Describe a Person Who’s Had an Influence on You — Dad

Prompt: Indicate a person who’s had an influence on you and describe that influence.

Violent staccatos of the jackhammer coupled with rhythmic pounding of nails and muffled obscenities comprise the symphony of the construction site that has been my father’s accompaniment more than half of his life. While initially a position as a laborer seemed appealing to a junior in high school, strenuous physical labor loses its glamour to a man eclipsing fifty with a son about to enter college. As I battled through high school, I always found myself using my father as a blueprint to build me into the person I am today. If I could have only one friend for the rest of my life, I would choose my father; he has taught me lessons that I will never forget as long as I live.

My father will be the first one to admit that he regrets postponing college and has always instilled in me the importance of education. I see the importance of education every night in the scratches and calluses on his hands and the ache in his knees. After every scholarship or award I receive, my father firmly shakes my hand and I tacitly promise to ease his pain. As I fill out my college applications, I officially become the first member of my family to apply to college immediately after high school. I broke the chain because while my friends spent summer at the beach, I worked to save money for my future. While my friends honed their wakeboarding skills, I discovered my passion for politics on the campaign trail. I never faltered because every night I gazed into a set of the proudest eyes before I went to bed.

I remember that several weeks after my parents attended my middle school graduation, I had the enormous honor of congratulating my father after he realized his dream and got a college diploma, albeit 30 years overdue. My father’s college diploma reminds me that, no matter how bleak a situation may appear, I have the power to better it through diligence. As a freshman, my school resembled more accurately a 3 year-old construction site with tradition and identity yet to be established. However, rather than become discouraged, I took the initiative to pioneer Mock Trial, Speech and Debate and Junior State of America—things of which my father nor my school had never heard. In a school stained with prejudice, I co-founded Unity Through Diversity to advocate tolerance of all races, sexual orientations and faiths. In a community bitterly divided by political affiliation and marred by apathy, I spearheaded the Junior State of America to promote intelligent political discourse and activism. In a school with zero football victories, our freshman Mock Trial team gave the school championship trophies and pride.

My father is not only a member of my family; he is a friend who I can talk to after a tough day. With the clock ticking down until I leave home for college and my father working longer days and weeks, I relish every moment with him. However, I also realize that I must stand on my own. It is not my father’s responsibility to make sure that I get what I want out of life; I must do this independently. As I say my final farewell to my father, I will forever remember that he has given me tools, but it is my job to use them to craft my future.

Harvard Supplement — Tennis

Prompt: Occasionally, students feel that college application forms do not provide a sufficient opportunity to convey important information about themselves or their accomplishments. If there is something you would like us to know, please inform us below. If you wish to include an additional essay, you may do so.

Possible Topics: Unusual circumstances in your life; Travel or living experiences in other countries; Books that have affected you the most; An academic experience (course, project, paper, or research topic) that has meant the most to you; A list of the books you have read during the past twelve months.

At the corner of each eye lie little crinkle lines, tip-offs to her mood: they might be laughing, or exhausted, or some days furious and fed up with people. If she’s worried about her own affairs she tries to hide it, but rarely can. She never hides her anger, her glee, or her fierce, well-deserved pride. She never hides her opinions.

Kim Grant began in South Africa, on a farm. It was a four-hour drive to tennis, and she never missed a practice. She fought all the way to Wimbledon, to number 76 in the world. Then she moved to the United States and built a tennis academy from scratch. Before I began training with Kim, my motivation depended strictly on my interest. If I found my class interesting, I worked at it. When an idea intrigued me, I pursued it. But I avoided working for some theoretical “later.”

Kim made me want to change that. I wanted her discipline and motivation. I yearned to know the agony of fighting for something month after month, the drive necessary to dive into something and claw all the way through without ever pausing for breath. I dove into tennis. If Saturday morning Kim wanted me at 7:45, I was there. If Wednesday night she wanted me past 8:00, I texted my parents to have dinner without me. Every day I played tennis I fought to develop Kim’s drive, and after four years I caught hold of it. Paradoxically, this led me to quit tennis. I had always played because I enjoyed exercise and the thrill of competition. I loved the people involved and the work to improve myself. Yet finding the discipline to truly achieve forced me to reconsider my goals: what did I plan to achieve? Kim became a professional athlete, but that wasn’t my aspiration.

So for now, I’m working on my school’s food drive. I’m focusing on my classes; I’m tutoring; I’m drawing a lot. I’m searching for my next pursuit. When I find it, I’ll fight for it – and no matter how long it takes, I’ll get it. The course of my life may not be altered by what I learned of tennis, but the dedication, respect for work, and purpose in action I learned under Kim will resonate always.

