Our graduating seniors wrote dozens of individualistic, beautifully-crafted college essays at Writopia this year that helped college admissions teams get to know—and feel deeply connected to—them as people. I am excited to share two essays below because of the creative format the writers chose to employ and because of the high level of personal reflection and analysis they shared. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as they enjoyed writing them!
“So, Eliana. What’s your sustained investigation? What’s the meaning behind this painting?” Ms. Fallon, my art teacher asks. It’s our monthly in-class critique, and it’s my turn to present my project. “Well, it’s a long story…” I begin to respond, reflecting over the moments that led me to where I was. I contain a multitude of histories and stories that no one can see, but that I feel deeply. These histories help shape who I am.
I’m seven and visiting my maternal grandmother’s family in Finland. I learn how to play Old Maid from my great aunt and greet my cousin’s cows, feeding them chocolate chip cookies.
I’m ten and my sister and I are visiting our paternal grandparents in Brussels for the first time without my parents. It is thrilling to be in a foreign country without our parents. We visit Le Grand Place and its museums, explore castles, play Rummikub, and light Shabbat candles.
I’m thirteen and eating Sunday brunch with family and friends the day after my bat mitzvah. My father’s family is there, the ones who escaped Poland in the war and immigrated to Venezuela. Although I am tired from the beautiful chaos of the previous day, I feel encompassed by the love of all those who traveled from near and far to support me as I read Torah. Everyone speaks Spanish and English while eating bagels and arepas and telling me how much I’ve grown: “¿Me recuerdas? I changed your diapers!” I feel incredibly fortunate to have my father’s Venezuelan dishes and family every Sunday, allowing me to connect with my heritage through delicious food.
I’m fourteen and walking the streets of Jerusalem with my family. I hear Hebrew all around me and notice Judaica stores on every third street. I visit the Western Wall and feel the 2000 years of history. I stand on the roof of a citadel and view the city around me, feeling connected to my heritage. I buy a necklace in Tzfat, which I will wear practically daily for the next few years.
I’m sixteen and, while exploring ideas for paintings, I ask my grandpa, the lifelong educator, to tell me more about his side of the family. In response, I get a 100-page packet. Looking at my ancestors’ names, it hits me once again that barely over 150 years in the past, my ancestors were enslaved Africans. Some days later, my mom and I are eating lunch and processing how racial justice has improved since then, yet how much more progress is necessary. My grandpa, a 78-year-old Black man, a retired teacher and school superintendent, had just moved to New Hampshire for the summer, out of fear of both COVID-19 and getting shot by the police.
I’m seventeen and creating my final portfolio for AP art. I paint the farm and Le Grand Place. I paint the streets of Tsfat and arepas. I paint a Torah in my arms and draw the Lodz ghetto. I paint dark hands in chains and a Bantu mask, learning more about African art in the process. When I present my work, my classmates are quiet, ask many questions, and say, “We didn’t know your family was so diverse.” I shrug it off. I pass; this is who I am. Just because my heritage isn’t visible at first glance doesn’t make it any less meaningful. Through my art, I can share my story and feel a little less unseen. Art has helped me feel more comfortable discussing my identity and enhanced my connection with my family. I now understand the power of sharing who I am with the world. When someone shares who they are, the world becomes a more incredible place.
There is loneliness in feeling unseen, but there is fulfillment in knowing who I am and all that my ancestors have overcome to lead me to where I am now.
Two Minutes Till: I’m going to need full focus for what I’m about to do. I can feel the presence of my group mates in the room, even though I’m not looking at them. People give off energy, I think, whether they mean to or not, and I can feel theirs almost as strongly as my own.
Noah is pacing, Jack is fiddling with his inhaler, Charlie is staring off into space, and Tomoko has mysteriously disappeared. An unspoken understanding passes between me and Noah: we are both terrified, but we can’t show it because that will make it real.
One Minute Till: We form a huddle, like a football team. Music can, in fact, be an athletic endeavor, especially in a chamber group. Everyone must be aware of each other, simply through peripheral vision and non-verbal communication.
Noah tells us to try to just have fun. I translate: Play with wild abandon. We nod. This piece is so dramatic, we silently assure each other, it almost plays itself. Yet we are keenly aware of the lack of control we really have out there. A violin might fall out of tune. Someone might miss a measure. The panic might swallow us up.
Twenty Seconds Till: We line up. The walls begin to close in, but I push them away and quiet my breathing. I don’t look up at the faces of the professors and students in the balconies, in case they can read my thoughts. I’ve had years of practice, but the better I am, the higher my expectations of myself are.
Time’s up: We bow, our voices reedy as we announce our names and what we’re playing: Dvorak’s Piano Quintet in A minor, first movement. I sit down, smooth my purple dress out on the piano bench. I know this. Charlie looks scared, but determined. I nod and give her an assuring wink. We know this.
I start my opening solo, letting my fingers linger lovingly on the keys before sound emerges. The cello part dances alongside me, her notes sometimes complementing mine and sometimes clashing purposefully. The others join us, sometimes in unison, sometimes forging their own paths. It feels like the first time I’m hearing it, getting lost in the beauty and emotion behind every phrase.
This is the moment I usually start to unravel. But I don’t. Instead, it’s as if the chaos of my life comes together. I know who I am, I know what I’m doing, I know why I like it. This is for me alone, it’s both this beautiful exploration into myself and an external break from the hectic nature of life and everything I’m interested in; it encompasses my love for history, my need for non-verbal communication, my desire to share with others something that is personal, precious, and instant. It speaks to my ability to empathize and internalize feelings, my love of good stories. Music ties my entire life together. It creates a bond between things that usually feel separate and makes me feel like a full, whole person.
Seven minutes later: This is what it’s supposed to feel like. Applause erupts around me from all sides. Full of adrenaline, I bow. The walls are where they are supposed to be. A light feeling grows in my chest–We did it. And I would do it all over again, just to feel that infinite, temporary joy for a few more minutes. It’s the first time I haven’t performed just to get through the piece. Instead, the melodies flowed through my veins and the world of the piece fully enveloped me in its arms. I smiled as I hit the last note. The breath I let out now is not one of relief, but wistfulness at having to leave the scene of this beautiful creation. This is what it’s supposed to feel like. I feel grounded, ready to take on the world.