Anyone Can Be Anything

Art by Cailyn Talamonti

by Cailyn Talamonti

When I was growing up, it was tough for me to relate to the characters on the television. My body was pudgy, tall, and hairy—and princesses were not like that. Though my family called me “beautiful” and “perfectly healthy,” the kids at school were not as kind. That, along with the lack of big characters in mainstream media, was enough to make me hate myself. It was only years later that my negative self-image came to a climax with the development of an undiagnosed eating disorder in high school. Now, as a young adult in healing, I can look back on my relationship with my own body and analyze how the images I was consuming impacted my self-image. 

But I’m one of the lucky ones.

The BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and LGBTQ+ communities, along with persons with disabilities, have been disproportionately affected by lack of representation in mainstream media. So much of Western media—from children’s literature to feature films—is composed of the same type of people: white, thin, able-bodied, and straight. In reality, most people in the United States do not meet half of those “standards.” Only recently has Western media begun to address the severe lack of diverse representation, but we have only scratched the service. 

As an animator and illustrator, one of my jobs is to confront the uncomfortable history within my field. Animation has long been used to perpetuate toxic ideals of whiteness and assimilation. Now, as new generations enter animation and the arts, it will be our duty to unlearn the centuries of prejudices deeply woven into our media. With this in mind, the “Be Anything” initiative became a chance for me to do my part in diversifying children’s illustration. 

Be Anything, created by the Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum, is the event where people from different careers take over the museum space and provide demonstrations. It is essentially a job fair for children, and it is amazing. Be Anything is founded on the idea that anyone can be what they want to be, no matter who they are. This is a sentiment that my parents instilled in me since I was young. When I found out they needed someone to illustrate the different careers, I was more than ready to lend a hand.

When approaching this project, I made it my goal for everyone to see a version of themselves within the art. As the list of jobs slowly grew, the work snowballed. To gain efficiency, I compiled “banks” of heads, hairstyles, and faces that could be easily dragged onto each new character. Each career is its own work of art, with details that provide a story and personality to the characters. I even used friends’ faces as inspiration, and I used my own when creating the “Animator” illustration.

Nearly fifty career illustrations later and the project was complete. Though it was a lot of work, I do not regret one minute of it. I suppose it was my way of righting the wrongs I had experienced growing up, and hopefully giving a child somewhere the chance to see themselves in a piece of art. Not only is it meaningful work, but I could not have worked with a better team. The Peoria Playhouse and Park District staff never cease to amaze me with their attention to detail and passion for what they do. It was an honor to be a part of such a fun project. Although it was on the local scale, it is one more step towards representation for every person. 

Learn more about the Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum at 

About Cailyn Talamonti 

Cailyn Talamonti (Manhattan, IL) is a senior at Bradley University. In May 2021, Talamonti will be graduating with a major in Animation and a minor in Graphic Design. She currently works as a freelance artist and designer, creating content for local bands, companies, and others. One day, she wants to be a webcomic artist. Her work is available at

Realistic Resolutions

by Elizabeth Setti

January and February are peak times when people attempt to achieve their New Year’s resolutions. According to, 71% of people reported wanting to implement a healthier lifestyle through diet and exercise in 2019. This is sometimes due to the guilt that many experience after indulging during the holidays—but I would argue this weight gain is normal and should not bring feelings of shame. 

Commitment to these resolutions tends to subside after a few months because people adopt an “all or nothing mindset,” which promotes an unsustainable relationship with diet and exercise. Companies promote crash diet plans and products at the start of every year to persuade hopeful consumers to buy into them. These diets are what cause people to give up their resolutions after a few months because they are not sustainable, restricting users to a limited amount of food groups and calories. 

However, setting a goal for frequent exercise and making better dietary choices can be good if approached in a nourishing way. Opting for a more balanced diet that can be easily maintained over a long period of time is a holistic way to pursue health and fitness related goals. For example, drinking more water or increasing vegetable intake are small changes that can yield big results. Additionally, learning that balance is the key to sustaining a long-term goal is crucial. Often, as soon as someone has a “binge” or “cheat day,” they automatically give up. Nutrient dense food should make up the majority of one’s diet, but more indulgent foods are perfectly acceptable in moderation. Including all food groups creates a healthy relationship with food and helps with mindful eating. 

