Protecting Student Press Rights

Last year at the National High School Journalism Convention, I went to almost exclusively sessions on student press rights.

I know, why wouldn’t this student obsessed with the law not attend sessions that related to what I wanted to do as a future career? Well, every single session I went to, I grew in understanding the rights of the publication that I am a part of, the paper that has allowed me to flourish as a writer. And in all the sessions I attended, the one single thing that I couldn’t get out of my head was that California, my home state, protects us the student press, more than nearly every single state in the nation. For once, the government gives us the responsibilities and rights of adults.

The law that protects us specifically, a California public high school, is California Educational Code 48907. This is what it states verbatim:

“Pupils of the public schools, including charter schools, shall have the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press including, but not limited to, the use of bulletin boards, the distribution of printed materials or petitions, the wearing of buttons, badges, and other insignia, and the right of expression in official publications, whether or not the publications or other means of expression are supported financially by the school or by use of school facilities, except that expression shall be prohibited which is obscene, libelous, or slanderous. Also prohibited shall be material that so incites pupils as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts on school premises or the violation of lawful school regulations, or the substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school.”

These words are what allows us in the student press to set our own destiny, to make the choices that we want in publishing essentially whatever we want. Obviously, school disruption can be interpreted and extended by legislation in schools, but we are protected. This is something I never will ever take for granted, and have never taken for granted because I know had I lived in almost any other state, I wouldn’t have this right.

Tinker v. Des Moines is what set the basis for establishing student press rights. A public school in December of 1965 punished two students and suspended one of them for wearing black armbands with the peace sign in solidarity against the Vietnam War. The students sued and it went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in their favor, 7–2. They agreed that the armbands were a form of speech, and therefore, without any external repercussions that disrupted school, the school reprimanding them was a violation of their First Amendment rights. The famous phrase from this case is still felt to this very day: “students (n)or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

In 1977, the California state legislature put in place ed code 48907. After a case in which prior restraint was not established by a school in the state, California felt compelled to make this decision. It was able to act as a counterweight to a case which tipped the scales in the other direction of Tinker.

Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier(1983) was a case in which a school-sponsored paper in Saint Louis was told by their principal that two of their articles were inappropriate and ordered the staff to cut the articles. After the students sued and it reached the Supreme Court, the justices ruled 5–3 against the students, stating that schools had the right to refuse to sponsor speech that was “inconsistent with ‘the shared values of civilized social order.’” This dealt a major blow to student press rights in states which did not have the protections like California because it overwrote the precedent in Tinker.

Schools across the country fight with censorship. One of the more frustrating situations is of a local private school that censors almost any political speech in their student paper, as is their right. Thankfully, although there is a prior review at my school, the administration knows they cannot censor us from publishing in nearly all circumstances.

However, this week, the lines got blurred.

At my school, a situation with our yearbook staff arose, where senior quotes (the ones that go under your senior portrait) were in jeopardy of being canceled. The student body and yearbook staff voiced their concerns, and it ultimately came to a misunderstanding about the rights of the staff and the justifications for why advisors urged and advised the yearbook staff to not publish.

In a collision of my passions, Monday through Wednesday was just my reporting, interviewing, and constant messaging to cover and write the story that I, along with our staff, knew needed to be covered. Once all parties (administrators, advisor, and yearbook editors) came together, they were able to resolve the issue. Seniors will get senior quotes, if they submitted them, in the yearbook this June.

And after it all, I finalized my article and published one of the pieces I am the proudest of, linked right here.

Look, I’m not going to deny that sometimes student journalists are sometimes looked down upon, that our work doesn’t matter, that we can’t really affect anything. Our peers may laugh at the work we do, but I know that it is all a tiny, negligible factor. The job isn’t to appease; it is to educate, to help people understand new perspectives, to report on what people need to hear, to share stories that we think the greater student body and local area are beneficial to them. IF a single person reads one article in our magazine when it gets published next week and takes something away from it, then we know we are doing our duty.

As corny as it may sound, the Washington Post’s tagline is real: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Every day, with the rights we have as a public high school newspaper, we work to shed the light on topics that sometimes people may take for granted but need to be heard. And I love that opportunity to be a part of it, every single second, even when it may not show itself in my frustrations at the time, because it’s a privilege I will work my hardest to take every advantage of.

Being Noah Tesfaye #67: Protecting Student Press Rights

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts, and join the Silicon Valley Humanities Students Society if you’re a passionate SV humanities student who wants to join an awesome community! Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!



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When I Realized I Needed Help

In light of an article I was working on with my school paper’s editorial board, along with it being the second-semester of senior year before decisions, I thought it’d be appropriate to talk about this topic:

Mental health.

And no, this is not my preachy, self-serving perspective, need for you to relax and calm down about decisions or whathaveyou. No, this is an acknowledgment, an acknowledgment of the very real fact that there are moments where you don’t know what’s next, what your future might be, how you’re going to get through something. That is the story I want to tell today.

During the start of middle school, I dealt with a lot of personal conflicts. I was one of the so-called introverted students who attempted many times and failed to understand many of my peers. I couldn’t have conversations about young teen things because I wasn’t interested in those things. I was fascinated with tech, with Apple, with history, with politics. And for that first year of middle school, I had no one to share my passions for.

