Winter 2017 — THE POTOMAC

Teen Fiction

  Nitin Jagdish

Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma — anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or steps that could be taken to identify a solution.

     Fair or not, it is a well–established rule that where one matriculates sets the course for that person's life. Pointing to person X who became a millionaire despite failing to graduate from university, or person Y who became a leading intellectual despite attending a pedestrian university, fails to undermine this rule; examining these case histories uncovers the additional obstacles they had to overcome, thus demonstrating that these people are exceptions who prove the rule.
     The personal statement plays a critical role in one's university application. Because so much of one's future depends on one's alma mater, one must write a standout statement. Somerset Maugham once observed that there are three rules for writing a novel, but that nobody knows what they are. His observation, unfortunately, applies equally to the personal statement.
     One teacher proposed writing a personal statement about finding a way to attend the prom with a longtime crush. The idea teemed with potential. Finding a dream date, when studied from the correct angle, belongs to the species of intellectual problems. Moreover, an idiosyncratic, yet anodyne, personal statement would garner more attention. Already being in a serious relationship, though, it would have been imprudent to write such a personal statement. When reminded of this fact, the teacher clarified that the suggestion was a joke. This teacher was not asked for a recommendation.
     Another teacher postulated that it would be best to write of one's passions, as a university's prime function is to mold souls. Consequently, the first version of this statement chronicled a lifelong passion for the violin. It provided concrete examples of that passion, such as learning by age six the violin parts to every Dave Matthews Band song by listening to an older sister's compact discs. The teacher reviewed the statement, and explained that if one is Asian–American, it is irrelevant whether one is truly passionate about the violin; writing about that passion would make the writer sound like a stereotype. Consequently, the statement was revised to include material that would strike the reader as atypical for an Asian–American.
     The third teacher who was consulted agreed with the second teacher's exhortation to write about one's passion. Unlike the first teacher, the third teacher opined a lifelong passion for the violin was a worthy subject of a personal statement by any applicant, and urged removing the new material inspired by the second teacher's remarks. However, this teacher criticized the personal statement's writing style as stilted and orotund; moreover, it failed to depict its author's "winning personality." The margins were crowded with prescriptions to "unbutton the collar of the prose." It is a well–established rule that matters of style are subjective. Just as there is more than one path to success, there is more than one way to write well. Nevertheless, nothing wounds more deeply than hearing one's style condemned as meretricious.
     The situation was dire. Devoid of hope, a new personal statement was composed that narrated the quest for the perfect personal statement. Surprisingly, it read well. However, friends and family condemned it as fatally cute. Well–meaning teachers counseled against submitting it.
     No. While writing this personal statement, the unfairness of writing a personal statement became palpable to the point of oppressiveness. One should not have to ensure a worthwhile life after the age of 22 by finding the right 650 words by the end of the December of their senior year. Moreover, one should never feel that their life experiences are too stereotypical or their manner of expression too stuffy for a personal statement. Finally, one should never have to confess to listening to the Dave Matthews Band to ingratiate oneself with an anonymous admissions officer.
     The most honorable failure is one that is on one's own terms. It is a well–established rule that one cannot put one's best foot forward by donning someone else's footwear. One must honor oneself. Thus, this self–reflexive exercise has been submitted.

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