What’s college counseling like at your school?

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Leonardo Moran, a Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies graduate who now attends UC Irvine, submitted these short statements for admission

Academic Preparation

I always liked school. I was the kid who looked forward to solving the challenging "problem of the week" and being the first to come up with the right answer as well as the kid who would volunteer to stay at lunch to feed the fish in the gigantic aquarium in my biology class. Although I was never the top student in many of my classes, I managed to maintain above-average scores in all my honors classes, and challenge myself with AP courses while not losing sight of the human nature of education. Learning to relate to my peers, appreciating the opportunities I’ve had to travel, being a bicultural member of a multicultural society, going out for sports, and dealing with my own stress generated by being the only child in a single-parent (single income) household (while many of my friends were rich), were all components in my education. This is why I will always consider myself a student of life. I’ve come to really know and like myself for who I am. I’ve also begun to appreciate all the efforts my mother made to raise me, and my teachers, who were there to prepare me for a better future.

Potential to Contribute

I sat waiting, hands folded under the long dinner table, staring at the meal in front of me. My stomach told me to dig in, but my brain was too busy to send the command of lifting the fork and chewing. It was instead contemplating what words I would conjure up to impress those whose eyes would soon be set upon mine. I was in the Rotunda room of the Reagan Building in Washington D.C., about to speak in front of hundreds of possible sponsors for the National Anti-Bullying Campaign to which I had been elected as one of the youth panel experts. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the coordinator of the event waving me over to one of four chairs positioned in the front of the room. I stood up, as did three other panel members from different tables, and transformed: I straightened out my back, displayed a confident smile and tuned my ears to the questions that the representatives from important companies like Nickelodeon and Wild Brain asked me.

After 40 minutes of being bombarded with inquiries, I was finally allowed to return to my seat, accompanied by a fervor of applause. My mom smiled proudly, and people I didn’t even know shook my hand as they commended me for my thoughtful insight and clarity in expressing my opinions. I tasted my food that was now cold, yet found that it was very satisfying.

The next day, I met up with the rest of the 40 Teen/Tween members of the panel, and was received with a warm welcome. They all agreed that I had left "no stone unturned" in my speech the prior evening. We broke up into discussion groups, where each of the Teen members would go into a room with 10 tweens, and find out what they would like to see on the Anti- Bullying Web site. It was really a special feeling, looking around the table at each of the excited participants, knowing that I was like their role model. I remembered the first day, when nobody dared to speak, and compared it to then: I had to enforce the hand-raising policy to keep order, and my pen’s speed was no match for their unraveling tongues. I felt, to say the least, accomplished in my task.

Just as I was able to show leadership, and keep calm under the pressure of all those important people in front of whom I spoke, I can and will do the same for the college I attend, and eventually my profession. My will is strong enough to keep me focused on my goals, and my temperament does not easily succumb to life’s temptations. I am always very kind, generous and polite, but I am also very respected. Although I’m the youngest in my class, (I’ll be 17 in Jan. ’04) I’m oddly one of the most mature.

As far as contributions, I can only offer myself: That is, the commitment to further my education, and the desire to become someone great in life. During high school, I discovered that I am very well rounded; science, English, music/band, Spanish, sports, etc., nothing was too hard. However, I now realize that in college I’ll need to focus all my effort towards one goal, and stick to it. Still, I will always be the same person, and wherever I go, I’ll work to improve myself and those around me, continue to fearlessly voice my opinions, lend a hand to the needy, listen to others and question that which I believe is wrong.

Open-ended statement

As I look into the mirror I see a tall man with thick, dark hair and an athletic build. He stares back at me affectionately. He is wearing an elegant suit with well-shined shoes, and on his hand, there are two rings; one is a wedding ring, and the other commemorates his college years. He seems confident and successful and vaguely familiar, and it is not until I look deep into his glistening brown eyes that I realize who he is.

I’ve known him all my life. We have been through many adventures and important moments in our life together, and despite a few low points, we kept on pushing. He is a persistent person, decisive and responsible. All his friends and family love him for the good person he is. He never hesitates when help is needed, and when confronted with something new he becomes interested, never discouraged or frustrated. He is a fast learner, and patient enough to teach others that which he has mastered.

What was it in those eyes that allowed me to discover his identity? I saw myself reflected in them. The man in the mirror was me in the future, a future toward which I’ve always strived and I know is within my reach.

Emily Polanco, a Manual Arts High graduate who attends Yale University, submitted this essay for admission

I always thought that the "little man’s complex" could easily relate to me. Only there was one little problem, I am not a "little man," I am a "little woman." Then I realized there was another word used to describe it: feminist.

