Homecoming & Breaking Societal Expectations by Jakeia Banks

“As a Black woman, I used to feel like the world wanted me to stay in my little box. Black women often feel underestimated.”
-Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter

The art of being a Black girl is lost on all who don’t have the experience. Blessed are the little girls with colorful beads in their hair for the first day of school, the girls who realize that their laughs are loud and infectious, the girls who look in the mirror and see that their smiles are wide enough to bring joy to all seven billion people on this planet. It’s suggested that the voices of young Black girls grow progressively quieter as they get bigger so as to not disturb the Peace. Smiles become smaller, laughs become chuckles and the pink, purple and green beads stay stored away in shoe-boxes. Black girls are taught to be polite, to add the word “please” after every request so we don’t sound hostile or demanding. We’re taught that any thing we do can be seen as sexually suggestive so avoid anything regarding sexuality and make sure our shorts and skirts are three inches over our knees. There’s emphasis on hair—the length, texture, the many manipulations that can determine if what we have to say is worthwhile or not. We’re taught to be titanium steel but also soft, you know, because women are flowers.
All these rules of living get stifling and confusing the older you get. There’s a crystal studded, see-through box society tries to fit all Black girls in to. So when I hear 97 Black women shouting, “SUCK ON MY BALLS,” to a crowd of 125,000 people at Coachella, I get a bit emotional.
Beyoncé’s 2019 live album, Homecoming, is what pulls me through tough times. A compilation of her biggest hits, Homecoming is a beautiful homage to Black culture and the complex simplicity of a Black woman’s anger, vulnerability and sexuality. As a Black teenage girl listening to this album for the first time, I cried. There’s so much care and diligence in every part of this album. With every rule I mentioned earlier, Beyoncé retaliates with powerful performances that deviate from societal expectations on Black women. In Homecoming she gets angry, laughs loudly, and commands the world to pay attention to what she has to say. There’s so much freedom in this album that it takes everything in me to not bust a goddamn move the second I press play. It drips with so much swag and happiness that it kind of becomes an overstimulated paradise.
Whether you love Beyoncé or can’t stand the world’s infatuation with her, you can’t deny that she slays. To do what she did in Homecoming is beautiful and groundbreaking. Being the first Black woman to headline Coachella and then providing a space where Black culture and joy can be expressed? That’s more than opening doors, that’s opening GATES. She’s such an important fixture of popular culture today and continues to promote young Black artists to express themselves.

Over the summer of 2022, Beyoncé released her critically acclaimed seventh studio album Renaissance which pays homage to the LGBTQ+ community with a R&B/house music album. (Yes, I cried listening to it too.) Behind the scenes, Beyoncé collaborated with Black and queer icons and fresh artists to write, produce and feature on her latest project.
Homecoming is so much more than an album. It’s a moment, a statement saying that Black women will not be stuffed into society’s little boxes. Whenever I listen to Homecoming, I am reminded that all those rules I’ve ingested since I was a child are moot. I’m reminded that there’s strength in my voice, beauty in my demeanor and that my anger is okay even if others try to say otherwise. This is a project that tells the world to not underestimate Black women, that the sky’s the limit for us. Goodness gracious.
We really do have so much damn swag.

The Art of Being Comfy by Matilda Spadoni





Being cozy is such an important part of my life. It is something that I always look forward to at the end of the day, or on a chilly weekend where I miraculously don’t have homework, and so, I present to you my step by step guide to “The Art of Being Cozy” :

  1. Pick a day with “Cozy Weather.” Cozy weather consists of thick clouds, hopefully rain, and if you’re lucky, thunderstorms.
  2. Find the perfect spot. Preferably a corner of a couch, or the corner of your bed. There is something about having two walls of soft surroundings to snuggle into.
  3. Keep extra cozy blankets on hand in case you get chilly.
  4. Pick an activity. Will you read? Maybe do a puzzle, or watch TV. Anything that helps you relax is a guaranteed way to be cozy.
  5. Make sure you have everything you need before you tuck into your environment. I hate getting to the perfect comfortable place and then realizing I forgot my glass of orange juice on the counter where I poured it, or that I have to go to the bathroom.
  6. Put your cozy pants on. I am a firm believer that no one can be truly comfortable in jeans when relaxing. Put your cozy pants on to maximize your cozy experience.
  7. Optional: have an alarm set in case you doze off. Often I get so cozy that I take a little nap, and an alarm prevents that little nap from turning into an all day snooze fest.
  8. Finally! Settle in, you deserve it.

