Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.
We have a saying here in The Valley: The world will take us where we want to be. In essence, this little bit of wisdom accurately embodies the world I come from, what it has taught me, and the many ways in which it has shaped my dreams, aspirations, and the person I hope to become.The San Fernando Valley, or The Valley, as it is commonly referred to by its residents, has always been my home. Nestled among five mountain ranges, it is home to almost two million residents, each with a unique story. It is through learning the stories of the people who I have encountered here that my own story begins.The exploration of different cultures and religions is a dream I know I want to pursue in my life. I recognized this dream two years ago when I had a traditional Jewish dinner with my friend Lisa and her family on Hanukkah. Being raised in a Presbyterian home, I had never been exposed to another culture in such an intimate way. The meal and the ceremony that accompanied it were beautiful and my eyes were opened to a different culture as we feasted on latkes and brisket and lit the fourth candle on the menorah. Enchanting music played; strange syllables were uttered; and a hushed meaning registered on the assembled faces. At that moment, I experienced “otherness” and discovered the quiet understanding of a different people in their sacred time of worship. That dinner gave me insight into a world I hope to learn more about in the future and hinted at the myriad paths to unlocking the truths that religion investigates.Another important lesson I have been taught in The Valley is one of strength. Enter my friend Brooke and her mother Julie. Julie is a single mother working two jobs and trying hard to raise her teenage daughter to the best of her abilities. Brooke is an amazing musician with dreams of pursuing a career in the field, so her mother must work twice as hard to put Brooke through the kinds of schools that nurture her talent. Julie arrives home late at night and leaves early in the morning, leaving Brooke very little time to spend with her mother. Brooke endures it, though, and maintains a cheerful composure despite her family’s unfortunate circumstances. Getting to know these amazing women, I have discovered that the strength it takes to live life on a daily basis is not always inherent and must sometimes be learned. It can be learned from adversity, failure, and simply the experiences that come with living life day to day. As I watch Brooke and her mother dig deep into their quarry of strength, I realize that I have barely begun to tap into my own. Strength is a quality I aspire to develop, and exposure to it through Brooke and her mother has helped me resolve to do so.Yoga has become a powerful outlet for me and I have learned as much about life from my teacher Richard as I have about yoga. Yoga is the art of balance, and that is exactly what Richard has taught me. More than perfecting my downward-facing dog position, I have learned that this ancient art harmonizes the mind with the body, creating a remarkable calmness and positive outlook. With yoga, I focus. I unwind. I breathe. I reestablish balance and order in my life. Richard has shaped my dreams by helping me realize that, above anything, balance in life is critical.Here in The Valley, everyone has a story. My story has only just begun, but my aspirations and dreams have already been greatly influenced by my setting. I have encountered people who expose me to different cultures, show me true strength, and illustrate that balance in all areas of life is perhaps the most important virtue. As we say in The Valley, the world will take us where we want to be. With the experiences I have had, the insight I have gained, and the people I have known here, I know I’m ready for wherever the world takes me.