Exercise is beneficial for many reasons—but similar to food consumption, exercise should be done mindfully. People often force themselves to work out as a form of punishment, which can create a lot of guilt around something that should be fun. Find movement that is enjoyable… whether it be walking, running, yoga, or weightlifting. These activities can create a positive relationship with exercise. Viewing exercise as a way to praise our body’s many abilities promotes a wholesome mindset. Creativity can also be incorporated as there is a plethora of ways to move. Try something new like a spin class or even go rock climbing!

It is important to improve our health—but accepting and loving our bodies should also be a priority. Even if we all ate the same food and did the same exercises, we would still look different. Following a fad diet that promises the same results for everyone who partakes is not a wise choice. It is important to find more ways to eat nutritious foods and incorporate enjoyable movement while still maintaining balance. 2021 can be a year of wholesome transformation after the difficulties faced in 2020, so fill your journey with good intentions and love your body at all times. 

About Elizabeth Setti

Elizabeth Setti is a junior at Richwoods High School in the International Baccalaureate program. Setti plays volleyball for both Richwoods and Central Illinois Elite Volleyball Club, where she has the opportunity to travel throughout the Midwest and compete at high levels. She is the editor (and previously a writer) for the sports section of “Richwoods Shield,” her school’s newspaper. Setti serves on the student leadership team and Noble Knights, and is a member of her school’s science club. She was recently diagnosed with Anorexia-Nervosa, which she developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. She feels it is important to share her story and spread awareness about eating disorders. As such, Setti created a blog called “A Hidden Addiction,” where she tells her story and her journey to recovery.

Extending the Olive Branch

by Jenin Mannaa

In my freshman year biology course, while scanning my textbook and trying to commit the different macromolecules to memory, I realized I was fat. Quite literally, my identity could be reduced to a single unsaturated fatty acid: olive oil. Comparing my fourteen years of existence to liquid fat seems self-deprecating, but the parallels were undeniable.

As an Arab Muslim-American, my culture is rooted in olive oil, and the dense liquid accumulates on the leaves of my family tree. However, olive oil has a tendency to separate from water due to their opposite polarities. With the controversy permeating my religion beginning with 9/11 and continuing with the anti-Muslim attitudes following the election in 2016, I felt myself dissociating from my heritage—much like oil to water. This polarization of my identity infiltrated every aspect of my high school experience, beginning with my decision to join the Speech team.

Going into my first season, I stuck to the humorous events, adopting different personas and voices in an effort to conceal my identity. This unexpectedly helped me succeed in my Speech career and exalted me to Junior Captain of the Dunlap Speech Team. Now in a position of authority, I concluded that I needed to discuss my identity candidly in the oncoming season.

I decided to perform the Ted Talk “The Muslim on the Airplane” by Amal Kassir, which explored the importance of asking a Muslim their name before assigning them a story. Initially, I delivered my speech angrily, and it felt like Judgment Day in every room I spoke in. After recognizing a fear reaction in the judges, I instead tried delivering my piece despondently—with a pout and a single tear dribbling down my face. This approach had my judges scratching the backs of their heads and avoiding eye contact.

I confided my concerns with Coach Hunt. Upon hearing more, she let out a laugh before disclosing to me, “Jenin, you need to talk to me.” She sat me down and held my gaze as I apprehensively uttered the first few words of my speech. As time went on, the tension in my shoulders eased, and I began to savor my words as they rolled off my tongue. At the conclusion of my speech, the tears that accumulated in Coach Hunt’s eyes made me realize the origin of my failure.

I had been all too consumed with the rankings and statistics of a Speech competition to realize my personal victories. I portrayed to all of Illinois the pride that I developed for my heritage, which is invaluable in comparison to a clunky first-place medal. Moreover, there is no formula to the perfect speech, no carefully calculated gestures or perfectly timed tears. Within my piece, I could show all elements of my personality—the humor, the passion, the sadness, the exasperation—so long as I was genuine in the portrayal of my message. It was when I began mulling over the words that I was saying that I began to feel and be what I was representing in my piece.

When I earned my way to State, proudly adorned in my olive-green blazer, I understood that there is no shame in being liquid fat. I am Muslim and American, and although those may seem incongruous, I appreciate my dual identity. Living in America has given me the opportunity to cultivate my love for advocacy, and I plan to extend the olive branch to anyone who cares to listen.

