Tips on Writing College Application Essays

By the time you reach the end of junior year, hopefully, all the things that you can’t control are done with. You’ve grinded standardized testing (SAT/ACT/AP/Subject tests), worked hard on getting grades throughout high school, and now you’ve arrived at what some may call the most challenging part of the application process: the infamous essays.

Over the course of the two years I actively was working on this college admissions process, this was the single part I was most excited about. As someone who writes constantly, I knew that this was the part of the application I could shine on. That being said, I know that it was the complete opposite for many others. And that’s totally fine! But, for those who will embark on this process, or anyone who is curious about how a student goes through this six month journey, this is my story.

Right at the start of June, at the end of junior year, I started writing my UC essays, 4 350 word essays for public universities in California. They release their prompts far earlier than private high schools and they’re the most straightforward to write. To start, I began just writing down a list of anecdotes and things that just meant a lot to me. I then began drafting and going through many different versions for the UC personal insight questions for about a one and a half month process till mid July, at which point I felt comfortable to set them aside.

Once I got solid, near final drafts for my UC essays, I dived into the most important essay of them all: the Common App Personal Statement. This is the 650 word essay that is designed to share something important to you. Before writing, I knew what I wanted to write about, which allowed me to just focus on the way I needed to share my story. The hard part was forming all these ideas together into something semi-coherent. I went through around 7 completely different drafts until I really found the nuanced angle I wanted to write about. And once I found that draft, it took me a few more months, somewhere around mid August through end of October, to make the revisions that I was satisfied with.

The wonderful part about getting through these main ones first was that a lot of the drafts that I didn’t think would fit for Common App, or the ideas I wrote about for my UCs could be used in my supplements for private schools. Those ones were by far least stressful for me to write because I could focus on explaining why I loved a particular school and explaining why I wanted to attend. The supplements would take around two weeks to truly solidify from research and ideas, to a completed draft.

Another section of essays that isn’t required but something I had to write is known as the additional comment section. This was a place where I had to share more personal details surrounding my academic experience to give more context to everything that was being shown. I urge anyone who feels that they need to inform admissions officers of something that affected your academic performance, use this section to explain that.

The single most important thing to do when writing your essays is to create a schedule for writing. I cannot emphasize this enough. By planning out this process for months, I was able to significantly reduce the stress I had throughout the fall with managing applications along with school work and extracurricular. I saw how so many of my peers were genuinely panicking about being able to get all their work done in time, and I couldn’t really do anything to help out because I didn’t know truly understand their situation. I knew that what worked for me was a strong schedule that guided me to not procrastinate on writing my essays.

The second key thing to do is to get feedback on your essays. I am not saying get advice from anyone. In fact, I didn’t really have any of my friends or people I was applying with read my essays. I had adults that had experience in the apps process give feedback. This way, I knew that the ideas were not biased and were really more focused on how they would be perceived by an admissions officer, not just by people I cared about. Another set of eyes will always catch things that you may have completely missed when writing on your own, so this is a strong recommendation.

If there was one thing that challenged me the most in writing essays, it was finding where to stop, when to not overdo any essay I would write. I sometimes try to be a perfectionist far too much, and a few times, I just wanted to revise or repeatedly tell myself it wasn’t good enough. But it was having other people reading through my essays that I could be reassured that I was on the right track, that what I was writing was truly reflective of who I was in real life.

Above all else, when writing your essays, just be yourself. This may be the most cliche piece of advice that anyone may give you about writing college apps, but this one is a huge one for me. There were moments throughout writing that I realized I was attempting to repackage and tell a story that wasn’t authentic to I was. And looking back, had I not made the conscious effort to just be as genuine as I could, I don’t think I could have ever let myself live with that. So I just let myself be vulnerable. I would rather always have someone tell me no for who I was than ever say yes for someone I never was. And this was the single greatest decision I made when writing these essays. I am so grateful I was able to make this conscious effort to push against this grain.

The college applications essay writing process can be tedious and cumbersome, but I can assure you that if you really just do the best you can, you will be proud of the work you’ve done (as was I). Next week, I’ll be visiting where I will be going for the next four years, so I’ll be chronicling that here on the blog next week to wrap up all this college-related content so I can get back to writing on politics, music, and coffee! Till next week…

Being Noah Tesfaye #76: Tips on Writing College Application Essays

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts. Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!



The Best Digital College Applications Resource

So. You’re starting your college apps process (mainly talking to juniors, but really an HS student). You’re trying to figure out how the heck you’re going to make it through everything. There’s weird acronyms like OOS, CA, CSS, and FAFSA. And there are so many unknowns like when to start writing essays, how to know what you want in a school, and so many others.

