The Oscars!

Every year people in over 150 countries convene to watch the Oscars. This amazing award ceremony recognizes and appreciates the hard work put into motion pictures that convey important messages and provide entertainment for our Friday nights. Tonight I had a great time watching the Oscars. While I unfortunately haven’t gotten the chance to watch many of the movies nominated tonight, I now have a very good idea of what my weekend entertainment will be for the next few months!

I was initially impressed with Neil Patrick Harris’s opening number. It was amazing to see him include various bits of information about movies in his song. Furthermore, I was really impressed with the use of technology to give the impression that Neil Patrick Harris was in various scenes of movies. Overall he did a wonderful job of hosting the Oscar’s. His entertaining medium kept the audience engaged and kept them anticipating the next event. I also enjoyed the performance of “Everything is Awesome”. This song reminded me of last summer and all the joy the Lego movie brought me. But my favorite part of the entire night was the performance of Glory by John Legend and Common. The emotionally powerful performance made their passion evident and brought tears to many peoples’ eyes. The song elicited emotions about events from the March to D.C. to Ferguson. The standing ovation they received represented how far America has come from the 1950s.

Watching the Oscars, I also became convinced that the following movies are a must watch:

  1. Birdman
  2. American Sniper
  3. The Imitation Game
  4. Boyhood

This year I believe the Oscars were the best they have ever been. The thank you speeches hit on deep issues that should no longer be hid under the table. I was moved but the performances and came to value the impact of each movie. I hope you got a chance to watch these!

All-State Speech

This past weekend I had the honor of going to All-State and performing my choral reading piece with the other 14 members of my team. For those of you who don’t know, Speech is a program through which students can express themselves through a variety of ways from ensemble acting, to readers theater, to musical theater, to choral reading. Unlike the typical conception, students don’t simply give a speech but rather convey a message to through the way they blend their voices and express their emotions. There are three levels of competition. At the first level (Districts) one judge views each performance, gives feedback immediately afterward. They then decide on a rating. All groups that receive a division 1 rating move on to the next level which is State. At State, 3 judges view each performance and give division ratings. Any team that gets at least 2 division 1 ratings, has the chance to make it to All-State. At the end of the day the judges secretly nominate all the teams they believe should go to All-State and rank them determining who gets to and who doesn’t get to perform at All-State. Finally, at all state the critic chooses their favorite performance in the category they are watching. When my team found out that we had made it to All-State and would get to perform, we were ecstatic. I have to admit that I wasn’t exactly thrilled to go to every practice this year. We addressed the very heavy and deep topic of suicide this year. Through the portrayal of 5 individual stories we attempted to address what mental afflictions look like from the other end and the impact each word has on individuals. There were many practices I left depressed. There were many practices where I didn’t feel strong enough to continue. But in the end it all proved to be worth it. My team’s main goal this year was to convey our message and make people aware. The day of All-State emotions were raging. Being in a group dominated by seniors, there were nostalgic feelings before we performed and nerves were high. But more importantly, each of us was able to relate to the message, whether it was through personal experiences, or loved ones we know. When we stepped on that huge stage, we were determined to leave a lasting impression on the audience and I believe we did. By the end every member of our team was in tears as was the rest of our audience. Our critic commended us on our courage to address such an important issue. Though we did not win the critic’s choice banner, we grew infinitely closer as a team and accomplished what we had sought out to do. For all of you who know others suffering from mental afflictions, please understand it is not their fault and that every word you say matters. Be there for your loved ones and please don’t wait till it is too late.

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A Tribute to Bob Simon

For those of you who regularly read this blog you have probably noticed that 60 minutes makes its way onto my blog quite frequently. After having watched 60 minutes for most of my life I have developed the feeling that the reporters are a part of my extended family. So last Wednesday when I heard that Bob Simon had passed away, my family I were extremely sad. This loss was significant for all the people Simon had worked with.

Having reported in over 130 countries, he was known and is now being mourned by people all around the world. Last Sunday as I watched Bob Simon’s last story, I realized how much I appreciated his journalistic style and story-telling way of explaining issues. While covering potential cures for Ebola he conveyed his passion for any story and inquisitive style of interviewing. Asking unique questions, he uncovered all sides of the story.