Perhaps I became this way because my life has been filled with oppressive men. I was never allowed to speak out against my father, uncles, family: no one. Everything I said was wrong; in the end this oppression resulted in two outcomes: first, turning me into a very shy person, and second, driving me so insane that I needed to rebel against them.

I remember the old routine clearly: brush hair to perfection, shave legs to be smooth, pluck eyebrows to be beautiful, wear make-up to be pretty, avoid blotches on your face, oh, and the clothing, accent the breast and minimize the stomach. Disgusting!

I hated having to wear dresses, make-up, do my hair, but mostly, I hated having to impress others with my "looks."

After years of so much torture, I rebelled against my family and they were ANGRY. But, for the first time, I didn’t care about what they felt. I cared that for the first time, I felt like myself.

I don’t care about the way I look; I care about what I know. I’m not a doll, I am a human being, and I like that a whole lot better than being some kind of toy.

Yet, everywhere I go, I find men who either believe that I am extremely unpleasant because of my assertiveness or I find men who respect me because of it. Either way, I am feisty.

I don’t hate men, nor do I hate my family, but it was extremely difficult for me to establish a sense of self. There was never a time when I was not yelled at for playing sports with the boys and getting my clothes dirty because I was digging for worms in the dirt. But that’s what I liked, and still do. I like doing things that make me happy, they give me moxie.

Although I know people outside of my family are all different, I have instilled in myself the need to speak for myself, even if I am criticized strongly. So my family says I’m the most disobedient heretic that ever walked the earth, so what? If that means telling them what bothers me and what I disagree with—so be it. When they believe that I need permission from my father, who does not even live with me, to cut my hair, I draw the line. It makes no sense to me, and I will do what I believe.

As strange as it may sound, I hope my "complex" never leaves me. I love feeling that I must speak my mind or be ignored beneath the voices of others. This feeling keeps me fresh, quick and prepares me for anything that will come at me in the future. And I have always liked that feeling.

Stephanie Cruz, a Bravo Medical Magnet graduate who attends Stanford University, submitted this essay for admission

The dry patches on the walls, the uneven textures of this room in the corner of my house have come to represent a hard struggle, fought and won. When I began this project with my father I had no idea what an ordeal it would become. It was incredible to strip four walls of paint, only to find hard encrusted sixty-year-old wallpaper beneath. We quickly set to work. Taking two days to strip one wall of all the paint and wallpaper, we found that the wall would crumble if we dug the spatulas any further. The seemingly simple task turned into a daunting project that would never end.

My father would leave for his day job and I stayed on, peeling, wetting and scraping the walls. Carefully patient not to scrape too hard or the wall would fall, but not scraping too gently or the paper would adhere to the wall even more, I pursued the ideal technique in which to successfully remove the paper without damaging the wall.

Two weeks into the project, I began to understand the expression "labor of love." I realized the intensity and passion that goes into something that seems so simple. Images of the obreros, the struggling laborers, working on homes made me reflect on the great endurance they have. For some of the obreros it may be "labor of love," but for most it is survival. No longer was it minimalistic, for the obreros it is a way to make a living and the corner room was a test of my endurance. All the time spent on their work, devoted to the task at hand, made me realize how close I am to my heritage, to my family and to my past. My family came to represent that never-ending goal that can only be reached through a reminder of my culture. The patches, textures, cracks were all evident, but the newly found confidence in my work led me to see this room as a masterpiece. A craft of my own two hands, I had proven to myself that I too was an obrero. My sweat, my energy, my blisters and my effort all put into these magnificent four walls, that would one day be my room. A room that I could really call my own because I shaped it, molded it and cured it.

It had been a month and the room was not yet finished. A few more days and it would be over, the first coat of paint would go on, followed by a second. Finally the frames would be painted and the room would be done. But as I saw it, the hardest part was over, painting would not be the hard ordeal of scraping, sanding and dusting. The room might not be finished; but I saw myself and my life through it, an unfinished room. I equate this room with my life, the one of an obrero. It has represented all my effort put into my studies and my development as a person—a never-ending and labor-intensive process. From making the developing careers and education with Jovenes por la Salud to perfecting the literature essays, the math problems, and the chemical equations, it has all come together in one room, into this all-important task. One of construction, redesign, patience and hard work. Long struggles, independent journeys and will to persevere. I proved to myself that if I devote my time, I can do anything and I have the blisters, dirty fingernails and scrapes to show for it.

Danielle Brown, a graduate of Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies who attends Pitzer College in Claremont, submitted this essay for admission

It always fascinates me the way life teaches truly valuable lessons in the most unexpected ways. I had two educational summer camp experiences that turned out completely different from what I expected, enabling me to learn far more about myself and what is truly important to life and my future educational success than I had ever thought possible.

