When you stand behind the lectern to give a speech for the first time, it will seem like a different world, where you are one person and the rest are strangers. Your hand will be shaking to hold the lectern. Everyone will be looking at you. Your lips will move, but your voice won’t come out. That’s how I felt. I am from Bangladesh. I have been in America for three years. When I first came here, it was a big challenge for me to learn English. In class, I felt so lonely. There was a speech about President Obama that I had to give in front of the class last year. The week before, I couldn’t sleep. During the speech, as I stood behind the lectern, my heart was beating as fast as the second hand of a clock. My teacher told me: “Believe in yourself. You can do it, Marzana.” Now, when I pass by the lectern in school, I don’t feel anxious like before. It has become a symbol that my confidence is increasing.
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Brainwash Me, Brainwash Me Not (Series)

Since birth, girls are bombarded with subliminal messages from the media, from the community, and from family members about how they should look, how to speak, how to feel, what to wear, and who to be. While these messages might sometimes seem innocent, they have effectively brainwashed women into falling in a lattice of lies -- causing them to lose a sense of self. Teen Voices Rising participants explored the effects of societal messages and wrote about what it would mean to unlearn them.

I should have long silky hair

with milky smooth skin wrapped around a petite body

topped with a perfectly symmetrical face

and masked with a shy, sweet personality.

At least, that is what they said.

So here I am, straightening and dying my hair to keep up,

trying so hard to have that one specific type of body,

slapping on pounds of makeup every day.

refraining myself from speaking too loudly or too openly.

Because that is what I am told.

That is how I should present myself.

That is the only way I can find a husband.

That is how it should be.

But what if I stopped listening?

How would I look and act like?

Would I scream my voice until every corner of the world hears me

or keep quiet like an obedient young woman should be?

How can I become “normal” if normal is changing every single day?

So do not tell me I should be this or that.

Do not tell me I am "asking for it,” when I haven’t said a word.

And don’t you dare tell me that I should “follow my heart”

when you’ve already decided my fate before my very existence,

that my favorite color was pink,

that I should look this certain way

to marry this certain type of man

to live this certain way of life.

You created my destiny

when you told me that

being female means being weak,

emotional, and having limitations.

Stop speaking at me

and stop speaking for me.

For the first time,

let me speak for myself.

Let me change the world

without having to change myself.

You just have to let me.

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5. Jan-Feb Meet TVR Page
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The day we left our country, she stopped dancing. I did not know what goodbye meant until July, 2009, when my family and I left the Dominican Republic for the United States. A part of me was content to move -- to have more opportunities. The feeling of living in a city, walking through the streets with hundreds of people all rushing to get to school or work, running up and down stairs trying not to miss the train, was something I always wanted. But another part of me resisted. I would no longer dance with my grandmother in our quiet town of Bani, where music can be heard sparsely from kitchens around the streets. These dances were the best way for Mama to leave her problems aside. She had dropped out of school in the third grade and dedicated her life to taking care of her ailing mother and the rest of the family. Whenever Mama cooked, she danced. These dances began spontaneously to the rhythm of her pots colliding, the music booming on the kitchen radio as she pretended to be a musician adding her own flavor. She would move her hips side to side, push everyone out of her way, or grab their hand for a dance. She would interrupt my homework, and I would dance with her until she was tired, or until the smoke in the kitchen alerted her that the food was burning. Then, she would spin around, flip her dress, and dance her way back to her cooking. But all of this ended that one day in July, 2009, when Mama stayed behind because her visa to the United Stated was not granted. The day we left, I gave Mama a last hug; tears slid down her wrinkled face as she lowered the volume on the radio. Once I become a professional, I will go back to the Dominican Republic, reunite with Mama, and we will dance, just like old times, worrying only about our steps, making sure we have not lost the rhythm.
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For many years, I imagined what it’d be like to be in Africa, and finally I was there to see it for myself last June as part of a unique field trip, of sorts. For most, it was a way to help others, but for me this meant something much deeper. I was in Malawi for a week to build on the most powerful weapon in the world -- education. I was there to help construct a school, a gem of opportunity for the community. On this trip, I learned the importance of love. I mean, how can a person get so attached to people so fast? I felt so close to my host family and the village in general. I learned that people do not have to share the same blood to be family -- you just have to have an open heart to let them in. I got to see the world beyond my borders. I learned to appreciate every moment of my life and the lives of people around me. I realized that if you have love, it will come back to you.
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