The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Rewriting My Dream
Marsha Dupiton
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Entering my 1st grade classroom that day felt exhilarating. Everyone had come to school dressed as what they wanted to be when they grew up. Decked out in a custom-tailored lab coat and a pin that said “Dr. Marsha Dupiton,” I felt superior to the ballerinas and firefighters gathered inside my classroom. I was shy and usually the last to do anything. But that day I made sure I was first in line to present my future career to my parents and the rest of the world.

When the music was cued, I strutted across the stage and twirled twice to show off my costume. I caught the eye of my mother and heard the cheers of my aunts, and right then and there I was sure of what I wanted to be when I grew up. If I got a standing ovation for dressing up as a doctor, then I would really be celebrated if I actually became one.

Pressure to Be the Best

I had chosen that costume because of my own doctor. Whenever I went for a checkup, he would use his secret weapon to loosen me up: his Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny impersonations. He would ask what I was doing in school and was always interested in what I had to say. He seemed so important, yet humble, and I wanted to be just like him. I could imagine helping my patients, young and old, to feel as good as new.

As I got older, I became more serious about my career choice. I took an interest in science experiments and worked hard in science class. My parents quickly latched onto the idea. When anyone asked what I was going to do when I grew up, my family members, close and distant, would say, “Marsha is going to be the family’s first doctor.”

My parents had moved here from Haiti in their early 20s, along with my grandparents, aunts and uncles, to get a better life for themselves and their future children. My cousins and I were to reap all the benefits of their sacrifices. My father always said to my sister and me, “You’re lucky you were born in the United States because you get so many opportunities. Take advantage of it!”

Among my cousins and me, we had a boatload of future professions: a doctor, a lawyer, a pharmacist, and don’t forget your traditional nurse. There was so much pressure to become the best.

Future Doctor

My science grades weren’t Einstein-worthy—at the start of high school, I was getting Cs in science, compared to my As and Bs in other classes. But that didn’t stop me from imagining my future as a doctor.

I would have a huge office, three phones that rang off the hook and a chic condo in Manhattan that I would rarely see because I’d be working and traveling so much. Helping others was still part of my motivation, but I also wanted to be rich and successful and have a job that was practical. Then, one day in the middle of 9th grade, everything changed.

“Marsha? Can you please come see me for a second?” asked Mr. James, my English teacher, during class one day. I looked up from my book, puzzled. Had I heard him right? As far as I knew, a student was only called to the teacher’s desk because they were bad or disrupting a class. But I’d done all my work. In fact, our last assignment was one that I’d worked hard on and really enjoyed. I’d written a short story about a girl starting high school for the second time because she moves around a lot.

Writing for Fun?

I got up and slowly approached his desk. Right foot, left foot. Head down. “Yes?” I said. He slid my 10-page story face-down toward me, his face blank as a canvas.

I picked it up quickly to get it over with. My eyes grew wider each time I blinked at the grade in red on my cover page. An A? I’d hoped for a B or even a B+, but an A, that left me speechless.

“Your story was incredible. There was a lot of description and it seemed as if I was there. Did you ever think of writing something other than for a grade?” said Mr. James.

I shook my head, thinking, “Why would I do that?” Then Mr. James told me he would look for writing programs for me, and that he wanted to display my story on his bulletin board. I was proud that someone had acknowledged my success in one specific thing rather than the general compliments I got on my grades as a whole. For the first time, I was great at something in particular instead of pretty good at everything. I went home that night, pulled an old composition notebook from my bookshelf, and started writing for fun.

Each day I was a different person. On Tuesday I was Jessica, the rich girl who got whatever she wanted, and on Friday I was Nix, a fairy that ruled over her fairy kingdom. Writing all my feelings and thoughts on paper was something entirely different from preparing to become a doctor. Writing made me feel free.

A New Dream

As my English grades continued to shine, I began to imagine what it would be like to be a writer, how it would make me feel happy like it did now. But it seemed far-fetched to me, like a fairy tale job. So I kept my love of writing to myself.

Whenever someone asked what I wanted to be, I still said, “A doctor.” But by the middle of junior year, there was no excitement in my voice anymore. I realized that I’d wanted to become a doctor because it symbolized success. I’d been attached to getting the prize, but not the work that was before me for years to come. Becoming a doctor was no longer my dream, but a roadblock to my passion: writing.

