Being Noah Tesfaye #6: Stress and Anxiety

I don’t think necessarily that stress and anxiety are bad things. In fact, those are the two key motivating factors in my life. In the many situations that I live through, whether it may be at school, at home, or volunteering, I cannot survive without there being some sort of pressure I put onto myself to get anything done. That’s why I accomplish what I set out to do. But on the other hand, it is the very reason why my life gets extremely miserable. Allow me to explain.

I would love to start with the classic example when, as many of my hardworking friends know, adults ask you “Why are you working so hard?” or “Why are you so stressed?” I would like to first ask the question of “Do you know what I need to get into a great university?” Most of my friends, and those that have origins outside the US in particular, can agree with me when I tell you why aren’t you working as hard as you possibly can? We live in the greatest country in the world, where for the most part, as long as you work truly as hard as you can, you can accomplish anything you set your mind out to accomplish. The stress for most of us doesn’t necessarily come from the fact that we are afraid of what our parents or peers think, although I do believe that is a factor in our ever-mounting stress. For many of us, or at least for me personally, the stress comes from the fact that we don’t take the opportunity we have because we can’t really make mistakes. I know as a black student that any mistake that some students may be able to overcome I may never be able to. One wrong interaction with a police officer, teacher, principal, or any adult could lead to my reputation to being scarred forever. I am so stressed because I always watch my back.

On the mention of an opportunity, I know many students who have strict parents deal with the crushing mention from their family that they aren’t doing enough. They always have to work harder and always get more than a 4.0. While I think all of that is rooted in very justifiable reasons, I do think that doesn’t necessarily help in the stress that students deal with. On top of the mounting homework students deal with at school, their peers discussing how they “only” got an A instead of an A+ on a test, they have to go back home to a parent or parents that are getting after them for their test scores.

I fall on almost the complete other side of that spectrum. I don’t care, politely, about how other students or friends do on tests, papers, or frankly anything. My parents do not get after me on anything I do in school. Everything I do is motivated by what I want to do. And in many ways, that’s how students can pursue careers that they want, not necessarily what their family or teachers or friends want them to pursue. But in many ways, the stress and anxiety builds even more when you are put in a position when you are, for lack of a better term, doing it on your own. Your friends can be with you to support you and your family may want to give you a break, but the way students feel when their actions are solely motivated by themselves places an immense amount of stress on students.

The easy solution many adults claim then is that you don’t have to work that hard and you should lower your expectations. You can go to an ok school and then get an ok job, and be happy. But I know that many students like me have such strong aspirations such that we will never sacrifice the opportunity we have in America. Most of us have school as the only pathway to the career of our dreams. The second thing that some adults will say is that you should relax. And while that in some cases that may be true, school for most of us is a 24–7 curriculum. We have the extracurriculars, the newspapers, the debate teams, and everything else in between to get done because we know that’s what we need to build to where we want to be in ten years. There is almost no time in our days to relax. And when we do take a break for our sanity, we beat ourselves up because we could be working on more SAT problems or reading the next chapter in the bio textbook to get ahead.

To cope with the ever-mounting stress that students experience, my school decided to impose a homework policy. This was designed to cap homework for at 45 minutes for honors and regular classes, and an hour for APs. For me, that would amount to about six hours of homework a night. The unfortunate part of this is that most of these courses require much more homework to do well and this policy doesn’t take into account long-term projects and test review. This results in students staying up until at least 11–12 every single night, and especially for those with sports and other long activities after school, going to bed at 2 AM routinely. And in a few hours, you have an essay due or a major test.

So school isn’t really going to change. I don’t frankly expect it to ever change with the expectations and stress isn’t going away there either. Now is usually when I pose a solution to an issue that I’ve highlighted earlier in the post, but at this point, I have no clear idea on what we could do. The first thing I would suggest is turn our phones off, and while I think that could work, I don’t know any student who doesn’t communicate with their classmates at least sometimes with their phone to get work done. So maybe the second solution I would propose is to create a schedule for the time you have to do work for classes. I’ve tried this, and it works only sometimes. With all the changing factors in our lives, a single extra assignment throws the schedule off completely, and then I can’t concentrate because I beat myself up for not staying on the schedule.

What can we do then? Honestly, like I already said, I don’t know. But I know something we can’t do. We can’t sit on our failures. A bad test, a mediocre essay grade, a late assignment is bad only in the short-term. The true definition of how great of students we are is not merely just how we do initially, but how we can rebound from the moments that force us to re-evaluate our methods. And perhaps the one thing I can’t do is to give up. I’ve spent hours, days, and even weeks dwelling on how I could have done this, how I could have taken a different class, or how I didn’t work as hard as I could have. But that hurts you know. Why think about your failure in the short term and how it affects you in the long-term when you can think about how you can make this moment and this day the best you can?

