CHS Junior Rachel Brooks: “Turning My Turmoil into Something Beautiful"
An essay by CHS junior Rachel Brooks exploring the role of Medieval monasteries in the development of early universities has been selected for publication in the spring issue of The Concord Review, the nation’s most prestigious scholarly journal of history for students.
That good news was slightly preceded by a cascade of momentous honors for her creative writing, including being awarded five medals in the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition for her poetry and memoir; winning the Smith College High School Poetry Prize; selection of a poem for publication in the Connecticut Student Writers Magazine; and being shortlisted for The Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine.
Most of those notices came in around the time that the first issue of Paper + Ink, CHS’s first literary magazine, of which Rachel is the founder and chief editor, was published.
And earlier this year, Rachel presented her original scientific research at the 57th annual Connecticut Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) at the UConn Health center, where she won first place, receiving scholarships, cash awards, and a paid trip to the national symposium.
All this begs an obvious question: how can one person engage so skillfully in such a wide array of endeavors?
“Intertwining and Intersecting”
“While my interests my seem disparate, I see them as intertwined and intersecting,” says Rachel. Scientific research must be conveyed through clear, cohesive writing, she notes, and she approaches her studies in biology “just as I dissect the stanzas of a poem.”
And, while bridging biology and literature or history and medicine may seem like a stretch, Rachel relishes opportunities to overlay these approaches. “I naturally seek to intertwine my interests whenever possible,” she says. Her Concord Review essay provided an opportunity to combine her interest in science and the humanities by exploring Medieval monks’ contributions to astronomy and medicine; and essays for English class have afforded the chance to explore human anatomy in literature, like deconstructing the image of the mind, heart, hands, and eyes in Macbeth, and tracing the repetition of the brain and childbirth in Anne Bradstreet’s poetry collection.
To Rachel, such “intertwining” allows her to explore her diverse interests; but, even more, it’s an important approach to finding truth. “Bridging vastly different disciplines provides us with new avenues of thinking and interpreting the world,” she notes.
“An environment for me to grow”
Some of Rachel’s endeavors are completed in the academic context or begin as school assignments and then branch out beyond. Many are her own personal projects, sometimes undertaken with support and guidance from teachers.
Either way, Rachel points to CHS as “a close-knit environment of teachers and peers” where she has been able to grow.
“My teachers have challenged me and served as excellent mentors,” she says, acknowledging science teacher Dr. Cote, English teacher Mr. Chase, History teacher Mr. Mack, and Bible teacher Mrs. Higenyi as important influences, guides, and sources of support through challenges.
Rising Above and Emerging Stronger
Those challenges have included life-threatening health issues that Rachel says “have served as an impetus for me to create: to turn my turmoil into something beautiful.”
The strength to accomplish that comes from beyond herself, she says. “My faith has allowed me to rise above physical health trials and emerge stronger. I credit all of my successes to God. I believe He has orchestrated all of the turmoil in my life for a purpose, and He has a plan above it all. He’s allowed me to pursue all this despite chronic illness, and he’s piecing the shards of my life into something whole.”
As those shards come together, they are beginning to form the image of a life in medicine. Rachel plans to major in biology while conducting biomedical research and continuing her creative writing.
Then, it’s off to medical school and a career as a physician. “Being able to share my findings with the medical community at the JSHS was eye-opening, and it solidified my desire to spread awareness for rare disease,” Rachel says. She aspires to “make strides in biomedical research, improving the quality of life for those with unexplained symptoms or rare disorders.”
For now, she’ll continue to pursue her academic interests – and her personal ones, too. Rachel runs a small craft business, with an Etsy shop and product placement in four local stores.
And she’s turned her health issues into opportunities to build awareness and community nation-wide. She founded a food allergy awareness initiative this January called Securing Safe Food, and now has ten team members working to advocate for accessibility to safe food in restaurants, cafeterias, and food banks. In response to COVID-19, her team is acquiring donations from food allergy-friendly companies and distributing them to local food pantries in Connecticut, California, and New York.
“Contributions of our own”
Reflecting back on the monastic communities she studied as part of her historical research, Rachel notes that, even in seclusion, these monks “cultivated a culture of learning that may have otherwise evaporated.”
Like them, she suggests, “perhaps we should take the time to step away from our hyper-connected modern world, pause to reflect, and strive to make contributions of our own.”
Advice she clearly lives by.
This article is based on a wonderfully written interview with Rachel. To see the entire interview, click here.