Academy


Civilized Discussion on Religion & Politics 7

When meeting someone after many years, there aren’t many times I would recommend discussing religion and politics but that was part of a rather pleasant conversation I found myself in recently. My friend’s mother who I possibly had not seen since my high school years was genuinely curious about how I felt about the aforementioned topics but that left me in a curious spot about whether I should say the politically correct answer or go with what I really felt. I decided that since my friend usually has no filter and is often pretty blunt with statements, it would probably make sense to go with the no non-sense, brutally honest approach in hopes of having a genuinely good dialogue… and I’m glad I did.

One of the first things I was asked was what my religion was and subsequently a follow-up on what my thoughts were about how I was treated in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 – much of which I already provided in greater details (September 11th Aftermath – My Story) on how I was treated but can be summarized that no matter how great everyone may be, there are always a few bad apples which you can’t always avoid. As we continued the discussion, we moved onto topics about why groups like al-Qaeda on what I thought about their affiliation with the religion immediately made me think of a reference back to West Wing that I used and which I have linked below:

The conversation did take a turn towards racial profiling and when it may be beneficial for authorities to do their jobs without sacrificing civil liberties or breaking laws. Having agreed on majority of the topics of discussion like the treatment of Muslims after 9/11 and how religious fundamentalists isn’t limited to just Islam, I would say the one thing I did disagree on was the effective use of racial profiling in catching criminals or potential-criminals. One thing that I took away immediately was having to explain the difference between the terms Islam and Muslims which is maybe something I took for granted.

Regardless, it was simply enjoyable to have a civil conversation with people I don’t regularly speak to on topics that have the potential to get very heated and one, that I hope I could have again in the future.


The Unlikely Trip To Mont Tremblant 2

Now here is a trip that if you had asked me about two months ago, I would have said would never happen let alone me going on it with people I knew from high school, university and some that I had never met before including the one passenger in my car. Excuse me for any glaring typing mistakes as I wrote this in literally fifteen minutes while I am waiting for my car being serviced.

The last week or two leading up to my trip had been so hectic that I didn’t even get a chance to view videos on the basic fundamentals on what to do. I had been tied up at work and then went south of the border for a few days. Ultimately, that probably had little to do with my failures on the first day but that might be normal to expect since it was the very first time I had ever gotten on a snowboard.

It hadn’t snowed much the night before our first run and that probably made the falls that much more painful on my entire body. We went straight for the green trail which was a much longer trail then I was expecting for a first run but better than the bunny hills because that was just way too short for me to do anything on. Naturally, it ended up taking us nearly two hours to complete the first run. It was tiring and painful but the mountain was scenic and enjoyable to be on. There were definitely moments I was afraid of what was going on and let that allow me to fall instead of fighting through it and get into it more. My issue wasn’t about gaining speed or learning how to turn, both of which I was surprisingly decent at, but I couldn’t get myself to slow down or stop without my legs giving out and taking a fall. I think if I didn’t have a friend who was just as new to this as I was, I wouldn’t have willed myself to go out again the second day — the first day was just that bad. It was crucial to have a buddy though because we would alternate going in front of each other and continue to call each other names as a means of motivating one another (we did occasionally say nice things to each other too but that’s just not our nature).

Just as importantly, it was so helpful to have someone who was better than we were every step of the way. It almost served as a light at the end of the tunnel when I was struggling on the first day to look up and see them stopped ahead waiting for us to catch up and then urging us to continue forward on what seemed on the first day to be a never-ending trail.

As bad as the first day was, I would say the second was that much better, if not more. We got a little delayed start in the morning but by the time we got out there, I was much more relaxed and ready to let it all go. Lighter traffic even for a Saturday might have played a role in me becoming more comfortable too and along with the conditions getting softer with the snow overnight and the fact that I was falling less, made for a much drier morning the second time around. We planned on cutting our time down the mountain by half from the first day which seemed very ambitious but not only did we reach that goal, we shattered it comfortably on the very first run of the morning (not that it is anything to brag about but I would call that significant progress).

I was practicing more on slowing down and stopping and not just speeding, falling and struggling to gain any momentum on the straight stretches, which turned out to be a much more effective way to get up and about. All the practice in the world probably doesn’t matter when you’re coming up with a little speed behind someone and they turn right into your path and lead to a wipe out. I’m glad it was someone I knew and that it was described by another watching as a “moment of embrace” as we hit the ground gracefully, making a potentially dangerous moment into something we can laugh about. As disappointed as I am of no video footage from my first time out, I am just glad this moment was never recorded.