Although I may have had some support around me when it came to figuring out this process, there was one singular resource that, albeit I addictively browsed for a year, really did help me figure out the idiosyncrasies of college admissions. That is, as shown in that picture right at the start, the subredditr/applyingtocollege.

All of my fellow seniors probably already know and browsed this religiously, but for the few who may not know, here’s the scoop. The page is a forum made up almost exclusively of students, both in high school and college, who ask their questions about the admissions process. Students often can give quick answers back to their fellow users about simple, more straightforward topics. It’s a great way to find any quick, searchable information about a particular school, major, or application in just seconds, rather than just scouring every single school’s page. It significantly improved the speed with which I was able to learn about everything because I could just check to see if someone else had that same idea.

There are plenty of other forum sites that also do college-related discussions, most notably College Confidential. But, what sets this single page above every other, is the access to verified college counselors and former admissions officers.

If there is a question that a student may have, from any part of the globe, they can ask a qualified expert about anything relating to college admissions and get better answers as opposed to relying upon the parents or students that may browse the page. My own high school is fortunate enough to have two advisors dedicated to college applications counseling. But, for those without that, and even four me looking for. more varied and broader opinions on any number of subjects, this page in sometimes two clicks could get me the answer that I needed rather than walking in, scheduling a meeting, and then remembering what to ask.

Besides just getting advise on numerous topics relating to the actual application, there are also dedicated subreddits connected to this page that can help with test prep. I used those pages almost exclusively for getting free access provided by some companies to users of the page for testing resources. I did nearly all of my test prep with the resources I found through r/applyingtocollege, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that. In a time where more and more corporations are starting to invest in profiting off this process, having free resources on the internet has brought it slowly closer to getting everyone a little bit better shot at applying to great schools.

I wouldn’t be a fair and honest person if I didn’t say that this place does have some of its drawbacks. Most upfront, it definitely is a site where you feel at times as though you’re not qualified. There’s an adjacent subreddit called r/chanceme where they “rate” your chances at getting into schools. Honestly, that place is ridiculous and I do not recommend spending anytime there. Often times, any forum surrounding applications is very numbers-focused at times, and although this one is really great, it does feel at times as though you might stand no chance if this random user from somewhere claims they did everything and still got a rejection.

But as a whole, I definitely believe that r/applyingtocollege really helped make this whole process way easier than I could have thought possible. When it came to comparing schools, I could just research direct head to heads. When I wanted to ask about diversity at schools, I could find that right away through the page. Aside from the addiction that this page becomes at times, to all the juniors, sophomores, and even freshman that just have any curious questions about college in general, check it out!

Thanks r/applyingtocollege!

*This installment of the blog is dedicated to the incredible Ermias Asghedom, better known as Nipsey Hussle. My thoughts on his passing will be up for my school paper soon.

Being Noah Tesfaye #75: The Best Digital College Applications Resource

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts. Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!



A College Applications Reflection

Well. I’ve been counting down the months, the years, for me to finally say this: it is over.

This past week for many of us seniors was when we heard back from the last few colleges we applied to. For some, it meant joy. For others, it was seen as disappointing. For many, including myself, it is just in some weird middle ground indescribable that does not even fit within these two worlds. These past two weeks have been challenging not just academically but emotionally for a lot of people.

But, rather than diving into the other perspectives, analyzing this process as a whole (which I hope to do over the next few weeks), I wanted to share my thoughts on this whole journey I know a lot of us have been on for the past four years, and in many ways, our whole lives.

The first and most important thing I will say is that I’m grateful. To think that just two generations ago, my grandfather was walking near 30 miles to get to school in Ethiopia, to where I am sitting as someone who is going to college in the US is truly humbling. I often times would get discouraged, disheartened, disappointed, and beat myself up over not being good enough. But every time I saw that happen, I took my own time to just step back. I wanted to just give up at times, believe that I won’t be happy with how this process goes. But, the stories of my grandfather, the stories of my parents working so hard to make it here in the US, and the stories of people who look like me in this country brought it all into perspective. Am I going to be disappointed if someplace doesn’t take me? Sure. But is that going to ever truly stop me from accomplishing my lifelong missions of empowering people across this country? No. This is what continuously kept me grounded in this whole process.

