What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?
Two years ago when I was stuck in the bustling streets of India with my mother in the scalding heat, I sought refuge in an air-conditioned sari shop. I sat down to read the short story which would forever be reverberating in my head: “The Story of the Pencil,” by Paulo Coelho. Pencils, Coelho claims, “have five qualities which, if you manage to hang on to…will make you a person who is always at peace with the world.” How is that possible? After all, it’s just a pencil.A pencil is capable of great things but one must never forget that there is a hand guiding it. I am grateful for having such a caring family. My parents have been my mentors, guiding me and supporting me throughout every aspect of my life. A pencil needs to be sharpened from time to time; in this period it will suffer. However, after being sharpened, its nib will be a lot sharper. Similarly, in my life I have had bad experiences. I have learned that being able to bounce back from some of my mistakes or misfortunes — for example, the loss of my grand-father — has made me the strong and optimistic person I am today. A pencil comes with an eraser that allows us to rub out our mistakes. When I play the piano and make a mistake, I start over and try to correct my mistake. After correcting my mistake, I practice in order to ensure I don’t make the same mistake again. A pencil always leaves a mark. My mother has always warned me to think before I speak because the things that I say may have an impact on others. A pencil’s interior (the graphite) is more important than its wooden exterior. I learned this lesson on my recent trip to Cambodia. At first, I let the differences between my own cultures and that of the villagers stop me from interacting as I normally would with people. However, after figuring out how to adjust, we all managed to overcome our differences, and I wound up making some new friends for life.This simple, yet profound story really surprised me and has taught me to appreciate all the little things in life that one normally takes for granted. As a result, a pencil is a constant reminder for the values that, today, I try my best to remember and act upon. Being a student, I am constantly surrounded by pencils and therefore will always try my best to be at peace with the world.