I hope my guide has proved helpful. When I follow these steps, nothing can break the cozy trance. Letting yourself relax and actually take the time to “be cozy” is so important. As school starts once again, I have realized how much downtime is taken for granted. My reality now is homework homework homework, but implementing this eight step cozy agenda into my life every so often means that I am able to de-stress and increases my productivity. I hope it helps you too, and that you  achieve your cozy dreams too.

How the Lightning Thief Musical Changed My Morals by Beckett Smith

(Warning: so many spoilers)

Some advice from a former Percy Jackson kid: if you haven’t seen or listened to this musical yet, do it. It’s so worth it.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to attend a performance of the Lightning Thief from a Hathaway Brown theater camp. From the minute I sat down, I was hooked. The music, the writing, the costumes. It was everything I had expected from the movie adaptations that failed so spectacularly.

I have been a rabid fan of the popular kids author, Rick Riordan, for as long as I can remember. His characters and stories walked me through my hardest times. Especially during elementary school, when my social issues reached their peak, Percy Jackson and his cast of misfit friends were there when no one else was. That being said, this obsession had mostly died down in the last few years, but after watching this musical, it came back with vengeance. Almost every night after work, I would drive home, screaming along to the soundtrack, re-living that experience of reading the books for the first time.

Aside from being one of the most accurate adaptations to date (fingers crossed for when the show starts releasing), the musical brings a new sense of depth to the characters. Maybe it’s because I read the books so young, but songs like My Grand Plan or Good Kid bring a new understanding of the characters and their motivations. I mean, the music is so damn good that it nearly turned me into a Luke sympathizer.

If you know nothing about the Percy Jackson books, here’s a crash course on the life and death of Luke Castellan. Luke was born to May Castellan and the god of messengers, Hermes. Shortly after his birth, his mother undertook a ritual become the next Oracle of Delphi. Because of a curse placed on the Oracle, she was driven insane by visions she couldn’t control. Since he’s a god, Hermes could do nothing to help her or his son, and left them behind. Luke was raised by an unstable mother and her terrifying visions until he ran away when he was 9. He joined up with a couple of younger demigods, Thalia and Annabeth. In their journey to reach Camp Half-Blood, the only safe haven for Greek demigods, Thalia was killed. Thalia was 12, Luke was 14, and Annabeth was only 7. For the next three or four years, Annabeth and Luke grew up in Camp Half-blood. Eventually, Hermes sends Luke on a quest that ends horribly, leaving him with an ugly scar and an even uglier, simmering resentment of the gods.

A year or so later, Percy comes to Camp Half-blood when Luke is 19 and Annabeth is 12. Percy and Annabeth are sent on a quest to recover Zeus’s stolen weapon, uncovering a plot to overthrow the gods in the process. At the end of the Lightning Thief, it is revealed that the real thief was Luke the entire time, that he had been conspiring with Kronos, the gods’ father, and that he had betrayed them all. The next four books detail the battles between Kronos and the demigods, culimating in a massive battle in New York City. In the end, the war is won by the demigods when Luke sacrifices himself as he realizes that he’s gone too far.

In The Last Day of Summer, Luke sings a reprise of Percy’s song, Good Kid. In the song, you can feel his pain and anger as if it’s your own. In that short verse, everything you need to know about Luke is revealed. His bitterness, his father’s abandonment. Paired with the knowledge of his mother that’s revealed in The Battle of the Labyrinth, you can understand perfectly how Luke ended up the way he did, and the utter tragedy of his death is all the more apparent.

As an added layer of pain, the musical makes it obvious how similar Luke and Percy are. From Luke reprising Percy’s song, to their shared bitterness towards the gods and their fathers, it’s no secret that Luke is who Percy could have become. However, there’s one vital difference between them. Their mothers.

Percy’s mother was present and sane. She cared for him, and he never questioned whether he was wanted or loved. Luke had no such reassurance. Despite the fact that they were both abandoned by their fathers, Percy has no solid resentment towards his father. Nothing that would let him fall for Kronos’s manipulation the way Luke did.

Obviously, there are aspects of Luke’s character that are utterly unforgivable, particularly his treatment of Annabeth. For those reasons, I will never truly consider myself a Luke sympathizer. But the tragedy of his story will never be lost on me.

