By Nicole Bryant, 17, King/Drew Medical Magnet
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Nearly every senior I know is tired of the college search process. We have been going to workshops and filling out application after application. The application is easy to fill out, although it can get pretty tiresome filling out all of those repetitive details. The hard part is the dreaded personal statement. Admission officers know that everyone who is applying has decent grades and a few activities. This leaves them the task of finding out how applicants are unique and what attributes they have to offer the university. This is where it becomes less boring and more confusing for us. Here’s the dilemma—How can I possibly tell them something about myself that will set me apart?

Everyone thinks you have to write a sob story, but who’s to say that my story is sad enough? Who makes the decision on how pitiful a kid should be to get accepted? How many details are too many? It’s like, how much more do these admission officers need to know? I give them personal details of my life, things I struggle with, things that some of my closest friends don’t know, but do I really want to be accepted to college because of what I’ve gone through, or because I’ve worked so hard over these last four years? What about the kids who haven’t had hardship, what do they write about? Do they lie? Do they make up sob stories so that they can seem "normal?" It isn’t normal to have had drug addict grandparents who raised you in a cave where you were raped on a daily basis. And if you were, why would you want to tell a stranger?

The essay writing process is nerve-wracking, especially since you cannot show someone who you are in a few pages. The logical thing to do is to be creative, but be yourself. Show those nosy admissions people exactly who you are without losing your pride. Here are two essays from students who were accepted into college. These essays should give you ideas on how to formulate a personal statement that will scream "ME" rather than "woe is me."

Alexandra Toumanoff, a University High School student who now attends Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, submitted the following essay when she applied:

Buffy lives. So proclaim five of the billboards I see while driving between University High and my house. Settled over those words, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s charcoal-lined eyes surveyed Los Angeles the day before September 11, and they beheld it the day after. While the World Trade towers crumbled and thousands of people perished, Sarah continued to stare.

On one hand, the continuity was comforting. Unexpectedly, terrorists perverted planes into bombs and murdered thousands in one morning, and our president announced that we were in a "new kind of war." We grieved and experienced paroxysms of fear. But those billboards didn’t vary.

However, continuity does not always comfort. After the attack, shock froze time, but classes, tests and deadlines were not concerned with this shift in the larger universe. I walked like a fragile figurine through the wreckage of what used to be my innocent security and began to ponder questions that seemed deeper and far more immediate than Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, but it did not matter. It did not matter that on Sunday morning after the bombing I read in the Los Angeles times "Bush Warns of Long War." I still had homework to do.

Around me I see teens and adults preoccupied with anthrax, smallpox, suicide bombings and the possibility that weapons of mass destruction will find their way into hands of the hate driven. How to continue? How will we engage in the world in the midst of fearing for our friends, for our families and for ourselves? We will because we must, because continuity and unity are potent weapons against demoralization and terror. The more completely we shake ourselves from the shock, suit up for whatever demons may rise, and keep in our thoughts that nothing that has occurred relieves us of our daily obligations, the more closely can life flow with pre-September 11 normality. People in other countries have dealt with terrorism for years. So can we.

Buffy started as a mall rat, a stereotypically self-absorbed teenager. But a new Buffy emerged when she found herself face to face with unbridled evil, and even she marshaled her shock and fear into action.

The billboards still declare: Buffy Lives. A thread of continuity from the past to the present. Her story may be fictional, but the lesson to be drawn is real. Buffy finds the courage to live two separate lives. She manages high school stress by day and slays vampires by night. Yet she goes on. So can we.

Richard Kwon, a Loyola High school student who now attends Harvard University near Boston, Massachusetts, submitted the following essay when he applied:

In the course of history, men have done incredible things with their hands, which have marveled others. The hands of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, skillfully manipulating a basketball. The hands of Charles Schultz with a pen, bringing smiles to countless faces reading a Sunday morning comic strip. To many these are men to revere and emulate; some may even call them heroes.

When I touch my hero’s hands, I shiver. His palms are rough like the sand along the ocean. His fingernails are spotted with blackened blood embedded between chipped crevices. They are the hands of a contractor, but more than that, the hands of my father.

Many will measure a person by what he or she has gained in money, fame, and status. My father has never been the MVP of a basketball game, nor graced the pages of a periodical. While in South Korea he attained a B.A. in Literature; a lack of proficiency in English, however, prevented him from finding a job suitable to his profession in the United States. Undaunted, he willingly traded in his neatly ironed dress shirt, tie, and polished shoes for garden tools and slabs of concrete.

In the summer of eighth grade, my father invited me to enter his arena and work with him. Pulling out weeds in a rose garden, I found myself attacked by each prickle of a thorn and jagged edges of weeds that gnawed at my patience. While my pounded body ached with pain, my father was pounding away at the tasks at hand: mixing concrete, trimming trees, and smiling at me.

Dr. James Dobson, a novelist, once said, "Values are better caught, than taught." A fortnight with my father gave me tremendous insight as to what it means to be a man of silent, sacrificial strength. A multitude of words is not always necessary to express love. True altruism does not need to parade itself. While carrying bricks in the scorching sun, my father was loudly silent about his necessary sacrifices to sustain the family. He was diligent in his actions and deliberate in his methods of teaching me valuable life lessons. Sacrifice and silent strength could never be more clearly defined.

As the years pass by, my father’s hands will age and grow even more calloused with each nail that is pounded. But it is the thought of those hands that often keeps my heart pounding when I grow faint.

Philosopher Frederick Nietzsche said, "Invisible threads are the strongest ties." The world awaits and perhaps I may even find myself the protagonist of this play called: "Life." But more important than all else is that my hands are strong—like my father’s.