Traverse City Record-Eagle

Generation Why

October 5, 2010

What doesn't kill you colors you more

Bursts of vivid color and broad, brilliant strokes define a scope focused on the indigo night sky, the magnificent patchwork of swirling curves and celestial fire barely confined to the edges of the canvas. The lofty church spire and towering boughs of the cypress reach upward toward the star-studded sky, drawing the attention above the low-lying village sprawl and into the golden, beckoning radiance of the stars. Below the astral array rests a series of mountains, barely challenging the lustrous sky and dwarfed by the enormity of the celestial spectacle that is "The Starry Night" by Vincent van Gogh.

Beneath the audacious streaks of bold color and swirling forms rests a symbolism akin to my own life, where countless strokes of the brush, each a slightly different color, and a continuous reach for the stars converge to allow my future aspirations a canvas of their own to adorn: my life, and the brush is in my hand.

As a small, quiet young man, high school presented an array of newfound responsibilities, where the desire to envelop the social hierarchy and grandiose ambitions for success continually conflicted with one another and the delicate balance between the social network, sports and homework was drawn into question. Academic success never presented itself as a challenge, and I continually sought new adventures and bold challenges to accent my palette of experiences, striving to find my own paintbrush and paint the colors of my character.

I threw myself at extracurricular activities around Traverse City, from volunteering to the track team, where I ran to Tom's West Bay with my eyes trained on the ground countless times and pondered how Dante Alighieri must've done this, too, and that's how he was able to describe hell so well. I enjoyed the benefits of the descent and legitimately was excited the first day I walked into economics and thought it was Christmas, because Santa Claus was there, but then I realized it was the teacher, Mr. Simmons. I endured the challenges of Mrs. Kolody, experiencing nightmares of her putting me into a headlock, and the Harley-Davidson persona of Mrs. Leuenberger, thriving in every moment of it and adding more colors to my palette.

By the end of 11th grade, I believed my character to be polychromatic enough to please van Gogh himself and provide myself with the means to achieve the stars. But I had never had newspaper class before, which turns boys into little girls and girls into burly men.

After I walked out of newspaper the first day, I visited the restroom to make sure my manhood was still there, considering a phrase I have heard on numerous occasions, "What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger." Mrs. Yeomans was unlike anything I had ever seen (or heard), and newspaper was a true oddity in the pantheon of high school courses; the idea of essentially stalking a news source never seemed to be my forte. However, I entered and continued with the class, confronting the challenge and acquiring ever more responsibility as I grew accustomed to the workings, expectations and requirements of a successful publication.

My character (and vocabulary) began to develop with the experiences, the community and even national interactions painting my character and forcing me to realize my own potential, and, at night, my eyes began to acknowledge the presence of the stars above and the expressive artist within.

Along the background of "The Starry Night" resides a chain of mountains between the village and the stars above, reminiscent of the precarious struggles between the journey of life and the achieving of a dream; as I climb from Traverse City to the world before me, my accumulation of experience will help me scale the mountains and simply seek out larger ones.

Every day is a different brush stroke of a different color, and I look forward with optimism to the colors I may discover tomorrow, for I live not to see the sun set at night and reach for the stars, but to make a star of my own. And they're right — what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.

Jacob Runkel graduated from Traverse City Central High School in June; he now attends Loyola University.

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