What inspires you to be involved in public affairs?
The American Ballet Theater (ABT) Gillespie School parent/student meeting back in March started off as such a bore. New drop off and pickup procedures. The June showcase. Spring evaluations. Yawn. But then the school’s artistic director announced, out of the blue, that she was restructuring the entire program! I bolted upright, suddenly very wide awake. Going forward, the program would no longer support students wanting to dance in college. Instead, becoming a professional dancer immediately upon high school graduation had to be every ABT dance student’s goal. It was all in or entirely out. Class times for the upcoming fall were moved from after school to 1 pm, an impossible time for me to make if I wanted to continue with my rigorous AP/honors course load and school activities. My world felt like it was crashing down. I was faced with a stark choice: professional dancer or college? Until this point, I always thought I could do both. Now, at age 17, I was forced to make a decision that would affect the rest of my life. No one was more committed to dance than me. I spent the last 15 years training up to 30 hours each week. I danced for several years at ABT, one of the nation’s premiere programs, where I blossomed into a highly accomplished ballerina. The only time I ever missed a class was the day our beloved Goldendoodle unexpectedly died. I spent two summers at the prestigious Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet training with some of the best instructors in the world. But I was equally committed to school and my rigorous curriculum. Would I be a quitter if I gave up dance after spending all of those years perfecting my craft? Then again, would I regret not having a traditional college experience and developing my other interests? Would my parents, who had sacrificed so much for me to dance, be disappointed? The decision was consuming my every thought. Now I couldn’t concentrate on ballet or school. I paced incessantly. My heart felt like it was going to burst. My mother reminded me to breathe. In late spring, I made a decision to focus on my academics and my high school experience. While dance had always been my driving force, when faced with the choice, I realized that I had other passions as well. One of them is politics. I am one of thousands of young women who were energized by the last presidential election. First, by the exciting possibility of a female president and second, by the desire to make a difference given the current political climate. I realized that dance has actually made me into this person who understands politics. When I started dancing, I was shy, introverted and lacked confidence. But over many years of training, I gained discipline, preparedness, resiliency, charisma, and, most importantly, inner strength. I worked through the physical pain of ripped toenails and blisters bleeding through my pointe shoes and the emotional pain of constantly being corrected by teachers, which I then equated with failure. I learned to go beyond just nailing choreography but to embracing the collaboration with fellow dancers and expressing my artistry and passion to move and inspire viewers. These are the same skills I will use as a future politician or lawyer. Thanks to dance, I know how to connect with people and get things done. Criticism will never tear me or my message down. I am poised under pressure. Ballet will always remain a part of my life. I still take open classes and plan to dance in some capacity in college and beyond. I see now that dance and academia are not mutually exclusive. I am who I am because of ballet. But now I am ready to star in next big production of my life, An American in College, and eventually impact audiences in the political theater.
What is something meaningful that you can do to make an impact in US government at the local level?
Because I believe that high school students should be engaged with the political process, exposed to various viewpoints and encouraged to develop and express their own opinions, I joined Junior State of America (JSA). Recently, I co-organized a midterm congressional candidate forum for high school students and community members throughout Southern California to hear bipartisan viewpoints from potential elected officials. When, several weeks prior to the event, we only had one speaker confirmed, I stepped up and took on the responsibility to personally reach out to campaigns through the region. I successfully recruited five more congressional hopefuls from battleground campaigns, including the only Muslim Republican running for Congress, the youngest person running for Congress, and the first ever Green Party congressional candidate to make it to the general election ballot. The email I composed and utilized to recruit participants is now being used as the template for recruiting speakers for the entire JSA Southern California region, hopefully strengthening programs for future participants.
What is the greatest challenge that we face today in politics?
We have become accustomed to following the status quo. High school students, like me, wake up early every morning, eat breakfast, go to school, do homework, and wake up the next morning and do it all over again. The cycle seems to go on endlessly. It's like watching people walk the streets of a city on repeat. It makes me wonder what it takes to stand up and branch out of one’s comfort zone to face the threats that plague society. Can we stand up for what is right and be a role model for others in this time of social and political polarization? I think these thoughts to myself everyday and have come to the realization that one person can change the course of history, and that courage is the missing piece to the puzzle of human discovery that we fail to incorporate into our lives. But, it takes more than just standing up to injustice. Being able to respect other points of view and utilize them to better the lives of others is what we lack. While courage is the key to action, I believe tolerance is the quality that enables us to work together. It is the quality that I hope to share with my UCLA classmates as we try to make an impact on society. During the California Primary Election in June 2018, I was a student poll worker alongside a Middle Eastern immigrant, Vietnam War veteran, and retiree from the aerospace industry. Despite our age, socioeconomic, political and cultural differences, we worked successfully as a team from 6 am until 11 pm to get the job done. Hundreds of voters came in that day to have their voice heard in our democracy. Voters were cordial to each other as they patiently waited to vote. When complications arose, we were able to work them out to everyone’s satisfaction. That election day, we were all Americans and we proved that it is possible for us to come together for the well-being of our nation. This experience prompted me to seek other experiences where diversity is embraced and discourse is revered. My participation in the Junior State of America (JSA) has confirmed my optimism. At my school, I am always inspired by how the diverse student body can have such passionate yet open-minded and thought-provoking conversations. I don’t see the impulsive and self-centered teenagers I read about in my psychology textbook. I don’t see the vitriol that I often witness on Cable news channels when so-called experts from both political parties spar with each other. I just see students who care about their world and enjoy talking about issues that matter to them in a respectful manner. When I introduce a plank or bill at a state convention, I am constantly reminded of this. The debates we have simulate those that take place in the federal government among Congress. But unlike the government of today, we get work done without partisanship and hostility. I believe that we need to translate these ideals into the minds of our leaders, but the question is how and when they will realize that it is a necessity to act now. At UCLA, I want to gain the knowledge to walk in the footsteps of greatness and be inspired to leave imprints of my own. UCLA will give me the foundation to take up the mantle from American leaders to solve partisan disparity in the government and in the public sphere. I look forward to embracing diversity of thought, arguing my perspective, learning the critical thinking skills to consider other points of view, and developing my own moral compass that will point me towards the solutions to society’s problems. I will be active in the UCLA community, work with others through tolerance of differing perspectives, and one day be the one who transforms society for the better.