Profile headshot of Peter


Zhuoyuan (Peter), Marriotts Ridge High School, Class of 2020

New friendships are cultivated by shared interests, experiences, and worm-throwing adventures.

Video Transcript

The Peter Li ten years ago was very different from the Peter Li today. Ten years ago, I, a clueless five year old, had just moved to America. Back then I lived in a small apartment on the outskirts of the town Rodgers Forge in Baltimore County.

I didn’t speak English, I didn’t know anyone, and above all, I had no idea how I was going to survive the rest of my life in this foreign country. This all changed when I met Yanjie.

It was a still summer day. Warm winds swept through the viridian grass and low bushes. Birds, standing high above the ground upon mighty oak trees, chirped their joyous songs overhead. The brilliant sun sent waves of heat crashing down upon all those outside. I was sitting on the sidewalk, attempting to draw a bird’s nest latched onto a thick bush. Even at a young age, I had been fascinated with art. I could sit for hours simply doodling. After moving to America, drawing had become my only passion. It calmed me when I was anxious, raised my spirits when I was down. With no friends and no goals, I had spent that entire summer practicing sketching.

Peter as a toddler standing with Yanjie”

All of a sudden, my ears were filled with a loud, shrill, screech. My focus was extinguished and I looked over across the street. A boy about my age stood twenty feet away. He screamed, “Boy who in the heck are you?”. Instead of walking over, I yelled back across the street, “Hello, I’m Peter, what is your name?”. “I’m Yanjie” he responded, “Here, come on over, I’ve got something to show you.”

The apartments where we used to live were small two story structures, spread out across a suburban neighborhood. As a young boy, this sprawling townside represented a magical kingdom. The lake to the south side was the lagoon where the mighty serpents swam. Within the stretch of forests to the north lay the elven fortresses of old. To the east, the roaring highway was the bustling trading route of the merchants. To the west, the colorful playground was the town fair where children flew kites and jesters juggled. That was where Yanjie took me on that day nearly a decade ago.

The playground was the stereotypical schoolyard scene. There were girls hanging on the monkey bars and boys running and pushing each other to the ground while their parents struggled to pull them apart. I followed Yanjie to the sandpit where Yanjie began to dig a hole. It wasn’t long before Yanjie’ efforts unveiled a small wooden box. From the box he withdrew a long squirming worm. He told me that its name was Trevor and he was one of the worms in his collection. I grimaced awkwardly.

Yanjie went on to explain his peculiar obsessions with collecting not just worms, but fireflies, rocks, Pokemon cards, and extremely vertical tree twigs. As he continued, a older kid behind us swung his arm around Yanjie and laughed, “What’s this Yanjie? Are you collecting bugs again? When are you ever going to rejoin the human race instead of hanging out with these insects? Speaking of whom,” and the kid glanced at me. Before I realized what happened, the kid pummeled Yanjie in the stomach and he dropped the box of worms. I didn’t know what I was doing but I somehow got the box of worms within my hands. Without a second thought, I launched the box at the older kid. About a dozen worms landed on the kids head. They dangled from his ears and hair. He let out a high pitch wail and took off, running out of the playground while his mom tried to pull the the worms from his hair. Yanjie and I laughed for five minutes straight. I eventually grabbed Yanjie’s hand and pulled him off the ground from where he had fallen. We then walked back to our homes, comically retelling to each other what had just happened.

When I pulled him off the ground and walked back to the apartments with Yanjie, I didn’t know what was in store for the future.

I didn’t know about the summer we’d spend at ocean city two years later, eating pizza and swimming in the ocean everyday. I didn’t know that Yanjie shared my interest in music, television, and art. I didn’t know we would be in the same class at school for the next five years, an inseparable, destructive duo that was the fear of every teacher. Above all else, I had no idea he would become one of my best friends. What I did know was the person who stood next to me was someone eccentric and misunderstood perhaps. I knew that he was willing to talk to me and keep me company. I knew that with him, maybe life in the America wouldn’t be so terrible. Looking back now, I’m not entirely sure what it was exactly that allowed us to become great friends but I do have a theory. Friendship cannot be forced, it just happens and you can’t help it. When it comes down to it, all you really need is chemistry and timing. Yanjie and I had the chemistry and luckily, the timing worked out for us too.

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