's Prayer and we recited it together every night. But as much as hetried, he was not my mother. My life before the separation was socarefree, and I was content. The memories of the three of us vacationing inFlorida - smiling, laughing, and spending time as a family - are painful, andwill last a lifetime. How could my life change so fast?

I felt like I was on aroller coaster, and as much as my parents tried to comfort me, I felt alone. Theonly hope I had was my faith in God. I do not remember how long it wasuntil my parents announced they were getting a divorce. This did not come as acomplete shock because I suspected when they separated it would be forever. Ittook many months of arguing in court for my parents to settle that they wouldshare parenting. I believe God blessed me because I have had an opportunity toknow both parents. I often wonder how my life would have been if myparents had worked things out, but I know I would not be the same strong person Iam today.

Struggling through this rough time, I learned to put my faith in Godand never to lose hope. I thank my parents for allowing me to learn from theirmistakes, and hope that I will not make the same ones. Ultimately, I had to makea choice: to move on with my life, or dwell on my past. I thank God for all thewonderful gifts he has bestowed upon me. My parents have both remarriedand are happy. I have two new parents, whom I hold as dear as my own. I am trulyglad to see both my parents happy. Although I still wonder what my life mighthave been like, I never wish to change where I amtoday. *          *          *

Asthe sun rose, sunlight peered into my bedroom and I could hear birds singing. Isat up in bed, relieved that the thunderstorm was finally over. I felt changed. Slowly, I opened my window, noticing the beautiful tulips blooming and the softspring breeze blowing against the trees. Suddenly I thought, I survived thestorm! I am ready to face the next one! After all, today is another day. One Typical Day Unknown Email me when Un. contributes work Image Credit: Amanda S. , Phoenix, AZ Dragging my tired self to my locker one Tuesdayafternoon, I picked up my books and shoved them into my bag.

I pulled out mysports bag, dreading cross-country practice and thinking of all I had to do thatnight: write an English paper, do a practice math SAT and study for chemistry. That's when a cheery voice broke in, "Hey, Katie, don't forget about ourSPAC performance tonight at the hospital. See you at seven! " Thevoice belonged to Adam, the president of Students in the Performing Arts for theCommunity. He and a few of our school's symphonic band members (including me)started the club because we wanted to put some of our time and talents back intothe community by performing at hospitals and nursing homes.

At that moment,however, I saw the performance as just one more thing to add to my list. Iarrived at the hospital with my flute in one hand and my chemistry book in theother, hoping to sneak in a little studying. I walked through the sliding doorsinto a cream-colored hall and saw an audience of older people in wheelchairs. Some were sleeping, others sat with blank stares, but a few looked joyful. Thosewere the faces, rosy with excitement, that made me smile. In their midst Ispotted a thin, pale girl who was no more than 13. Thick black braces engulfedher tiny legs, and I wondered why someone so young was stuck in thisplace.

Toward the end of the hour, after Bach and show tunes, my friendSarah asked if anyone had any requests. The girl raised her arm and asked if shecould sing "My Heart Will Go On. " Sarah happily invited her to sharethe microphone and the girl hobbled past the sea of wheelchairs. When she andSarah began to sing, I noticed the girl's cheeks became pinker and her eyesshined. At that moment, I forgot my homework and remembered the true meaning ofSPAC: improving the quality of life for others. After the performance weall talked with the girl and discovered she wants to be a singer.

She told usthat singing with Sarah had helped her remember her goal. As she spoke, shelooked down, self-consciously, at her thin legs. Then, she asked if we could allget together for a picture so she could remember this night and never give up onher dream. I stayed longer than I'd planned. I was amazed by what one hourof my time could do - help someone go from feeling like a prisoner in a hospitalto feeling like Celine Dion performing at a concert. That night, I lingered atthe dinner table with my family. I also called a friend I had not talked to in awhile.