The second thing that I have learned through this process is that it is not ever going to be 100% fair. Those of you who may know me and know my plans for next year would know my sincere fortune that I lucked out. And to some extent, I definitely did. But the thing that took me a long time to realize is that just because the system works in your favor, it doesn’t mean that all things in the world are now equal. The fact that you or I or anyone got accepted somewhere we wanted to go doesn’t mean that the system is fair. You can go down the line from establishing alumni bonds with legacy admissions to monetary contributions to what we saw a few weeks ago with the cheating of the system. The sooner we all acknowledge that however defeating it may be for us all to hear, this process will not be fair, I’ve found it less nerve-wracking and stressful to face this whole thing.

I’m very fortunate and thankful for the results I had with this process. The euphoria I had when I knew where I was going next year was a feeling unknown in my life. For the past four years, I’ve been trying to not just work hard but really work to establish a sense of purpose in all I do. I am beyond ecstatic about these next four years in a new place, where I hope to study political science and history. Of course, journalism won’t go anywhere, so I’m hoping to write for my school paper. A new world, a new start is something that I frankly need to continue to grow. I will miss my friends, my teachers, and so much about this Silicon Valley, I call home, however much I may strongly dislike it. Most of all, I’ll be far from family, which will take time to adjust to, but I am ready for the challenge.

However, I acknowledge that for many of my own peers, this week was one of the most difficult of their lives. And I wish I could be able to say I understand what that is like, but I can’t. I can only share and speak from my own perspective.

What I can tell anyone who may not feel satisfied with this whole thing is that I believe in you. If you believe that you want to help change the world, no school telling you no can stop you.

I know that when I arrive on campus next fall, I’ll have a chip on my shoulder. I know that where I’m going, they accepted my application, but never may have gotten to see all of me. And that’s why next year I’m going to work so hard. I want to make the most of these next four and share myself in a broader way than what 1500 words I wrote to my school that I submitted almost five months ago. I’m ready to conquer this challenge, this future.

Knowing what the plan is for next year has also just allowed me to really begin to focus more on making the most of my time I have left here. To attending more school events, spending more time with my friends, and getting back to reading for fun, I’m going to embrace all of the time I have left.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll try to write a few more nuanced takes on certain aspects of this process that I’ve found really important to my journey. I don’t know what those topics will be, but I want to help out anyone I can through this process if possible. As always, my DMs on Twitter are available for people to reach out to me! Till next week…

Being Noah Tesfaye #74: A College Applications Reflection

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts. Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!



Jordan Peele Helping “Us” Become Quotidian

As I’m slowly getting closer to writing my AP Literature senior project paper on James Baldwin, I’m reminded often how he portrayed black people. They were powerful, shy, alert, and reserved. They were simply human, characters that at times, you would think they could be of any complexion or ethnicity. He wrote his characters in such a way that anyone could relate to aspects of their own challenges navigating through the human experience.

When I watched Jordan Peele’s latest film Us this afternoon, I felt as though Baldwin’s vision of telling the stories of black people has reached the big screen. From 12 Years a SlaveThe HelpSelma, and so many others, the stories of black people overcoming adversity have been the only films with black protagonists. For decades, there has been slow but sure progression towards just embracing black leads in the cinema world. When Get Out released two years ago, its both clear and hidden social commentary made it a compelling film worth watching again and again.

But Us is different. And in some ways, it is better.

On it’s surface, it presents the narrative of a simple, straightforward slasher horror film. Placing a black family at the forefront of this, something that has not been done yet on this level of film, is a welcome addition to this genre. But as I investigate as I always do after watching a film, Peele is calculated in his criticism of the U.S. as a nation. This seeming uprising of these doppelgängers that are coming after us all could be interpreted as the perceived immigration of people from foreign nations. When we as people are seeing those that are different from us, our nation sometimes views them as invaders, that they will attack us. I’m not going to go into spoilers, but this looks to be a possible underlying theme for the film.

Furthermore, one could see this film as simply a narrative that explains, however unnecessarily complicated it may be, that we are our own demise. It’s not just that everything we do comes back to bite us, but it is that when we are in many ways continuing to self-sabotage ourselves by constantly doing things we know will hurt us in the end.

The score though. The score is absolutely stunning, not just for how it builds tension, but for its infusion with hip hop and choir vocals. “I Got 5 On It” sounds dare I say better than it ever has. And, as I listen to this soundtrack while writing this, I’m already planning on adding this to my film Spotify playlist. At times, I paid more attention to the clashing of horns and strings than the actual screen (I don’t know whether that’s because of the score being that great or the film at times being a bit slow).

I’m not going to act as though this film is a masterpiece. It isn’t really one, at least from just a single watch. But I’m not a film critic and don’t really know much about what makes a great film. But I do know what it means to create a compelling story, to craft a narrative that makes you think. And as I was watching this family fight for their lives, I couldn’t help but smile. Just like Get Out, Peele is pushing for us, black people, to be more quotidian. He wrote a film that attempts to establish us as humans like anyone else, in this case one that is stabbing and running in terror.