Except for our IT specialist at our school.

For whatever reason, he connected with me, never hesitated to talk the latest tech with me, and perhaps most of all, never questioned why I wasn’t spending time directly with kids my age. He was the one who made me not completely despise coming to school every day. I’d be alone in the library, just on my computer, waiting for whenever he came back to his office, and I went directly to hang out with him.

Yet I still faced a lot of issues at home, at which points I felt as though I didn’t belong or have a place anywhere. And as an early age student, I went through every possible thing you could think of. I had testing done on me and went to a social interactions class where I was the only non-white kid amongst very privileged, spoiled kids who just made no effort to really connect deeper with the world around them. None of it helped.

At points, I didn’t know my place on this planet, I didn’t feel as though I deserved a place in the fortunate circumstances I was granted by virtue of being born.

But one day, our school counselor made a referral for me to see someone, to see a therapist.

When I walked in for the first session almost seven years ago, I was afraid. How was I suppose to just tell this person my whole life story in 50 minutes? How could this person, seemingly with nothing in common with me, help remedy every conceivable problem that I was facing at the time, both at home and at school?

But slowly, week by week, I just realized that I needed help. I needed someone unbiased that wouldn’t be willing to just say “Everything is fine. You’re going to be fine.” For the first time in my life, I felt as though someone was willing to just listen. Obviously having someone to go to is a privilege that I am so grateful my parents helped support me with. And while yes, it is a profession, I had no one in my life at that point where I could just express everything to.

And he is a very large part of the reason why I am here, writing to you today. Without him, I don’t know if I might have been around.

That dialogue that began seven years ago still is on today, just on a bimonthly schedule. In hundreds of hours of discussion, I got to finally see the intricacies of my mind, understand the mood swings and know how to cope with them. From basketball to school to everything in between, he has helped hear and guide me into trying to be the best version of myself. He helped me find who I am, and for that, I am forever grateful for that.

There are so many stigmas related to seeing a therapist that I could not list even a tenth of the total amount. Yet, I think regardless of seeing someone professional, I took the steps to acknowledge that I needed support, that I needed help. I had people looking out for me enough to get me to the point where I go to that realization with their support.

What I try to do every day is to be conscious. Every single day, if I see a friend, not in a good space, I just ask how they are doing and just listen. I don’t let any preconceptions I have let me dictate how to listen because I know how valuable that unbiased opinion is. And so I extend that same offer to you, the reader. If you want to just talk to someone close to you, try your hardest if you can to speak up. But more importantly, as brothers, sisters, and friends, if you see someone, not themselves, just ask and check in. “How are you doing?” “Let me know if there is anything I can help with.” Give a thumbs up. Being vocal to be there is something that you may not think will help, but it does. Reach out, and who knows, you could help pick up someone in a way they never have been supported in their lives.

Being Noah Tesfaye #66: When I Realized I Needed Help

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts, and join the Silicon Valley Humanities Students Society if you’re a passionate SV humanities student who wants to join an awesome community! Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!



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My Jermaine Cole Story

The first real time I understood who J. Cole was, it was on PBS.

My mom was watching a show on YouTube where a rapper got interviewed and knowing my interest in music, she asked me to check it out. To my surprise, it was J. Cole. Up to that point in March of 2015, the only thing I listened to in the car was pop rap on 99.7 or random singles from my friends. I had listened to some Eminem and some Kendrick, but I never followed the genre closely.

So, when I learned that a rapper grew up in a regular middle-class household going to school in a white community, then went to go to college and was a nerd, I was glad I discovered him. Something about his aura, the self-confidence he had, something made me feel like he was someone that could one day go on to become the first hip-hop politician if he wanted.

The album he was promoting on the show was 2014 Forest Hills Drive. I had never heard of it at the time, even though my first adventures on Twitter at the time. Yet, I just listened to the previews on iTunes as any kid before the age of streaming and decided to just buy it. Initially, I just left it to sit in my collection for a while and dabbled into it. It was good, but after a few listens, I was not intrigued.

But somewhere along that spring of 2015 and summer, I just listened to it from start to finish. And when I finished “Note to Self,” it hit me: this is what music is really all about. It’s about sharing honest stories, real emotions, not always being excited or bragging about your coolest new thing. What J. Cole was for me was my first exposure to the kind of hip-hop I wanted to learn more about.

From Cole, I went to dive further into Kendrick, hear more from JAY-Z beyond “Empire State of Mind,” and listen to Lupe Fiasco. I went through my weird Logic phase (don’t even get me started…), listened to older Kanye West, and learned about Mobb Deep. I just went through days where I’d just go through suggested albums over and over again until I ended up with the 2500+ Spotify library filled with all breeds of hip-hop. Lyrical, mumble, religious, French, New York, trap, west coast, and countless others.

J. Cole created my excitement for rap. I’ve listened to all his projects, the ones people claim are better like Friday Night Lights and The Warm Up. But no album, aside from 4:44, evokes this same sort of desire to just live. There were a lot of moments when the “Love Yourz” or “Apparently” just kept me motivated to just trust that being myself would pay off, that it would be the right decision. Cole was my life coach for moments, and I don’t think I could ever thank him or his music enough for being there when I didn’t know whether to work as hard for what I wanted in life.

