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Female students connect with ‘Code Girls’ in winning essays

November 7, 2018

GREENWICH — When Greenwich Academy sophomore Noor Rekhi read “Code Girls,” by Liza Mundy, she saw her father’s triumphant immigrant story in the book’s true account of female code-breaker Dot Braden.

“Braden fought misogyny in pursuit of her dreams of success while my father overcame harsh financial struggles while navigating his way through a foreign country,” Rekhi wrote in her winning essay.

She won the high-school essay competition held as part of Greenwich Reads Together, a community initiative with participation from the Greenwich public and independent schools, the Greenwich Library and many other groups in town.

The organization chose “Code Girls,” Mundy’s researched account of the untold true stories of American women who were selected to break enemy code during World War II, as the book for the entire community to read. Greenwich Reads Together programming will include a talk by Mundy on Wedneday night in the Cole Auditorium at the Greenwich Library.

Rekhi’s essay describes a 16-year-old who fled his family farm in India with the clothes on his back and some money to escape riots and religious persecution. He survived New York City winters without a coat, and worked at a clothing shop to pay the bills. He excelled in school but stood out because of his background.

“Many people have told him that he could not succeed; he was a poor immigrant in Queens, with no familial connections, used textbooks and few belongings,” she wrote.

Her father went on to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania and earn his MBA.

People also judged Dot Braden — but based on her gender. They evaluated her appearance and gave her trivial jobs, but her code-breaking led to the discovery of a Japanese ship that Americans captured, giving troops much-need supplies and her nation an advantage in the battles in the Pacific Ocean.

Central Middle School sixth-grader Ashley Malkin won the essay contest in the middle school category, comparing the heels code girl Ann White had to wear during training and the career she had to give up to the experiences of her grandmothers, Barb and Terri.

“Both my Grandma Barb and (code-breaker) Ann White quit what they loved because of what was expected of them by society at the time,” Malkin wrote. “Both changed their minds years later and returned to what they loved after realizing that what they knew was right was more important than what the majority of society still thought.”

Her grammy Terri had to wear dresses even during the winter, and when she started wearing pants, co-workers condemned her choices as risque, Malkin said.

Malkin’s grandmothers’ stories inspired her to pursue her love of science.

“When I was in elementary school, I loved going to science workshops. No one ever told me I shouldn’t be there, but I could always see the other kids wondering why I was the only girl,” she wrote. “However, because of the lessons my grandmothers taught me, I never questioned my right to be there, and I still have a strong passion for science today.”

Greenwich High School junior Cynthia Chen, Central Middle School eighth-grader Leia Wilson and Greenwich Academy sixth-grader Elsa Burgess were all awarded honorable mentions in the essay contest.

Rekhi concluded her essay by saying challenge is a constant in life, but people can choose how to respond.

“Do we cave when things get difficult? When others scoff at the possibility of us achieving our dreams? Or do we follow in the footsteps of Dot Braden and Jasjit Rekhi? Do we persevere?”

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com

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