Through just the three novels I’ve read of Baldwin the past few months, I see how he is following in Baldwin’s footsteps into a new medium. What they both do is allow for the focus of black characters to be their character, not just merely the color of their skin. Black Panther was that step further towards that and it was accomplished on a scale unprecedented. But what we see in Us is the closest to what Baldwin was able to achieve in his novels. And I am so thankful that Peele is slowly heading down a road of progression towards something similar to Baldwin.

From Comedy Central to now, Jordan Peele is on a trajectory that is in many ways unprecedented for an African American filmmaker, and that alone is something I will be so grateful to have been along on the ride for. Check out Us if you haven’t already, not only for it being a solid film, but for it being yet another step in the journey in this storyteller’s path to success.

Being Noah Tesfaye #73: Jordan Peele is Helping “Us” Become Quotidian

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts. Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!



Privileged Affirmative Action

I told myself I would wait to discuss college admissions until I was done and committed to a school.

Or, at least, that was what I was telling myself until this week.

In case you may have missed it, federal prosecutors from the Department of Justice have indicted and accused over 50 people in cheating their way to get their children into selective colleges, some of which I applied to and have yet to hear from, including Yale, Stanford, USC, and others. A man by the name of William Singer pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, mon-laundering conspiracy, and obstruction of justice. He was effectively the Olivia Pope (Scandal reference, ironically) of college admissions, arranging bribes and preferences for students of the wealthy to be able to get into the schools parents wanted them to go to. He arranged for standardized tests with extreme extended time or got other people to take exams for clients’ children. He could even arrange for falsified athletic records and went so far as to fake ethnicities of clients in order to get them to benefit for affirmative action. There’s a whole host of other ridiculous allegations with evidence to support them that I will not go into, but I’ve linked a few solid articles on the facts.

As someone growing up in Silicon Valley, the privilege both I, along with my peers have and are exposed to, is immeasurable. Especially when it comes to college admissions, the lengths that parents will go to ensure that their children can get into college are normal to us, but foreign in other communities. Test prep courses, tutors, sending their children to top prep high schools in the Northeast, and academic support are the ones that are common and known to many. The more obscure activities parents will support include paying thousands of dollars for service trips in exotic countries, for non-exclusive summer programs at prestigious universities (my program for Columbia was all 100% on scholarship, or else I would not have attended), and for college advisors that do more than just advise, but in some cases submit your applications.

But then there’s even more. Perhaps the most obvious step that parents may take to drastically improve the odds of their children is to donate. And I don’t mean just donate a few thousand, or tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. I mean parents will donate upwards of $10 million to try and ensure that their children will get in.

Whatever you think about any of these actions that parents may take, every single one of these things are completely LEGAL. That is right. Nothing I have listed, while ethically suspect or even malicious to some, is actually against the law. Any parent with these means can take these steps to improve the chances their children will get selected to attend a T20 (top 20 schools of the US News national universities rankings) or an Ivy (the 8 school athletic conference that includes Harvard, Princeton, Yale, etc). And when they take any of these steps, they are doing so without any sort of infringement with the law or against many admissions policies for these top universities.

What made me, along with so many of my friends, laugh at first so much about this scandal is that all of these routes to admissions were available for these families. YET, they chose to go the illegal route, forging information to get into these schools as oppose to going through the many ways available legally. These parents genuinely thought that even with the wealth they have amassed, they could not do enough with their finances to increase their children’s odds to get into these schools. They were so afraid of either the perception of themselves as a family or their children that their child might not get into one of these schools that it would really damage their reputation so much, they felt it necessary to commit fraud.

But as I laughed initially, I began to get angry and frustrated. On the complete other end of the spectrum, smart, intelligent, bright underrepresented minority students that get accepted to the Stanfords and Harvards of the world are told they don’t deserve their spot. They are told that they are only there because they’re black, Hispanic, Native American. They are told that they are only there because of the shade of their skin and without any consideration for the actual merits they have accomplished. Children like those who’s parents are being indicted tell and have told students of URM and impoverished backgrounds they do not deserve to be at a school, when in fact it was their own wealth or legacy that could have aided in their admission.

