Honorable mention — College essay contest: Yaffi Gani

A Successful Checkout

By Yaffi Gani

I am 12 and waiting in line at the grocery store with a fish head, pomegranate, apples and a jar of honey on the conveyor belt. The cashier begins to ring up the items, and as I see the price increase, my heart starts to flutter. “Please be under $15,” I think to myself. The cashier mumbles “$13.40,” under his breath and I breathe a sigh of relief. There is enough money left over to buy myself the poster board I need for my class project.

My father is a man of faith — and a man with a limited wallet. When I told him of my class project, he knew that affording both the ceremonial foods for Rosh Hashanah and my project would be unlikely. Instead of apologizing, he stroked his chin as if to say he was communicating with a power above, and said, “The reward God gives you in heaven will be much greater than any A.”

Contrary to my father and millions like him, I prefer to spend my life in the now. That means personally taking care of problems instead of delegating them to some imaginary giant in the sky. Living in the moment makes me the protagonist in my story instead of a supporting character. It ensures that I am aware of all actions and holds me responsible for what I do and what I wish to do.

Accepting the finitude of all human life also makes one more aware of other’s struggles. When there is no all-knowing and benevolent God or magical place with unicorns and puppies, it becomes the individual’s responsibility to care for others. This means stepping in when people in the community are having a rough time. When many members of my community lost their homes due to a fire, I made sure to offer a place to stay and collected belongings for them. It also means being proactive in larger conflicts, such as climate change, the anti-vaccination

Yaffi Gani

movement and political inequality. I facilitated discussions about these topics and similar issues with my peers to make sure that they were being informed correctly and not misled by common myths. This personal responsibility ensures action and pushes progress decades faster.

Knowing that there is only one life also ensures that I live the life I want to live. With each morning, there is no guarantee that I will make it to the next, which forces me to stop and take in my surroundings and process my emotions. These personal diagnostics allow me to make major positive life decisions. When my evaluation reveals that I am unhappy in certain friendships, I change the nature of my relationships. These changes would not have happened if I approached my existence as never-ending. I now truly appreciate each day and make the most out of all opportunities presented to me.

Walking into a grocery store now is a very different experience than when I was 12. During holiday season, I no longer wander through the aisles looking for mandatory foods that will bring me eventual reward. Instead, I take stock of what I need in the moment, and relish in the fact that it is guaranteed that those items will be coming home with me.

Yaffa, 19, is from Hollywood, Fla., and attends the University of Florida, where she is studying computer science. She is the oldest of six kids and has a passion for social justice. Yaffa is also involved in leading youth groups and acting as a mentor to children.