Leading up to the last run on the final day, I was probably feeling the best I had and that was a good thing because I would need every ounce of that good feeling to get through the last run. The conditions had gotten much more terrible with the snow and wind picking up, fatigue was starting to settle in and for me, I couldn’t see anything through my fogged up goggles. As awful as it may sound, I must admit, I enjoyed that last run more than any because I was going through it without much complaining even though my body was ready to give out from being tired which is more than what I can for my other newbie friend.

Admittedly, I wasn’t in the greatest of physical shapes which led to my legs being extremely sore, my arms being dead from picking myself up all weekend but I wish I had done this up sooner and I would enjoyed it even more than I already did. There are some picture below, no videos unfortunately, which did have its pros and cons.

I had always joked with my roommates from university every time someone mentioned a trip up to Canada that I would believe it when I saw it. I would have never expected the trip would ever materialize let alone getting 11 people ranging from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Toronto and all meeting up in Mont Tremblant without losing anyone or anything.

Can’t wait to go again next year. Whistler, anyone?

 


Book Review: Shells by Yegor Chekmarev 2

Early last week I found out that someone who recently graduated from the same high school I attended had published his first book and thought maybe I should give it a shot. I was lucky enough to have known him from before through soccer and was given an opportunity to read and review the book. Shells by Yegor Chekmarev is currently available on Amazon ($10 for a paperback copy, or $0.99 for a Kindle edition). A self-described Russian-born American was influenced by “the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges, the visionary novels of Arthur C. Clarke, and the labyrinthine layers of Mark Z. Danielewski”. He wrote his first short story entitled “The Dreamer” and is currently in the process of getting his second novel out to publishers which I will hopefully get to review again here once that project is completed.

At 212 pages, it certainly didn’t feel as long from the moment I picked it up and began to read it. I knocked out half the book in the first night I got it but eventually got slowed down by work and other priorities and unable to write this review as quickly as I had originally thought. I will reveal some minor spoilers in here though I will spare the majority of details for those interested in reading it themselves.

The main premise of the book is that a man wakes up every single day in a new body and must learn what his name is, who his new family and friends are and try to collect as many memories about the individual to survive the day without causing too much damage to the person’s life. We are told that as he moves on from body to body, the original “host”, as I shall call it, is returned to the state with no recollection of what happened the day before and continue living their lives.

It has a very quick paced beginning with the protagonist waking up in a body of a high school kid that is clearly not his and is completely unaware of his current name, family or what kind of personality this person might have. As I mentioned earlier the main character, whose name we don’t actually learn until later on in the book, tries not to cause too much damage to the host’s life although we see on occasion that this principle doesn’t always hold true as emotions tend to run high as the novel progresses.

As you continue reading, several questions immediately come to mind. Is he the only person who is switching from host to host on a daily basis? Are there others? What happens if he switches and runs into himself during the course of his day? Is that possible or what has happened to his body as he continues switching. Will he ever break the curse or will he forever wander through life, flitting from soul to soul, never creating an identity for himself?

So many questions that for the most part do end up being answered as you wrap up the book. A very impressive book for a first time publisher so make sure to go check it out on Amazon: Shells by Yegor Chekmarev. It is pretty great to see people our age (or in this case a little younger than me) who have taken an interest in writing and can produce quality material. Hopefully there is more in store for the rest of us.

On a related note, if you have a book or a paper that you have written or published, let me know and I will write and review it when I get the chance. Hopefully some of you can return the favor when I finally get around to publishing my own.


September 11th Aftermath: My Story

I had actually begun writing this post last month but for some reason divine intervention, I decided that I should just hold off a little while longer before publishing. Throughout the years I had this idea continue to build up in my head but I never really felt I could write a full composed post on it until last month. So instead of putting it off, I decided I should finish writing it and post it now anyway when it seems relevant. The topic of my post this entire time: my life in the immediate aftermath of September 11th.

We had just moved to New Jersey in 2000, when I was in 8th grade and was just getting settled in and decided to apply to this brand new “Academy” school which had opened up just across the street from my complex. I didn’t have any initial interest but my math teacher really encouraged me and my parents really saw potential in going to such a school (I’m sure the proximity played a role as well). I paid them a visit, liked what they pitched, gave an entrance exam and here I am, almost a whole decade later.