I have cousins who have had the opportunity to attend one of the greatest universities in the world. But as they tell me, it does not come without the challenges that come with being a student of color, being a black student in a place that just sixty or seventy years ago, may have never admitted you for your race. They worked harder than almost anyone I know and were granted the privilege to get scholarships to attend a school that could propel them to great things. Yet, the things you hear about people questioning your qualifications does not end. Even I as a high school student who is slowly hearing back, the questioning of my merits has already begun. And at times, after hearing it enough, you even begin to think that maybe you do not deserve that spot, that what people tell you is accurate.

But I realize that those assumptions and judgements are wrong. Working the hardest you can in this college process is the only thing you can truly do. And that’s what makes me so furious about this scandal reminding me of the odds that most students, irrespective of race, are up against, all across the globe. Yet there isn’t really anything we can do except hope; hope that schools will screen and vet and check that the students they admit are telling the truth. No school has the time to do that. But maybe, just maybe there will be hope that schools will tighten up and be more aware of situations like this concerning fraud.

As many of the writers I support have said this week, a scandal like this is yet another justification for the practice of affirmative action. I am a strong supporter for the practice, and you can read more about it in the blog post I wrote about it a few months ago surrounding the Harvard case. The mechanisms that are legal in this college admissions process that advantage the privileged, often white applicants, significantly outweigh any dent in what affirmative action is being used to help correct for in admitting black, Hispanic, or Native American students. So, as I said then, why go attack this form of affirmative action that takes maybe 20–25% of the spots at a school when there’s a glaring equal or higher percent of spaces taken up by predominately white candidates who, as this case is showing in a small microcosm, literally paying or cheating their way in? I ask that to everyone.

For now, I’ll just stay quiet about this whole college admissions process for the rest of the month or more and get back to you all next week on something more light-hearted. Till then…

Being Noah Tesfaye #72: Privileged Affirmative Action

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts. Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!



Andrew Yang Could Be the One

ust as I mentioned in my 2020 presidential candidates recap, I said there was a massive field of candidates that did not truly appeal to me. As an independent, there are just certain more liberal policies that I don’t know if I completely back, like the 70% marginal tax rate over $10 million. I don’t support a lot of the past voting records of many candidates that are at the forefront of the Democratic primary race. And most of all, I said that I am almost certain that anyone who isn’t white or a man could win the 2020 election in the climate we are in.

But, I think my opinion is slowly beginning to change.

I present to you Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur running from New York, for the 2020 Democratic nomination for President.

If you’ve been plugged into the race heavily, you’ve probably heard of Yang’s candidacy. And this week, in particular, he’s been receiving far more mainstream press, in part thanks to recent news that he is getting close to reaching the requirements to participate in the Democratic presidential debates in June. These are the requirements:

  1. 65,000 individuals donating to your campaign
  2. 200 donations each from at least 20 states

Currently, as of writing this blog post, Yang has met the second requirement and has approximately56,000 donations with over a month left to reach that threshold.

Irrespective of what you may know about his policy so far, he is about to make it into the debates, poised to compete with the likes of Sanders, Warren, and Harris. Also, fun fact, he was a part of the US National Debate team in 1992, so June should be an interesting time!

The single most important priority for me to finding a presidential candidate is finding someone who executes on policy and one who has the genuine interest of ALL Americans. That means the undocumented student brought here with their parents, the truck driver who will lose his job due to automation, the mother who lost her young black son because a police officer thought he had a gun. All of these people are dealing with their own personal burdens, and I want a president who is working their hardest to try and always put a policy in place to help all of these kinds of people.

What Andrew Yang so far presents to me is a campaign focused directly on policy. He doesn’t want to make judgments based on his background; he wants you to learn and understand his policy and decide for yourself if it is something you may agree with. That alone is something I see him working so much more powerfully at than any other candidate so far. He is cognizant of all the social movements in the country and is pushing to educate citizens on policies that can address injustice in America rather than just talking.

The policy of his that has been getting the most controversial response is his Freedom Dividend, aka universal basic income (the name of his policy according to him tests far better in test groups). Every single American adult, starting at 18 years old, irrespective of income level, will receive $1000 cash, without any strings attached, every single month for the rest of their lives. This policy, if just taken at the surface level will cost upwards of $3 trillion every single year, which he claims will come from a stronger tax code against the extremely rich corporations in this country that currently pay nothing in tax every year. He is proposing that if you are already receiving $1000 or more in government support through other welfare programs, that money will not overlap. So, as he gave as an example, if someone were receiving $700 in food stamps, they would be entitled to $300, and so on. Now, I don’t really understand how this will be completely paid for just yet when it comes to the specifics, but I’ll link you to his policy page and an interesting articleon why economist Milton Friedman supported UBI. It is not a new concept, but something interesting that we might see adopted by the other Democratic candidates.