I empathize with my classmates who are always frustrated with what grade they got on a project, and I feel the same way. But there is only one true thing we can control: our effort. We can’t change how a teacher grades most of the time, or how hard the SAT will be, but we can change how we prepare, how hard we work to be as prepared as possible for anything. So I’m asking you to just work as hard as YOU can. Don’t focus on anything else. Think about how you can work as hard as you can just today. Tomorrow, think about how you can make that day the best possible because regret is the worst feeling in the world. If we work as hard as we can, we won’t ever feel regret because at least we know we did as much as we could at that moment.

Finals are next week and I’m evaluating how hard I’ve work this semester. Do I feel regret for some situations? Sure I do. But I don’t get upset at the grade I got on an assignment ever. I get upset at the fact that I didn’t work as hard as I could have to get a grade I was proud of. I don’t think we as students should dwell on everything externally because what’s the damn point? That is a waste of your energy and mine and it’s unproductive. So to my friends, as we embark on finals net week, I ask of you to not evaluate on what grades you could have made better, but rather evaluate how you didn’t work as hard as you could have, and prepare to work even harder next semester. I would say good luck, but those aren’t the right words. Work hard and be as prepared as you can. You have control over you and there’s no real luck involved there. Just work as hard as you can. That’s something to be proud of. Be thankful that we’re lucky to get this opportunity. Let’s win this week and I’m wishing you all happy studying, even though I should get back to that right now… Thanks for reading and catch you all next week.

Being Noah Tesfaye #5: Life as an Black Student in Silicon Valley

There aren’t too many of us around here, if I’m going to be honest. We don’t get the opportunity to connect per say, and there is only one other Ethiopian family at my school. I don’t really like to think myself as much of an anomaly as much as someone unique and with a special heritage. But it’s a struggle being Ethiopian. I am not going to deny the frustration of not being able to connect with people like you every single day.

The first thing that I want to make clear is that it frustrates me to be African because people feel comfortable saying negative things about black Americans. For example, many students will make the stupid jokes about how athletic black people are, and not only are being racially insensitive, but often do it to provoke a laugh out of me. However, those moments destroy me because people behave as though I am not black. “Oh, you’re not black. You’re Ethiopian.” While I like to think of myself of as Ethiopian, I am African American. All your statements about black people, no matter how related I may be to those comments, affect those of us of African descent too.

I don’t often spend too much time thinking about these thoughts, mainly because I struggle to decide how I should approach people who differentiate me. The same way a black person would be so offended by being called stupid and uneducated is the same way I feel if someone assumes my people are starving and my family lives in a hut back home, which some do. It also frustrates me that everything I do seems to be even more impressive because I am black. People are more shocked at the course load I put onto myself. They are shocked I did a summer program at Columbia not just because it may be hard to go to, but because of the preconceptions they have of black people, whether they mean it or not.

I often suffer from the complete opposite experience that many of my good Asian friends deal with. Where they are assumed that they are tremendous students and great at math, I fall under the stereotype of not being the smartest student and less sophisticated. Sure, at times, I wish I could not be as preconceived as smart, but thanks to the environment I go to school, I can be accepted for the skills I have and they judge me based on my efforts, not my skin color. In many ways, that’s why I appreciate being a black student in Silicon Valley. Most people are very open and friendly to all races and it allows for there to be a synergy that doesn’t exist in many places of the country.

But where there exists acceptance, there exists prejudice. Especially here in Silicon Valley, there appears to be such a hidden prejudice that does not appear to be noticeable for many people. I hate it every time I go to the downtown that I have to get so many looks everywhere I walk. I hate it when people stare at me when I work in a coffee shop. No matter where I go in this area, these looks don’t go away. In many ways, I want to tell everyone I see that I am no different from them. I’ve lived in the Bay Area my whole life. I’ve seen the things you’ve seen. I’ve worked as hard in school as anyone else. But no matter what I could say, my fear is that the prejudice will only continue to grow.

Sometimes I think about what it would be white. I don’t think any non-white person hasn’t thought about the feeling of living without prejudice and without fear of not being accepted for who I am. But I stop myself every single time. I could dwell on how my life could be better. I dwell every single day. I think about how much I could feel less of a burden being myself every single day. But being Ethiopian, being African American is who I am. There are things that are not great about being black and those are just some of the unfortunate cases that we all have to deal with.