This past week, he released his first song of 2019. “MIDDLE CHILD” wasn’t his best song, but it was a nice reminder for me to know that he is here, ready for anyone who wants the smoke. Preachy Cole is nice, but if we could get a bit more of Jermaine, I’d definitely appreciate it. Plus, with Revenge of the Dreamers III coming soon, there is no doubt that Dreamville is cooking up some special music for the next Cole project. Check out this playlist I made if you’ve never listened to him to just see a taste of my favorites from him.

Thank you, Jermaine, for making music that hit my soul.

Being Noah Tesfaye #65: My Jermaine Cole Story

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts, and join the Silicon Valley Humanities Students Society if you’re a passionate SV humanities student who wants to join an awesome community! Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!



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I Can Finally Vote!

The first time I went with my mom to the polls when I was in preschool, I knew I wanted to vote.

There was something intriguing about cueing in a long line to go to a computer and see choices for new rules and jobs that intrigued me. I for some reason didn’t mind waiting for almost an hour because, for some reason, it seemed to have some significance that I still didn’t quite understand. And the more I understood the vote, the more I was excited to be able to one day take part in it.

Eleven years ago, I followed the 2008 presidential election from nearly the start. I vividly remember watching the Obama/Clinton debates and hearing semblances of what would become the ACA in campaign speeches. I tuned into every single general election debate, whether on NPR, or on TV, but there was always something so elusive to being able to make that real difference: showing up to the polls on the first Tuesday of November and vote.

Ever since then, politics has always been an incessant part of my life, whether in discussions with my peers or writing about it here. All of my life, I would be active in conversations, more so than most of the adults around me, mainly due to the fact that I was jealous. I was jealous because I couldn’t vote. That elusive 18 seemed years and years away. I was sad I couldn’t have voted in the two most important elections of my life so far: 2016 and 2018.

But this week something changed.

As of this week, I can finally vote.

I can actively participate in this democracy and have a say in what can happen in my local community. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I agree with all of what this country has done or will do. But if I have the chance to be able to use my power to be active in this society, I will do so.

Both of my parents grew up during the Derg regime in Ethiopia. Under communist rule, popular opinion was rarely respected and never given any thought. Even until recently, much of their own elections have been plagued with issues and economic inequality. Here in this very country, it took a voting rights act, which was repealed a few years ago, to give people of my race the ability to vote. Everything that has happened in my history has ultimately led me to one single promise I am giving myself: I will always, regardless of any circumstances I am dealing with, vote in every election I can.

I don’t really hate much of anything, but I HATE when people make claims that they don’t vote, that they think their vote doesn’t matter. Billions across the globe don’t have this privilege. Thousands have lost their lives in fighting for this right that so many of us take for granted. There are wrongly convicted humans in jails today who have lost their right to vote. This system that so many of us despise, that we see as threatening our very lives, can change. But you know what the single biggest reason why it doesn’t change? We don’t take voting as serious as we should.

I’m going to ensure that I vote to prevent gentrification, restrict severe redistricting, and vote for DAs that will be responsible and pose stronger criminal justice reform. I will vote because I know how much of a privilege it is to take part in it, to be in a place where my voice can be heard in this country. I won’t ever take this opportunity for granted. Ever. I’ll see you all at the polls soon…

Being Noah Tesfaye #64: I Can Finally Vote!

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts, and join the Silicon Valley Humanities Students Society if you’re a passionate SV humanities student who wants to join an awesome community! Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!



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Will Any of Them Beat Trump?

It’s only just the first full week of 2018, and already, presidential campaigns have already gotten underway. As it is going to be my first presidential election that I’ll finally be allowed to vote in, I’m honestly filled with a variety of emotions that I don’t really know what to think.

However, there has been one clear belief I’ve had since the summer that I will hold onto stead-fast:

Trump will win unless the economy tanks or he is indicted and charged by the Mueller investigation.

I’ve gone through every single possible candidate I could think of and none seem solid enough, whether with a base or support from the whole Democratic Party. And that’s really the crux of the issue for the left in my eyes. Yes, both sides of the aisle have a range of ideas and perspectives. However, what I think the Republican Party did so effectively was that they set most of those opinions aside to support Trump (who knows how that will taint political reputations if the presidency goes south).

What do you see when you look at the Democratic Party? A party split at their base, with half being a part of the old guard (Schumer, Pelosi, etc), and the other half that is far more progressive (Sanders, AOC, etc). I’m not saying one side is better than the other, which I don’t even really know. But the problem is that the old guard is doing too much to quell the younger, lefter-leaning part of the party that it is hurting the party as a whole. That kind of fragmentation, whether disputes about the lack of procedure by younger candidates, to their use of less formal language, is and never will be conducive to party unity.

They said we weren’t ready for a black president when Obama ran, and he won. And what did we end up with now? A complete, polar opposite of everything he stood for. Do I think that will happen again? Honestly, absolutely not. If anything, President Trump stirred up a base that had never really been interested in electoral politics on a national level. Those voters are here to stay, engaged and focused for this 2020 campaign. The rallies he’s thrown across the country are unofficial pitstops to ensure his base is still focused on ensuring he’s a two-term president. A polar opposite, at least with everything we know now, most likely will not be possible.

