I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, the product of a Catholic father with roots in Italy and a Jewish mother of Russian and Austrian ancestry. In my early years of education, the frustration with teachers mispronouncing my last name seemed as though it might never end. I remember how my father would approach the administrators of my elementary school before Honor Roll ceremonies to be sure they would pronounce it correctly as I walked across the stage for my moment of glory. The terror did not end until the seventh grade when I had my first course in Spanish, at which point my teacher had some experience with "exotic" names and got "you-zee-nee" correct on the first try.
I believe that I grew more, emotionally, socially, and intellectually, during my four years of high school than during any other period of time thus far. Midwood High School at Brooklyn College attracted students from every part of New York City. Indeed, it provided a rigorous academic environment, and with one college advisor for each graduating class of nearly 700 students, I managed to learn some important lessons about dealing with "the system." Midwood continues to prepare its students well; it has consistently placed among the top 50 in national rankings of high schools. It was at Midwood that I found my academic strengths and was given the tools to pursue them to the fullest extent possible. Because I was placed in a situation with few of the resources many students had in other better-funded schools, I learned how to make the best of the situation.
I began to search for a way to address my own concerns about the racial tensions. Within a few years I would find myself at Texas A&M University, bringing another drastic change in my lifestyle... [continues]
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