But being black is the greatest thing in the world. I would never change my skin color or my race for anything. Everyday, I get the opportunity to learn more about the culture that I am a part of and have acclimated towards. I just read Between the World and Me (I know I’m super late to the party), and I was able to read about someone who feels the same way I do on an even greater scale than I could have ever imagined. I have learned about the true consequences of slavery, the Italian invasion into Ethiopia, and the prison industrial complex. All of these moments have had some effect on me, whether I know it or not, and it is my job to learn how I can become the black person I can be. No peer, teacher, nor parent can ever deter me from this journey of discovery.

For the majority of my life, I always spent time about how other people viewed me. How people thought of my academic progress, my volunteer work, my choice of music, and most importantly, my heritage. But I came to the realization that I honestly don’t care. I don’t care what anyone thinks about me because I am confident in my ability to exist as me. If you appreciate me for who I am, then thank you. If you don’t like me for whatever reason, then thank you. Your thoughts about me frankly don’t matter. I began to accept advice, but I never make decisions anymore unless I genuinely believe it is the best for my success and my happiness.

Being black in Silicon Valley is a relatively unique experience, but I am nowhere near the only person who feels the way I do. To my peers who are judged for the way you look, the way you play your music, the way you carry yourself, you should not care. Let people judge you because you have the power to change your life. Their prejudice will only hurt them. Let our self-expression and pride be the opportunity to succeed and work as hard as we can to prove to ourselves we can exist here. We are carving our place in this area, and we are not going away.

Being Noah Tesfaye #4: How New York City and Columbia University Changed My Life

I am currently beginning to write this installment of the blog on the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving. I have had quite a year to remember, and a host of things to be thankful for. I had the utmost privilege of going back home to Ethiopia to visit family and just last week, I just spoke at the NCSS, National Convention for Social Studies, with my fellow editors of our school’s media literacy class. There is no opportunity, however, that I am more thankful for than receiving the chance to go to Columbia University for three weeks and study Constitutional Law.


Let me share the story from the beginning. In January of 2017, I was trying to find something I could do over the summer, and I stumbled across this program called Columbia’s Summer Program for High School Students. I thought it was super interesting and I thought I might as well apply for it. I wrote my application through Chemistry class with the support of my teacher. I was excited to get the opportunity to go, and then I saw the cost. That brought my jaw straight to the ground and sprung tears into my eyes. I so very much wanted to go, and realized that my family could not afford to pay the nearly $11,000 for being a boarding student, all for a summer program. Nearly no parents can afford that, and so when I saw the option for a scholarship, I jumped to it and prayed that I could get some money off so my parents could pay for the tuition. I get my acceptance email a few weeks later, which was great to hear, but no word of my scholarship, the one true acceptance letter. I begin to panic and fear that they didn’t accept my financial aid request. So I waited, and waited, and then one late spring afternoon, I saw the email that changed my life. Before I even got to New York, a city I have always loved and dreamed about living in, I knew that Columbia gave me the opportunity to pursue a passion that I didn’t I would have, but I made it my duty to take advantage of that opportunity.


Fast forward to June of last summer, and I’m on my first flight alone to JFK. I couldn’t contain my excitement the days leading up to check-in the Sunday before class. I jumped into my dorm, so thrilled to be at this position and opportunity, determined to tackle class the next day. At this point, I had little to no understanding concretely of what Constitutional Law was, but I knew I wanted to argue in the Supreme Court one day. That first day, I saw so many bright, excited classmates who, in all honesty, intimidated me. I was that one black kid, in my mind, here with the opportunity of a lifetime, amongst some of the smartest young minds I have ever known. But the second class began, I noticed something so profound that I had never noticed ever in my life. I felt my race disappear. I only was myself. Noah Tesfaye, not black, but a student determined to thrive in this situation. In that one moment, I realized that this was the beginning of something special, and boy did I underestimate what would happen.

Never in my life had I received the autonomy that I was granted those three weeks. Over the first few days, I began to connect with people on such an intimate level at a rate unprecedented in my lifetime. They didn’t see me for all the baggage that I carried with me. They were empathetic, yet they didn’t care about anything surface level. The types of conversations about the law, reading through our book of cases in Riverside Park, were moments I will never forget because never in my life had I seen so many people just connect with academia and law in a way that evoked such emotion. We argued about gun control, affirmative action, and everything else in between. Yet, I realized that I found friends who were human too. We could be discussing our idol Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Notorious RBG, and instantly flip to our obsession with Kanye West. There would be discussions about Roe V. Wade that would somehow evolve into our agreed opinion that cold brew is life (something I still cannot get out of my life might I add).