What does that mean? That means, unfortunately, I’m not as confident that a woman or a person of color would win as I was in 2016. That by all means that I won’t vote for a POC or woman candidate that aligns with what I believe in; it means that the odds to surmount the white supremacist, sexist DNA of this country are low. You can say you believe and demonstrate that you believe in policy, which is the right way to run a campaign. However, some in this country, at least as of right now, do not appear to be able to look beyond race or gender.

And that’s horrible.

So much of the Trump base is feeling the consequences of how own actions. I don’t have to list the billions of dollars that the nation’s economy loses from this shutdown or the thousands of federal employees that don’t have their paychecks. Likewise, I don’t have to mention the waste of money we would be spending on a wall when illegal border crossings are at one of its lowest in history. But I will say this: they will somehow stick it out and ride for their president, which just goes to show you how much dedication they have for Trump. This is why Democrats most likely will lose again in 2020.

As far as candidates that have announced, from Warren, Gabbard, Castro, and the others who are poised to run (Biden, Gillibrand Bernie, O’Rourke, Booker), I have no clue who will come out on top just yet. Warren all but lost my vote with the DNA test, but I am staying open to hearing everyone on the campaign trail to really figure this out. After all, with a year and a half till primaries here in California, I’ll continue to keep my eyes tuned in and focused as I hope we don’t get another four years of Trump.

Being Noah Tesfaye #63: Will Any of Them Beat Trump?

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts, and join the Silicon Valley Humanities Students Society if you’re a passionate SV humanities student who wants to join an awesome community! Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!



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We Should All Go to Beale Street

There are novels that you sometimes never believe can be completely captured on the big screen. I can say that for the film adaptation of Beloved, a film I never want to see for fear it could taint my appreciation for the novel. The Harry Potter films transported me, however inaccurate, to the wizarding universe in an immersive way, yet never significantly with its emotions.

But when I watched Barry Jenkins’ film adaptation of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk, I only loved the novel even more.

When I started planning for my senior project reading, I told myself I’d read this novel first in my three for Baldwin so I could be prepared to watch the film. Set in the 1970s, lovers Fonny and Tish are torn apart when Fonny is charged with a rape he did not commit. Told from Tish’s perspective, the novel takes us back and forth between the past and present, learning about how they grew up together as best friends, to now Tish telling Fonny across prison glass that she is pregnant.

In short, I haven’t read anything like it. I finished the novel in three sittings, confused, yet amazed and disheartened at its conclusion. This novel crushed me, mainly because of the narrative that Baldwin chronicles still remains a reality for countless black families. I admire Baldwin’s resilience in his argument that black love is just human love, that black people experience the same relationship struggles, the same family dynamics as anyone else. By the end, my heart was throbbing and I forever didn’t know what to think except for that I’m proud of who I am and that I should always appreciate my family regardless of whatever challenges they may have to face.

After weeks of planning, hunting locations that would screen it nearby, I went with a friend to a small local theater to watch If Beale Street Could Talk. I didn’t know what I was walking into other than I knew that I was hoping to experience the same gut-wrenching emotions watching it as I did reading it.

And that happened.

From the first screen of the film, I knew it was going to be it. The first scene, where you get to look directly into Tish and Fonny’s eyes already began to bring me close to tears. The casting for this film was outstanding. Every character was how I had read them, with each reciting dialogue in a tone consistent with the diction choices Baldwin used throughout the novel. Just as Baldwin wrote with a musical style, the soundtrack and selected songs complemented the action on screen seamlessly. There were moments when I didn’t even focus on the lines being stated and instead just listened to the background music.

I won’t deny there were one or two scenes I was really looking forward to seeing in the film that wasn’t there, but I’m not going to blame Barry Jenkins for that. Had they been included, the tone of the film would have been thrown off for audiences that hadn’t read the novel. But for where the film lacked in the background on some characters, I thought the addition of black and white photographs to go along with Tish’s narrations of the state of black people in America were excellent.

I’m no film critic or aficionado. I don’t know much about certain techniques or styles, how to create a screenplay from a novel, but I can tell you this: Barry Jenkins miraculously captured nearly every single aspect of the novel. The colors, shifting from neutral in the present to a more orange, warm scheme for the past was clear in transitioning the time periods. And although some shots were choppy between two talking characters, his pans with a longer set of dialogue were eye candy.

I’m only getting started with reading and analyzing James Baldwin, but I know he would have been proud if he could have seen this film. And I loved every single second of it. So, if you’ve got the chance, watch If Beale Street Could Talk, read the novel, and discover Baldwin’s masterpiece in depicting blackness as 100% human.

Being Noah Tesfaye #62: We Should All Go to Beale Street

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts, and join the Silicon Valley Humanities Students Society if you’re a passionate SV humanities student who wants to join an awesome community! Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!



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2018 — It’s Finally Starting to Pay Off

2018 was the year it began to pay off.