I did not do too well on the chemistry test the next day, but it was justone test, and I knew I could take it again. There could be no retake for myexperience that night at the hospital, except the one I'll always replay in myheart. Success Unknown Email me when Un. contributes work Image Credit: Michael G. , Glocester, RI "Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you none otherthan the one and only Nick A.! " screamed the announcer into themicrophone, in a vain attempt to be heard over the eruption of cheers from theoverflowing auditorium. As I stood, brimming with pride, the noise grew to adeafening level.

I walked slowly toward the podium, my grin growing with eachstep. The announcer shook my hand, the principal slapped me on the back, and as Istepped up to the podium, I looked up at a gigantic banner blazing forth mysuccess. It read: "Nice Guy Builds Ramp! " Well, it probablywould never happen that way. "Nice Guy Builds Ramp! " is not exactly acommon honor at an awards ceremony. The fact is I am, for the most part, a niceguy, and I did, in fact, build a ramp. And here is another fact: the truereward did not come from any ceremony but rather because I built it for someone Idid not even know, and it made a world of difference to her.

She was an olderwoman, perhaps in her 70s. I never found out what was wrong with her, but she hada gigantic oxygen tank in her simply furnished living room, and she waswheelchair-bound. The whole business began when I participated in a summerprogram where teens from all over come together to do projects for people who aretoo old or poor to get them done. With other kids, I was assigned to build a rampfor this lady who had not been out of her house in seven years. At first Icould not believe I had been talked into going to a work camp, but I soon found Ihad never felt so good or had so much fun.

My crew and I really bonded, with thiscommon goal of helping a woman who was only seeing the world from her window. Instantly, our group seemed to know each other. Lindsey was tall andathletic with really stretchy skin she could use to launch pencils from her knee,a talent she often demonstrated at lunch. Matt was a year younger and muchshorter, his crew cut not helping him much in the height department. We came tocall him the Handy Man because he was never without super-cargo pants that heldmore tools than seemed humanly possible. Michelle had great,super-precisely braided hair that looked as if it had taken hours to do.

I wasreally impressed until one of the braids fell out. "Oh, shoot," shesaid, and tied it back in. My whole world came crashing down when I realized thebraids were synthetic and that lots of girls wear them. As our workprogressed, we were so involved that we became impervious to the attacks ofpassersby who stopped to ask what we were doing and could not believe we wereworking for free. The big payoff came when "our" lady rolleddown the ramp for the first time. I will never forget her tears. For the firsttime in seven years she collected her mail herself. We all gave her a gigantichug.

Still in a state of amazement, she invited us to visit anytime, claiming shehad plenty of soda. And as she thanked us over and over again, I'll admit it - Iteared up. Building a ramp is not the only thing I was ever praised for. Iwon a bronze medal in the Rockland Final Fencing Tournament junior year, so Iknow what it is like to have people clapping when my name is called. But I alsoknow that building a ramp was a much greater success than any medal I could everwin. All the Things I'm Not Unknown Email me when Un. contributes work Image Credit: Samantha P. , Rochdale, MA

To look at me, I'm just a "pretty boy," puton Earth for the amusement of bullies who are jealous of my appearance, andcoveted as a boyfriend. Now, if that's true, I must also be conceited(that goes without saying) and pig-headed, too! I must think I'm God's gift towomen. I'm really just a pretty face, I don't have much else going for me. Godswitched brains for dimples, I guess. I bounce from woman to woman; I'm ashameless heartbreaker. Yet, I have been in a monogamous relationship for about ayear now. My GPA's a solid B+, higher when I apply myself. I'm creative - Iwrite, I read, I play Dungeons & Dragons.

Maybe I'm a nerd. I read atleast 75 comics a month, usually more. I have a favorite writer, I've read morethan the required reading for English, and more than five books without pictures. I play role-playing games. I know what HP and THAC0 stand for, and while I'venever personally lost touch with reality, I've played with people who have. I'myour resident fanboy, and own six different Spider-Man T-shirts. I know whokilled Jason Todd (I own the actual issues and the trade paperback), and I'malways ready to argue over which was the best comic series ever,"Watchmen" or "The Dark Knight Returns. I play with actionfigures. In fact, I've built an entire city in my room, and when no one's around,I pretend the figures talk (I do a great Christopher Reeve impression). I dohomework. My I. Q. is more than the change in my pocket. I didn't need acalculator for the SATs and I never took a prep course. That said, I'mprobably antisocial. I shy away from sports and physical confrontation. I'veprobably never had a date, and I probably spend all day online (maybe nights,too). I'm probably on the newspaper staff, maybe even class president. Well, Ihave a girlfriend, I'm really vocal and I only go online for research.