About Jenin Mannaa

Jenin Mannaa is a rising senior at Dunlap High School. Her stellar academic performance has granted her entrance to the National Honors Society at her school. Jenin has expressed her love for advocacy through her involvement on the Dunlap Speech Team as Junior and Senior Captain. Within speech, her primary goal has been expressing her identity as a Muslim American woman. Jenin attended IHSA State for Oratorical Declamation her junior year of high school. Within her speech team, she was also awarded Sophomore and Junior MVP. Jenin’s passion for the arts is evident through her involvement in Stage 323, where she was inducted in the International Thespian Society. She has also been involved in Concert Choir, Women’s Chorale, and Show Choir throughout her high school career. Moreover, her devotion to garnering support for ethnic minorities motivated Jenin to create Dunlap’s UNICEF Club, which educates students about the tribulations of underprivileged individuals in impoverished countries. Within UNICEF, she leads fundraisers, and within the first few months of the club she raised approximately $500. During her summers, Jenin has spent over 200 hours volunteering at the Unity-Point Methodist Hospital within the daycare or shadowing various doctors within Peoria.

About Sophie Liu 

Sophie Liu is a senior at Dunlap High School who has won numerous art prizes such as the Scholastic Art and Writing Gold Key Award and several honorable mentions. As someone who also values academics, business, and volunteering, she has participated in and led many activities in her community. Her volunteering contribution has awarded her the Gold President’s Volunteer Service Award. She is one of the club leaders of her school’s Interact Volunteering Club. During her summers, Liu has participated in several business camps such as Kelley Business’s Young Women’s Institute, where she has gained knowledge and experience in her passion. She also runs her own online art business where she creates commissioned art pieces and gains firsthand business experience. Liu plans to continue her love of business, volunteering, and art in college, where she will major in either Marketing or Business Analytics and minor in art.

STOP—Students Are Not Prisoners

by Kianna Goss

According to the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, African American students are 3.5 times more likely than their white classmates to be suspended or expelled. In many regards, the U.S. education system has a “school-to-prison pipeline.” The American Civil Liberties Union defines this term as a national trend where children are pushed out of public schools and into the juvenile or criminal justice system. 

Students are pushed into prisons because there are zero-tolerance policies enforced inside of their schools. notes that zero-tolerance policies require school officials to give students harsh punishments, which leads to suspension or expulsion. Therefore, reporting minor incidents to law enforcement based on this policy makes it easier for students to be criminalized. Once inside of these detention centers and prisons, youth are treated inhumanely as they are locked in cells and face abuse by inmates or prison guards.  

An example of a youth who faced abuse in prison was Kalief Browder, a young New York teen who was wrongfully convicted of a robbery at the age of sixteen in 2010. Browder did three years in jail on Rikers Island. Jennifer Gonnerman, a writer for The New Yorker, reported about the physical abuse he faced by inmates and guards on Rikers. Browder’s abuse and solitary confinement led him to paranoia, ultimately resulting in several suicide attempts. After being released for two years, Browder hung himself at the age of 22 in his apartment due to this mental trauma.  

Browder’s horrific experience is just one example of youth being dehumanized inside of the prison system. Watching the Netflix documentary “13th” gives insight into how the American prison system fails people of color. This documentary argues that mass incarceration is an extension of slavery in the United States. It demonstrates the comparisons between African American enslavement to people of color being targets for the criminal justice system. It can be difficult to watch—there are videos of individuals being beaten in prison, images of scars from African American slaves, and scenes of intense police brutality. 

It is important to understand if the school-to-prison pipeline is a problem in your local area. To find out more, search your school district here: If your school comes up in the database, click on the school discipline report. Look at the report and notice the racial breakdown of the students who receive in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, and expulsions.

There should be programs placed inside of schools that reinforce positive behavior instead of suspension. For example, the program “Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development” (BUILD) engages at-risk-youth in schools and on the streets to help them understand their potential to contribute to their communities. More programs like this inside of schools could prevent students from repeating the same negative behaviors, avoid trouble with the law, and continue to push forward their education.  

He, She, They, and We are not criminals. Students are youth who need more guidance and support from schools.

About Kianna Goss

Kianna Goss is a junior at Bradley University, majoring in journalism with a double minor in sociology and advertising with public relations. Community involvement requires the use of one’s voice; in Goss’s case, her voice, which she expresses through writing, is one of the strongest platforms she has. Being a Black woman, Goss often writes to give a voice to the Black community. In doing so, she gains control over a media narrative that portrays the Black community in a negative way. As a writer who expresses herself through many different forms expressions, she has written poetry, blogs, newspaper articles, and opinion pieces. She is always looking for more opportunities to grow as a writer and personally. Goss is involved in many organizations at Bradley University. She is currently the marketing/ communications director for Bradley’s Communication Agency, a peer mentor for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, a writer for the student newspaper The Bradley Scout, and a caller at the Bradley Fund. Being able to explore her creativity is what Goss loves most about Bradley. The Communications department is molding her into the journalist she aspire to be.