A year ago, I came writing to you about how 2017 was my year of self-exploration, of education, all in hopes of better finding who I was. It made the title of this very blog, “Being Noah Tesfaye,” fitting in my own journey to become this better human.

2018 was the most challenging academic year of my life. Whether it was the constant stress balancing standardized testing, keeping up grades, or figuring out how I was going to get all of these essays done in a time when so many had dreaded for years, I didn’t know what to think. But I knew one thing must remain above all else: my mental sanity, my excitement to always get up and know that my journey in life is only beginning.

I spent more time with my friends this past year than I have since elementary school. Whether it was in coffee shops, at the movies, or at our favorite lunch table, I made a far more vigorous effort to continue to connect with people I admired and respected, people I cared about. Whenever we all had a bad day, even the simple laughs about our recent test or something funny that happened was enough to uplift me in even the most strenuous of times. They helped ground me in ways I didn’t know were possible, and they helped remind me that we all need a little bit of help or someone to talk to.

Over this past year, I’ve chronicled so many different stories, experiences, and passions, all here. I’ve written about commuting an hour and a half each way to intern in political strategy as the only high school student there. I’ve shared my hot takes on lazy music, not understanding people my own age, or even AirPods (albeit sometimes poorly argued). But it is through this past year that no matter whatever happened in my life, I would come back here, and write for an hour or two. I never let any person or appointment get in the way of this because I knew how valuable it was for me to write.

As it turned out, this all prepared me for this one experience that it seemed as though I’d been preparing for the past few years: writing college applications. Whatever blogging I had done was preparing me, without any upfront intention, of guiding me through these past six months. From spending time browsing toxic forums and the subreddits dedicated on this topic, to hearing it incessantly at school, writing here focused me. It was during the train rides to Oakland that I brainstormed and drafted. It was during Saturday afternoons and evenings just like this that I just kept on jotting down ideas, themes, topics, anything to put everything on my laptop.

What writing here taught me was that I must always be honest, upfront, detail my truths because I didn’t want to be shown as anyone I wasn’t on paper. I didn’t want to be misconstrued, or misjudged for who I was both in my personal life, but equally in a 650 essay to share some aspect of Noah Tesfaye.

And it was a challenge.

I scrapped so many ideas and concepts, drafted over and over and over again, because every time I thought I was onto something, that subconscious of mine tried to force me to try and appease some random person instead of just sharing who I truly am. And every time that happened, my cousin would call me out on it, push me to really dig more. Draft after draft, school after school, we had long discussions about the intent of each sentence, of certain words, and I had to think out loud to myself and to her about how I could best be honest about my life.

But months later, I am writing to you today after submitting my last two applications. And it is a relief, not just because this process is nearly done, but because I am so thankful for this blog. I wrote to myself, shared with you aspects of my own life that don’t necessarily come up in daily conversation, all in hopes of creating some dialogue with myself to find Noah Tesfaye, who he really is. And it is in this pursuit that I am proud that I gave this whole process and these past three and a half years everything I had.

2018, although ending, really is, however basic it may sound, really is the starting line, the first step in my journey to finding how I can best help the world. I by no means am here to claim I know it all because I don’t. I’ve been very, very lucky and fortunate with the hand I received. But I am glad I stayed true to myself, stayed true to Noah Tesfaye. And it is slowly, but finally, starting to pay off.

Have a wonderful New Year’s and I’ll see you all next week in a new year. Till then…

Being Noah Tesfaye #61: 2018 — It’s Finally Starting to Pay Off

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts, and join the Silicon Valley Humanities Students Society if you’re a passionate SV humanities student who wants to join an awesome community! Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!



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My Favorite Music This Year!

2018 has been the best year for music I can remember. Nearly every major artist released some sort of music throughout the past twelve months. And for the most part, it’s all been incredible.

But, I’m not here to discuss music as a whole; I’m here to talk about my favorites. These are both my favorite albums and songs for 2018. I’ve narrowed these lists down to ten each, but there’s an honorable mention in the songs category.

Let’s start off with the most important list: albums.

10. beerbongs & bentleys — Post Malone

I am not a fan of Post Malone by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t like his ridiculous face tattoos, his outlandish statements about rap as a whole, or his desire to want to do everything imaginable to make himself age so fast. But, his album was a welcome follow-up to his first. “Sugar Wraith” and “Better Now” are two of my favorites, and throughout the project, he consistently provides memorable hooks and harmonies that are so calculated, it’s impossible to not sing along.

9. ASTROWORLD — Travis Scott

Although not meeting my own personal expectations, Travis still delivered one of the best albums this year. It’s the hidden gems like “ASTROTHUNDER” and “HOUSTONFORNICATION” that make this project enjoyable after many listens. Yes, “SICKO MODE” is a good track, but Travis’s consistent beat choice and cadences throughout bring together a solid effort by Travis.


Fellow Ethiopian-Eritrean American and hip-hop nerd Aminé released this project on very short notice, and what it resulted in is his best project to date. “REEL IT IN” and “WHY?” are clear standouts, yet as a whole, Aminé shows us for the first time that he can put together a concise and punchy project.