Occasionally she still calls to ask if I can help her out, moving furniture into the office or driving kids to other courts. People tell me I’m crazy for doing it, and crazier still not to let her pay me. But I think back to every morning Kim let me hit when there wasn’t a clinic, or freed a court so I could practice serving. I think of everything Kim taught me. I do not grant loyalty freely, but when I grant it, I give it completely. Kim has been my tennis coach, and I am thankful for it; but Kim has also been my mentor, my role model – and I am forever grateful for it.

Intellectual Vitality (Harvard Supplement)

Prompt: Occasionally, students feel that college application forms do not provide a sufficient opportunity to convey important information about themselves or their accomplishments. If there is something you would like us to know, please inform us below. If you wish to include an additional essay, you may do so.

Possible Topics: Unusual circumstances in your life; Travel or living experiences in other countries; Books that have affected you the most; An academic experience (course, project, paper, or research topic) that has meant the most to you; A list of the books you have read during the past twelve months.

"Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which animates all whom it floats, and you are without effort impelled to truth, to right and a perfect contentment." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Spiritual Laws

As a transcendentalist, Emerson found inspiration in places where "the stream of power and wisdom flow" – where the truth is not sought but omnipresent – like his woodland cabin at Walden Pond. As a surfer, I find my own form of "truth" and "contentment" amidst the swells and fog...

It is my belief that paddling out into the lineup through a bank of heavy mist and suddenly finding yourself unable to see the shore is among the most surreal and inspiring experiences a person can have. Emerging from the thickest part of the onshore fog and into the realm of brighter sunlight outside is like crossing the border into a parallel world utterly isolated from our daily, land-lubberish lives. The feeling must be akin to that which drove the ancient Polynesians to their outrigger canoes, Shackleton to the Antarctic, Emerson to his leaps of insight in the face of rugged beauty. It is the euphoria and mystery that greet those who dare to leap where no one has ever looked, who realize that there is no emotion truer than that which comes from floating adrift in a flimsy, tiny capsule through a chaotic universe unimaginably larger than they. It is only when we are lost that we finally find ourselves.

When surfing in the fog I am directly prompted to think philosophically. I inevitably ponder the counterintuitive truism in quantum mechanics stating that all that is unseen could be — and in fact is — anything and everything it can be. As fellow wave riders — strangers and friends — wink out of my sphere of sight and consciousness, as the steadfast constructs of society become transient and melt into the muffling grayness, all standards for comparison and preconceptions of perspective vanish and my thoughts branch out unfettered. As I ride (or duck beneath) the waves that silently materialize before me, concepts that have long eluded me suddenly coalesce. The parallel pathfinding algorithm underlying my project for the Intel STS came to me not in a laboratory or classroom but as I watched the branching rivulets of water find their way down my surfboard as I emerged from underneath a wave (I saw how signals splitting and rejoining as they propagate through a network can simulate the shortest path problem in computer science). Often, I find it more productive to open my mind to the vast ocean's meditative lull than to study.

Sitting at peace in the stillness between the hollow waves is but one tributary of the vast "stream of power and wisdom" that animates me, the great river of physical and spiritual truth that emanates from nature. Running my hand along the ice-glazed needles of the fallen pine, inhaling the green-diffracted God-thought-breath of the morning forest, laughing as I hold wide my windbreaker and lean euphorically into the rushing torrents of the rain: this timeless rapture is my inspiration, this intricate, organic splendor a sanctified model for my thoughts. This is why I paddle out, never knowing exactly where I'll return to shore.

Never Abandon

Prompt: 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 am a recent immigrant from Ethiopia who strives everyday to fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor. I want to be a cardiologist, so that I can help people and educate future Ethiopian doctors. My grandmother’s health issues inspired me to want to study medicine and work toward curing diseases. I feel lucky to have an American education, so I need to use this opportunity to not only help myself, but to also help those who need help in places like home country. To be successful, you always have to work hard. I want to share this story with you, so that you know that I am a hard worker and that I am capable of achieving my goals.