Art by Aryanne Westfall

Aryanne “Ary” Westfall is a sophomore at Bradley University majoring in Animation and minoring in Theatre Arts. She is pursuing a career as a storyboard artist and enjoys creating graphic novels in her free time. As a member of the Digital Art Team, Westfall spends her time connecting with other artists and creating as much as she can.

Pass the Tofurkey

by Kratika Tandon

This past holiday season was quite the experience. Some people had to spend it away from their loved ones, while others hadn’t left their loved ones for ten months straight. Needless to say, it was different for every family. For my family, we decided to experiment a bit. Our Thanksgiving menu included mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and tofurkey. That’s right: tofurkey, which is a vegetarian/vegan alternative to turkey made entirely from tofu. I’m not going to lie—it was actually pretty good! In fact, just like our family, more and more people are choosing healthier and more sustainable diets—resulting in skyrocketing sales for the plant-based meat industry. 

With the release of contemporary climate change warnings, people are beginning to understand that the food they eat might be contributing to the crisis. It’s well-known that carbon emissions are quickly rising. A UN report from August 8, 2019 warns that drastic changes in agriculture and human diets are necessary to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The report explains that the beef and dairy industries are a key cause of these carbon emissions released due to factors such as deforestation and methane production. According to a New York Times article from January 25, 2018, 574 million metric tons of CO2 emissions are accredited to animal agriculture in the US annually. 

Reports like these have led to a shift in the American population’s diets. Although vegetarian and vegan movements have been around for millennia, their popularity is increasing now more than ever before. According to an article in Forbes Magazine from November 2, 2018, the number of U.S. consumers identifying as vegan grew 5% from 2014 to 2017. Although that is still a small number of the population, it’s an increase of approximately 16.25 million people.

With a growing shift towards more sustainable diets, consumers aren’t just switching to veggie alternatives (like portabella mushroom burgers) or skipping out on meat altogether. Some are actually going towards sustainable and plant-based meat: a new generation of incredibly sophisticated food science.

Let’s introduce the plant-based Impossible Burger, which is manufactured to be indistinguishable from meat. CEO Pat Brown’s company Impossible Foods creates their soy-based burgers by using heme, which is the molecule found in beef that catalyzes the aromas and flavors of real meat. Their scientists are able to extract this molecule from plants rather than animals. This burger has risen in popularity as the taste is nearly indistinguishable from real beef and can be purchased at popular restaurant chains such as Burger King and White Castle.

A significant shift to a more plant-based diet holds incredible benefits for our planet, which Doctor Dana Hunnes highlights in an article published on UCLA’s Sustainability website. Turning away from animal-based foods completely would add 49% to the global food supply without expanding croplands and significantly reduce carbon emissions. Likewise, as National Geographic (December 21, 2019) explains, cutting the consumption of animal products in half would reduce the United States’ dietary water requirements by 37%. These reductions would make the planet a safer and healthier place to live.

There are many new options on the menu for those looking to eat more plant-based meals. Reducing the consumption of animal products is an impactful way that consumers can help the environment. There are so many small steps we can take to make a big change. Perhaps implement “Meatless Mondays” into your weekly menu, or even venture out and try the Impossible meat yourself! The Publik House and One World Cafe are just a couple of restaurants in Peoria that offer the Impossible Burger on their menus. So, as we step forward, let us do so with the mindset to make a difference!

About Kratika Tandon

Kratika Tandon is an incoming freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is majoring in biology and graduating with a minor in environmental economics and policy. She graduated from Dunlap High School as class valedictorian. Tandon is incredibly passionate about sustainability. As such, she is interested in many different career paths that involve helping the environment. She is most interested in writing about the subjects of environmental issues, social justice, life during a pandemic, and racial equity. She is proficient in informative and expository writing as well as public speaking. Tandon was a part of her high school’s speech team for four years. This past season, she competed in two events at the state championship tournament: original oratory and informative speaking. She wrote and perfected these speeches on her own, both tackling specific topics dealing with the environment. Tandon was also the president of her school’s local Interact Club. She possesses great leadership, communication, and teamwork skills. She is participating with Giving Voice because she wants to use her voice and writing to inspire others and facilitate change.

