Submitted by Aasha Shaik
I like endless beaches with soft sand and rippling waters that become crashing waves. I
like heights paralleling that of Washington Rock, from which one can just barely see a faint trace
of the New York skyline piercing the cloudy sky even from quaint, vividly-gray New Jersey. I
like the view of the mountains from my grandparent’s farm in India and I like the view of the
islands when parasailing in Thailand and I like all the mesmerizing views I can only imagine
from distant travels that I’ve only dreamed of.
I like the stars.
In the sixth grade, I made a discovery about my room, in a house that I’d lived in for as
long as I could remember: one of my bedroom windows was right above a little roof-ledge that
covered our porch below, and my major discovery was that, if I removed the mesh screening, I
could climb out the window and sit on that little roof. The crisp leaves of the tree in our front
yard hung just out of my reach–just like the sky, with its crusading clouds and sparkling skies.
Now, the fact that I, as the obedient little sixth grader I was then, was doing something as
utterly and completely rebellious as sitting on my roof probably would have surprised anyone I
knew. However, there was definitely no getting me back inside.
The night sky mesmerized me.
My little roof soon became the place I would run to (or climb to, rather) anytime I was
upset or happy or just wanted to think. I enjoyed climbing out there during the day, looking up at
the clouds and dreaming of building a little house for myself in their fluffy depths, void of all
earthly concerns—or at least as many concerns as could be apparent to a twelve year-old—but I
loved going out there at night even more. There just was, and is, something reassuring and
comforting about looking up at an endless sea of shimmering stars; it’s the realization that
everyone, no matter what age or background or geographical location or other discriminating
factor, is ultimately under the same sky. Its perpetuity is a constant reminder of how
simultaneously—and paradoxically—miniscule and large we are. I’m not compelled to
memorize every constellation even as the absurd perfectionist I am; rather, I can let myself bathe
in their vast complexity and simplicity. They are a reminder that there is always something to
look forward to in the vast expanse that is the future, and thus no reason to ever lose hope.
When I moved to India after seventh grade, I lost my room, and, consequently, my little
ledge-roof. I didn’t, however, lose my stars. Very adaptable for my age (possibly too much so?),
I hadn’t shed a single tear about moving away and leaving both my friends and family behind,
until the point in airport security at which I had to say goodbye to my parents and for the first
time ever, saw my daddy begin tearing up, turning away to try and conceal the emotion.
I cried through take off.
On that twenty-hour flight that I went on alone at only 13 years old, I remember looking
out the airplane window and seeing my same sea of stars, even vaster than before, and I
remember smiling when I realized that I wasn’t truly alone—that not everything had to change.
During the six months I spent in boarding at my new school in India, I’d sit out on our dorm
balcony and look up at my same stars again, finding comfort in the fact that, despite my family
still being in America and despite the time difference of nearly 12 hours that made even regular
phone calls difficult, we were still looking up at the same sky.
Growing up, my family had visited India some summers to see our relatives who all lived
there, but actually living and studying in the country was a completely distinct experience. For
the first time, I was immersed culturally, socially, and politically in a different country. For the
first time, I was exposed to global human rights issues: I’d turn on the news and hear about gang
rapes and acid-attacks daily. I’d read about FGM and child marriage, and then I’d meet girls
from those very villages.
This past winter, I stood at Israel’s perimeter. In one ear came the tour guide’s words. In
the other came distant gunshots, ringing through the air as I looked out over Gaza, smoke rising
between the densely-packed houses—homes of children whose sole crime was not having the
privilege of being born into safety, like I did.
When I moved back to the States after that year, I traveled across the Atlantic alone
again, staying with a family-friend for a few months until my parents were able to return as well.
That first semester home was difficult for me. It was frustrating—I’d been fine through the
transition to India, so I didn’t understand why not with the reverse. The stars and their constancy,
however, reminded me that there’s always something to look forward to in the boundless
expanse of the future—and reminded me of my immense privilege compared to the children I
had met just like me, on the other side of the skies— reinstilling my strength and confidence to
face every coming day and to stand up for myself.
The stars also did so much more than that: they compelled me to use my experiences to
stand up for others, too. After all, every one of us is equal under the sky. I became a Girl
Advocate at the UN for gender equality—being an Indian, half-Muslim female, I inherently live
at the intersection of gender, racial, and religious issues. At the UN I’m able to effectively
channel my experiences into advocacy for girls globally worldwide. Besides being unimaginably
rewarding humanitarianly, the real-world experience I’ve gained has been invaluable—as one of
ten Girl Advocates, my year-round responsibilities included moderating and speaking at
large-scale UN events, researching and writing language for policy proposals, and holding
meetings with UN policy makers to lobby for the inclusion and human rights of girls globally. I
was humbled to promote the empowerment of girls worldwide; what I did not forsee was how
exponentially empowered I would become as a result. The experience was transformative, to put
it lightly: when I was younger, I never would have imagined lobbying, well, anyone—much less
United Nations officials—even in my wildest dreams. And yet, there I was: a little, 5’3”, 15-17
year-old brown girl in high heels and a blazer, lobbying policy with people as high as
ambassadors and Prime Minister Trudeau. Most importantly, as my involvement increased, so
did my confidence and self-awareness. I became a better, more focused person. I’ve become
unapologetic—unapologetic in calling out injustices of any form, unapologetic for having and
voicing my opinions, unapologetic for—and unafraid of—being who I am.
Though the significance of my stars has changed, from being the connection with my
family while in India—a home at and away from home—to being reminder of the people I met
abroad, to now being a continual sign of my strength and identity, the stars themselves have been
a constant through it all. My stars were always there for me, a perpetual blanket that never left
my side even when I had to leave everything else behind. Those tiny specks of light, light years
away, have gotten me through the best and worst of times. Even when I moved across the world
by myself, my place of respite—the core of me—didn’t change.
I really like the stars.
Submitted by Aasha Shaik
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