Escaping to Green Gables by Elliot (with an E) Rendall











For a very long time, me and my mother have absolutely adored Anne of Green Gables (and the Netflix adaptation, Anne With An E). Between Anne’s fierce personality, and the amazing outfits the characters wear, it’s a family favorite to say the least. One of the things I love the most about Anne of Green Gables is how many beautiful and meaningful quotes are packed into the books. So for your reading pleasure, I have included my favorite quotes from Anne, and why I love them so much.

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers” ☾ With the change of seasons, this quote has been reoccurring in my mind and completely accurate to how I feel about this time of year! Another season of getting to step on crunchy leaves and wear big sweaters. Hooray!

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” ☾ Finding kindred spirits that you immediately click with is such a wonderful feeling, and I think joining groups, or finding friends is so well summed up by this quote.

“My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.”   ☾   I absolutely ADORE how dramatic Anne can be- and if anything upsets her she has no hesitation in acting absolutely getting into her feels, and letting everyone on the premises know about it.

“Dear old world’, she murmured, ‘you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”   ☾   Have you ever just sat and appreciated everything around you? This. This quote is exactly that feeling.

“People laugh at me because I use big words. But if you have big ideas, you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?”   ☾   So true Anne. That’s all I have to say. What an icon.

“It is ever so much easier to be good if your clothes are fashionable.”   ☾   As someone who loves fashion and can be a complete hoarder when it comes to clothing- she is absolutely correct.

“It’s nicer to think dear, pretty thoughts and keep them in one’s heart, like treasures. I don’t like to have them laughed at or wondered over.”   ☾   Those who know me are aware that I am incredibly expressive, but in the last few years I have found the good in keeping little things all to myself.

“All things great are wound up with all things little.”   ☾   All I can think of is the Shakespeare quote, “though she be little, she is fierce”.

“All I want is a dress with puffy sleeves.”   ☾   And thus, we have found the root of my obsession with puffed sleeves (that and the fact that they’re the easiest to make- but I’ll blame it on this).

While Anne may be a more outdated character, she is someone who I hold near and dear to my heart, and I believe that if I knew her, we would be kindred spirits.

(All quotes by Lucy Maud Montgomery)

The True Reasons Why People Rock Climb by Sarah Marcus

Austrian Olympian Jakob Schubert bat hanging













Rock climbing is simply the best sport, but I’m not going to spend my time trying to convince you of that. If you try it a couple of times, you will learn this. However, you might ask yourself, “why do people climb?” I could answer this question by explaining to you the many reasons, but you can find those on the internet. Instead, I am going to tell you the real reasons people climb.

The first reason is because they are ignoring their everyday problems. There is simply no other reason to climb. No person willingly hangs 40 feet in the air, with only a harness and a thick piece of string, unless they are avoiding something. Rock climbing routes are puzzles to be solved, and you must practice solving them to be a good climber. To get up the wall, you have to put thought into every muscle in your body. Climbing not only requires you to solve the puzzle of the route, but it also requires you to execute it. This takes a lot of brain power, as well as time, and rock climbers put in this time (to climbing, not their responsibilities). If you know someone who climbs, every time you walk into the gym, they will be there. EVERY TIME. This is because instead of completing their work, or doing self care, or reading a book, or putting any effort into their responsibilities, they are hanging from a rock thinner than their stack of missing assignments. They may not have sent the email they were supposed to three months ago, but they have gotten an inch higher off the ground.

The second reason people climb is because they have ADHD. Instead of bouncing off the walls, we are now bouncing up them. While this isn’t a requirement to be a climber, there is a strong correlation between climbing and ADHD. I have it, and so do the surprisingly large amount of people I climb with.

The third reason why people rock climb is because they are creative. Just like the creative way we manage to “waste” our time, you would be shocked at all the ways we avoid our rock climbing problems as well. If we can’t hold onto a rock, then we find a way to skip it. Why not attempt to jump past it, even though we are not tall enough to do that? We might as well try every possible way to avoid the move we don’t like, or can’t do, then actually work through it. And under the very likely chance, that we are unable to find a way around a crucial move on a route, then it is simply time to blame the route setters.

The fantastic thing about an indoor rock gym is people intentionally make the routes. So, when we are unable to climb something, we blame others. THE CLIMBER IS NEVER TO BLAME. We don’t need to tell ourselves that we can’t do it; instead, we say that the route setters attempted to kill us by making it too hard.

The final reason people rock climb is because we love the validation and adrenaline rush we get when completing a route. After working on a route for days, weeks, and sometimes months, finally getting to the top is one of the best feelings. As we climb higher, adrenaline and fear build up, and when we finally reach the top, we can see the physical distance, measuring our success. You feel on top of the world, until you are lowered to the ground and remember your responsibilities.