Today on the special edition of 60 Minutes, Bob Simon was commemorated and his colleagues were interviewed. The resonating theme was that Mr. Simon was a courageous man who never turned down an assignment to travel and report a story. When Bob Simon joined 60 Minutes, he had the opportunity to explore his interests and passions. This led to multiple stories about music and classical compositions. But Mr. Simon’s ability to truly cover any story gave him a wide range of topics from chess champions to wild animals, Bob Simon did it all.  Mr. Simon didn’t even shy away from stories that could threaten his life. He was a foreign correspondent during many wars. Of all the risky situations Bob Simon got himself into it was tragic for him to lose his life in a car accident. While investigations are still pending the current information states that Bob Simon was in a taxi when the driver suffered from cardiac arrest. After crashing into the car next to it the taxi veered into a barricade. The taxi driver broke both legs and arms but made it out alive while Bob Simon. Was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. Tonight I look forward to 60 minutes special edition on Bob Simon where his colleagues on 60 Minutes will reminisce over him and his career.

The last time I was this sad about a 60 Minutes cast member, was when Andy Rooney passed away in 2011.

We truly will miss this great reporter and his many talents.

World Food Prize Hall of Laureates

Last October I wrote a post about the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute. That same organization has a program for high school and college students called the Borlaug-Ruan Internship. This program allows roughly 25 students to study abroad at one of the worksite for 8 weeks to research solutions to food insecurity. Any American student who attended the Global Youth Institute has the opportunity to apply for this all-expense-paid internship and I was one of 70 students who applied for this program. Earlier this week I had my interview for the internship at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates.

The story behind this building is quite fascinating. It was once the Des Moines public library but flooding destroyed it. In 2001 a generous 5 million dollar donation began restoration efforts. Since then it has been transformed in a world renowned center and the home to the World Food Prize. This state of the art building has a Platinum LEED certification. As a part of the restoration projects, it was made extremely energy efficient. The beautiful gardens in the front lawn cover the geothermal wells and the roof of the building houses 90 solar panels. The interior utilizes double-decker windows to maximize on natural sunlight. The architectural design of the interior is very elegant with many relics of its historical significance. The wood grains on the floors mark where stacks of books once lived.

Each of the rooms are very intriguing but my absolute favorite is the 40 Chances Room. Warren Buffet’s son Howard Graham Buffet began a project called 40 Chances. At a John Deere Meeting in Illinois he was told that every farmer farms for about 40 years and thus has 40 chances in life to get it right. Howard Buffet found this statement to be highly applicable to all walks of life. With this idea in mind he set out around the world, taking pictures and capturing the stories of individuals for a final piece he named 40 Chances. These 40 pictures decorate the walls of this unique room. I am always emotionally stirred when I enter this room because it puts faces to the food insecurity issue.

I had a spectacular time revisiting this building and explaining its beauty to my mom. So if you ever find yourself in Des Moines, I would suggest a trip to 100 Locust Street.

(If you were wondering about the interview, I think it went well! I am supposed to hear back from the organization in the beginning of March so I will keep you posted 🙂 )

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Yesterday as I was sitting in my math class, listening to all the love-birds’ plans for Valentine’s Day a guy raised his hand and said “Did you know that Valentine’s Day is a made up holiday invented by card companies so they could make money?” This launched a long discussion about all the made up holidays in our lives, offending some, while causing harsh judgment from others. Sitting in the midst of this heated debate, I began to wonder about the history of this holiday and the ways it is celebrated around the world.

Long, long ago, marriage was banned in Rome because Emperor Claudius II believed that marriage made soldiers weak and more vulnerable. St. Valentine, however, did wedding ceremonies in secret. This led to him getting beheaded by the royalty. Later, February 14th was chosen to remember this soft-hearted saint and the Church Christianized the holiday for their benefit.

Over the years the romantic traditions increased and now Valentine’s Day is the second most popular for sending greeting cards, only surpassed by Christmas. Annually, Americans spend roughly $20 billion on gifts and more than 35 million heart-shaped candy boxes are sold. Restaurants are flooded and over 200 million roses are produced. Whatever the history, retailers certainly enjoy and profit from this holiday.