I remember the Tuesday morning like it was yesterday, we had just come out of our first period engineering classes when our principal called us all (and by all I mean the 70 kids that attended the school at the time) to the common area. He announced the events that had taken place and had any student whose parent(s) worked in the area or might have been affected, to go to the office and give a call to make sure they were okay. The rest proceeded to our next class where we all watched the events unfold in horror and amazement.

Being the only Muslim in my school was quite the unique experience but I had hopes of being to be a normal kid and go on my way without sticking out. That wasn’t going to be the case any more and to a certain extent, I am glad about it. I was able to stand out, defend my beliefs and religion against these atrocities and be able to learn from and educate my peers and teachers. As much as I didn’t want to be singled out, I look back on that as one of the best learning and growing experiences I have had. It makes you question what you stand for and ultimately I stood stronger at the end than I did coming in.

There wasn’t a single student in my freshman class that mocked me for my religion – I make that distinction because there was one racist kid in the year above me and I suppose calling me a terrorist made him feel better about himself. Most teachers were great too – again I say ‘most’ because there was one issue but I will get to that in a minute. As for the rest of the teachers, all held pretty open and fair discussions on what had happened and more importantly, why had it happened? We didn’t belittle each other, we were pretty open minded about it with far greater respect than I had expected 14 year olds to show each other in times of great tension. Maybe we didn’t know any better but through that experience I learned a great deal about the character of my peers in those very first few months of my freshman year than I would need to the remaining 3+ years. Our petty disagreements and hurt feelings on who our favourite team is or what your favourite pokemon is pale in comparison to how we treated each in time of great national distress. To this day, I’m quite grateful for the way I was treated by them and the teachers – for the most part.

The one dreaded issue that still lingers was in one class that I was sent down to the principal’s office because my actions “were not representative of a patriotic person” and “is not what the country needs at this time”. My crime: saying that actions by some Americans could be described as “idiotic”. Let me be clear, this discussion took place after we read a story in class and was not related to any 9/11 discussion whatsoever. That’s what caught me off guard with all of this. When I had said this, the teacher made no remark that somehow what I had said was wrong but a period later, when I am in another class, I was told to go down. To my dissatisfaction at the time, I didn’t receive any support from the school administration either although it is not surprising now that I look back upon it. To this day, the teacher never spoke to me about the issue and in my youthful ignorance (or better judgment), and partly I am to blame for wrongly choosing to drop the issue. I will still gladly take an apology but at this point, I better let bygones be bygones.


Talking With High School Kids 2

Last year, I was contacted by my high school to gauge interest if I would be interested in coming back and speaking to the current students about my transition from high school to university and eventually to professional life. My limited flexibility in my schedule due to just starting a new job didn’t allow me to make the trip last year but I was finally able to do it earlier last week when my scheduled trip home fit both of our schedules.

Let me explain my high school first. The Middlesex County Academy for Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies was established in 2000 and I was part of the 2nd class to enter the institution. Each year, the school only accepts 40 students from the entire county and stops replacing them if they leave after sophomore year. I ended up graduating with only 32 students but just from that select group alone we have people working internationally, have had some enrolled in Ivy League schools, a couple going for their PHDs and not to mention the various types of fields in the industry we have managed to penetrate. Let me also say I was fortunate to have Christine volunteer to come speak with me as well as it provided an excellent balance for two people who started in the same place and have gone on to take completely opposite routes since and still be enjoying what they do professionally.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the talk as I didn’t know too many of them beforehand since we have been out of that building for almost 6 years now but it continued to be more productive as the day progressed. The seniors seemed far more reserved compared to the barrage of questions and feedback we received from the juniors afterwards but they did come back with requests to talk to alums who had taken certain paths and to the best of our abilities, we have put all in touch with someone within a matter of days.

Since the talk, we have started to take the first concrete steps towards founding an Academy Alumni Foundation which I think will go a long way in connecting not only the alumni with each other but also serve as a strong foundation for the current students looking to take the next step in their educational or professional careers. I have already heard from excited alumni who are asking about how they can help and hopefully this type of activity still exists once the association is up and running – which shouldn’t be too far into the future (barring any setbacks).

For those that went to my high school and have not yet filled out the Alumni information form, please do so here. In under a week now, we have been able to get nearly 50% of all graduates already spanning over six years and hopefully that trend continues so we can officially launch in the near future.