Common Application Personal Statement
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Daniel Bekai '20
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
People who have grown up with siblings might laugh at the idea that I consider being an only child an essential part of my identity. But just as a relationship with a brother or sister can be deeply formative, so can the absence of these relationships. For me, this absence has been a powerful stimulus to my imagination and my growth as a person.
When people discover I am an only child, they often react with some sympathy, as if growing up alone meant growing up lonely. It's certainly true that I spent a lot of time alone; even though I had close friends in elementary school, I hung out with them mostly on weekends. But I never felt lonely. As a young child, I loved to get lost in different projects of my own--whether it was building rudimentary circuits and illuminating LED lights with my “DeluxeElectronics Lab,” or improving my origami technique with my “Fold-a-Day” calendar. In these activities, I needed no conversation partner, no playmate, because the act of creation itself became my friend, challenging me to keep improving upon my skills. But I didn't always need wires and bulbs and paper to keep me interested; over time, I learned to find satisfaction in the simple act of daydreaming.
I treat such “daydreaming” very seriously. For me, daydreaming is a powerful tool for my creativity. Almost all of my ideas--whether they concern building a robot, writing a student council speech, or solving a problem--originate in my daydreams. One thing that perhaps sets me apart from the stereotypical “daydreamer” is that I have the ability to put my daydreams to use in real life. During my sophomore year of high school, I was watching two of my friends arm wrestle, and I began to daydream about arm wrestling. Arm wrestling is a peculiar sport, in that it's always one-on-one; there are no variations with more than two players. I began to wonder if there was a way to have two people arm wrestle against another two people. My daydream then underwent a critical metamorphosis, from the realm of ideas to the realm of execution. That summer, I built a model for a double arm wrestling machine on Google Sketchup, and then, with the help of a professional welder, turned the model into a reality. Later that year, I organized the first ever two-on-two arm wrestling tournament in my school's history (and probably the world's too). As an added bonus, all the money I raised from the double arm wrestling tournament was donated to the people of Nepal, who suffered an earthquake a few weeks prior to the tournament.
Growing up as an only child, learning to entertain myself with nothing but ideas, problems, and some rudimentary materials, has taught me the importance of listening to one's own thoughts. This is especially important nowadays, as we live in a world full of screens and sounds competing for our attention. As a result, it is all too easy to tune out the more subtle frequency of our imaginations, the inner frontier. Many people have what the writer Verlyn Klinkenborg called “a fear of the dark, cavernous place called the mind,” but there is nothing to fear there. In fact, there is much to learn. I am grateful, as an only child, to have had the chance to grow comfortable in that solitary space.
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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.
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Sitong Zhang '20
“Being a housewife is actually a complicated and demanding job,” Luna said with sparkling approval shimmering across her face, relaying her father's weekly speech. “A real elite housewife should be an educated and elegant woman who can lay the foundation for her husband's success.” It was a sweet Sunday afternoon, a perfect time for the daily girl-talk between my best friend and me. However, this statement shocked and surprised me.
“But if these women are talented, why should they rely on their husbands and give up their chances to have a career?” I asked.
She shrugged nonchalantly. “Because men are better at business.”
Her words reminded me of my grandparents' attitude. I've told my grandparents many times: “I want to be a physicist who can design a spaceship when we need to immigrate to other terrestrial planets!” They just laugh and reply, “Marry someone nice and live a good life; that would be enough for a girl.” When I tell them that I want to major in either natural sciences or social sciences, they respond with: “Go with social sciences; boys are born better at math. Don't compete with them.” I began to feel that being born a girl, I had been fettered with many unfair expectations. I know that my grandparents were influenced by old customs in China; after all they were born and raised before the People's Republic of China was established. My grandmother spent her entire life nurturing their four children and so my grandparents were deeply ingrained with the notion that girls belong at home rather than establishing their own careers in society, that a highly independent and successful life is out of a girl's reach.
Even though I know they have well-meaning intentions and this is how they show they care about me, I can't conform to their expectations. I choose to believe that everyone is born with the equal right to be the person he or she wants to be, instead of being constrained by expectations associated with gender. Each one of us has the capacity to achieve his or her dreams as long as equal efforts are paid.
And so, I have tried to live my life beyond these constraints. In the following semesters, I took Physics and Economics classes as well as French and Literature classes. It was never about the divide between the sciences and the humanities, but it was about being fascinated by both subject areas and craving unseen sights within each. Along this journey of exploration, I have met thunder, lightning and rain; yet with the desire to follow and develop my own interests, I can face obstacles with full morale and confidence. Because these were my choices and decisions - I have no excuses - if I don't do well in the physics test, it's because I was not hard working enough, not because I am a girl.
I thought back to when I shared my transcript with a five on AP Physics with my grandparents. Watching them nod in approval and proudly say: “Who said girls cannot study science? Great work done here,” I suddenly felt that there is strength within me, and possibly within every individual in society - the strength to shake off the shackles of rigid cultural expectations. I did not conform to the traditional expectations of my grandparents, yet the path I am developing is still not only worthwhile and rewarding but also one that is beginning to earn their appreciation.
With these experiences playing in the back of my mind, I responded to Luna: “Well, in the past opportunities for women were limited, but nowadays, we should try to live an exemplary life that proves gender does not have to define our lives. Great power exists in every single one of us. After all, to define is to limit.”