Beyond this core campaign point, he has many other policies that, while are traditional liberal campaign points, I am all in favor for. He is, like many, in favor of completely removing the privatization of prisons and getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences that are as egregious as they are today. Something I found powerful that he claimed he would do is that if elected, on April 20th, 2021, he wants to pardon every single American incarcerated for a non-violent marijuana conviction and get them out of prison. He also is running with his own personal tech entrepreneur experience. That means that aside from his UBI policy, he is mainly working to address the fact that a majority of the jobs paying less than $20 an hour will be gone due to automation. That’s the crux of the jobs situation in America that I will reiterate again and again. Automation, not immigration, is responsible for the jobs crisis we are about to enter, and he appears to be focused in on a transition agenda dedicated to educating the workforce to be more prepared for this shift in the jobs market.

There is one thing that you’ve probably gone through this article thinking: what is Yang’s legislative experience? What state was he a senator, mayor, governor, or house rep for? The answer? None. He has no prior experience as an elected official. And to be honest, I am also really hung up on the issue. I want a president who knows the legislative process, who has been able to pass policies and been well-versed in the implementation of laws.

But what if that isn’t what I want?

What if I want someone who is educated in how the law works, understands their policy, and most of all, truly have the best interest of the American people at heart? I’m sort of at a junction point where I feel like we as a society may be treating those things as being traits that only currently elected officials to have in becoming our president. But what if someone, who may, in fact, possess all of these goals, is not a senator? Does that mean we shouldn’t vote for them if their policy is what we want?

Donald Trump also did not have elected office experience when running, but does he have a fraction of the understanding of the law that a lawyer who has worked for the working class for decades has? No. Yang is the opposite of Trump in almost every single way except for this one factor.

So, I’m not sure whether I really do like and support everything that Andrew Yang says or has proposed in his race. But after announcing in February of 2018, and with the fervor that he has shown so far, he currently is the candidate I dislike the least. And that is a start.

Andrew Yang, although it may be the greatest long shot almost any candidate this year, still has a chance to possibly become President of the United States.

Remember the last person we thought had no chance when they announced?I heard he became the leader of the free world.

Being Noah Tesfaye #71: Andrew Yang Could Be the One

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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What a Black History Month

The past 28 days that just flew by for me were relaxing, days where I was able to truly practice and learn more about what it means to enjoy life.

That, however, didn’t stop me from watching racism on all levels be exposed in the month that is supposed to recognize the stories of black people. Everywhere you looked, black history month turned into “look at all the white supremacy still around” month. Rather than discussing the heroes that helped push for equal opportunity like Malcolm, MLK, and Representative John Lewis, we all bared witness to so many revelations.

The first story that turned heads was the story of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and blackface. Were we surprised that someone in government, let alone the head of a state, had no qualms about normalizing blackface as a young man? Of course not. But were we shocked that no one dared to bring it up while he was campaigning? Absolutely. The way he danced (pun intended) around the situation, even making a joke about doing the moonwalk after he said he dawned blackface to dress up as Michael Jackson was despicable. At one point in this situation, he lied and said it wasn’t even him in the picture. He not only betrayed black voters in his own state, but he betrayed the voters of Virginia as a whole. He campaigned on removing relics of the Confederacy following the Charlottesville white supremacy protests. He met his own double standard which will take years to the only repair just slightly, but that will never go away.

If that wasn’t crazy enough, just a few days ago, we found out that after this blackface incident, the First Lady of Virginia Pam Northam handed out cotton to black students that were touring the governor’s mansion. Again, this was AFTER the discovery of the racist picture with her husband. These were 13 and 14-year-old children who were being forced by a white higher authority figure to understand the horrors of slavery.


Blackface made a resurgence unfortunately in the public eye. Whether it was the Gucci sweater or the Katy Perry shoes, it seemed as though the more people began to look, the more they would find. And if by some happenstance are reading the blog of a young black student and still do not understand why blackface is offensive, here’s a link to help educate yourself. Not only this, but Burberry made its racist attempt at outrage marketing by having a model wear a hoodie with a noose as its drawstrings. Really? At this point, I think they’re just messing with us on purpose. Boycotting brands may be helpful, but let’s be honest: will we all stop buying from these brands? No.


From Liam Neeson claiming he wanted to kill a random black man in hatred after someone, he knew got raped by a black person, to a Maryland state lawmaker describing a predominantly black district as a “nigger district,” black history month has been everything it should not have been. And for that, we as a nation should be ashamed.