Art by Aryanne Westfall

Aryanne “Ary” Westfall is a sophomore at Bradley University majoring in Animation and minoring in Theatre Arts. She is pursuing a career as a storyboard artist and enjoys creating graphic novels in her free time. As a member of the Digital Art Team, Westfall spends her time connecting with other artists and creating as much as she can.

The Princess Problem

by Anjali Yedavalli

Disney is loved for its candy-coated fairytales and glamorous role models for young girls, all stemming from their Disney Princess franchise. Each princess is unique—with her own talent and story. And with these diverse storylines and characteristics, young girls have an array of women to relate and look up to. How has Disney progressed in their portrayal of these ‘princesses’ through the years, though—if at all?

After a long reign of white princesses, Jasmine was introduced as the first princess of color, which was extremely impactful on young brown girls. Not only was her skin tone dark like theirs, but she had clearly ethnic features, including a sloped nose. Overall, she emphasized the beauty of non-Eurocentric characteristics, femininity, and independence. One question commonly brought up about Jasmine is her ethnicity. The movie is undoubtedly based on Middle Eastern folklore and Arab culture, with its origins coming from the tale 1001 Arabian Nights. However, many have pointed out the confusing splotches of South Asian culture. The casting of half Indian Naomi Scott as Jasmine in the live-action adaptation of Aladdin only added to that confusion. While Aladdin remains a beloved classic, it is important to understand the criticism that minority groups are not interchangeable.

Disney’s Pocahontas has garnered controversy over its questionable accuracy. Now, it is viewed more as an outdated embellishment of a story and not a fair representation of Native culture. Other criticisms have been brought up about Mulan and Princess Tiana. Though Mulan was a beloved character in the United States, she was loathed in China. For example, the historical blurring-the-lines between different Chinese villages, traditions, and stories offended some Chinese audiences. Others felt that it was an overly Americanized departure of the original Mulan story. 

Tiana, however, seemed to have all the boxes checked. She was hardworking, relatable, and intelligent as can be, prepped to be a perfect picture of representation. Then, Disney turned her into a frog for half of the movie. The trope of turning Black characters into an animal or abstract being for the majority of their movies is strangely common, and one that has made many Black viewers feel as if their characters didn’t “deserve” a full movie to themselves. (If you are surprised that this commonly pops up in entertainment, check out a resource listed below.) The more you think about it, the more disturbing it gets.

While representation is meaningful to communities of color, so is accuracy and respect to source material. Disney has grown more culturally aware over the years and has made an effort towards increasing its inclusivity, which is something not every film studio can boast. Moana was a beautiful portrayal of Polynesian culture, giving audiences a strong and relatable protagonist with much to show regarding her identity. This March, Raya and The Last Dragon seeks to spotlight Southeast Asian culture to its fullest extent. It is important not to paint Disney with a rose-colored gloss; while it seems that Disney is slowly trekking the right path, this does not make it immune to criticism. However, it certainly is exciting to think about the fact that little girls of all ethnicities may soon have a crown of their own to bear.

To learn more about Black characters in media, check out this resource.

About Anjali Yedavalli

Anjali Yedavalli is a senior at Dunlap High School. Aside from taking academically rigorous classes, Anjali is involved in Speech Team (IHSA State qualifier in 2020), Student Council, UNICEF Club, the school plays, Jazz Choir, and is the Madrigal Queen of Dunlap’s Madrigal choir. Anjali’s main goal in the community is spreading passion for both academics and creativity. She has organized and led multiple public speaking workshops for middle school students and volunteered her time at North South Foundation, an organization dedicated to funding underprivileged children in India. In addition, she has joined and contributed to the Dunlap Young Musicians, a student-created music group that performs at senior homes on the holidays. She is also active in her Sunday School (Chinmaya Mission) and has helped write promotional songs and plays to help fundraise for the school. Last but not least, Anjali is a classically trained Bharatanatyam dancer of Mythili Dance Academy and has contributed to shows that have raised over $500k for a variety of charities.

