WhenI learned that many colleges require a personal statement as part of theapplication process, I dreaded it. Worry about pleasing the admissions committeeblocked any other thoughts. I was convinced the essay was my only chance to makea good impression, my only chance to get in. This obsession grew until giving upaltogether seemed plausible. There was no way a college would accept me, so whybother? It wasn't until I talked to a good friend, who also happens to be a greatwriter, that my stress subsided.
My friend put it simply: just write. Itdid not matter the topic, or the intelligence of the content and style.Eventually I would discover something great, something good enough to submit. Thestress to find an impressive topic to demonstrate my intellect made me lose sightof the real importance of the personal statement: to express my voice. Theadmissions officer only cares about getting to know me. As long as I write aboutme, directly or indirectly, they can decide not only if I am right for them, butif they are right for me.
Now my head was clear, but a new problememerged: finding my voice.
This search was made more challenging by yearsof required Toulmin-method essays about how Holden Caulfield represents teensociety in the 1950s, and 20-minute presentations on the causes of World War I.The process of learning is to spew back information (in the right form, ofcourse). While my school has attempted to change this by trying to help studentsin their fight for originality and expression, the basic idea is still the same:Holden's red hunting hat still symbolizes his pain and vulnerability, and theassassination of Franz Ferdinand still caused World War I. This kind of educationresults in generations of graduates without voices; worse, they do not even knowthey are missing it.
Now that I knew what I was missing, I was determinednot to be one of those graduates. The search led me to a journal I have keptsince ninth grade. It chronicles the joys and disappointments of my high-schoolcareer, but most important, it shows my growth. Beginning as a compilation ofpoetry, others' words outnumbered mine. Frost's poems, Emerson's quotes, andLifehouse's lyrics filled its pages. Halfway through, though, my poems and otherramblings began to overtake their inspirations.
Searching through theclutter, I tried to find this voice that everyone but me seems to have. All Icould find was endless drivel from a creative writing class I had taken thinkingit would be a fun and easy escape from my heavy course load. It was too easy,and, at the end, I still felt awkward with my own words. All that writing was awaste because I only used the assignments to get a good grade - not to discoverwho I was.
Now I am in the second year of the class and know how to useit to my advantage. My voice is becoming stronger each day. My identity isstarting to come together one pen stroke at a time to form a handprint I can callmy own. I now have the determination I was lacking, and the drive to push mefarther than I ever imagined. I do not know when my search will end, or if itever will, because I have learned that while I am traveling step by step, thevery path under my feet changes. Whether for better or worse, it is all part ofthe fun of this adventure, the adventure of finding my voice and myself.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.