The culmination of all of the bigotry came with the Michael Cohen testimony in court on Wednesday to the House Oversight Committee. Cohen claimed that when he was driving through Chicago with the president, Trump made the comment that black people are too stupid to vote for him. That’s not surprising considering how racist the president has been over the past, and continues to be today. The most egregious, racist incident of that day was when Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina brought Lynne Patton, a black federal housing official that got the job because of Cohen. Meadows then proceeded to claim that because she was the daughter of someone born in Birmingham, she could never work for someone who was racist.

Proximity to a black person does not mean someone is not racist. As Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan rightfully said, Lynne Patton was a prop, a prop to an agenda that Meadows hoped to fulfill. The physical presence of having Patton stand behind him was racist. The fact that she wasn’t allowed to speak and share her perspective was racist. If anything, seeing her just stand, alone, while a white man used her experience as a justification against racism, reminded me eerily of a slave auction. She was a tool for an agenda that, by its appearance, never allowed her the chance to voice her own opinion. And Meadows cried wolf when Tlaib called him out and proclaimed that he had nieces and nephews that were “people of color.”

This act of tokenism has been used for generations. What we saw during the hearings on Wednesday was perhaps the grandest “I have a black friend” defense I can remember. By now, you probably heard that Meadows was at the forefront of the birther movement during the 2012 presidential campaign which demanded President Obama’s birth certificate, even directly discussing that the president should be sent “back to Kenya.” One could argue that just as Patton was being used, so was Dr. Don Shirley in Green Book and how his mastery of the piano was also used as a tool in a film that won best picture last week at the Oscars.

Black history month is suppose to be a time where we celebrate the culture and heroes of people who are responsible for the nation we are a part of. But what we got this year was a travesty to those people who died in the struggle for building this nation and the equality of all people here. As a first generation black student, I always thought that we were limiting our history, albeit the parts that people only feel comfortable talking about. Why don’t we discuss SNCC in October, or talk about Frederick Douglass in May? It’s a simple answer: because we don’t care. We as a country are still to prejudiced and racist to ever dive deeper into American history further than a month. And even when there is a month, you cannot go a single day without hearing any crazy revelation.

Black history is American history. Let’s remember that, every single month.

Being Noah Tesfaye #70: What a Black History Month

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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‘BlacKkKlansman’ and ‘Green Book’ — Egregious Black Misrepresentation

I’m not a film critic, nor am I the one to go out of my way to watch critically acclaimed films. However, tomorrow is the Oscars. Although I have only seen a few films nominated this year, two films, in particular, are egregious missteps in their representation of black people, both in their accuracy, but also with their oversimplification of race relations. In other words, they are perfect candidates to win Oscars.

When BlacKkKlansman released last fall, I thought the premise for this film was genius. More than that, to find out it was a true story, this movie in my mind could not fail. I saw it and was floored. Everything seemed to mesh and fit so seamlessly. It appeared to be the best film I had seen all year.

Then I learned the truth.

I wrote one of my longest articles for my school paper on the film, linked here. But to sum it up, almost all of the film was false, stretching the truth to lengths that did more than to just dramatize the story. Minor characters had false backgrounds and the core storyline of protagonist Ron Stallworth’s spying operation was not true either. The ease with which the characters acted as though they resolved all the racist tension was also ludicrous as well. What concerned me the most was that there are so many other incredible African American heroes that a film just as thrilling as this one could have been produced. I listed a few in the article, such as Ella Baker or W.E.B. DuBois, yet Spike Lee chose a cop who was part of a racist FBI COINTELPRO initiative to spy against his own people fighting for equality.

In hindsight, I could accept this film a bit more knowing that other people have been fabricating their own people’s stories to make them appear more impressive to the general audience. Yet, there is no justification for why we should choose this story. My articlegoes more in-depth, but this movie disappointed me the most this past year for all those reasons. For anyone interested in the film, I strongly urge you to understand the premise before you go and watch, knowing what you’re about to watch is mostly not true, and then you might enjoy it a bit more.

The worst overall film I’ve seen this past year is also up for the major categories tomorrow: Green Book. It’s a joke of a film that just like BlacKkKlansman fabricates the story of a black man to pronounce all racism can be solved. The premise of the film itself is ridiculous: a white man who drives around a black master pianist is the protagonist, not the genius. It attempts to paint this white man, Tony Vallelonga, as the one who now all of a sudden has a problem because he discovers racism exists when taking the job to drive around “Dr.” Don Shirley. Apart from this crazy basis for a film, the family of Vallelonga was the ones who pushed for the film and wrote the film, without seriously consulting the Shirley family for the inaccuracies it has.

