Do you remember your college entrance essay?
I talked with a friend recently who is working on his entrance essay. Hold your horses, I am not hanging out with any 18 year olds, he is a non-traditional student going back to school later in life. I started thinking about the entrance essays I have written and what I would say now. Would it be different?
I wrote my first college entrance essay 18 years ago when I was a senior in high school. My parents (um, my Mommy) told me before graduation that I would be going to the community college like Sister. However, I thought if I applied and was admitted to four-year colleges that they would see the error of their ways and reconsider the community college requirement. As I recall, I applied to at least 4 or 5 schools and was admitted. However, my parents were undeterred. I went to community college. You can come check out the Associate’s Degree diploma I have hanging in my office to prove it. I have absolutely no memory of the essay or essays I wrote for those applications.
When it was time to apply to a four-year college (I could have gotten a four-year degree through the community college, but my parents kindly spared me) I went through the same process. I applied to three of the big Virginia schools and for some reason I remember that entrance essay.
I was working part-time at a law firm while I went to community college. At night, I sat at the office hunched over a typewriter (yes, a typewriter) working hard to get the words typed on the lines of the paper application (that you had to get from your guidance counselor or request by mail) so that they were as neat and straight as possible. I found people I thought were the best and most important references. I tried to remember all my high school activities (it had been two years) and explain my paralegal experience in an impressive way.
Although, I remember believing the essay was the most important part of the application. I went through numerous drafts. I took full advantage of the lawyers in the office for proofing and feedback. Unfortunately, I cannot remember what the essay questioned asked of me specifically, but I remember the focus of my essay. I wrote about the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling.
When my friend mentioned his essay and I recalled mine and its content, my first reaction was “man, I was a cheesy and dramatic 20-year-old.” Then I pulled out my phone and googled the poem. I read it for the first time in a long time. Those old words that were strung together over one hundred years ago are still moving, inspiring, and relevant. It was not cheesy or dramatic. It was me. It still is me.
I am most definitely a different person now than I was at 20 years old. However, it seems that at my core I still value the same things. Looking back, I am pretty proud of myself for finding something authentic and real to write about, something that reflected who I was and am. Something that has stuck with me.
The reason that I can’t remember those earlier essays is because those essays were probably about who I thought I was or what I thought someone else would want to read. Oh, what a difference those two years made in my life. I suppose I should thank my parents (um, my Mommy) for knowing best. I hope my trying to live out the words of that poem (and this post) will be thanks enough.
So, eighteen years later would I say the same thing? Surprisingly, yes, or at least something close to it. I may not use the same language and I certainly have more experience and stories to share now, but at the core I still believe this message. Cheesy and dramatic, it is not.
IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
*Please note I translate “Man” in this poem to mean human, person, individual, or any other gender-neutral word available.