Common Application Personal Statement
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Shaan Merchant '19
“Biogeochemical. It's a word, I promise!” There are shrieks and shouts in protest and support. Unacceptable insults are thrown, degrees and qualifications are questioned, I think even a piece of my grandmother's famously flakey parantha whizzes past my ear. Everyone is too lazy to take out a dictionary (or even their phones) to look it up, so we just hash it out. And then, I am crowned the victor, a true success in the Merchant household. But it is fleeting, as the small, glossy, plastic tiles, perfectly connected to form my winning word, are snatched out from under me and thrown in a pile with all the disgraced, “unwinning” tiles as we mix for our next game of Bananagrams. It's a similar donnybrook, this time ending with my father arguing that it is okay to use “Rambo” as a word (it totally is not).
Words and communicating have always been of tremendous importance in my life: from silly games like Bananagrams and our road-trip favorite “word game,” to stunted communication between opposing grandparents, each speaking a different Indian language; from trying to understand the cheesemonger behind the counter with a deep southern drawl (I just want some Camembert!), to shaping a script to make people laugh.
Words are moving and changing; they have influence and substance. Words, as I like them, create powerful flavor combinations in a recipe or (hopefully) powerful guffaws from a stand-up joke. They make people laugh with unexpected storylines at an improv show and make people cry with mouthwatering descriptions of crisp green beans lathered with potently salty and delightfully creamy fish sauce vinaigrette at Girl and the Goat. Words create everything I love (except maybe my dog and my mom, but you know, the ideas). The thought that something this small, a word, can combine to create a huge concept, just like each small reaction that makes up different biogeochemical cycles (it's a stretch, I know), is truly amazing.
After those aggressive games, my family is quickly able to, in the words of a fellow Nashvillian, “shake it off.” We gather around bowls of my grandmother's steaming rice and cumin-spiced chicken (food is always, always at the center of it), and enjoy. By the end of the meal, our words have changed, changed from the belligerent razzle dazzle of moments before to fart jokes and grandparental concern over the state of our bowels.
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Katherine Glass '18
Dana Hall School, MA
A portrait of Julia Child leans precariously on my bedside table competing for space with sticky notes, pennies, and a plastic alarm clock. Julia has been my role model ever since I spent an hour at the Smithsonian American History Museum watching cooking show after cooking show. As she dropped eggs, burnt soufflés, and prepared a whole pig, she never took herself too seriously and with her goofy smile and accompanying laugh. And yet, she was as successful in her field as anyone could ever be. Her passion completely guided her career. She taught me that it does not matter what I choose to do, it only matters that I do it with my whole self; zealously and humorously.
Unlike Julia, I do not aspire to be a chef. Brownies out of a box may just be the highlight of my baking career. Something I have been passionate about for my whole life, however, is teaching. The first traces of my excitement came from a summer camp that I founded when I was seven years old. Motivated by too many imperfect summer camp experiences, I established my ideal summer camp, one in which campers could choose their activities, from banana split tutorials to wacky hat-making. So that year it began, with seven five-year-old campers in my backyard. For six consecutive years, I ran my summer camp, each year tweaking and improving from the years before.
Chebeague Island, Maine, established a preschool in the spring of 2012, run out of a trailer by a recent college graduate. I volunteered as an intern. For three months, I helped organize for the summer and the following year. I took out the trash, cleaned, and sorted toys, all while studying how to incorporate educational material into preschool activities. I wrote curriculum and researched preschool regulations to ensure that we were in compliance. We created a safe classroom, an academic plan for the upcoming year, and a balance between learning and playing in the classroom. By the end of the summer the intern became the co-director of the summer preschool program.
This past June, I returned to the trailer to find the space and program in complete disarray. Since the previous summer, the preschool had seen two new directors and the latest was spread thin, juggling maintenance, finances and curriculum planning. My progress had not endured. After sulking for a week, I decided I was better suited to envelop Julia’s mentality. What did she do when she flipped a burger onto the ground? She smiled, laughed at the camera, picked it up, reshaped it a little, and kept right on going. So that’s what I did. I brought in a group of friends to clean and organize the trailer. I initiated a “lobster-roll” fundraiser, and Island lobstermen donated lobsters while their wives came together to pick meat from the shells. It was wildly successful and thrived on the community’s spirit. Then I worked to reinstate some sort of educational value into the summer program. We danced to Spanish and Ghanaian music, crafted wacky hats, and read books about the lobstering industry, an aspect of their community that is so significant.
My past two summers have been exhausting and all too frequently frustrating but ultimately the Chebeague Island Preschool, along with many other teaching experiences, has exposed me to the ground level of education policy in the United States. After this past summer my goal is to become a future U.S. Secretary of Education.
So my portrait of Julia is by my bedside to remind me. Remind me that throughout the tedium of my extremely busy life there is something that I am passionate about. To remind me that personality and humor are essential to success. And remind me that the sort of passion I need to succeed is not the type that will let me give in to small setbacks along the way.
Bridget Collins '19
North Andover, MA
I have always loved riding in cars. After a long day in first grade, I used to fall asleep to the engine purring in my mother's Honda Odyssey, even though it was only a 5-minute drive home. As I grew, and graduated into the shotgun seat, it became natural and enjoyable to look out the window. Seeing my world passing by through that smudged glass, I would daydream what I could do with it.