When my mom urged me to sign up for the UC Los Angeles Basin Initiative (LABI) summer camp, my immediate response was "no thanks," assuming that it was just another summer school, disguised as "a place to meet lots of interesting people and have tons of fun!" It turned out that this camp, located at UC Davis, included a tour of Sacramento and UC Berkeley, along with a white-water rafting trip. I was all hyped up to go—until I found out that I would be flying to Davis by myself. How would someone who wasn’t allowed to ride the public bus alone, who was permitted to go out only in the company of others, manage such independence? This minor drawback, coupled with mild bashfulness, made the first few days tough, but I overcame my inhibitions shortly thereafter when we traveled to UC Berkeley.

If I were to give my trip to the UC LABI camp a theme it would be "All Things Are Possible." On our visit to UC Berkeley, I was shocked to discover that the girl standing next to our bus, with sunglasses and a walking stick, would be our guide. It turned out that she had memorized certain spots on campus, just by feeling her surroundings with her walking stick. It was amazing how someone could memorize all of that on top of the general facts about the campus. Besides informing me about the campus, our guide taught me an important life lesson. If she could be a successful student at this rigorous campus, despite her visual challenge, certainly I could succeed in college and in anything I tried, no matter what challenges I might encounter.

My second life lesson occurred at UCLA during an SAT preparation camp. There, too, I encountered a very diverse group of people. Where else could one share a room with a West Virginian and have friends down the hall from Taiwan (other than college)? The one person that stood out the most was my friend, Kim. With her Elvis and Beatles tapes on full blast, we spent lots of time discussing the screenplay she was writing. Although many people made fun of her, Kim taught me the importance of learning to put aside biases and stereotypes, and to see people for who they really are inside. I truly enjoyed getting to know Kim, and if I had not, my interest and current participation in USC‘s Friar’s Club Screenwriting Contest would probably be nonexistent.

Both the UC LABI and UCLA SAT camps built up my sense of independence and helped develop my current interests in wilderness activities and screenwriting. It was from these two experiences that I acquired truly valuable knowledge—the knowledge that I too can accomplish anything I set my mind to and "to dance to my own tune." Participating in these programs also reinforced my belief that I am ready to attend Pitzer College and will benefit from its valuable learning opportunities. Since my Fall On Campus Day visit at Pitzer, I now know that the diversity of people that I have encountered on my two trips will be reflected in the tremendous environment that this college creates for students to experience the "world" while pursuing a degree.

Seth Shamban, who graduated from North Hollywood High School and attends Stanford University, submitted this essay

I’m not ready for Figure Drawing. I don’t know how to handle myself around a nude model. It must be uncomfortable looking at it, the model. I’ll take Abstracting the Figure; sounds interesting enough. We’ll probably analyze cubism, in an environment devoid of nude models.

I walked confidently past room 108, the world of nudes, to room 110 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Room 110 had four tables, arranged around a central square. The lighting was dim. Easels leaned against the walls. The instructor was draping paper on the tables. An older woman with long black hair, and fair skin helped her. Students filled the room. I took a seat at the first table, next to a girl from Texas.

Our first activity was a problem-solving game to learn each others’ names. It was benign. Afterwards we took our seats. The older woman walked to the right side of the room. A large black cabinet on wheels welcomed her. The instructor, Judy, told us to take a piece of paper and a pencil and get ready to draw with our non-dominant hands. I sat down, and oriented the paper just right, as a figure wearing a robe strode into the middle of room. The robe dropped, her arms went up, and she did not move for 10 minutes. I was definitely not in the right class.

I wasn’t traumatized. I survived two hours staring at a live naked woman. It wasn’t my first naked body. I had seen many in drawing books as a child. A real one was different. As a child, I kept my secret knowledge of the body, its curves and cliffs, close to me, hidden on my bookshelf. Now, I was exposing myself. I couldn’t pretend any longer. I knew.

Two days later a new model, and challenge, arrived. Judy instructed us to write what we saw for ten minutes. I started to write, trying to be a good student, to be observant, to be specific, to be accurate, and to convey exactly what I saw. But what I saw was not the model, but myself, peering into a bedroom window, taking advantage of a vulnerable person. Words are different than lines. Words do not convey contour; they convey attitude. A line is what I see. A word is my interpretation. I wrote "flabby" in small print; I felt ashamed. I didn’t want the model to see it. I wouldn’t want anyone to say this about me.

I am a little flabby, primarily under my arms. I can feel it now, moving as I type. It’s okay. I am entering into adulthood now, studying for my driver’s permit, doing laundry, and looking back at my first 17 years with a fresh perspective. I shed my secret and left it in the black cabinet, allowing myself to be open about my interests as an artist and as a person. I have nothing to hide anymore. I see her as being flabby; maybe she is. I am openly exploring new frontiers in art, literature, history, and film. In growing up, I have been wiped clean and left as a tabula rasa.