It wasn't big. It wasn't flashy. But it meant a lot to me.
Welcome to JTOP: an arcane collectivity within the walls of Lower Merion High School. JTOP stands for Justin Timberlake Operation Project, an opaque title chosen to baffle anyone who might overhear us mention the organization.
I was inducted as the fifth member in November of 2008, joining Maggie, Jake, Patricia and Sarah. At the time, I knew no one in this coterie but Jake, who provided me with little information. He insisted that I would find meaning in the group—that together we would be able to channel our restless frustration and curiosity into something worthwhile—but that I must first be sworn to secrecy. I was dubious, nervous, and excited.
Okay. Okay. This is peculiar right? I'm not from Hogwarts, I'm not some top-secret CIA operative—I'm just a girl from a suburb of Philadelphia... right? And what did "JTOP" even do?
That question cannot be answered so easily. JTOP was a chance for bright kids who love learning…to explore. Every meeting, every task, every debate felt like a new adventure.
One day Maggie came home from school and informed us of hearing about trepanation, the practice of cutting holes into one's skull. This was creepy... yet fascinating. Why would anyone willfully drill a hole into his or her head? What would that be like? So on a Wednesday night, after we finished our homework, we furtively gathered and watched a documentary that Maggie purchased entitled "Hole in Your Head," all about the history of trepanation.
Once we decided to make "circle poetry" for other students whom we admired throughout the school. Some of the students we didn't know personally—just respected from afar. Taking a black Sharpie and ripping out pages from The Philadelphia Inquirer, we began to circle words and letters creating personalized messages. I wrote a poem for Hannah, a girl I knew only through her insightful comments in English class....