7. Oxnard — Anderson .Paak

I wish this was higher on my list. Especially if you read my post on Anderson .Paak, you knew how much I wanted this to be incredible. That being said, even if it may not be the next Malibu, it is his raw emotion and soulful voice that puts this album on my list. “Headlow” featuring Norelle and “Cheers” featuring Q-Tip are two to listen to.

6. FM! — Vince Staples

What do you get with the funniest rapper in the world with one of the greatest radio hosts? A funky, west coast gangster rap project by Vince Staples with interludes featuring Big Boy’s Neighborhood, Tyga, and Earl Sweatshirt. I didn’t know it was coming out until it released, but I’m so glad it did arrive. Try “Outside!” and “Tweakin’” from the project.

5. East Atlanta Love Letter — 6LACK

I’ll get to this later in my songs list, but for some reason, 6LACK, black, 6-lack, whatever you want to call him, finally clicked for me. And I’m so glad it did. His vocals are mellow and flow seamlessly throughout the project, and most of all, his stories about his child are told with a passion that won’t be forgotten for me personally for a while. “Switch” and “Loaded Gun” are my two favorites.

4. Swimming — Mac Miller

This album grew on me in the weeks following its release. Then, suddenly, Mac passed away. And s I listen now, you see how much he’s fought and worked so hard to live, to grow up. No album this year has this much soul, this much emotion, this much meaning, especially with the events of this past year. If you can only listen to a few songs, check out “Self Care” and “Come Back to Earth.”

3. Black Panther the Album — Kendrick Lamar + TDE

I love this album. There is nothing I dislike about it. After watching the film, re-listening to the project just makes so much more sense. The lyricism from Kendrick and Ab-Soul, the harmonies from Zacari and SZA, and the hooks from SOB X RBE and the Weeknd help make this all-star effort impactful. “Paramedic!” and “Black Panther” are the two best tracks on this one.

2. Lost & Found — Jorja Smith

First solo debuts are always a challenge for any artist. But Jorja delivered on every single metric for me in the R&B category. You’ve got upbeat, mellow, freestyles, and most of all, instrumentals that help bring out the strongest in her voice, with NO features! The best songs are “Teenage Fantasy” and “Where Did I Go?”

1. Daytona — Pusha T

Just as my list for last year with 4:44 at the top, this year’s top spot has no competition. Gritty lyricism, powerful stories, and the best production on any project this year. Push terrorized every single beat with bars unparalleled in their consistency and delivery. Plus, this album’s added bonus is that it helped spark one of the greatest rap beef songs of all time: “The Story of Adidon.” 21 minutes of straight fire is the result of “the luxury of time” as Push likes to say, and this album is my favorite this year. My two best picks from the album are “Santeria” and “The Games We Play.”

Here is the playlist of my favorite tracks from my favorite albums.

If you don’t have time to listen to projects, don’t worry! Here are my ten favorite songs of 2018. Here’s the link to the Spotify playlist.

Honorable Mention: “Star Wars” — Joe Budden (unreleased)

I’ll only mention this because it is so incredible. During an episode of his podcast, Joe Budden played an unreleased song that fans call “Star Wars,” and had it been mixed and released in higher quality, it would be higher on my list. The bars, the samples, and Joe’s flow are exactly where you’d expect to be. I’ve linked a decent version I pulled from YouTube to add to my phone.

10. “Beauty & Essex” — The Free Nationals featuring Daniel Caesar and Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Three of my favorite artists on a track that was released so quietly, yet I nearly missed it. It slowly became one of the most groovy songs this year and is worthy of a spot on my top ten.

9. “REEL IT IN” — Aminé

This song cemented Aminé’s ability to create another song that could rival his 2016 platinum hit “Caroline.” Whether this version or the remix with Gucci Mane, this song will make you dance in ways you didn’t know how. I’ll do the eskista whenever I jam out to this one.

8. “After the Storm” — Kali Uchis featuring Tyler, The Creator and Bootsy Collins

This song released so early in the year, yet I still always return to it for Tyler’s flow and Kali’s catchy hook. It’s made my list, and I recommend it to you on a long car drive. It puts you in such a good mood.

7. “What’s Free” — Meek Mill featuring Rick Ross and JAY Z

Had this song released earlier on the year, it would be higher on my list. Nonetheless. JAY Z delivers on this track the best and most important verse of 2018 here, and it is clearly the best period. Combined with strong efforts by Meek and Rick Ross, “What’s Free” is a powerful statement on the status of black people here in America. It is the best six-minute song in a very, very long time, without any boring points.

6. “Bubblin” — Anderson .Paak

Happy days? Sad days? Have no fear because Anderson .Paak delivers on this one-off single that is the black James Bond anthem. The music video is off the rails funny and the 808s are bananas. Head nods for days with this one. Definitely check it out!

5. “Next Up 47” — Deno Driz

This track isn’t necessarily a song, as it’s a freestyle, but nonetheless, it deserves to be here. Deno Driz is a 16-year-old Eritrean singer from the UK and went viral on social media a few years ago. Since then, he’s written for Stormzy and worked with Skepta. Whether on songs in his group AJ X Deno or in this solo effort, his voice is what makes him so unique.

