Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement? (350 words or fewer)
Education has always been important in my household, but never paramount. We were always taught to put familial needs first—even before our own. My parents always emphasized the lesson that selfishness leads to bitterness and loneliness. That value is why six new members were added to my family when my father’s brother died two years ago. I did what was expected and shifted my focus from school to helping my kin.
I remember feeling a mosaic of emotions—apprehension, prudence, and displacement—as I greeted them at the airport. The five-hour-long ride back home was awkward and somber, and the complete silence said so much more than words could. We were all just afraid of what the future had in store for us. My step aunt, my two older cousins and the three younger ones were all compassionate, loving people. Yet, I couldn’t seem to shed this foreboding feeling the first time we all entered our house. Every passing week made our financial situation more tenuous. So, my brother and I volunteered to help our dad at his small pharmaceutical wholesale business after he laid off two employees. We worked after school three days a week and would return home around 8:30.
That year of juggling school with my new obligations at home and my father’s business was emotionally and physically wrenching. However, I don’t pity myself and I wouldn’t go back to change anything because I learned so much about my character in that year. I realized that my parent’s belief in selflessness had shaped me into a more capable person because I was able to sacrifice time from socializing and classes to contribute, in some way, to my family. And even though I was concerned that I would hurt my academic performance, I stuck to my promises. That inexplicable sense of uneasiness I felt at the airport was caused by anxiety in anticipating the new demands that could potentially exhaust me. Thankfully, the challenges prepared me for the academic rigor for my junior year, my senior year, and hopefully, for university.
Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time. (350 words or fewer)
My group and I spent a total of seven hours preparing five hundred bagged lunches for the extensive homeless community at Oakland. Out of all the obstacles that could have halted our progress, rain was the last thing on our minds. We were lucky enough to distribute three hundred lunches before the rain began to relentlessly pour down on us. There were a few hours left of daylight before we would be able to eat Iftar for Ramadan, so, an overwhelming majority of our group wanted to call it a day. However, there was still a large number of unsheltered and hungry homeless people throughout the city, and I could not bear to let all that food go to waste. So, I raced to one of our nearest vans, grabbed a bullhorn, and yelled to gather the attention of as many people as possible. I instructed them to form lines in front of our eleven vans in order to take everybody to the nearest homeless shelters with the promise of food and entertainment. We went to six other heavily concentrated areas to do the same thing, and within just five hours, nearly five hundred homeless individuals were transported.
This event is one of the dozens of community service projects I’ve performed in my role as vice-president of the youth faction of the Sudanese Association of Northern California (SANC). This Oakland food drive has left me with a sense of clarity of what it takes to get a project, event, or any other endeavor accomplished. The food drive was obviously a success, but what made this particularly memorable is the email the president of SANC sent me the following day: “You have a keen ability to synthesize and communicate anything quickly and effectively.” I realized the explicit connection between my forensics (speech and debate) career and my community service: the power that I carry in my voice can motivate others to do good. I have tried to apply this insight into each new endeavor since.
What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (350 words or fewer)
I’ve always hated the feeling of clammy hands, the needless overflow of adrenaline rushing through my veins, and the piercing eyes that can see through my façade—the eyes that judge me. I felt like this debilitating anxiety that I suffered through was something I could not avoid when doing the thing I was most afraid of—public speaking. I still felt every sweat droplet run down my skin before each speech, and this anguish never completely dissipated.
Fortunately, I learned to moderate my fear in high school when I decided to join the speech and debate program. My anxiety has slowly faded in intensity as I’ve gained certitude and poise with every tournament, and every chance I’m given to speak on behalf of others; this talent has allowed me to be a voice for the voiceless. Out of all the national tournaments that I’ve competed in, the MLK invitational holds a distinct place in my heart. It was my first invitational tournament in which I competed exclusively in Lincoln Douglas debate. I only had two weeks to prepare myself since it was finals week, while my competitors had upwards of two months to prepare. I was fortunate to break into the final round, as my years of experience helped me to articulate and explain my few arguments more effectively, while also refuting my opponent’s.
I realized that the extent of one’s knowledge is useless if it cannot be made known in a way that is clear to others. I learned that preparation is necessary, but one can be so focused on what they are going to say that they don’t hear the arguments presented. I kept an open and ready mind for various claims and strategies which left me free to adapt to the opponent’s argumentative style each round. This ability to think on my feet has served me well in countless debates, speeches, and presentations. I continuously use these skills to become a better and more active listener in my daily interactions as well.
Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. (350 words or fewer)
I worked in a health clinic in the impoverished village of Amara in Sudan this summer, expecting to be assigned general administrative duties during my internship. However, those expectations were tossed out the window within the first week. I consider myself a pretty squeamish person, so the thought of blood oozing from any injury disgusts me in ways that I cannot describe in words. So naturally, I was shocked when I didn’t flinch or faint as I held the retractors of a ravaged knee during surgery. I can’t say that I confronted the daunting tasks I was given with complete confidence, but I learned from the experiences nonetheless. At times, I would question the challenging orders given to me by the faculty, but I later realized that it was due to the lack of qualified doctors and nurses at the village.
I observed eleven surgeries, ranging from liver disease to a gruesome foot infection. The clinic worked under severe pressure, as basic resources and equipment were scarce, which ended badly for some patients. There was one particular patient who did not survive a disastrous bus crash due to the unavailability of ambulances. He was laying on the floor in agonizing pain for a lingering six hours. As the viscous blood stained the white cloth that covered him when he was brought to the clinic, I felt a surge of sorrow, anger, and helplessness. It was difficult for me to come to grips with the reality that some things cannot be undone. The emotions I felt that day slowly faded, but never completely receded. I left this internship satisfied with the invaluable knowledge I obtained, but I still feel like I needed to do more. I live a relatively privileged life, and don’t have to spend each day worrying about a measly injury that could end my life. At the time, even though I thought I was worked too hard for a high school student, I now know I didn’t do enough. I’m eager to return to the clinic soon, and have hopes of gaining more experience and knowledge.