by David Webster
I stare from afar at the big beast that stands in my living room, intimidated by its beauty, and uncertain of what may happen if I touch it. Yet its sight is so striking and inviting. I want to touch it to produce the tunes that my mother plays occasionally. One day I climb on the bench, my feet innocently dangling over the ground. I place my small, chubby fingers on the off-white keys. Beautiful noises flow, varying from high to low, soft to loud. I control all of it; I feel like the God of the keys.
If I had not engaged with that mysterious contraption when I was six-years-old, I would have lost the chance to develop a passion, piano. Today my relentless pursuit of passions and interests go beyond the piano. They have been nurtured by the inescapable resolve and independence that grew up with the taunts of two big brothers. I remember the Christmas when I was ten. My older brothers were 15 and 17-- too old for toys but not quite beyond the magic of Christmas morning. "What did you ask for?" they nagged. I ripped open an intricate blue rapper as they waited anxiously. It was just what I had wanted, the software "Landscape Architecture and Design". They traded a glance and burst out laughing simultaneously like the hyenas in The Lion King. "That's what you asked for?" they queried. They always made jokes about my eclectic interests; from the time I opened my framed Monet paintings at 6, to my light box and my 3D animation tools at 8.
There is nothing like the bit of fun teasing from big brothers to prepare you to confront bigger challenges. Last summer, I concluded the NYU Summer Institute of technology program knowing that our required final performance would be difficult. I would not be performing on the piano, which I have done every year since I was six. My job was to perform the rap lyrics in a song that my group wrote and engineered. Yikes. I stood backstage, awaiting the erupting audience applause that would signal the end of the preceding groups. I didn't want to leave the homey little room backstage, which didn't pose any opportunity to fail. My heart raced. My hands were sweaty. My stomach was locked in knots. Yet I took that first step onto the ominous stage, with two hundred eyes staring at me from the audience. I walked into the blinding stage lights facing the crowd and performed. Our performance wasn't perfect. Although we could have used a second sound check (ironic for a music technology program), I still walked offstage, head held high, knowing that what I had personally accomplished went far beyond what the audience had seen.
Did I hate being so nervous? Absolutely. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
However not every experience or challenge overcome is immediately gratifying; some involve lessons that unfold over time. Take, for example, the gray day that I ended my teams' chances for progressing through the county tournament. I was a young freshman who, until then, had warmed the bench on the varsity team. It was the bottom of the seventh inning. Our slow but hefty catcher had just been walked to first base. I heard the coach's voice. "Webby! You're in" My feet trembled within my loosely tied cleats as I jogged nervously to first base. "Hopefully he just wants me to run the bases," I thought. But when the sign to steal came, I had to go. The silence as I ran tensely was one of the loudest noises had ever heard. The first baseman had the ball, and a look of monumental accomplishment on his face. With great precision, he threw the ball to the second baseman, which applied a tag that seemed to slam me deep into the sand. I had been picked off, and it was the last out of the game. The easier option is always to linger on base. But still, there is something that gives me the courage to push myself and go all out to second base.
I am sometimes apprehensive in the face of new challenges, and I am initially reluctant to partake in activities that force me to exit my niche of familiarity. Yet I overcome the reluctance to face the risks of unknown as I have become well acquainted with challenge. My experience with it is irreplaceable and will only help in the time ahead. As I conquer a new hurdle, I will always feel my swinging toes, microphone in hand, dashing through the sand towards new opportunities.
David Webster will be a junior at Williams College in the fall and is a 2011 graduate of Newark Academy in Livingston, New Jersey