Show MoreOn the warm spring morning of April 1, 1997, I, Ajanee’, took my first breath of air in Richmond, Virginia. After a year of my existence my mother, father, and I moved to Saint Petersburg, Florida where my mother gave birth to my little brother, Nakiem. In my early childhood, I viewed life as wonderful and joyful; hate was something never to be found. However, I received my first reality check on how cruel this world could be when I was only in kindergarten. My best friend at the time lived right across the street from me which was a dream come true. With the fact that she lived only a few steps away meant that she could come over any time after school and have sleepovers every weekend. Sad to say, this was not the case in my situation.…show more content…
In the mist of all my traveling up and down the east coast, I managed to stay active. Before I reached the second grade, I was already involved in ballet, as well as other dance genres, and basketball. Every Christmas I participated in the performance of “The Chocolate Nutcracker” down in Florida. Starting in fourth grade I discontinued dancing and involved myself in cheer-leading as a flyer. Besides playing sports, I was a highly active writer. Growing up writing was my passion: from short stories, poems, songs, to essays. I managed to participate in any and every writing contest presented to me. In the fourth grade, I entered a poetry contest on the definition of a true friend and was awarded with the publication of my poem in a poetry book of Virginian writers. In the fifth grade, I entered an essay contest about my hero and won second place in the state for my grade level, as well as a $100 savings bond. In middle school I wanted to learn how to play an instrument so I began learning how to play the violin. Midway through my training, I was forced to transfer to a different school in a different state that did not offer an orchestra class, therefore, putting a pause on learning how to play the violin.
By the time I enrolled into high school, I discontinued all sports in seek of gaining new talents. As a child, I knew I wanted to pursue in a military career so I entered the Junior Reserve Officer
Tell my story? Fine, but how?
The common advice to "tell your story" has probably been around as long as the admission essay itself. But since when have high school students been afforded the time and feedback to practice telling their stories? And how are you supposed to approach this advice? What parts of your story are you supposed to share in your college essay, how, and why?
When I left teaching high school English a little more than two years ago, the curriculum even then was too packed with everyday academic concerns and standardized testing preparation to invite seniors to practice personal narrative with the same level of structured feedback that they received for academic writing. I have heard from high school teachers that this condition has only intensified since the rollout of the Common Core.
The five-paragraph essays and thesis statements they are accustomed to writing for class do students little good in personal writing, including on their college applications. These are inventions designed for American students to practice national conventions of argumentation—despite the fact that expectations for academic writing change from high school to college. Yet they are what high school students have to work with when put on the spot in their college applications.
In a way the college admission game is a standardized assessment, but it differs in that students are suddenly supposed to write not academically but personally. Given this lack of training in personal writing and the stresses of college admission, it’s important that students find a structured yet creative way to tell their own stories when dealing with low word counts.
So here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Only you, the student, can determine what is worth writing about. While family may have suggestions, it’s ultimately your story to tell and how.
- In personal writing, there is no need to justify why you are writing about one thing or another. This is the academic habit of proving a thesis. When it seeps into personal writing, it limits the creative potential of the personal essay.
- Choose one or two narrative moments and tell them in the moment. These moments are representative of your story.
- It’s important to accept that any story you attempt to tell will necessarily be incomplete. Avoid the temptation of recounting your memory “exactly” as you remember it. Rather, remember that you are being assessed on the quality of your personal essay, not the quality of your memory. So use the memory as a starting point for the essay, but make sure you end up with a narrative that stands solidly and creatively on its own.
- Try free writing without a prompt and without worrying about the word count—at least at first. A narrative will likely suit at least two of your college’s prompts.
The college personal statement is a strange beast. To my knowledge, college applicants are the only personal essayists who have to write about themselves because someone else expects them to and because big stakes are riding on it. From the birth of the personal essay—typically traced to Michel de Montaigne in the 16th century—the tradition of the genre is self-exploration and discovery, the personal somehow tied to universally human concerns, driven by the curiosity to know more about both. Yet this American rite of passage has given rise to a peculiar kind of de facto national literature.
In short, despite students’ ever-intensifying pressures, schedules, and responsibilities, I hope that by engaging with the genre of the personal essay, students can write for themselves with this sense of curiosity—first, for themselves.
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