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Literacy

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“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” Those are the immortal words of Frederick Douglass that lurks behind every street sign, and every page of a book. Literacy is an important aspect in my life, it is the pillar of strength behind everything I do, and it is a gift I shall always cherish. It is a gift that is both a blessing and a curse. The more I read, the more I know, the more I know, then the more I understand. But, the more that I understand, the more I know how little it is I truly know about the world. Reading teaches me that I will never truly be content. But, it fills me with wonder, and the freedom to explore. It is what keeps me curious and itching to learn more, to learn everything that I possibly can. Reading, for me can be a whimsical source of entertainment, or it can be the comfort that warms me when all else has failed. Reading has been, since birth, a constant in my life. It is the one thing that I know will be the true deep and lasting consequence of my compulsory attendance at school.


When I was a baby, my mother would read me books and poems, in Chinese. When I was three years old she would read to me The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss. Every night I would beg her “just one more time” and I would ask her about each and every word. By Kindergarten I could read Curious George by Margaret and H.A. Rey to myself. I would sit on the floor for hours practicing with blocks how to spell George, curious, and yellow. As Victor Hugo once said, "To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark." From very early on, those books lit a spark in me that grew with each book I read. In those days, reading, for me it seemed like a game; something to keep me entertained while I counted the hours until I could go home. I remember begging, in first grade, for a book I saw at the supermarket. It was about a boy who found out he was a wizard. When she finally relented I was ecstatic, I was finally reading a “real” book and not a picture book. Little did I know that the Harry Potter series would be my Pandora’s Box.

The Harry Potter series marked a milestone in my life. It was the series that exposed me to ideas that took me years to even to begin to wrap my mind around. It was the catalyst that sent me over a cliff and into the dark pool of the unknown. On the outside, the books were the adventures of an orphan boy, placed into a world where he needs to save. It’s a coming of age story where that anyone can relate to. But, for me the concepts buried in it were sublime and abstract. It forced me to consider the concept of death and dying. From the eyes of the sorting hat I explored the idea of virtue, of what is most important in life; bravery, good will, intelligence, or success. For the first time I had to think about who I wanted to be as a person, not just what I wanted to do. Then, through the eyes of the protagonist, Harry, I wrestled with the concept of good and evil, and right and wrong. I had to ask myself the hard question, ‘is there even a true good, and a true evil, or is Lord Voldemort right when he says that “there is no good and no evil; only power and those to weak to seek it.” I realized that there are questions out there that are bigger than all of us, questions that the brightest and wisest men have yet to answer. This left me wanting more and before I knew it I was reading more, learning more. I further explored the question right and wrong through the eyes of Scarlett O’ Hara in Gone with the Wind. I learned about how our preconceptions and prejudices blind us in searching for the truth in Pride and Prejudice. Everything I read ignited a wonder in me that led me to another book, and another, and another.

If there is one thing that I have learned in all my years of schooling, it is the importance of literacy. In the future, I may forget how to solve a quadratic equation, or I might forget the number of valence electrons in an atom. But, I will always be able to read. Wherever my life will take me, whether it be to the deserts of Africa or the mountains of Nepal, I will always have the power of reading with me. Reading has and will set me free from prejudices, and bias. As Lyndon B. Johnson has said, “A book is the best weapon against prejudice and intolerance.” The gift of literacy that is one that keeps on growing. Everyday I learn something new, and from that something, I learn something else. Everything I read lets me live in a world away from mine.





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