You can find essay advice all over the internet and in book stores. There’s a whole slew of topics about which NOT to write. I say: ignore most of the advice you get, and lead from your heart. Colleges want authentic kids, so write about your authentic self. It doesn’t matter so much WHAT your topic is. What is more important is how you approach and handle that topic. If the topic is what you need to show who you are, give it a go. With permission from a talented student of mine, who now attends Davidson College , I am sharing her essays. They are unconventional and beautifully honest, and they were rewarded by numerous outstanding admission and scholarship offers.
1. Her writing is her art, and she was too wise to avoid one of the forbidden topics… HER MOTHER.
A door opened and closed, a soft thunk masked by the sound of muffled sobs. The air was dusty and dark, the weight of the bed pressing down comfortingly from above me as I cried hysterically into my hands. I heard footsteps and a gentle sigh as a familiar presence settled itself on the floor next to my bed. A sort of almost-peace descended over the room as the presence waited patiently and silently for my great, wracking sobs to fade into hiccups and a catch in my throat. Eventually, I crawled out from under my bed and into my mother’s lap, sniffling and tear-streaked, and she stroked my hair. I don’t remember a single word passing between us, but the feeling of being loved – wholly, unconditionally, calmly, passionately – fills that memory, and much of my childhood.
At four years old, I didn’t grasp the magnitude of this sacrifice. My mother was – and is – an extremely dynamic, active woman. For her to sit passively by and give me the only kind of comfort that could have helped was, in hindsight, remarkable.
A quirk in my brain chemistry had given me a multi-track mind, even at age four – it was incredibly difficult for me to focus my attention on any one thing long enough to actually do anything. Unable to understand why I couldn’t even put my shoes on without my mother hovering over me, a horrible, incomprehensible sadness built up inside of me, resulting in tantrums that could last hours for no apparent reason. As I grew older, I learned to control my mind and my emotions, but my memories of my childhood are still dominated by those dusty days filled with inconsolable sobs and the warm, loving presence waiting with open arms.
As I grew, this presence did not leave. My mother has been amazing and wonderful and wise, but ultimately, she has always been right here. From the beginning, my character was built – is being built today – on the idea that no matter who I am or where I go or whom I love or the mistakes that I will inevitably make, I am forever loved. I have never needed approval from my friends or the admiration of a boyfriend to feel beautiful inside and out.
Not only did my mother give me a strong foundation, she also helped to shape the personality that grew from it. She taught me to maintain my focus when school became intolerably boring, to reach out when all I wanted was to curl up with a book and ignore the world, to be a friend to those who had been a friend to me, to jump when someone tried to trip me, to get back up when they succeeded anyway. Perhaps most importantly, she taught me how to love with actions instead of words, and to know when the patient silence of a loving presence is all people really need to hear.
2. This second essay is one of my favorites. Kenyon asked her where she was from. (Yes, Kenyon ended the question in a preposition.)
I am from speech, the babble slowly resolving into “No, Kalie!” and “Look, Kalie!” and “Daddy’s girl!” and then evolving into “Take note, take note, O world, for to be direct and honest is not safe…”
I am from words, the patterns of black and white and color unfurling themselves before me, opening a door to the deeper part of me that someone might call my soul.
I am from a diamond, a woman battle-hardened but sparkle-soft, who wears her trials like a crown without seeing how we bend in awe of the vast, wide weight of bitter experience layered in love.
I am from a childhood that by all rights should have been lonely, but the space where friends might have been was filled to overflowing with stories of people who had never existed and words I didn’t yet understand.
I am from gray-blue lumps of midnight snow, and the red-stained glory of the rising sun, and I am from secrets, mostly the ones that whisper in the moving leaves and dance in the shadows of starlight, the secrets that you’d never believe could be found in the dry crackle of a turning page.
I am from an old school where the hallways choked on boredom and the bathrooms were spotless and the gilded people gave solemn nods to “the less fortunate” and swallowed their pride until their breath reeked of humility.
I am from a new school, where the world was bright and fast and ugly, and the people were rude and clever and lovely, and the games were sometimes cruel but they were more fun than playing alone.
I am from Texas, though I’ve only been there twice, and I am from the church where I feel a curious tumble of loneliness and ecstasy and enlightenment, tempered always by faith – not always faith in the truth, but faith in the possibility.
I am from the Alpha and the Omega, and I can feel His hands in the beat of my heart when my mind stops spinning, and I see His eyes in mirror when I smile.
Not everyone can write like this. Many successful applicants do not have quite the artistry of this student. The lesson to be learned, though, is that she spoke from her heart and didn’t limit herself with advice that didn’t quite apply to her. Go forth, and set yourself down on paper. It’s that time of year.