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Read Over the Summer, Succeed for Life

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I am where I am today because of books.

I am a junior Actuary Science major with a double minor in graphic design and communications at Baruch College. Some may think actuary science sounds dull, but to the contrary, it is a very difficult major that requires imagination, creativity, and serious thinking outside the box. It's challenging, it's wonderful, and I can't wait to start my career.

To be honest, I wasn't always sure that my future would look so bright. School wasn't easy for me. In sixth grade, I was classified as a poor reader. I was two grades behind, functioning at a fourth-grade level. I wasn't motivated to learn, or to read. I wasn't sure that I could ever catch up, despite working hard and having the support of my parents, immigrants from Bangladesh.

Enter Harry Potter.

It is safe to say that I pretty much grew up at the Westchester Square branch of The New York Public Library near my home in the Bronx. For most of my childhood I spent my afternoons and weekends there - it was my hangout spot. After school all of my friends would meet up, play games in the basement, join in on the many arts and crafts classes that were offered, and talk to the librarians. It was safe. It was comfortable. It was welcoming.

In one of my countless visits, with the help of a librarian, I discovered JK Rowling's magical world. It changed everything. Reading took me out of my world, and brought me into hers. I didn't just read about other people's lives, it was as if I was living it with them, learning and experiencing what they were. As far as I'm concerned, I went to Hogwarts. I took Potions, Muggle Studies and Charms alongside Harry Potter, Ron and Hermione.

And it didn't stop there.

Once I discovered the perfect books for me, I was hooked. I would consult with the librarians and walk out of the library with stacks of 10 plus books in my hands, returning next week itching for more. Librarians literally couldn't get me out of the branch at closing time. I wanted to read more. Learn more. Experience new adventures. As a teen, I read for 12 hours a day. My mom basically had to force me to go to bed.

This love of reading helped me in all phases. I improved at school. Some people think reading has nothing to do with math - that's just not true. It improves your mind in every way possible. I was more motivated to learn. At 16, I started reading Plato. I felt - with a book - I could do anything. It even got me to the major leagues . . . sort of.

Five years ago, I participated in the Library's Summer Reading program with about 100,000 other kids and teens. In June, July and August of 2011, I read over 800 stories, some novels, some short comics. Turned out I was a top reader, and along with several other kids was honored on the field at Yankee Stadium (the Yankees have sponsored the program for many years). It was a moment I will never forget. I was so proud - only a few years after being labeled a poor reader - to have come so far.

Today, the New York Public Library's 2016 class of top summer readers will be honored on the same field in the Bronx. I congratulate them and wish them well. I know what it means to get lost in stories. I know what it means to spend your summers out of the classroom and in a local library, continuing to keep your mind sharp. To translate a love of reading into a love of learning. To transform (or maybe I should say transfigure) Harry Potter into stronger scores at school.

Every kid should participate in Summer Reading. Every kid should visit their local library, talk to the expert staff, and find the right books to capture their imagination. My childhood was filled with books that gave me the space to grow and imagine what's out there. It lead me to a successful college career, and soon, a career I can't wait to start. My mind is built that way it is because of books - and I couldn't be more proud of that.

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