The three weeks I spent in New York gave me the break I needed. Living in Silicon Valley, although I do enjoy my home, the stress I feel being black in my town disappeared. Completely. I have visited almost every major city in the US, and no place has, and never will, give me the sense of true safety like New York. The fact that I could walk down the street to go get coffee and not receiving any judgmental looks felt like I could run free for the first time in my life.

Another conclusion I made through my experience in New York was that I saw the extent to which real friends can support you. I struggled for years trying to understand why my social anxiety brought me to friends who I did appreciate, yet did not appear to want me to succeed as much as I did. What my friends, or RBGang (for obvious reasons), made me realize was that we could all succeed. Together. There was never a friend left behind. There was never a moment where any of us were left out. We all picked places to eat, museums to visit, and random things to do. Sure, I’m sorry I had to drag them to Magnolia for bread pudding every few days, but other than that, we had a true give and take relationship that I never knew was possible.

But more than anything else, Columbia made me realize that there could be a place where I belonged in every sense of the word. We all shared one common interest and were all determined to work to achieve our goals. Up until that point in my life, I had never known that there was a place where people could merely accept me for who I am. Again, for a person who isn’t a black person isolated, or any minority for that matter, it is hard to understand what that is truly like. I could be me, in my purist form, unencumbered by any obstacles. When you’re the only student, working day to to day, living in isolation from anyone like you, it’s hard to believe that there could be a place for you somewhere in the world. But if only for just three weeks, I was able to live that dream that I never knew was possible. It was the happiest three weeks of my life because I could not believe that so many people my age were able to understand me for who I am.

So I want to say thank you. Thank you Columbia University for giving me the chance to come to your program, granting me a scholarship to come to New York and begin the study of the subject I plan on studying for the rest of my life. I hope that more students like me can get that same opportunity I did, and I wish there was more awareness for students less fortunate than I am to one day attend this gram in the future. Thank you to Camila Vergara, the best professor I could have asked for, both as a teacher, and as someone I can talk to when I have any questions to this day. And most of all, I want to say thank you to my friends, RBGang. You are the greatest group of people I have ever known. Your insights, personalities and energy gave me the motivation to continue to pursue my dreams because I know what I am working towards. The way you guys made me feel honestly gave me the courage to believe that it is ok to be just me, and no one should make me change who I am. I will always keep in touch with all of you, and even though we don’t all live in the same places, we share a connection that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life.


I was going to end the post here, but unfortunately, I just read that Columbia won’t be accepting any more individual financial aid applications for their summer program next year. I am really sad that this option isn’t available for students who wish to come to this program in the future, but here is the info if you are interested in this summer program. If you are reading this Columbia University, I would really appreciate you continuing to grant students the same opportunity I received to go to your program and continue to help change the lives of students who cannot afford the full price of your program. I hope I can serve as an example of how much your scholarship helps students across the nation and the globe.

Being Noah Tesfaye #3: The Hip-Hop State of the Union

*The first two installments of this blog have been relatively serious topics, so I decided to write about something more light-hearted this week.


My fellow Americans… Oh never mind. I don’t want to think about him anymore. He was one amazing president. I’m here to talk about one simple thing: the State of Hip-Hop. Whether that’s rap, or any other category of hip-hop, I want to talk about my favorites this year and share my thoughts on the music that has released in one of the best years we have ever seen for my favorite genre.

I usually like to do a top five with my friends every few months. As of today, November 18th, 2017, these are my top five favorite albums of the year:

  1. JAY-Z: 4:44
  2. Tyler, The Creator: Flower Boy
  3. BROCKHAMPTON: Saturation
  4. BROCKHAMPTON: Saturation 2
  5. Joey Bada$$: ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$

The first thing I would like to say before I explain everything about why this is my list thus far into the year is slots 1 & 2. The only reason why I put 4:44 above Flower Boy was because of what the album sentimentally means for me. The first time I listened to it was in my dorm at Columbia for a summer program, while my Russian roommate was watching YouTube videos. It was 12:01 AM and I started my trial for Tidal to listen to what Shawn had to say for the first time in four years. Those next two weeks with my friends were filled with analyzing the most random lyrics, contemplating how Beyoncé could forgive Jay, and more importantly, the Kanye beef. Other than those personal reasons, Tyler’s newest album would be at my number one spot with no hesitation.