I wanted a career that incorporated writing and informing people about environmental issues. That’s when I thought of becoming a journalist. It was like a ready-made job for me. So when I found out about the NYC summer journalism workshop last spring, I eagerly grabbed an application.

image by Walter Moore

Breaking the News

Then I sat in my room trying to muster the courage to tell my mother about it. I didn’t think my father would mind my change in plans too much, but my mother would be harder to win over. What mother doesn’t want to say to her friends that her daughter is a doctor? Finally I picked up the application and walked toward the kitchen, where my mother was preparing dinner.

“Hey Mommy, I have a thingy to do in the summer with writing. I think it would really help me out senior year,” I said quickly. I tried making my face look blank but failed terribly. My eyebrows were raised and my face must have looked like I’d injected a ton of Botox.

She took the application and started to read. I left her to absorb what this application meant not only for my senior year but for my future. I waited nervously in my room until she called me back into the kitchen.

She Didn’t Say No

“What is this? You want to be a journalist? What about becoming a doctor? Why would you want a profession that pays so little and has so much competition for jobs?” she said.

“I just really like to write and you know how I’ve always excelled in English class. This workshop is to improve my writing. If I’m not cut out for it then I’ll turn back to becoming a doctor!” I said. But this was a lie. I knew that I would do great in this program. Getting that application was fate.

“You better know what you want; college is around the corner,” she said. Her face was drawn and she seemed confused. But she didn’t say no.

I walked out of the room feeling that somehow I’d won the battle. I was expecting a bigger confrontation. I’d even prepared a speech in case I had to talk her into letting me do the workshop. I filled out the application right away and put it in my bag.

Room to Fail?

Later that night, I overheard my mother on the phone with my aunts, saying, “Marsha wants to be a journalist now. I just hope she doesn’t become like her cousins who bounce between different majors and colleges each year.”

I felt frustrated because I’d finally told her about my passion and she didn’t fully understand. I’ve never flip-flopped in my decisions or ideas and I’ve always been serious about my future.

On the other hand, I understood her concern. She felt that becoming a journalist left much more room to fail than becoming a doctor would. And I felt the same way. We were both anxious to see if I was cut out for this highly competitive program.

When I got an acceptance letter from NYC a week later, it was an eye opener for both my mother and me. To be chosen as one of 10 out of 50 applicants reassured my mother that I wasn’t going to dive into an occupation that I didn’t know I would do well in.

The Unpredictable Choice

During the writing workshop, my mother did a complete 180. She took an interest in my writing, asking about my day and when my stories were going to get published so she could read them. I feel relieved and happy because it would be a lot harder without her support.

My mother isn’t the only one who has changed; I have too. For most of my life I never felt I could do something unpredictable. Becoming a doctor was like a ladder. First college, then medical school and then a residency. But the paths to becoming a writer are less clear. I’m not sure if there are enough jobs for writers, or whether they pay enough to live comfortably. That felt uneasy to me at first.

For my family, like for many families that emigrated from Caribbean countries to America, unpredictability isn’t an option. Our elders made sacrifices to give us the best of everything here, and we’re supposed to become successful so we can give back to them and our native country. I still feel that pressure to be the best for my family and for myself.

My Pathway to Happiness

But it’s different this time around. Now that I’m doing something I truly love and know I’ll do well in, not just something that puts extra money in my pocket, I feel less pressured and afraid about my choice.

Journalism feels like a more mature and realistic career choice for me than medicine. I think about my path to becoming a journalist, something that my fantasy of life as a doctor didn’t include. I imagine myself in a college journalism program and on the newspaper and literary magazine staff, eventually becoming editor-in-chief. I see myself getting an internship at NBC or The New York Times. Then my vision speeds to me getting a Pulitzer prize for environmental journalism.

When I imagine this path, it’s filled with adventure and fun because it involves doing something I love. Even though it’s not exactly what my family had in mind for me, I feel that journalism is my pathway to my own personal happiness and success. And at the end of the day, that’s what matters most.

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(NYC-2008-11-10)