I wrote my college essay the spring of my junior year of high school. My college advisor took one look at my first draft and told me to write something else.
My first draft was about my anorexia and depression. More specifically, it was about the dehumanizing recovery process in the hospital. I described being weighed stark naked, the cold stethoscope on my inner thigh when the nurse couldn’t find a heartbeat on my chest or neck and I poorly attempted to explain the back and forth that went on in my head when I’d ask myself, “What’s the point of dumping so much money into a person who doesn’t want to be saved?”
I described the drive to the hospital every week during which I passed people in worse shape than me and my guilt that, because I came from the money I did, a team of doctors was hellbent on the expensive process of fixing me while I wasn’t so sure it was worth it. I argued that people are generally so full of their own smoke they can’t see two feet in front of their noses and choose to care about silly things like their own trivial issues or writing college essays so they can get into school, get a job, buy some shit and die in the end anyway.
It was hella emo.
My college advisor said, “Yeah, I think that anger and cynicism aren’t the best way to convince the college application board you’re all there in the head.”
Instead, out of anger and contempt, I wrote a fluffy piece of crap about a tree in my front yard I used to swing on, but the tree was hit by lightning in a storm one summer and burned down so I couldn’t swing there anymore but that’s okay because the tree falling down marked the transition point from childhood to adulthood and I didn’t need to swing on swings anymore so I planted a new tree so someone else could experience the freedom I felt in childhood later on. (Ha.)
It was absolute lies and garbage. They loved it. I was literally accepted into every school I applied to.
I got to thinking the other day about my college essay. I wondered what I would write now, given time to reflect on the last four years of my life.
A successful college essay is between 250 and 700 words but usually around 500. I’ll skip the new 2017-2018 essay prompt that states, “Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?” because, as my old college advisor might say, “Yeah, an anthropological dissection of death practice and ritual isn’t the best way to convince the college board you’re all there. Yes, I know you’re strongly against embalming. Yes, I know massive commercial interests profit off our societal fear of death and aging that invades everything from the beauty industry to American funeral practices. I agree, we are all going to die and it’s healthier to take an active role to understand the biological process. But I’m telling you to write something else.”
Another 2017-2018 essay prompt: “The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”
Telling my father I lost my $40,000 dollar scholarship on the second day of college was the easiest phone call of my life. I was burned out. Over the past few years I had emerged from a tailspin into anorexia that I replaced with a single-minded focus on competitive running. I was good, but pursuing Division I sports did not make me happy. Problem was, I did not know what would.
There will be moments in our lives that change our definitions of ourselves, sometimes without our knowledge. Throughout high school, I defined myself as a competitive runner. Without that constant, who was I?
The reputation of the athlete I used to be landed me a job writing sports at my university the same day I quit track. I was a paid writer before I attended a single journalism class. I latched onto journalism knowing that sportswriting was a necessary step in developing my voice. It was not what I wanted to do forever. That writing job became another writing job and before I knew it I was a full-blown advocacy journalist working closely with at-risk children. I teach journalism and storytelling skills to give a voice to the voiceless and share the stories of individuals and communities to showcase strength and facilitate healing. This is my life’s work. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t given myself permission to fail on that second day of college, although what lay at the bottom of the fall was still too far to see when I made that phone call.
We throw stones into the water and the stones sink beneath the surface. The ripples fade outward, smaller and smaller until imperceptible against the natural waves created by temperature changes in the deep and fleeting breezes whispering across the surface of the lake. Our choices and experiences have cause and effect and there are multiple truths to every moment. I quit collegiate sports, forfeiting tens of thousands of dollars, but I look back on my experience within that world fondly. Diverting from what I was told to be and becoming someone I want to be was not an easy decision. It is impossible to know if I made the better choice.
Memories hold promises that reality fails to keep. I always wonder about the “What if?” What if I continued with Division I sports? Could I have gone professional? Maybe, but I would not have gained the wisdom that came with that specific risk and failure. Losing my $40,000 scholarship taught me to be an advocate for my happiness. It taught me to demand what I need. It taught me that one big failure is not the end of the road. Now I help others discover the same.
Serviceable, but my heart tells me I should have gone with the “rail against the American funeral industry machine” option. Oh well.
What did you write about for your college essay? Is it still true to you today? Let me know!