Perhaps the one of the things I didn’t expect this year to find was that my favorite artist, Logic, failed to put out an incredible album. While I loved Everybody because I am a Logic fan, objectively, it was pretty lackluster. I wanted more in his message and I wanted the execution of his narrative to be flawless with how much this project was hyped up. I was disappointed to say the least.

That goes right to my criteria for listening to an album. The main component of an album I look for is narrative, and more importantly, an artist/character I can connect with. That’s why I loved 4:44. How much more personal could JAY-Z get than talking about the fact he admitted to an affair ON AN ALBUM?! He started the album right off with talking in third person, as if he wanted to “Kill JAY-Z.” Every single song on this album is produced to perfection, thanks to No I.D., and every single song tells a story. “The Story of OJ” shares a brief, yet punchy description of the African American struggle, and no matter what kind of black person you are, you are still a “nigga”(Side note: I don’t condone the usage of this word, but it deserves to be written here because it is a quote and reality that many black people, along with myself, face everyday). I don’t feel it necessary to break down the lyrics, as there’s Genius for that, but I do want to tell every single person should listen to 4:44 because it’s going to be a classic album one day.

I think this album also helps signal the shift in myself as a person. As I’ve been able to self-explore and learn more about who I am, I connect significantly more with those who have lived more and seen more in their lives. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I only like talking to adults, although I do prefer that at times, but I appreciate talking to people who have had profound experiences they can share. That’s why I LOVE BROCKHAMPTON. Thanks to my good friend Alexis for recommending them, but they exemplify this point. Each member has had different experiences and they do a tremendous job at eloquently sharing their stories. Kevin shares his experience about being gay. Ameer talks a lot about his life in the streets. Matt talks about abuse, and Dom shares his anxiety stories. Each one of them bring something unique to their albums and this ultimately leads to two, soon to be three, of my favorite albums of the year. If you want dive deep into this boyband/rap group/collective, I suggest listening to “FACE,” “FIGHT,” and “GOLD.” Each will give you a different vibe and a literal saturation of deep, emotional lyrics.

With the recent presidential election, I needed an album that could fire me up to know that this nation could be a place worth fighting to make better. No album energized me more to help find a cure for America than ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ (notice the spelling if you didn’t catch that;). I didn’t know what to expect from this album honestly. I didn’t know whether I would get an album of F Donald Trump, or a commercial album to help get Americans cope with the election. What you get is something worth so much more than I could have ever hoped. “TEMPTATION” is right up there as one of my favorite songs of the past five years with it’s infectious chorus and jazzy instrumental, and “BABYLON” could very well be the best rap song by Joey, and that’s including the Summer Knights and 1999. More than anything, this album is just fun to listen to and it give you a positive boost to your day in a fashion unlike anything I have ever listened to.

And now we come to perhaps the best album overall this year. I would be surprised if this album doesn’t win a Grammy, but knowing the people that nominate these albums, there is no way it stands a chance after all the antics this man has gotten into over the years. Flower Boy by Tyler, the Creator is the best album not for just its sonic brilliance, but for its ability to be the best album you can drive to. Period. I know that sounds ridiculous, but as someone who has just gotten his license, I do value the drivability (yes, I made this up) of an album to high regard now. The skits on this album help guide the listener on a journey of realization that Tyler, like anyone else, is really human. He is a man who has flaws, and can be angry, confused, and happy all at the same time. His features from Frank Ocean are placed at all the right moments in the album to soothe you. The soundstage created by this album is unlike anything I have heard in a rap album and every song feels as though you are in the studio with Tyler as he is recording. “See You Again,” the three minute masterpiece of this album, gathers synths and bumping 808s into the most harmonious melody of this project. “Boredom” brings the feature of Rex Orange County and Anna of the North into the catchiest chorus of the album, and its message is message is simple: “Find some time, find some time to do something.” I know I am not the only person who feels like Tyler wrote this album for just me. All these anecdotes, while seemingly personal, are all shared by people who struggle to find who we are, and when this album came out while I was in Ethiopia this past summer, I only came to appreciate life that much more.


Hip-hop is in a place that I have never been more proud to call myself a fan of. From the emergence of BROCKHAMPTON, to the return of Jigga, and the protest of Joey, hip-hop is now a genre I wholeheartedly can recommend to anyone, regardless of their music interests, because the messages of artists have never been so transparent for the masses to understand. I always get asked why I listen to so much rap music, and why I listen to so much explicit music. The answer I want to say is “No one ever liked Picasso until they came to appreciate him for what he created,” but I usually just say it’s my personal choice. I question America’s choice to not recognize hip-hop for so long as something we should appreciate. But there is a future for this, mainly thanks to the fact that hip-hop culture is now American culture. Today, SNL is going to be HOSTED, not a musical guest, by Chance the Rapper. Although the progress, I admit, is slow, rap music is the future of American culture, whether you like it or not. That’s why I admire people, like Gary Vaynerchuk, who never fears from embracing this culture. So if you have anytime to listen to any of these albums, especially if you don’t listen to rap that often, I encourage you to listen to any of these five albums in their entirety, in order. Maybe these projects can help open your mind to what this genre of music has to offer, and more importantly, why this genre deserves your ear for the years to come.