I grew up with my grandparents, my parents separated when I was one. I came to the capital city of Amhara when I was first grade because my mom got married with my step dad. I lived with my grandparents on my dad side for 5 years. Me and my sister became very shy and quiet. I have 2 younger brother and 4 older sisters, though not with same dad and mom except my sister Aminet. I felt something was missing. Sometimes over the weekend I visited my mom. I moved to the capital city of Ethiopia, Adiss Ababa, when I was in 5th grade to get better education. Things were not going well with my family so we went back to Bahirdar. Since my mom got divorced my sister and I started living with my mom and it was the most exciting moment I spent with my mom. I realized I missed my parents and that made things worst. After a year my grandma became sick.

I want to learn to cure diseases so that people can live healthy lives. When I was in the 7th grade, my grandmother died because she did not get adequate care in a hospital Ethiopia. At a very sad day of my life I had the chance to meet my dad for the first time, I was only 14. My grandmother was in comma. It was painful to see her like that. I felt blue because she was one of the most important people in my life. The cause of death to my beloved person was not getting intensive cares from the doctors and the hospital faculty members due to a lack of resources. This was one of the persuasion that pushed me to become a good doctor to help patients like my grandmother. I want people to have a better healthcare, so they can love, work, and live out their lives.

I want to be a doctor because I have this urge to save lives. I feel disappointed when a human being loses a life as my grandma did and I know that such sickness has a cure. I don't want to see people dying with a curable sickness, and sometimes I feel like I have the responsibility for making things happen in a right way. I pray to God to help me actualize this dream. When I become a doctor, I want to save human lives. I want to challenge myself by working hard to achieve my goals. Helping others is my biggest passion. When I help someone, I feel blessed, joyful, and grateful for reminding me all the blessings I have and am thankful for it. My application would be incomplete if people did not know about my story because I want them to know my strength.

What Newsweek Taught Me

Prompt: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

I was in 9th grade the first time I stumbled upon a copy of Newsweek. What caught my eye was its trademark title: white type, red highlight, a connotation that stories of great consequence lay beneath. Such bold lettering gave me a moment’s pause, and I was prompted to leaf through its glossy pages.

To my surprise, I was instantly hooked.

A new world unfolded before me. Biting social commentary. World conflicts that weren’t dumbed-down. Piquant reviews of best-selling books, controversial exposés of political figures, tantalizing tidbits on pop culture, full-page spreads of Technicolor photographs.

And the prose was elegant, sharp, mesmerizing. It radiated sophistication and IQ. As I scanned the credentials of the authors, my only thought was,wow. The articles were written by worldly, ambitious people who were experts in their fields, people with PhDs and MBAs from world-class institutions, people who could write brilliantly, who got paid to give their opinions, who walked with a purpose and ran in the direction of their dreams. People I knew- then and there- I’d like to one day become.

This is what education looks like, I told myself. I was young, I was impressionable. Like a child standing on the outside of a candy store, nose pressed against the glass, I hungered to be a part of that cerebral adult world. So I read that magazine from cover to cover. Twice. And with each turn of the page I felt my small-town naiveté break into smaller and smaller pieces.

I remember that day as an incredibly humbling experience. I had an awkward, self-conscious epiphany: that I actually knew next to nothing about the world. There I was, cream of the crop of my middle school, fourteen years of ‘smart’ outwitted by a thin volume of paper. I was used to feeling gifted, to getting gold stickers and good grades, to acing every elementary examination placed in front of my cocky #2 pencil.

I wasn’t used to feeling like I’d been living in the Dark Ages.

At the same time, however, I struggled with another realization, one that was difficult for me to define. I felt…liberated. I felt as though I had taken a breath of fresh air and found it to be bracing and delicious, like it was the first breath I’d ever taken and I’d never known that air was so sweet.

Talk about a paradigm-shift: somehow, reading Newsweek had rekindled my natural intellectual curiosity; it had, briefly, filled a hole in my soul that I didn’t know existed.

It had also sparked something within me- a hint of defiance, a refusal to accept complacency. One taste of forbidden fruit and I knew I could never go back.

Although reading a news magazine seemed like a non-event at the time, in retrospect it was one of the defining moments of my adolescence. That seemingly unextraordinary day set a lot of subsequent days in motion- days when I would push my limitations, jump a little higher, venture out of my comfort zone and into unfamiliar territory, days when I would fail over and over again only to succeed when I least expected it, days when I would build my dreams from scratch, watch them fall down, then build them back up again, and before I knew it the days bled into years and this was my life.

At 14, I’d caught a glimpse of where the bar was set. It always seemed astronomically high…until it became just out of my grasp.

Sadly, Newsweek Magazine went out of print on January 1, 2013. Odd as it may sound, I’ll always be indebted to an out-of-print magazine for helping me become the person I am today.