This was my second entry into the NCTE Achievement Awards in Writing competition. Every student was required to submit one piece of their “best” writing, which could be written in any form about any topic (mine can be found here), as well as a “themed” writing that answered a prompt issued by the NCTE. The prompt this year was, “imagine that you have been chosen to create your own Mount Rushmore. Who would you want to preserve and celebrate?”
Mount Rushmore is a monument dedicated to people of great merit and character, who have had impacts as significant and permanent as the carvings in the stone that makes up the mountain. The figures that I would put on my Mount Rushmore are those who have had the greatest effect in shaping the person I am today. Like a rock, I too am made of pure material – there is genuine substance within me that provides me with talent, ability, and merit. But I would not be who I am today if not for the many sculptors in my life. They pick at my brain, heart, and body, working me – a human being – out of an unrefined pillar of rock. Without these carvers in my life, I would not be the person I am today. Many people have chipped away at the surrounding rock, shaping and revealing my true character to the world. But only four people can fit on a monument as grandiose and eminent as Mount Rushmore. If I could choose who in my life best represents my wishes, ideals, and values by depicting their likenesses on giant slabs of granite, I would choose C.S Lewis, Tammy Shen, Nicholas Lung, and Nae-Yuh Chou.
Three people on my Mount Rushmore are figures that I know personally. I know their favorite color; I know whether or not they’re good bakers and artists; I know where they hide their secrets. I know these things about them, and they know the same about me. Yet there is one man on my Mount Rushmore whom I will never really know. C.S Lewis, the nineteenth century author, died long before even my parents knew how to read his books. I have never met him, but by reading his books I can admire him, learn from him, and be enlightened by him. C.S Lewis is not just an author of great stories, although I first learned of him through his Chronicles of Narnia series. He was also a spiritual man, who describes his conversion to Christianity as a painful process by which he was dragged, an unwilling convert, to knowledge and love of God. Like C.S Lewis, I was raised in a religious household, but for a long time “Jesus” was just someone I was supposed to pray to and talk about, a specter of the future whom I didn’t actually have to experience until I was as old as my parents. When I first accepted my parents’ God as my own, it was rather unexpected, but I knew that something inside me had changed, and I wanted to live a different life. C.S Lewis was an atheist for much of his young adulthood, so he too experienced a great change in his life when he decided to live as a Christian. I admire him because not only did he make a decision to change, but he also followed through with it. His books about faith don’t reflect a man who doubts his religion; they portray a man who decided to follow God and never look back. I too would like to live with this security of mind, knowing that I made the right choice in my life and that I will be blessed and happy because of it. I want to emulate C.S Lewis in that I want to be strong in my convictions and believe in the truth of my choices. In addition, while C.S Lewis was a pious man who believed in a divine and intelligent creator and the existence of life after death, he also supported scientific methods of reasoning and deduction. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S Lewis takes rules of logic, philosophy, and deduction to make a case for God and religion. I admire his decision to confront secular learning head-on because I am also a scientist. My faith is in God, but I also believe in the power and importance of science to reveal truth. C.S Lewis is a model for me because of his effectiveness in combining blind faith and empirical science and in leading a life that truly reflects the tenets of Christianity while supporting scientific exploration and thought.
A more modern example of a person who has inspired me with her immense faith and conviction is Tammy Shen. While C.S Lewis showed me how to balance my faith and my interests – how to live as a Christian and as a scientist and student – Tammy shows me how to better understand the God I believe in and how to continuously increase the faith I place in Him, regardless of what is happening in my life. I have lived in New York for my entire life, yet my best friend in the entire world lives hundreds of miles away in the “armpit of New York” – New Jersey. I met Tammy when I was in seventh grade, when her church and my church brought the youth of their respective congregations together for an event. When I first joined, I knew nobody. When lunchtime came I sat alone at a table in the basement of Rutgers Community Church, picking at my salty chicken and broccoli. Tammy came over to me, sat at my table, and struck up a conversation in her gregarious, talkative way. Years later, I can confidently say that she and I know each other inside and out. Even though we rarely see each other face to face, we talk online and tell each other all about our lives. Tammy has given me so much advice that I don’t know how I could’ve survived high school without her. Whether it’s about boy drama or biblical ambiguities, Tammy’s counsel is practical and infused with morals and values that I wish to follow. I admire Tammy a lot because of her faith. She is confident in who she is, in a way that I can only dream of being. As the years went by, I became more self-conscious about myself – my glasses, my weight, my skin, my clothes. I fight a daily battle to be able to love myself, and it is increasingly difficult for me to accept who I am. Tammy is nothing like this. She dons her wire-rimmed glasses and her sisters’ hand-me-down clothing every day, choosing to focus her energy inward on her character and spirit. Her reasoning for this is simple: God doesn’t look at her outward appearance, so why should she? When I am upset about that new pimple, that extra pound, or that bad hair day, I think of Tammy. She reminds me that my outward appearance is temporary and mutable, but the character I cultivate will last a lifetime, and my actions and thoughts are much more important than my outfit or weight. Tammy’s self-confidence and focus show me that true beauty is based on internal development and virtue. In addition, Tammy always believes that things will work out in the end. When I worry about grades, colleges, boys, or just the stresses of tomorrow, Tammy reassures me that all my problems will be resolved. She believes that God is watching over her, and that a path through life has already been paved for her. She rejoices in her belief in an omniscient Creator who has planned out a good life for her. This faith is truly inspiring to me, and hearing Tammy speak of the hope and reassurance she has in God gives me confidence and courage to continue moving forward in my life despite not knowing what is to come. Tammy’s self-confidence and optimism, both products of her strong faith, are inspiring to me, which is why I would put Tammy on my personal Mount Rushmore.