Being Noah Tesfaye #2: College and Affirmative Action—What Does it Mean?


I. The Introduction

By the title alone, I assume you are probably thinking that this is yet another piece by a black student arguing for affirmative action. And the truth is? You are right, sort of. As a first generation student, I sometimes struggle to understand the issues that plague the African American community. But the really honesty of the situation is that I’m a part of that group of American citizens, and I absolutely love it. Being a literal AFRICAN first, American second is something I am proud of and I wouldn’t change anything in the world about it.

As a person who will be applying in a year to universities, I cannot help but try to understand how colleges pick applicants and what they are looking for in order for me to get accepted. Last night, I stumbled across this New York Times article titled “What Colleges Want in an Applicant (Everything).” It pulled me in by its funny, albeit accurate description of the college applications process in the United States. It had an interesting argument for the fact that merit is no longer the only thing universities should think about in applicants, although it is a priority. The author, Eric Hoover, believes that schools are attempting to quantify all the skills and characteristics of applicants is impossible to do right for everyone. He shares that although some schools will attempt to evaluate accomplishments out of the classroom, it becomes difficult to assess those accomplishments when you compare students of higher-income families to lower-income families. How is a student from the South Side of Chicago who has to take care of his/her siblings going to compete with a student from Atherton who can afford a tutor every hour after school seven days a week? How is a student from the Bronx with two part-time jobs suppose to apply against a student from Park Avenue who’s parents give them internships at Fortune 500 companies?


II. The Case

The answer to that question, at least in theory, is affirmative action. The concept of granting a better opportunity to those disadvantaged by society in the applications process. This means that a school will attempt to account for the disadvantages of certain applicants and evaluate their applications based on the circumstances that students are faced with in high school. In theory, this will grant that student from the South Side a better chance of possibly getting into the school that the same Atherton applicant was applying to as well.

The idea of affirmative action has many sides and many opinions. First off, there are people who are either for or against affirmative action. Many of the people in favor argue that affirmative action is form of reparation. This outlines the idea that society places a predetermined status on certain people unable to overcome their lesser status. That means that in order to remedy this, universities should accept more students of varying socioeconomic and race backgrounds to remedy this issue in society.

Although this idea does make sense in theory, it has since been disputed and in the Supreme Court case Regents of the University of California V. Bakke in 1978, the idea of a racial quota for universities was destroyed. A white student demanded that he should have been awarded acceptance to the public university UC Davis School of Medicine because they were only evaluating merit in the application. He scored higher than many other minority students, yet was denied admission. He took the case to the Supreme Court, and they agreed that he was placed in an inherent disadvantage because in an application only evaluating merit for a PUBLIC university, he was denied acceptance because he was white. The school had quotas for the amount of minority students they wanted to include in their school, and they reserved those spots for minority students only. This inherently puts the white student at a disadvantage because the school application was merit-based and even he scored higher on his exams, he was being discriminated against.

By now,I hope you understand the issue when setting quotas with school diversity and acceptance. Schools have since adapted their affirmative action policies to adapt to the legal set by the Bakke case. In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of affirmative action in the case Grutter V. Bollinger, where a white female student believed she was being discriminated against because she was denied admission into the University of Michigan Law School. Unlike the Bakke case, the Supreme Court argued that public institutions have the right to promote diversity as their ultimate goal in education. This means that if a school wants to accept a black student over a white student who share equal qualifications, or vice versa to bring more diversity to their school, they can do so legally. This was right around the time where schools began to use the term “wholistic application,” where they attempt to look at all the factors in your application to determine if you are what they want from future students. This in fact is is the most agreed-upon opinion when it comes to affirmative action. If a school believes in promoting diversity within their campus, they should the right to do so.