In elementary school, I already knew my career path: I was going to be Emperor of the World. While I sat in the car and watched the miles pass by, I developed the plan for my empire. I reasoned that, for the world to run smoothly, it would have to look presentable. I would assign people, aptly named Fixer-Uppers, to fix everything that needed fixing. That old man down the street with chipping paint on his house would have a fresh coat in no time. The boy who accidentally tossed his Frisbee onto the roof of the school would get it back. The big pothole on Elm Street that my mother managed to hit every single day on the way to school would be filled-in. It made perfect sense! All the people that didn't have a job could be Fixer-Uppers. I was like a ten-year-old FDR.
Seven years down the road, I still take a second glance at the sidewalk cracks and think of my Fixer-Uppers, but now I'm doing so from the driver's seat. As much as I would enjoy it, I now accept that I won't become Emperor of the World, and that the Fixer-Uppers will have to remain in my car ride imaginings. Or do they? I always pictured a Fixer-Upper as a smiling man in an orange T-Shirt. Maybe instead, a Fixer-Upper could be a tall girl with a deep love for Yankee Candles. Maybe it could be me.
Bridget the Fixer-Upper will be slightly different than the imaginary one who paints houses and fetches Frisbees. I was lucky enough to discover what I am passionate about when I was a freshman in high school. A self-admitted Phys. Ed. addict, I volunteered to help out with the Adapted PE class. On my first day, I learned that it was for developmentally-disabled students.To be honest, I was really nervous. I hadn't had too much interaction with special needs students before, and wasn't sure how to handle myself around them. Long story short, I got hooked. Three years have passed helping out in APE and eventually becoming a teacher in the Applied Behavior Analysis summer program. I love working with the students and watching them progress.
When senior year arrived, college meetings began, and my counselor asked me what I wanted to do for a career, I didn't say Emperor of the World. Instead, I told him I wanted to become a board-certified behavior analyst. A BCBA helps develop learning plans for students with autism and other disabilities. Basically, I would get to do what I love for the rest of my life. He laughed and told me that it was a nice change that a seventeen-year-old knew so specifically what she wanted to do. I smiled, thanked him, and left. But it occurred to me that, while my desired occupation was decided, my true goal in life was still to become a Fixer-Upper. So, maybe I'll be like Sue Storm and her alter-ego, the Invisible Woman. I'll do one thing during the day, then spend my off-hours helping people where I can. Instead of flying like Sue, though, I'll opt for a nice performance automobile. My childhood self would appreciate that.
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Aubrey Anderson '19
My eyes are flickering across the pages as I sit in my room reading a book, but my mind is elsewhere. I'm focused on quantum computing and cryptography. Suddenly, I'm starting to understand Shor's quantum factoring algorithm. It doesn't make sense why that understanding is arising now, but that's what happens to me. I jump up from my bed to type at my computer, trying to take advantage of the moment of clarity. My mind is completely focused on the task at hand. I switch off my music, plunging myself into a place of utmost concentration. Each minute I spend writing, my understanding increases.
This mental state where everything starts to make sense is the place I feel most content. It's an exciting place to be. I'm discovering how things link up for myself. I feel a sense of relief and vindication for choosing “Quantum Computing and Its Effect on Modern Cryptography” as the topic of my senior paper. Trying to teach myself about quantum computing and its relation to cryptographic problems didn't turn out to be as crazy as my friends told me it would be.
This state of discovery is something I strive for on a daily basis. My goal is to make all the ideas in my mind fit together like the gears of a Swiss watch. Whether it's learning a new concept in linear algebra, talking to someone about a programming problem, or simply zoning out while I read, there is always some part of my day that pushes me towards this place of cohesion: an idea that binds together some set of the unsolved mysteries in my mind.
The instant I get an idea for a project I'm working on, that idea stays at the front of my mind until I get a chance to fully process it. The time I spend processing these ideas is the best part of my day. It's a chance to see how the most unrelated parts of my life fit together. They always seem to, somehow.
When my history teacher assigned a final project for the Communist Russia unit, she dictated that it could be anything but an essay. While brainstorming ideas, I overheard a friend mention baking. That sent my mind into a flurry of ideas. As I thought through my various baking projects, an image of a hammer-and-sickle shaped brioche flashed into my thoughts. To make it an actual academic project, I decided to include analysis in the form of small flags topping the the loaves which presented the various pros and cons of Communism. While I made the requisite four batches of dough, I settled into my place of discovery as I figured out how to create the communist symbol from bread. Each part came to life as a combination of chocolate, orange, and plain brioche. The day we brought our projects to class, the communist symbol quickly fell apart as it was utilized as food for my hungry classmates. Apparently our new class motto should be “To each according to his appetite.”
Seeing how things fit together and work in the world is my passion. People always seem so anxious to know why things aren't going the way they expect them to. I like to have the full picture so I can help them understand the phenomenon to the best of my ability. I pay attention to and glean knowledge from everything. Much of this information is useful as a way make sense of why the world works. I want to understand the big picture and its relation to the minutia of the world because that is the best way for me to gain the broadest and deepest understanding. The moments when my knowledge becomes cohesive are where I am perfectly content.