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Third place winner Safieddine Meza Troy High School

Coming to America

As locker room conversations go, the one I had a few days ago with a fellow teammate was an important one. I had taken the time in the past to work with him and help him improve his skills and techniques. I had also noticed (as had the coach) that he made a habit of arriving late to practice. Last Tuesday I decided to ask him why he chose to be late often. He corrected me by saying that it wasn’t his choice, that he had “stuff going on”. Later that day, after practice he approached me in the locker room and simply said “you had a point, yeah, I made those choices”. His epiphany about choice came through soccer; mine came through divorce.

Five years ago my mother and father decided to call it quits after twenty years of marriage. It was unexpected and it shook my world in every way that mattered to a thirteen-year- old teenager. My mother was basically destitute. Overnight, she fell from the heights of upper-middle-class to the dark reality of living-on-charity. We lived in Algeria, where corruption and dictatorship meant that if you had money you had rights (or you could buy rights) and if you didn’t have money then you were plain out of luck. My mother fell in the plain out of luck category. She took on odd jobs, tutoring and sewing and was able to support us, but barely. She was strangely serene about the whole thing.

I remember feelings of intense panic, of confusion and sadness which I exhibited through tantrums and blatant disobedience. After a few days of this behavior my mother caught me as I came back home late one night, and she simply said to me, “We all make choices, I am choosing to not suffer. What do you choose?” I ducked onto the floor pallet I was sharing with my brothers and spent the next few hours that night thinking about what my mother said. Up to that point I was not even aware that I could make choices. I didn’t equate disobedience with a choice that I made to not obey...I just did it...but the more I thought about it the more I realized that for everything I did and do there are multiple choices and most of the time they are all available to me. That was a turning point and a guiding principle for the rest of my life.

One of the choices I made two years ago was to come to the United States, the Land of Opportunity, with my mother. She was chosen in a random lottery that the U.S. State Department conducts once a year to provide a few hundred people who want to immigrate to this great country with entry visas. I didn’t speak English or know what to expect beyond what I had seen in the movies but I understood that I was fortunate that I had that choice and was able to take advantage of it. Some of the choices I have made since then have not been that easy. I choose to work to support my mother while I go to school. I choose to play soccer and maintain an “A” GPA as an honor roll student. Every day I make choices; some of them are smart and some turn out to be really…stupid. But I have learned that failure is a learning moment that helps me make better choices in the future. As my coach likes to say, the goal you don’t score 100% of the time is the shot you don’t take.

As I look forward to the rest of my future and the realization of many more choices, I am ready for the next chapter of my life: The choice to go to college, the choice to become a scientist, the choice to support my mother as she grows old, the choice to play professional soccer, the choice to give back to my new country and my community that welcomed me with open arms.