College Visits by Meg Hahnenberg

It’s that time of my high school career where I’ve really got to crack down on what colleges I want to apply to. Two years ago, my sister went through this same process. My family and I went to all different types of colleges and universities to determine which school my sister would feel the most comfortable at. Now it’s my turn.

On top of all my schoolwork, I have to find a way to squeeze in college visits. In fact, as I’m writing this post, I’m in the car with my family to go look at some schools in Pittsburgh. This is just the first of four college trips I have planned in the next couple of months.

Even though I’m very thankful that my family is able to help me find the perfect college, I sometimes wish the process wasn’t so long. At a certain point, the visits become repetitive. Every time I go to look at a new school, I get a little bit nervous. What if this is the first time I step foot onto the campus I will be attending for the next four years? That thought is a little overwhelming.

No matter the outcome of the college visit, I continue to go through the motions. First I meet my group at the admissions office, then take a tour of the important academic buildings, check out the dining halls, and, if we’re lucky, peek our heads into a small dorm room. Then, back in the car, my family and I debrief the whole experience: “The meal plan wasn’t ideal”, “Our tour guide was so nice!”, “The campus isn’t very diverse” and so on. Sometimes I walk away with a new t-shirt, a fancy pen, an elaborate pamphlet, or a sticky piece of candy. The weeks that follow my campus visit, my email is peppered with emails from that college. Those emails are a constant reminder of all the researching and deciding I’ve yet to do. With so many choices ahead, the decision I’ve already made puts me at ease: It will all work out somehow.

Chopped by Claire Borden

I LOVE cooking shows. One of my longtime favorites is Chopped, a TV show where contestants must make a three course meal incorporating four mystery ingredients for a chance to win 10,000 dollars. Last night, five of my friends and I were laying around my house looking for something to do but coming up empty every time. Then suddenly, inspiration hit. What if we divide into teams and play Chopped ourselves? This got us up and moving quickly as we drew from a hat to decide teams. Two were judges, and the rest were competing against each other.

The mystery ingredients included Takis, peanut butter, chicken tenders, romaine lettuce, and sriracha, and we had 25 minutes to turn them into two dishes. My team consisted of my brother, my friend, and I. Tensions were running high as the two teams tried to sabotage and insult each others dishes with early 2000s pop songs playing loudly in the background. Another curveball was the fact that our judges were incredibly picky eaters, so whatever we made had to be simple enough to appeal to them.

At the end of the 25 minutes my team had assembled a tostada topped with crispy chicken tenders, shredded lettuce, a dusting of taki crumbs, and a sriracha aoli. For our desert we made peanut butter stuffed cookie dough balls crusted with crushed pretzels shallow fried and drizzled with nutella. While I wasn’t pleased with the creativity of our entree, it didn’t taste half bad, probably because it only consisted of ready made chicken tenders, a tortilla, romaine lettuce, sriracha and sour cream, and takis. Our desert however was the crowning glory. It was creative, delicious, and the presentation was beautiful. I was certain we had the competition in the bag.

The other team ended up re-frying the chicken tenders in the taki crumbs and serving them as lettuce wraps drizzled in sriracha, and though I may be biased, it neither tasted nor looked appetizing. For their desert they made some sort of cookies and cream marshmallow fluff peanut butter monstrosity that felt like cheap pandering to the judges’s childish palates. Luckily the judges saw through it, and the other team’s dish was on the chopping block. Although the only prize was cleaning the kitchen, this was a fun and inexpensive activity for bored teenagers, and we are already planning our next cooking game show adventure.

A Love Letter to Shaker Rugby By Claire Borden


When I joined the rugby team, I was a quiet ninth grader trying to adjust to a new school. I had never really been good at a sport before, and I don’t know what exactly made me choose rugby, but when my science teacher told me the team was recruiting, I decided to join. All of the contact was very daunting at first, but I realized as long as I tackled and fell properly, I wasn’t really in danger. I have never been particularly aggressive before, but I learned that I liked tackling, and I was good at it. I had never been in a space before where that kind of physical aggression was encouraged and even celebrated in women. It felt revolutionary. Rugby allowed me to unapologetically take up space and be “unladylike”. It also gave me an outlet for the frustration that I bottled up all day in school. 