4. “Come Back to Earth”/“Hurt Feelings”/“Self Care” — Mac Miller

I wasn’t going to put tied spots together but these songs all hold a special place in my top ten. Whenever I wanted to be motivated to get a stronger voice, to reflect, I played these songs. Mac’s last two albums really spoke to my own struggles to try and find who I was, and these songs are the culmination of all of that.

3. “Teenage Fantasy” — Jorja Smith

I know this song technically came out in 2017, but I only discovered it this year and it’s on my second favorite album this year. I’ve never sung along more to a song all year than to this one. In the car, walking, studying, this idea of a teenage fantasy I expanded it more towards my own life of wanting this idealized future for myself. I’ll talk more about all of this next week for the last post of the year, but I just appreciate this song so much. You should too.

2. “Paramedic!” — SOB X RBE

The first time I realized I loved this song was when I decided to crank the bass up in my car. The beat drop changed everything, and I get excited every single time it does. Even if it’s connected to one of my favorite films this year, I still have to say that the song as a whole is absolutely sensational. The west coast snares and synths help bring out this Bay Area group’s best. Add to it a Kendrick Lamar hook, and what you get is my second favorite song this year.

1. “Switch” — 6LACK

Yet again, the Joe Budden Podcast continues to share with me incredible hits. This time, it just happened to be my favorite song in years and my favorite song of 2018: “Switch” by 6LACK. I’ve played this song for hours on repeat, on the train to my internship, and in every single possible scenario. My family seems to be sick of how much I play this song, but I could care less. It’s so catchy, so honest, and puts you in that zone that you can feel like you can do anything. If anything, it says for me that I should do more to empathize with those around me.

There it is! This is usually one of the longer blog posts every year, but I hope you’ve found some great songs and albums to listen to! I’ve made playlists for my top ten songs and the recommendations from my favorite albums at the links below:



I’ll see you all next week for the year-end blog. Till then…

Being Noah Tesfaye #60: My Favorite Music This Year!

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts, and join the Silicon Valley Humanities Students Society if you’re a passionate SV humanities student who wants to join an awesome community! Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!



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We Got This

This week has taught me a lot.

And no, this isn’t even about college at all; this is about life. This is about learning what priorities I want, figuring out who I want to be, and figuring out to what lengths I can go to become that great person.

Something I realized this week was that there is nothing more important than to support your friends, both in great and less fortunate times. I cannot tell you how much I almost starting tearing up for some of the incredible stories I learned from those who happened to have it all work in their favor, in spite of every single obstacle in their way (you know who you are ;). This person inspired me from the first time I met him, and for that to play out the way it did, I am so proud of all he’s had to overcome to be where he is today. And for one of my other friends, the young icon, he also just never strayed from being himself, no matter how crazy he may get with Philly sports. I’m proud of him too for getting this whole thing to work in his favor.

I’ve spent most of this time just reflecting on what I have done, what I could have done better, and how I could have re-prioritized. But, as I’ve matured and begun to value my own mental health, I am okay with whatever may happen in my life if I am happy. I’m focusing on what I can control, and what I can control is my mindset in this process. There are only so many chances here, but I need to really understand that it is all going to be okay.

It didn’t help that I spent most of last night awake, nervous, anxious, watching stupid reaction videos, thinking about how I could have written a better essay, heck even re-do everything in high school if I could with a time machine. I feel like I am still somewhat afraid still at my very core that whatever comes now and in March will be the beginning or absolute end of whatever journey I’ve told myself I must complete. And I hate it.

So I’m trying to actively change that, at least until the end of the semester. I’m trying to reach out, talk to more people, help support them, find more hobbies to do and work on anything that keeps my mind away from everything that may occur. But maybe that’ won’t matter. I know the stress will keep building, and that is okay. But nonetheless, I know that life will always go on, whether somewhere exclusive wants me or not.

So, to all my fellow seniors, I am wishing you all the best, and most of all, reach out and let’s grab a coffee. We don’t have to talk and definitely don’t have to even remotely mention the word “college,” but I am here. You know how to reach me.

Being Noah Tesfaye #59: We Got This

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts, and join the Silicon Valley Humanities Students Society if you’re a passionate SV humanities student who wants to join an awesome community! Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!



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I Don’t Miss the WASPs

As a journalist, I believe that all opinions, no matter how ridiculous, hypocritical, or unnecessary, should be heard. Do you want to know how people are feeling in a certain area? Read their opinions section online or in their physical paper.

On Wednesday, I was casually browsing Twitter, looking through the news, and then I read, quite possibly, one of the most stupid articles I have ever seen:

“Why We Miss the WASPs”

If there ever was a more eloquent explanation for MAGA, filled with its idiocy, racist, and elitist justifications, this would be it.

I, just like everyone, will say that I am sending my good wishes to the Bush family after the passing of former President George H.W. Bush. But, journalistically, this opinion fails to address so many counterarguments, and it does so with such a lack of logic that I’m so glad it was published. This pushes to the very root of the political tension that exists in America today: some just don’t want to let go of the past.

The argument Douthat attempts to make is that the current establishment in charge of our country’s powers, whether politically or socially, is not seen as legitimate anymore and “we” therefore miss WASPs because our more meritocratic and diverse leaders are doing a bad job.