III. The Problems

Although I do support the concept of affirmative action, I also can there are some issues that exist with the policies that exist right now. First and foremost, living in Silicon Valley, a good percentage of my friends are Asian. They also happen to do extremely well when it comes to grades and standardized testing. So many of the people I know have scored well on the SAT, reaching well over a 1500, yet they sometimes do not make it into the amazing Ivy League schools they are ready to conquer. They do feel frustrated that their grades, no matter how hard they work, are not getting them to the places where, in many cases, they have every single qualification necessary to thrive there. This comes to the issue where there are thousands of Asian students who are doing so well at school, but universities are attempting to maintain their diversity, and this puts many of my friends at some sort of a disadvantage in the admissions process. The unfortunate case is that there aren’t enough spaces for all students who are qualified, and no matter how much a student believes he/she deserves to be at an elite university, the school cannot accept everyone.

On the flip-side, I was listening to a talk by Professor Richard Banks at the Stanford Law School, who argued a completely different problem that occurs with affirmative action. Many black and African students that are getting into schools are not actually students that are disadvantaged all of the time. Rather, they are often affluent students who have every single advantage many wealthy, white applicants have, and they are getting into the schools with the affirmative action policies that really should be going to more disadvantaged students with lower socioeconomic statuses. High-achieving students that are wealthier, in the top 20%, are three times as popular as lower-income, high-achieving students, the bottom 20%, overall in America. At schools like Stanford, that wealth ratio is 10 to 1. Average students in higher income situations are having a better opportunity than even the most high achieving low-income students. Even if universities are granting free tuition for low-income students, but those students have no one in their social circle from elite schools, they will never get those opportunities to get that free tuition because they never apply. The profound irony of this is that lower-income students will gain much more out of attending elite universities than middle and higher-income students, and lower-income students suffer more from not going to elite schools. Ultimately, Professor Banks is arguing that the problem with affirmative action is much more an economic issue than a racial one, and in actuality, students who know about the opportunity of Ivy League schools can follow the steps of people like Michelle Obama and Sonia Sotomayor.


IV. What is next?

The ultimate goal of affirmative action is to promote diversity in universities. Rather than letting race and culture determine what “diversity” means, actual inequality should determine the process for which affirmative action should be informed by. Race is a crucial and very important part of society. This the foundation for many of the inequalities and resources available to students. If one’s resources are determined by their race, then a school should and does have the right to accept that student if they see he/she promoting diversity at their university, both on a racial and socioeconomic level. All students who have the same skills and the capability to succeed at an elite university should have the same opportunity, and that their socioeconomic status should not determine their fate. This is an issue that I do not understand, and frankly don’t know if I will ever be able to understand. I struggle to understand who I am and how my opportunities will determine my fate. But I have opportunities, something that many students across the nation do never have. I have seen people close to me overcome tough circumstances and thrive. Two of my first cousins are at Princeton as I write this on full scholarships, and they continue to amaze me at accomplishing the dreams that I didn’t know as truly a possibility until I saw them make it. I cannot control how a teacher grades my paper, nor can I control how well I can understand AP Physics in class. The one thing I can control is how hard I work, how much I take advantage of the opportunities I have, and how I can help those around me succeed.

When I went to Ethiopia this past summer and visited my grandfather’s village, Wojerat, a two hour drive outside of Mekelle, I met a second cousin who was nearly my age. I saw how isolated she is, never getting the opportunity to pursue an education because she has to take care of her younger siblings. Every single day, I think about her and remind myself how grateful I am to have the privilege to be here in Silicon Valley. My grandfather walked 25 hours a week to go to school from that village, and he gave my mother the opportunity to come to this country, and as a result, me the opportunity to not have to worry about anything in life but school. I don’t know where I would be today if it wasn’t for Dr. Kiros working that hard, but I hope that one day, I can work just as hard to achieve greater things for society.

No matter what university I may attend in a few years, I want them to know that I will work as hard as I can to make the most of that opportunity. I struggle to grasp what my future holds, but I know that if I get the opportunity to one day go to a university like Princeton, Stanford, or Columbia, or rather any elite school, I want to change the world by getting those who have the skills to attend any university to get that same opportunity I received. If there is one thing I have learned thus far in my journey for college, it is that no one should ever deter you from achieving your dreams. I didn’t understand at first in sixth grade when my math teachers in elementary school didn’t want me to take the honors math classes even though I was doing so well, and then I realized in that moment there are people who don’t want you to succeed. I am telling you that you can do that. You can control how hard you work, how empathetic you are, and there will be people that recognize this, no matter how much that is hard to believe. I struggle to understand why I am working so hard and worry myself about what happens if no one recognizes the effort. But you and I have to know that it will pay off. The work will pay off. College is just the beginning, and I hope that more universities can continue to recognize the efforts of all students, especially those whose lives you, the university, can change with one yes.