Through my research I came across several interesting facts. In Japan, Valentine’s Day is like the WPA dance; women get the men chocolate and treat them to a wonderful day of romance. In return March 14th is “White Day” when the males treat the women. In Ghana, Valentine’s Day is known as “National Chocolate Day”. As a major cocoa exporter, this move greatly improves Ghana’s tourist industry. In Estonia, in order to include single people, February 14th is called friends day. In the Philippines, thousands of couples get married in mass gatherings.

Schools in America partake in fun Valentine’s Day activities. Elementary schools around the nation have parties with a variety of candy. Some middle schools have a dance with awkward new couples trying to waltz together. In my high school, the Senior Class sells carnations to raise money for their prom and various clubs sell candy grams. My AP Psychology teacher even had us make Valentine’s Cards relating to psych themes like brain functions and Freud. Schools are covered in reds and pinks and social media explodes with pictures of couples.

No matter the history and original intent, I have to agree with my math teacher’s response to the students claim. Everyone enjoys having another holiday. And I particularly appreciate the excuse to eat chocolate.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Chinese New Year

Thursday, February 19th marks the 4713th year according to the Chinese calendar. Have you ever sat at a Chinese restaurant and started at the place card with the bright red edge, looking to see what animal you are? Well I know I have. My family compares the characteristics of the animal of their year of birth and my parents compare their animals to see if they are a good pair. Obviously this isn’t used as a way to choose your life long partner in America, but it is always fun to look at. This tradition originates from China and their New Years.

As legend goes, long ago Buddha asked all the animals to come and meet him one morning and twelve showed up, a rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Accordingly, Buddha assigned one animal to each year. This upcoming year will be the year of the sheep. Since the Chinese follow the Lunar Calendar, their New Year’s doesn’t always fall on the same day.

Chinese New Year celebrations are flamboyant and extravagant. Some individuals take weeks off to prepare for the festivities. All the colors are red to represent fire and drives away any bad luck. Traditionally poems are written on red papers and children get money in red envelopes. Families get together and have huge feasts on New Year’s Eve. One of the main foods is fish because the Chinese word sounds very similar to the word for surplus. The type of fish is also chosen based on what the word resembles. Here are a few examples:

  • Crucian carp: As the first character of ‘crucian carp’ (鲫鱼 jìyú \jee-yoo\) sounds like the Chinese word 吉 (jí /jee/ ‘good luck’), eating crucian carp is considered to bring good luck for the next year.
  • Chinese mud carp: The first part of the Chinese for “mud carp” (鲤鱼 lǐyú /lee-yoo/) is pronounced like the word for gifts (礼 lǐ /lee/). So Chinese people think eating mud carp during the Chinese New Year symbolizes wishing for good fortune.
  • Catfish:The Chinese for “catfish” (鲶鱼 niányú /nyen-yoo/) sounds like 年余 (nián yú) meaning ‘year surplus’. So eating catfish is a wish for a surplus in the year.
  • Eating two fish, one on New Year’s Eve and one on New Year’s Day, (if written in a certain way) sounds like a wish for a surplus year-after-year.
  • If only one catfish is eaten, eating the upper part of the fish on New Year’s Eve and the remainder on the first day of the New Year can be spoken with the same homophonic meaning.

There are also many rules as to how the fish must be placed and eaten, each with symbolic reasoning regarding having wealth, prosperity, and surplus for the year to come. In addition to the fish, dumplings are a classic addition to the feast. Vegetables and various meats are combined and placed into a sought and elastic dough to make these traditional dumplings. The different types of fillings have varying symbolism as well. Other items at the feast include noodles, rice cakes, and fruit.

Fifteen days after the New Year, the festivities are still continuing with the Lantern Festival. Intricately designed lanterns sent off into the ceaseless sky and dragon dances occur that day as well. The reason for the 15 day celebration is that marks the full moon cycle. Lastly, ancestors are worshiped and remembered during this time. For all of you who celebrate this festival, Happy New Year!