Plus, Ican bench 200 pounds and squat twice that much and I do play sports. Maybe I'm ajock. I play a sport for every season, three for the sole purpose ofbecoming better at the main one. Yes, the world is shaped like a football, andorbit is made possible by the powerful arm of Testaverdi. AC/DC's the best bandto get you pumped, and six straight losses is the best way to bring you down. Oneof my favorite movies is "Braveheart," and although"Gladiator" was good, it doesn't even come close. I want to be likeRudy, and I never want anything that happened in "The Program" tohappen to me.

I've seen things men could never show their girlfriends; I can findthe locker room by smell alone and I know for a fact that mold can grow oncotton. I've heard "Welcome to the Jungle" 986 times this year (andit's only April). I must run out of socks and underwear before I wash them, andeven then I go commando for a week. Knowing this, you might think I pickon smaller kids or hang out in large groups. You might think I have a very bigbody with a little head. You'd assume that I use the words "dude" and"cool" constantly out of context (which I do). But that can't be right. I mean, I can spell football and I only fight if necessary.

Heck, sometimes Ieven use metaphors. Maybe I'm one of those artistic guys. I have writtenat least one piece of any type of writing you can think of, and I enjoyed it all(except straight news articles, I really hate writing those). I'm going on myeleventh art credit. I took a fashion class and am not ashamed to admit it. Ihave a sensitive side - I cry during "Bambi. " I can appreciate theamount of time it takes to hand draw a couple hundred flowers. I know the fourkinds of self-portraits: one without looking in a mirror, one looking in amirror, one drawing from a picture and one of your hand. I know green'scomplement, and exactly what ROY G.

BIV stands for. I understand Shakespeare, butnot a word of The Scarlet Letter. When essay assignments are announced, I'm theonly one who smiles, and whether you like it or not, I think this essay ishilarious. So, you would figure I'd be pretty quiet. You know, I can't speakwell, so my writing will be my voice and such. Nope, I'm very loud. I talk andargue and sing. Maybe I'm one of those choir boys. I was the only freshmanin my school ever to get a solo, I was in the elite Florida Singing Sons, I'veperformed at nine Sea Worlds, I know all eight versions of the "HallelujahChorus" and I have two medals for excellence from NYSSMA.

But that's notall; I'm also the lead singer of my very own punk rock band. It's been one yearand we've had 447 different names. I know why Kurt Cobain shot himself, and Ihope I die before I grow old. I own at least ten Misfits T-shirts, and pants thatsay "Hey, Ho! Let's Go! " on the crotch. I own leather pants and astudded bracelet. I'm currently waiting for McFarlane to wise up and make aDexter Holland figure, and I don't care what your definition of punk is, GreenDay is good enough for me.

By now I'm sure you're not assuming anything, and I'msure you suspect that I also do many things to contradict this cliche, like I ownan Eminem record and Rod Stewart's greatest hits. And while I do have a few bodypiercings, none of them is life-threatening. Well, pigs can fly. Hell hasfrozen over. The world is coming to an end. Because the good-looking, faithful,singing, drawing and writing, jock fanboy is roaming the earth. They said itcould never happen, but I guess "they" were wrong. I make no excusesfor myself and pay no mind to your complaints or opinions. I'm everything thatI'm not, and I love it.