Our team is scrappy. Very few of us had ever played the game before, and we struggled a lot with numbers. We didn’t win a game until my junior year and we were often beat by double and even triple digits. But we kept showing up to practice and working to improve. We practiced outside all year long, rarely canceling because of weather, because as a small, new team we did not have access to an indoor practice space. We played one memorable game on Mothers Day outside in 40 degree weather during a sleet storm. 

This year we saw all of our hard work pay off. We recruited many new players, and finally had a full team. We started to score frequently and even win games. Last weekend we went to the state tournament as part of the flex division, the more casual division of club teams that we play against every weekend. We ended up placing second in our division and it was incredibly emotional for our whole team and a celebration of our incredible resilience and tenacity. It was also our nine seniors last game, many of whom have been on the team since it started, so it was definitely bittersweet. Even though I couldn’t play because of a sprained ankle (rugby injury) it was an incredible day and I am so proud of how far we’ve come.

Downton Abbey by Claire Borden


My mom and I love to watch TV together. There is no better feeling than coming home with our favorite takeout and turning on an episode of our show. For us, TV is an immersive experience. When we would watch America’s Next Top Model we would pretend to be Tyra Banks for hours after finishing the episode, debating whether our cats were more “high fashion” or “commercial” and practicing our smize. As we watched the models get judged, we would critique their photos with the authority of professional models. 

After we finished the later seasons, which were our favorite, we decided we needed to find a new show. My mom suggested Downton Abbey, a popular period drama about a wealthy family in England.  I reluctantly agreed, but I did not have high hopes. How could anything replace the drama and artistry of Top Model? Boy was I in for a treat. I was enthralled by whirlwind romance, witty dialogue, stunning landscapes and outfits, not to mention those accents! While watching Top Model worked us into a frenzy with eliminations and screaming matches between models, Downton Abbey soothed us and let us escape to a world without  responsibility, where ladies maids and valets dress you for dinner, and your biggest problem is finding an heir to inherit your fortune. In order to complete the experience, we usually watch an episode with a cup of earl grey (like the earl of grantham) and some sort of pastry or sweet in hand, and our cats on our laps. It is our sacred time. 

But what I love most about it is that it’s something for my mom and I to do together to relax. It’s a built in hour that I get to spend with her, which is not to be taken for granted given how busy we both are. It sort of reminds me of the way she used to read to me, a chapter every night before bed of a book we would choose together. I want to treasure every moment with her before I go to college, because even though I hate thinking about it, this is probably the last time I will ever live under her roof and be able to call upstairs for her, instead of calling her on the phone.

We are almost finished with Downton Abbey. It feels bittersweet and symbolic of how I am approaching my senior year and 18th birthday. Although it makes me sad, I am also excited to create a new tradition, and I know no matter how old I get, I will prioritize spending time with my mom and creating special rituals for us.

The Orthodontist by Anna Welsh

There is absolutely nothing in this world that I detest more than the orthodontist. The dentist may be a close second, but the orthodontist always prevails. At least at the dentist, I can feel like I have accomplished something. I can walk out with a brighter smile, despite the pain I endured in the dental chair to get it. I walk out of the orthodontist feeling heavier, beaten down. My mouth is battered, and I carry a new box of Invisalign trays in the crook of my arm. The orthodontist seldom delivers good news. My teeth, somehow, are still not straight.

I have been going to the orthodontist since elementary school. I have gone through teeth pulls, rubber bands, and tooth attachments. I have felt the squeeze of their tools in my mouth, begging my stubborn teeth to realign themselves. My older brother graduated from the orthodontist and subsequently was voted “best smile” by the senior class. I’m the bitter younger sister, left behind on a gray plastic chair beneath a bright yellow light.

I begrudgingly went to the orthodontist this past Friday. I sat in the corner of the waiting room, ten years older than every other patient. Suddenly, the sun began to shine through the windows. Birds began to sing. A rainbow extended from the dry asphalt of the parking lot over the building. The orthodontists smiled widely and told me what I had been waiting for, waiting for since I first entered that godforsaken orthodontist’s office. I was almost done. By next year, my teeth would finish the cruel cycle of Invisalign trays tightening around my teeth with every coming week. I would be done. I could almost hear a choir of schoolchildren singing “Hallelujah” in my ear.

There were certainly setbacks. I lost a good few of my Invisalign trays, I forgot to wear them, and I once swallowed a rubber band. Alas, I had prevailed. Never again would I step foot in that orthodontist’s office, I would be done. No longer would my mouth be stretched and prodded. No longer would I have to deal with the gloved fingers of an absolute stranger touching my teeth. I have never received such wonderful news.