By Griffin Harris
My identity and story are built on passions and habits. For example, something in my mind and body prevents me from falling asleep without reading the hard copy of the front page of The New York Times every night. If necessary, I will search through the trash to fetch the paper before going to bed. I have always found comfort in the crisp creases and familiar smell of its pages. I realized the value of this habit as a sophomore in Mr. Greenside's history class when he asked, "Does anyone know more about John Edwards than what late night shows are currently joking about?" I immediately raised my hand, which was the only one in the air. Mr. Greenside called on me and my understanding of the dynamics of Edwards came together in an informed response, understanding of the rise and fall of the man. An epiphany followed this moment -- the first time I saw the benefits of all those nights of reading the NYT.
I have always been a man of habits as an athlete and student. It started in fifth grade when I became more aware of my passion for history. We were studying the American Revolution and I was riveted by the social, political, religious, intellectual and economic levers that drove America to become independent. I searched and found books and documentaries that fed my thirst for the topic and formed habits around researching and connecting the ideas behind conflict, immigration, independence and technology. I loved learning all I could through different investigative passions. My habits grew into a necessary companion to my love of history.
Passions cannot live without supporting habits. History reinforced this rule in my life. In Mr. Greenside's class, I learned the value of refined routines as the backbone for something that excited me -- understanding world events. I have been equally passionate about hockey since I was six and grew to be the accomplished player I am today by developing habits - learning the physics of how a puck moves on ice, stick angles that produce the most accurate shot and feeling my teammates positioning without seeing them.
History and current events became the hockey of my academic life around eighth grade. Friday was my favorite day -- current events. From Haiti's earthquake in 2010 to the Republican takeover of the House, I started getting to know the world as well as I knew the hockey rink by reading the paper every night.
I am reminded of the value of my addiction to the Times when I least expect it. In my junior year I interviewed to be an intern for the International Rescue Committee, an NGO working to help political asylees and refugees rebuild their lives in America. In explaining why I wanted the job, I drew on my awareness of global challenges and discussed immigration issues with confidence. Just like I hit the ice with conviction, knowing I have taken my fingernail and scratched the edges of my skate blades to make sure they are sharp, I was able to tackle my interview with confidence, thanks to my nightly ritual with the Times.
As an intern, I was assigned to be a counselor for children of refugees from all over the world -- Egypt, Tibet, India, Nepal, Cameroon, Guinea. I served them well, knowing the deep roots and context of their fears. Amr is 10 and worried about family members still in Egypt. My job was to try to take his mind off the stories that may stir his fears, as well as to understand him and those fears.
I never know when a good habit will become the source of comfort to a 10-year-old like Amr, or lead to a great moment in class, or a strong job interview. I am certain that I will discover new passions and thus develop more habits. For now, I also know that my college roommate will learn not to throw out the trash with the day's New York Times.
Griffin Harris, a graduate of Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, is a freshman at American University.