According to the Shirley family, the relationship between Tony and Don was nothing more than employer and employee. He also according to the Shirley family was close with his relatives and, spoiler alert did not have Tony introduce him to stereotypical black things like fried chicken, which the film depicts. By the end, although Mahershala Ali played a wonderful performance, the film is an egregious misrepresentation of the talent that Don was, that the white protagonist was the savior. The namesake for the film, the Green Book (documentary being made on it), which served as a guide to help black people from New York find places safe for them to stay across the nation, was not a focus in the film, but rather as a tool of amusement for Tony. Either way, nothing about this film could bring me to recommend you wasting over two hours of your day on this deplorable film because that’s what it is.

I’m excited to get to watch Roma once I get back home, which I have no doubt will be thrilling, as well as getting to A Star is Born and The Favourite. A special shoutout goes to Black Panther, a film I wrote about when it came out last year. I really do wish Michael B. Jordan was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his powerful performance as Erik Killmonger. Also, I’m nowhere near surprised that Kendrick Lamar and SZA, but it would have been special.

The Oscars are an award show that sometimes fails to get awards right, even literally with 2017 and Moonlight. But I will be watching and am curious to see how this no-host ceremony situation works. But, for me, I’ll try to spend more time watching great films this year and be more informed so next year I can make good picks.

Being Noah Tesfaye #69: ‘BlacKkKlansman’ and ‘Green Book’ — Egregious Black Misrepresentation

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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SCOTUS To Face Wall Appeal

The Supreme Court is off to an interesting start this year. Recently, they’ve been releasing decisions on cases that have been slowly but significantly affecting the precedents and laws of this country. And, although I may not be the most well-versed SCOTUS aficionado, in my passion for the court, here are some cases that you should be paying attention to that have just released decisions.

Perhaps the most notable decision the court has released as of late was when the court struck down a Louisiana abortion law that would have required a doctor to have to admit privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of the location of the abortion for them to conduct the procedure legally. In a surprise move, Chief Justice John Roberts ruled with the liberal minority. For many on the brink of the decision to confirm Kavanaugh, ie Senator Susan Collins of Maine, much of their basis of doing so was to ensure that Roe v. Wade would never be overturned and that abortion rights would be protected. However, this case could be the first step that indicates Kavanaugh might be a non-guarantee on the front of the Roe v. Wade reversal.

What this case showed was that it definitely appears as though the conservative majority will hang on whether the Chief Justice will want his court to make decisions that overall could tarnish his reputation. First and foremost, Roberts wants to go down in history as one of the greatest, and in doing so, he has and may continue to rule with the liberal minority if there is enough of a cultural and precedent-based push.

A more recent decision put religious liberty at the forefront of America. Domenique Ray, from Alabama, was on death row and scheduled to be executed for rape, robbery, and murder of a fifteen-year-old girl named Tiffany Harville. He had requested to have his imam be present on the scheduled day, but the state refused. The case got appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court, and the conservative majority ruled that the state of Alabama was justified in denying his request because he requested too late. By contrast, Associate Justice Elena Kagan in dissent wrote about the clear religious double standard that occurred in this situation. In the past, Alabama had allowed Christian death row inmates to have a priest by their side. Kagan stated that the majority ruling goes against the core of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which demands religious neutrality by the government.

This case, along with the travel ban, could signal how the court may rule in the future with religious liberty cases. Although our nation had had a substantial history with not treating religious minorities as equal, the law, as even Jefferson articulated, must respect all religions. Personally, I believe that we can honestly never know for sure until we see the next case as to whether the court may continue to hold this methodology.

Just yesterday, the president announced that he has declared a national emergency in order to fund his border wall, the wall he proclaimed on the campaign trail that Mexico would pay for. Even within just a few hours, there have already been legal challenges to the declaration. His plan is to use the Supreme Court for which he has appointed two young conservatives as his final step towards getting the funding for the wall. And although this may be litigated for the next upcoming months, who knows how long it will take for there to be a final decision.

But, as always, whenever it comes to the court, you have to find what’s most important to you. You have to discover what specific policies matter to you the most. For me personally, the best way to keep up with the law and SCOTUS is with @scotusblog on Twitter or at their website. Their case analysis is always on point and they cover decisions as they release. For older cases to gain insight on precedent, Oyez is your best bet. Just don’t stay too tuned in, or you might lose a ton of time, as I do every so often. Nonetheless, SCOTUS and the judicial branch are the most important branches because of their lifetime appointments. If you want to truly understand legislation and how it has adapted over time, look no further than the Supreme Court.

Being Noah Tesfaye #68: SCOTUS To Face Wall Appeal

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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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!



Facebook group HERE