Question 14

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Samples of Effective and Ineffective Responses to Question 14




I am an unbridled idealist. Frequently my family and friends ask me, with exasperation, through what lens I am viewing the world. I admit that my idealism is somewhat misplaced. I have never lived outside urban centers, and the realities of these "concrete jungles" are harsh. Behind my childhood in San Francisco, beyond the breathtaking hilltop views, and intricate architecture, there is a reality of homelessness, drug addiction, and crime. I faced these sufferings daily as a bright-eyed young girl, a teenager, and then, rather than leaving the reality behind and attending a traditional college life on a pleasant campus, I came to New York City. Before, urban decay and its victims were tucked behind a veil of aesthetic beauty. In New York there is no veil, and reality is up close and personal. I cannot take full credit for planting the seeds of my ideals alone. My parents always assured me that there could be something better for desolate people, and they supported my endeavors when I took the task on myself. My mother has imparted to me more than once that "People are not really that different. We all survive on the same basic things: love and respect." Holding this belief close to me, I have not let the harshness of reality, even the harshness of New York City, harden me or fade my ideals. I grapple daily to reconcile the idealism that I found nestled in the hillsides of San Francisco and in the hearts of people around me with realism; a sense of what is within arms reach and how to utilize limited resources. My idealism is my energy, it focuses my passion. It is my belief that there is a goodness in all people, but that it might take some work, encouragement, and realism to find it.

[Captures the candidate's commitment and energy. Nice framing of experiences--provides a helpful context for the reader.]




Mindy and I were born on the same day. I arrived five minutes earlier, but for as long as I remember she has been there. I always had a friend, someone to play with, confide in, even sleep with. Together we braved the first day of school. We were twins. Twins, but not identical. I played flag football as she cheered on the sidelines. She studied classical piano, while I practiced electric guitar. I yawned through her ballet recitals; she reluctantly attended my tae kwon do meets. She was the pretty one, but she was also shy, easily hurt. I wanted to protect her. In the sixth grade, and older boy razzed her. Mindy cried. I put him in a headlock and kneed his forehead. I got a stomach punch and two days in detention, but he didn't tease her again. At fifteen she found her first boyfriend--a nineteen-year-old dropout who reeked of stale beer and marijuana. One month after our sixteenth birthday, she said matter-of-factly: "I'm pregnant. Happy Birthday...I guess." I was stunned. We hugged each other and cried. I could no longer protect her. I graduated high school valedictorian and captain of my basketball team. Mindy dropped out of school, had the baby, and worked as a fry cook and cashier. We inhabit separate worlds. My worries--earning a "B," not having a date for Saturday night--recede when she calls to tell me her electricity has been cut or that her daughter, Britney, has been taken away from her. When I phoned my parents last year, excited to be a Truman nominee, I found she had called only a few minutes earlier to tell them she had been beaten again. I love Mindy more than anyone else in the world. I see her when I look into the eyes of every young woman that I try to help--my sorority sisters, Edna and Maria at the Neighborhood Legal Clinic, even some of the defendants at the Probation Office. Mindy loves me too. Some months ago she called to tell me that she was pregnant again. She wanted to name the baby after me. "Maybe she'll be like you," she said.

[Well written, personal. Provides glimpse into another dimension of candidate.]




I grew up in a multiracial, multicultural, trilingual family of adopted and blood-related, native and immigrant, urban and rural, middle and working class people. I was a "gifted" child, won art contests, and was elected to student government. Family problems perhaps led me to drop out, to crime and to polydrug addiction. I ran away repeatedly but returned worse off than ever, hiding the proof under long sleeves while working the graveyard shift. I survived the bad days because a community of urban Black cowboys, a prominent African American reverend, and my dogs, among others, watched over me. Through travel abroad, I saw problems like mine, but bigger. Through the punk rock and reggae subcultures, I saw social criticism through art. At 20, I decided to get involved with community issues, which certainly saved my life. Learning about the size and scope of social ills, experiencing collective action, and finding a positive role make my own problems seem smaller. Opportunities opened up. My work in emergency medicine and research, contact with student activists, and exposure to education as a vehicle for social change drew me back to school in 1993. Unfortunately, huge losses accompanied my transformation. My brother always said he would not see 26 and didn't; I'm unsure whether his case was a biological anomaly, an egregious case of malpractice, or a confirmation of black male life expectancy rates. Many loved ones are dead, incarcerated, or otherwise lost. On campus, I chuckle silently, in nervous awe of the fact that I am actually here. I am granted time away, "up there" in the university and am given immeasurable support, because people know I'm here to increase my effectiveness. I bring a commitment to keeping real people from becoming points around a regression line, to assuming that changing lives is the reason for measuring them, and to representing those who will never enter the university as anything but janitors, food servers, or research subjects.