Should High-Schoolers Return to In-Person Learning?

by Adeline Ferolo

Since March of 2020, a majority of PSD-150 students have participated in online learning platforms due to COVID-19. For high school students, this entails transitioning to live online classes through the virtual meeting platform Microsoft Teams. This platform constitutes a majority of a student’s day, from turning in assignments to attending virtual school club events. The online learning option has allowed students to continue their education while limiting their potential exposure to COVID-19. 

Online learning platforms do provide a sense of health security for students and staff members, as no physical, in-person learning is necessary. The concern regarding online learning is the lack of an educational environment—more specifically, the lack of a teacher’s guiding presence, structured schedules, and classroom dynamics. This could potentially limit the amount of material learned throughout the year, as online classes usually operate at a slower pace, mostly due to technical difficulties. 

Alternatively, the Morton District 709 continued their fall semester with in-person learning. This strategy allowed students to continue learning at a regular pace and experience a sense of “normalcy” during these unprecedented times. Yet the health risks are inevitable, especially since Morton High School announced they would not be able to enforce social distance or face masks. Consequently, Morton District 709, as of October 31, 2020, had eleven staff members in quarantine for COVID-19. Additionally, there were 239 students in quarantine, with 22 positive cases. It is important to note numbers continue to fluctuate daily. The culmination of 250 people in quarantine demonstrates the risky possibility of returning to in person learning. Not only do people in quarantine possibly have the virus, but they could also be spreading it to friends and family, as no rigid quarantine procedure is enforced. Additionally, quarantine protocols enhances an irregular learning environment, as half of an entire class could be put into quarantine. The significant increase in quarantine cases not only demonstrates the risk of catching COVID-19, but also magnifies the slow progress within classrooms due to sporadic schedules. 

As we enter the second semester, many schools are reassessing their learning strategies in an attempt to bring students back for in-person learning. According to PSD-150, high school students will return to in-person learning on a hybrid block schedule. This schedule allows half of the students to attend in-person learning, while the other half continues with online instruction. This blended solution has its pros and cons. It could lead to students falling even more behind in material as their routine changes daily, while simultaneously putting them at an increased risk for COVID-19. Additionally, it is important to evaluate the state of COVID-19 at a macro-scale. Though vaccines are being administered, it is expected that not everyone will be vaccinated until the late summer of 2021. Alongside this, new, wildly virulent strands of COVID-19 have been observed in the UK, South Africa, and elsewhere. This could mean a resurgence of COVID-19 in the coming months. The culmination of these factors leads me to conclude that returning to an in-person schedule is hazardous—endangering not only the lives of students, but teachers and administrators as well. If an option is present, I would suggest partaking in an online learning module. 

About Adeline Ferolo

Stories, arguably, are the most underrated form of currency that floods the digital world, through highlighted Instagram posts and viral YouTube videos. As a rising senior at Richwoods High School, Adeline Ferolo aims to express herself and the issues closest to her authentically through engaging, storytelling, and other mediums. She is a competitively academic student. Her interests range across many creative outlets—as an active writer for the Richwoods Shield, the monthly school newspaper, and as a contributor to the youth-led blog EnviroWrite, which explores rising environmental concerns. Recently she has discovered her passion for the medium of film after attending the National High School Institute summer program at Northwestern University, where she had previously studied creative-intensive subjects ranging from sustainable architecture to graphic design. Within the past year, she has focused her efforts on exploring the visual medium in both her academic and personal life, opting to create experimental videos for class projects and continuing to explore different aspects of the visual language.

The World Turned Upside Down

by Anna Gross

An act of domestic terrorism. A coup. A violent demonstration. The January 6th attack on the Capitol has been called many names in recent weeks. To me it’s like a scene straight out of a medieval movie—something very unreal. 

The only time an act like this happened in our country was during the War of 1812. There is a difference now, however: this act of violence was performed by American citizens, and incited by our very own president. Those who say this was a patriotic protest for freedom are wrong. Rather, it was a terrorist attack. It will be remembered as another event during this pandemic which brought despair and shock to the country. 

I’ve been fortunate to spend a lot of time in Washington D.C. and around Capitol Hill. Our National Mall is a special, even sacred place, filled with history. It is open to anyone who wants to take part in the legislative process. To see the recent violence unfold was disquieting, leaving me curious about the perspectives of leaders around the world. 