A Memory Unknown Email me when Un. contributes work Image Credit: Elizabeth B. , Norwich, CT Builtof gray stone and situated on a small plateau in the middle of rolling hills ismy grandmother's three-story farmhouse. Sunken into the land, it fits like aperfect piece in the puzzle of the checkered landscape. This housefostered comfort and happiness. I trusted that it would always be there, and feltsafe in knowing I could always go back and revel in its character and uniqueness. It was my mother's home. It was my grandmother's house. We drove up thegravel driveway and parked under the overhang.

For weeks, my mom had been tryingto get me to go. The settlement was at the end of the week, and I finally gavein. Only five stepping stones away from the road was the door. Massivepine trees, only half as tall when I was born and even smaller when my mother wasyoung, shaded the front of the house and blocked the wrap-around porch on thesecond level. My mom unlocked the door with the key she'd had for years. Adraft of the scent inside hit me like a slap in the face. I let it resonate in mybrain as the smell triggered memories. Boxes belonging to strangershad invaded the living room.

In the kitchen the refrigerator had been ripped out,the furniture removed. All I could see were the images of Christmas Day duringthe past 17 years. I stepped onto the porch. From the left, the streetslithered through the hills to the front door and continued on to the right. Withone breath I inhaled the sweet pine scent from the trees and looked at thesetting sun. Up the road was my cousin's house. Between the two homes wehad dwelled in days of simple play. In the halcyon times of summer, our bathingsuits became second skins, our bikes second sets of legs. We spent comfortablehours in the pastoral landscape, knowing the day was ours.

I took one last lookat the view. I didn't want to leave. I didn't want it to be just amemory. My grandfather walked into the house carrying a camera. Muscles oflabor, skin of leather; years of hard work were in this once six-foot-tall oldman. His height had shrunk while his belly had swelled. My mom anxiouslysnapped a picture of her old bedroom. The house was retained in its splendor forthat frozen moment. My grandfather put his strong hand, a hand worthy of farming,on my shoulder. Flash. For one last time I was part of these walls. I putthe place to rest in my mind, trying to swallow the lump in my throat.

As I saidgood-bye to an era of my life - the chapter of my childhood - my eyes welled withtears. Closing the white metal door for the last time, I carried with me a senseof security as strong as those old stone walls. Success at Last Unknown Email me when Un. contributes work Image Credit: Jason B. , Philadelphia, PA It always looked so easy when my dad did it. He cutsmoothly, his shoulder leaning so close to the water that his body lookedparallel to the cool glass. I had been itching to be free of my yellow trainingskis and ski on my own. I wanted to learn to fly over the water just like my dad,but water skiing isn't as easy as it looks.

I had been trying for almost a month. First I tried two skis, but my seven-year-old stick legs weren't strong enough tocontrol them, so Dad suggested simplifying things by using one ski. Simplify? Slalom ski? My first attempts at slalom skiing were disasters, but Irefused to give up. When we took a family trip to a lake, I couldn't wait to tryagain. After eating a big lunch on the deck overlooking the water, we went outfor a ski. I was the last to go. I reluctantly slipped into the foreboding water;this lake was a lot bigger and rougher than the one back home. The frothy waterswirled around me and I was terrified.

How can I get up in this mess of whitecapswhen I can't even get up in my calm little lake? I wondered. I crouched in thewater, pulled my legs to my chest and waited. After four attempts Iaccepted defeat - but only for that outing. I was determined not to giveup. The next morning my dad's friend suggested another way of getting meup, and I said, "Sure! " I would try anything to get the chance to ski. He had me sit on the lower portion of the dock, skis in the water and rope inhand as he pulled the boat away. As I sat, I thought about falling like an anchorinto the dark water and getting splinters in my butt. Ready? " he asked. "Yeah! " I replied, shakily. Iheard the boat roar and my teeth clenched. I felt the rope gently tug my arms andsuddenly the cool air was tingling my legs and the water was splitting to let methrough. I was doing it! Success at last! I couldn't wait to get home and showoff my new skill to my friends. It took seemingly endless gallons of waterup my nose and aching, heavy arms, but now I can fly across the water almost aswell as my dad. I gained this confidence through persistence and courage -qualities I plan to apply to my life once I reach the big lake of college andeven the ocean of real life.