[Honest, powerful, straight forward. Well written.]







"Before I die," Granny declared three years ago on Christmas morning, "I gotta teach you girls how to POLKA!" And with that, my grandmother began to lead my sister, then me, spinning around the kitchen in a whirl of pajama-clad splendor. The smell of warm povitica bread and Granny's voice singing "Roll out the Barrel!" rounded out the scene. It is through moments like these that I begin to understand my roots. My family does not fervently embrace its ethnic heritage. One cousin who attempted to trace our family lineage back to its European roots must half jokingly that "our ancestors seemed to shift their nationality every time a war shifted the borders." The events of 1997 have pushed my family to define exactly what "being an American" means. In September 1997, my parents left the city where I had lived my entire life. They will spend the next two years in Frankfurt, Germany. My sister and I have become parents to our parents, who rely on our support and advice in the difficult adjustment to living abroad. It has fallen to us to maintain the family home, pay the bills, and care for our grandmother, who has aged far beyond her polka-dancing days. My parents are experiencing the unnerving sensation of being suspended between two homes. One home is the physical structure where you keep your toothbrush and your bathtub. The other is Home ... it is the one whose address is etched in your psyche. I decided after three weeks of living in a foreign country that I wanted to make a career out of being away from Home. This is far from a desire to escape the city of my birth and the country of my citizenship. I am learning in my travels to love my country more. As my mother remarked, "I never realized how much I like living in the United States until I wasn't living there anymore." Generations ago, my ancestors immigrated to America. I am eager to traverse the Atlantic in the opposite direction. The difference is that I will not forget my Home.

[Too much on family, not enough on the candidate.]




I fully understand that there are many qualified nominees for this scholarship. It has been a privilege filling out this scholarship for your consideration. The past two and a half years of college have been fantastic. I have gained a love for learning no matter what the class I am taking. I have not made all A's, but I am just as proud of any of the B's I have made because I earned them and worked hard for them. Going on active duty in the Marines is something I look forward to. I have wanted to serve in the military since I was about 16 years old. For me, it is my way of giving back for the sacrifices so many have made for me. My Great-Grandfather, Grandfather, and Father were all drafted in World War I, World War II, and in Vietnam. I have never had any pressure from any of these to serve, (actually it concerns them greatly), but it is the right thing for me to do. From working with people of literally all walks of life, I have learned that everyone has something to contribute. My parents are hard-working people, not at all wealthy, but very successful because of who they are and how they have lived their lives. My Father is a pastor who has instilled in me Christian principles, these guide my life and decisions. From him I learned that a relationship with Christ is something that happens on the days between church services, something many people, even ministers, have forgotten today. He is a man who "practiced what he preached." Because I have never seen him be dishonest in business dealings, I have the courage to want to be that honest in life as well. Everything I have written down in the way of plans was already in place before I even knew I had been nominated for this scholarship and I thank you for even considering my nominee information sheet.

[Scattered. Hard to follow and find the focus. Nothing compelling. Opening sentence adds nothing.]




I studied abroad in Heidelberg, Germany for the Fall 1997 semester. It was truly one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I had the opportunity to travel through Europe and visit many historic and beautiful places. Walking through the Sistine Chapel, I marveled at being able to witness a masterpiece created so many years ago. Hiking in the Alps, I was awestruck by the pure beauty of nature. When I look back on these memories via my scrapbook, I realize how lucky I was to have the opportunity to study abroad for a semester. As it was my first real time away from home, I was able to not only grow as an individual and focus on my life goals, but I was also able to appreciate at a deeper level the loving and supportive family I had left behind in California.

[Not enough here. Sounds more like a post-card to home at the end of the trip. Too much a "snapshot" and not enough a portrait of the candidate.]