Is that even remotely true? Isn’t the country still vastly run by WASPs as is? He is right in saying that a meritocracy doesn’t exist, but was it ever heading further in that way? There’s a clear and unequivocal answer to that: no.

The nation was never designed from the very core of its founding to be a meritocracy; it was designed to ensure initially the more powerful, wealthy, land-owning White Anglo-Saxon Protestant men during the independence of this country would be able to retain their power. Women, black people, and religious minorities were never a part of the conversation. And even when laws systems have been put in place to ensure a more equal playing field, what happens? The Voting Rights Act gets repealed, and WASPs continue to benefit, leaving us with voter suppression across the country, most notably in Georgia.

He tries to use the SAT (something all us high school students know all too well) as an example to aid his argument, stating that this own meritocratic way of helping figure out how good students are is in itself bad because it results in an elitist higher education system. He’s right! But who created this system? WASPs, at the height of those so-called good times, the ones the MAGA dream is based in. You’re now complaining about a system that Asian students and other minorities are working incredibly hard to master, and now it is a problem for education? You are still significantly benefitting from this system, which you started, still to this day; look at the numbers. I’m not saying that testing isn’t important, but to make a case that the WASPs leadership could fix the issues surrounding how to make college admissions fairer and make affirmative action more effective just does not make sense if WASP leadership cannot admit to the fact they’re responsible for this climate.

What’s more, this article conveniently displaces many of the mistakes that H.W. Bush made himself in not even holding himself up to this WASP leadership morals Douthat claims we lost with his passing. Remember the Willie Horton ad? What about when he spoke out vehemently against the Civil Rights Act back in the 60s? One could argue he set in precedent the far-right direction of the GOP that we see today. To ignore these examples, along with others, is to once again not understand the fallacy in this argument itself.

The problem with Douthat’s logic is that he creates a clear false-equivalency. He conflates WASP leadership automatically with being decent. And by no means am I saying that many WASPs are decent because I’m sure they are. But decency, being an empathetic human being, is not some WASP-exclusive idea that only they can bring into leadership in government; it’s a characteristic that all people of all creeds can have and can develop. It’s a goal that all Americans, all humans need to share in order to become a more inclusive, successful society.

There have been thousands of great Americans who have had the “decency” that you claim is nearly exclusive to WASP leaders. Whether that’s Frederick Douglass, Cezar Chavez, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or so many others, there have always been people who do not fit this WASP mold that still has instilled in millions the belief that they can be a part of this country and they should demand their rights as citizens to be honored. To ignore these leaders and fail to respect their own efforts to have this leadership style you so passionately wish we have today is to ignore history, to ignore how some women and men who aren’t of this ilk have done so much more than the WASPs you praise. The US is adapting, growing, diversifying to the world’s needs. A nation that hopes to thrive on making everyone more equal cannot do that with such a fixed mindset that is inconsistent with reality.

Today in this very country, we have a WASP-esque President, one from the creed that Douthat claims is responsible for this American caste system. Trump is from that ilk, but rather than being decent and inclusive, proclaims there is nothing wrong with white supremacists, that he is a nationalist. We have a leader and groups in this country that come from this very background that Douthat claims their values of decency need to count when in fact our president today emboldens carriers of the Confederate flag and praise Robert E. Lee.

What this country misses is leadership that is competent, that is well-versed in the law, that is willing to understand all kinds of people. I miss a well-read President, someone who does not shy away from confronting people he disagrees with. But these values are not WASP; they are human.

I do not miss WASPs leading our nation, whether for their physical presence or for the ideals Douthat apparently thinks they have over others because they still do have the power. What do I have instead? I have hope, hope that our nation can take steps that ensure that this system Douthat claims exist does not lead to a return of mostly WASP leadership, but what arrives is the opportunity where people of all walks of life, including some WASPs, that can rise up the ranks. I hope that this so-called caste system Douthat thinks exists does not require a return to what it once was but grow into something bigger. As Roland Martin has said, we want a nation where people from small state schools become US Circuit judges if they work hard, where more governors can come from community organizing.

If I may bring it closer to myself, I knew it would have only been a matter of time for an article like this would end up in the Times. It just makes sense that someone would have such calculated white supremacist views on America. You’ve got families exploring confederate memorials never understanding the horrors of slavery, and when they grow to wear Confederate flag clothing or post one of their flags on their front doors (“Monument Lies”), we are surprised.

What I’ve come to the conclusion of is that this article needs to be shared with everyone. We all need to read the logical fallacies that fuel these minds in order to learn how to best combat them. Once again, this isn’t a partisan issue either. I for one know how many liberal politicians come from this WASP heritage that takes advantage of every privilege and fail to support minorities for much more than their vote in a lot of cases.

White supremacy, no matter how eloquent or how it is used in memorializing people, is still white supremacy. It will thrive and will continue to thrive because it’s in America’s foundation. It will never completely go away. Douthat and many others will continue to attempt to convince us otherwise that what they preach isn’t just so, so read for yourself. I hope you’ll come to the same conclusion as I did.

Being Noah Tesfaye #58: I Don’t Miss the WASPs

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts, and join the Silicon Valley Humanities Students Society if you’re a passionate SV humanities student who wants to join an awesome community! Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!



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