Being Noah Tesfaye #1: What does Diversity Mean?

I was in my journalism class recently going over the paper we just published. We were talking about how we could improve the sports section for our second publication of the year, and there were two articles on page 18. The first was one about one of our best basketball players who is committing to a D3 school and the other was about Japanese baseball. Now, one normally would think of this as a pretty cool two articles to put side by side and show the different types of stories we cover on our paper. But one student, who was white, said something so profoundly odd. She mentioned that we should have created a spread for diversity on that page combining both articles under the term “diversity.” She thought that it was justifiable to have an article about a white basketball player to share diversity because there are so few NBA, high-level basketball players that are white, which is true, but…

I don’t agree with her statement for a whole list of reasons, namely because our school is around 50–60% white, so how are we arguing that an average student based on race is “diverse.” Our editor also mentioned how he was not being recruited for being “white,” but for his basketball skills. This frankly caused all the minority kids to laugh, and instantly, I turned to the only other black student in our newspaper, and we couldn’t stop laughing. We were all surprised that she thought it was justifiable to compare diversity on a level of an American sport taking a massive following in Japan with an “average” American boy with exceptional skills in an American sport. How is the latter really meant to be considered diverse?

This allowed me to ponder more about what I truly think about what diversity means? And no, I don’t mean literally, as diversity is “the state of being diverse,” and diverse meaning “showing a great deal of variety.” I think of diversity as something that should be applauded in all places. Whether it may be in an education situation, or more broadly in society. The more people you have to provide variety of opinion to one another allows society to grow since everyone is exposed to new thoughts that they themselves may have never gotten.

In a weird way, I actually understand why my classmate would say something like that. Knowing her, I knew she was just thinking of something creative and wanted to sound unique. But she also did not think about what would happen if she said such an ignorant thing? Are we all going to just assume that the average demographic kid at our school should be mentioned in a diversity spread? That makes no sense frankly. But perhaps the worst part about this event was that we were all laughing and cracking up about it. Most of the class realized how ludicrous her statement was, but rather than being direct about why we thought it was absurd, we all laughed. That only alienates people from contributing. Perhaps we should do a better job as students to help guide someone to letting her know clearly what she said had no clear reasoning and she should think a bit before she says something like that.

Then again, the statement I made in the last sentence of the previous paragraph angers me to some extent. I don’t want to always have to correct someone. It’s kind of like the N word, which I hope to one day delve into in a full post in the future. At a certain point, I just begin to judge people based on their behaviors that either fairly or unfairly showcase his/her race attitudes. I’m not saying my classmate is racist, and honestly, I think she is the furthest from that. She is friendly from the interactions I have had with her, and she seems to have a kind heart. That being said, I think that as a young black man, I get tired of correcting people on what they should say/shouldn’t say. However, if I stop, how will anyone learn how to become a better person? What if someone says something that may slide for me, but says something racially charged against a much more angry person? I would much rather be the one to help guide them to be better informed on how to speak with knowledge about race.

In the end, I want to be understood and appreciated for who I am. Diverse groups of people often give the greatest amount of appreciation and understanding to me because being Ethiopian lets me connect with all people. I can connect with immigrants because both my parents came here from Ethiopia. I can connect with African American students because I too deal with the prejudices they deal with as well. I love being Ethiopian, but I love being African American just as much. If one can truly embrace who you are, you can be much better equipped to help guide those who have misconceptions about race understand it a bit more.

Welcome to the beginning of something special, hopefully…

Hello! I guess since I’m writing this as a welcome to what I hope could one day be the place that guided me to some profound discovery in my life. I don’t know what I’m going to write on this blog, other than what it is like to be me. That’s why this blog is going to have posts titled “Being Noah Tesfaye” because that’s the one subject I’m an expert on. I hope you learn and take something out of this blog and understand a bit more about who I am.

For context, I am Ethiopian, or 3/4 Ethiopian and 1/4 Eritrean, and I live in Silicon Valley. I am a current high school student looking to one day become a Constitutional Law lawyer or Constitutional Theorist. This blog might include some of my thoughts on Constitutional Law and Supreme Court-related issues as well as just some of my personal opinions as well. But who knows.

Anyway, if you are interested in reading this journey, please follow my profile and follow me on Twitter. It’s time to embark on something special, the ending to which I have no idea what it will be…

Umm… This is new

Hi! I don’t know what else to say other than welcome! I hope you can share this blog over time as it continues to open my mind to the world. This is a place I want to express my thoughts on the world in the written form and share my insights about everything. I hope you enjoy reading!