Like many of us, foreigners watched the events in D.C. with shock and dismay. Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Mass, responded, “Trump and his supporters should finally accept the decision of the American voters and stop trampling democracy.” He also said, “from inflammatory words come violent deeds.” Heiko Mass wasn’t the only leader who spoke out against President Trump. Several concluded that he stoked the flames of the fire that left a burning hole in our democracy. Na HyunPil at the Korean House for International Solidarity, a South Korean NGO advocating for human rights and democracy, agrees. “Trump is entirely responsible for this incident,” Na HyunPil stated. “After his four year rule, the Americans find it difficult to tell other countries that their country is a good model for democracy.” 

The U.S. has prided itself on having an exemplary democracy, often telling other governments what to do. Our American system of handing over power is unique, and it conveys a powerful message about democracy. Many Americans and people around the world wonder if that message is even true anymore.

I believe our future rests on nonviolence, an informed electorate, and respecting one another’s views and opinions. After the violence, French President Emmanuel Macron encouraged Americans and world citizens by saying he still believes in democracy, adding: “We will not yield to the violence of a few individuals who want to challenge that.” Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel says she is “sure that the American democracy will be much stronger than the aggressors and rioters.” All of us must be part of living up to these hopes and expectations, making our democracy stronger for generations to come!

About Anna Gross

Anna Gross is a freshman in the pre-international baccalaureate program at Richwoods High School. She is involved in tennis, choir, and the Student Leadership Team. In her free time, Anna likes to sing, dance, read, and bake. During the summer of 2020 she wrote, filmed, and directed a movie with her neighbors. She also took online dance and theater classes taught by Broadway performers. Having performed in several community theater shows over the years, she is looking forward to getting back to the stage 

when it is safe. 

Seeking Hope and Mindfulness in the New Year

by Trent Miles

We do not remember days—we remember moments. 2020 was a year that was full of positive and negative moments. We dealt with a global pandemic, racial and civil unrest, a climate crisis, and a presidential election all in the same year. But we still made it. It was never about the fear of the unknown. This year showed you who you could count on—and who might let you down.

Looking back at my own experience, it’s been a wild ride—especially given the uncertainties about COVID-19 that prevented travel. But there were also many good things that happened in the past year. My productivity increased by at least twice. Along with the team from Big Picture, I helped launch an online magazine. I also applied to 23 colleges and helped pack COVID-19 care bags for the underprivileged in my community. All of these achievements happened because I changed my negative mindset. Previously, I might have acted to gain the favor of others—but this year I prioritized my community.

Here are some mindfulness tips that have helped me cope in the past year:

  1. Meditate. Taking just 5 minutes to sit quietly and follow your breath can help you feel more conscious and connected for the rest of the day.
  2. Focus on one thing at a time. Studies on multitasking show that tasks take 50% longer with 50% more errors—so consider “uni-tasking” by incorporating multiple breaks.
  3. Move. Whether it’s walking, practicing yoga, or just stretching at your desk, become aware of your body’s needs and sensations.
  4. Keep phone and computer time in check. With all of this media at our fingertips, we can easily find ourselves caught up in an information overload. Set boundaries for screen time with designated times for social networking—you can even set an alarm. Do your best to keep mobile devices out of reach at bedtime.

Sometimes it feels impossible to pick yourself up after a crushing defeat. But no matter how you feel, remember that your life is still worth fighting for. Thank yourself for how far you’ve come. With a new year ahead, 365 new days are 365 new chances. And it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to experience times of uncertainty. It’s okay to make mistakes and get things mixed up.

Know that you are still going to have another chance to get things right. Rise up, just like the day. Rise up unafraid. Rise up and do it a thousand times again.

Today’s affirmation: I am releasing attachment to every negative circumstance that has happened to me this past year. I am open to receiving all of what life has to offer me, even beyond what I might desire. 

About Trent Miles

Trent Miles is a rising senior at Richwoods High School and has been working for Big Picture Initiative since May 2020. He is academically competitive and a well rounded student. Trent is the co- founder of his Richwood’s climate action club, Vice President of the Minority Academic Advancement Project, and a varsity tennis player. Outside of school, he is involved in Jack and Jill of America, where he served as the Central Region Teen Vice President in 2018. In his chapter he served as Vice President, Legislative Chair and Foundation Chair. Trent also runs his own environmental blog called “EnviroWrite,” which is a youth-run blog that seeks to innovate how we discuss and inform ourselves on environmental concerns. He has won 1st place in a Regional Best Hobby Exhibits competition and two Regional Alexander Pushkin writing competitions. He has contributed more than 800 hours of community service through various service projects including a winter wear drive, collecting toiletries, and even an educational African-American museum.