Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
I won “Most Original” pumpkin at a Halloween party years ago. I have the “Most Original” award. It’s a consolation prize. You can’t be the best, or the prettiest, so you have to be “original.” I’ve won the “Most Original” award a fair number of times. I was even named “Most Original” at a basketball awards banquet. What does that even mean? How can anybody be “Most Original” when she’s playing basketball?
Recognizing the “Most Original” award for the pity-prize that it was, I grew increasingly hostile toward the very word “original.” If you win this cursed award, everyone around you offers feigned sympathy or, even worse, insincere congratulations. Phrases like “oh, bummer” or well-intentioned but half-hearted “well, good for you” circle the recipient, creating a cyclone of regret from which the “winner” will never recover.
Okay, maybe I’m overreacting – but I cannot for the life of me understand that award. “Most Original” always let me down, and as a result, I hated to be original in any context. In my hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, where normality was…well, the norm, I tried to be a typical student – absolutely, perfectly normal. I blended into crowds, the definition of typical. I became a person who refused to surprise people. Just another brick in the wall.
And then I moved to Berkeley for six months. It’s an odd, vibrant place with odd, vibrant people. Originality is celebrated there – not in the half-hearted “good for you” way, but in the full-throated “GOOD FOR YOU!” way. One of the first of my fellow students to befriend me wore corset tops and tutus and carried a parasol with which she punctuated her every utterance. Her best friend was a boy with purple hair who once wore a shirt with built in LED lights for Christmas. They were the most popular people in school, in direct contrast to all that was socially acceptable in New Haven. Our peers recognized them as being unique, but instead of ostracizing them or pitying them, the students in Berkeley celebrated them.
In Berkeley, I learned the value of originality: Those who celebrate their individuality are not only unique but strong. It takes great strength to defy the definitions of others, and because of that strength, those who create their own paths discover a different world than those who travel the same worn road.
I returned to New Haven a changed person. My appearance was certainly different – red streaks in my hair and a newfound fondness for tutus certainly made me stand out. But the change went deeper than that: I had embraced the idea of being myself, no matter what others thought was cool or “normal.” Spending time in a place where “Most Original” was the highest compliment allowed me to explore myself without fear of being different or lesser, and I liked what I had found.
I’m still skeptical about the “Most Original” award. In the context of an award ceremony, it’s still just a meaningless consolation prize. But I don’t think of being “Most original” as an insult anymore – I wear it as a badge of honor, proof that I am myself and no one else.
A friend recently joked, “If there were a ‘Quirkiest’ award in the yearbook, you’d definitely win.” We were standing outside of a classroom, and I was wearing a pair of gold, glittery shorts that definitely caught the eye. “Quirkiest?” I said. “How about ‘Most Original.’”
This writer’s style clearly shows off her sense of humor. If one of the purposes of a college essay is to make yourself come to life off the page, then this essay hits the mark. Far from seeming unfinished or unedited, the somewhat stream-of-consciousness style establishes a humorous and self-deprecating tone that makes the reader instantly like the applicant. More than anything else, it is this writing style that elevates what could have been a fairly superficial statement of personal growth into a truly informative story that showcases the author’s personality.