Another friend that I would carve permanently onto Mount Rushmore is Nicholas Lung. Nicky is a senior in my youth group who plays the guitar brilliantly but always insists on modesty. He knows a lot more than he lets on – about relationships, morals, and spirituality – but he is always content with letting others take the credit. Nicky is a “PK” – a pastor’s kid. This label means that he is expected to be virtuous, conservative, and devout; answer all the questions correctly in Sunday school; and follow in his father’s footsteps. While Nicky does have a strong faith, he also possesses a mind of his own. He doesn’t believe everything his own father tells him, but he still follows God to the best of his ability. Nicky faces a lot of persecution in school – people laugh at him, curse at him, and spit on him because he refuses to compromise his beliefs by taking part in “casual” behaviors such as drinking, partying, and cursing. Nicky carries his beliefs in his heart and always tries to adhere to them. I admire him for this because it’s easy for me to do the exact opposite – to take my morals and bury them when it’s more convenient to be perverse, profane, or polluted. I cannot always be firm or steadfast in my beliefs, but somehow Nicky finds the strength and peace of mind to do so even in the face of ridicule and mockery. Nicky’s sincere and zealous attempt to live a life of Christian morals and values truly inspires me to put my selfish desires aside and also live a life that accurately reflects what I believe. If a giant monument were to hang over my head – something I saw and was reminded of every day – I’d want Nicky to be a part of it, to remind me always to hold dear to what I believe and not to sacrifice my faith for anything.
The last person I’d carve onto my own Mount Rushmore would by my grandmother (Wai Pou), Nae-Yuh Chou. Her story is inspiring and cinematic: she fled communist persecution in China by climbing aboard a boat to Taiwan, where, amidst all the chaos, she lost her suitcase of pictures and letters of her parents. She started a new life in Taiwan, had three children, one of which was my mother, and then retired to California. That is where the grandmother I know starts – in an apartment complex for the elderly in sunny San José. But the grandmother that I admire most is the one whom I wish I knew – the professor, journalist, poet, author, and painter who made a name for herself in Taiwan based on her talent and love for the arts. Although I enjoy science and the pursuit of knowledge through experimentation and deduction, I am also a writer and poet; my first love was and always will be stringing together letters into words, into sentences, into stories. My parents often say that I got my artistic genes from my grandmother, for no one else in my family can write like she did. Whenever I visit my grandmother, she shows me her old articles, poems, and paintings; my greatest regret is that I cannot read them. But even when my mother translates from traditional Chinese into English for me, the beauty of my grandmother’s writing is not lost. I admire my grandmother’s literary ability and the way that she has always poured her emotions into her writing. Even now, at 85 years old, my grandmother still sends my family paintings that she makes in her free time, with small poems written as captions in calligraphy. They are still beautiful, even written by an arthritic, osteoporosis-ridden senior citizen with cloudy cataracts and a failing memory. She has never lost her ability to put raw emotions into words that can be seen, understood, and felt by other humans, an amazing skill that I would love to one day possess. For this, I want to emulate my grandmother and put her on my Mount Rushmore – to give her the recognition and admiration that she truly deserves, and to remind myself of the love for literature that runs in my very veins.
These four people that I have described deserve places of honor and importance on my personal Mount Rushmore because of the work that they have done in molding me into the person that I am today. All four of them live and have lived as examples of the virtues that I hold dear to my heart. They have had important roles in chiseling away at the stone that surrounds me and revealing the pure ore within. This internal substance that they have all had a hand in shaping and bringing out is my Christian faith. My beliefs are very important to me, and each of the people on my Mount Rushmore has shaped and strengthened my faith and inspired me to put it in the forefront of my life, leading me to deeper understanding and faith in my God, and cultivating my spiritual life in invaluable ways. I am by no means a finished structure, and there will be more work done on my personality and character until the day I die. Yet my hope is that my faith will never fade away, and that my belief in God and His Word will only grow stronger and more secure until I leave this earth. At this time in my life, my personal Mount Rushmore would be made up of rock carvings of these four figures – C.S Lewis, Tammy Shen, Nicholas Lung, and Nae-Yuh Chou – because they have had the greatest impact in carving me into the person that I am today.