What feels like a very long time ago, I had to start writing my Common App essay for college. Back when I did start brainstorming what to write about, I turned immediately to my blog; it’s been amazing to have a an entire collection of reflections from some of the most memorable things that have happened over the years. It only seemed right that now, now that I’m finally decided on a college and graduated high school, that I should officially post my Common App essay:
Common App Prompt 3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
I am a designer. Anyone can be a designer. You don’t need a fancy degree or a Mona Lisa to prove it. You just have to be confident enough to say it, “I am a designer.” This was the message I delivered to inspire creative confidence to a “young” audience of design thinkers. Let me set the stage.
The summer after sophomore year, I earned the opportunity to be one of four guest speakers at an annual summer conference called Fuse, facilitated by the Mount Vernon Institute For Innovation. This event gathers 110 educators, business leaders, social innovators, change agents and dreamers from around the world to make an impact while learning more deeply as design thinkers. A slide deck appears on stage and the attendees saw the peculiar twitter handle @Pinyabananas, then a single spot light illuminated me- a 16 year old girl with her hair in a scrunchie. As a speaker, I delivered a 10 minute presentation similar to a TEDTalk where I shared about “Thinking Like a Designer.” My role: to get the room full of educators excited and confident in their abilities to spend three days problem solving for four different non-profit organizations. As the only speaker under the age of 30, the one with the least formal schooling and lacking the series of credentials and accomplishments of the other speakers, I was nervous.
Being an actress, I’ve been up on stage dozens of times in front of audiences larger than 110 people. I’m comfortable with public speaking, but this experience was different. This time I was the only student; specifically chosen because the organization believes that I have a story and ideas that educators should hear. Typically, it’s assumed that anyone still in secondary schooling has much to learn and not much to teach. When asked to speak, I was tasked with representing not only myself, but all students– to prove that we can have insightful thoughts worth sharing in serious conversations about the future.
I got up on stage vulnerable yet confident, and shared what I believe to be a recipe for success: to have community involvement, work with a purpose, a mentor to guide you, a mindshift to turn problems into opportunities, and a bias towards action. I challenged the entire audience to say the opening lines of this essay with me: “I am a designer.” To my surprise, when I repeated this statement, a chorus joined me; 110 educators accepted the challenge proposed by a 16 year-old girl to think like designers.
Age doesn’t have to be a limiter in life. If I am willing to take action for a cause that I care deeply about, then anything is possible. After my talk I had a number of educators come up to me and say, “You are inspiring!,” “I can’t believe you’re only 16,” “Thank you for giving me the confidence to do this.” Later that night my phone was blowing up with the number of twitter notifications I was getting from people commenting, liking, and retweeting things about my talk; our head of school even said, “Sounds like the takeaway of the night was from @Pinyabananas ‘I am a designer.’” It was a crazy night for me; it’s hard to believe it really happened.
This talk has since been used at a number of other workshops, some of which I probably don’t even know about. I remember researching myself online one day and found a link to a presentation by a professor in England who used the video of my talk! I am still astonished to think that my work had such an impact, and have continued to use my digital presence through daily blogging and tweeting as a mouthpiece for students around the country who remain silent school consumers. Anyone can be a designer. You just have to be confident enough to say it, “I am a designer.”
I’ve officially pushed submit on all of my college applications!!!!!!!! Technically this happened a few nights ago, and I still have a few portfolio pieces left to submit, but everything required is finished which is exciting!! I didn’t blog about it earlier because I’ve been on the road since Thursday night in order to interview at 3 of my 5 schools which are all in the north east… Currently I’m in Pennsylvania with 1/3 interviews done. (And I must say I think the first went rather well.)
Even though I’ve already hit submit, over the past few years I’ve come to learn my strengths and weaknesses well and I know that I’m much better at talking than writing .(Even though my writing has improved tremendously since I started blogging.) However, despite knowing myself better, I still don’t know where I most want to go to college yet. There are just so many options and different factors, and it’s so hard to really know the culture of a school without immersing yourself in it first- a luxury I don’t have when looking at colleges.
It’s times like this- when I feel completely lost in a situation- that I feel grateful for being in drama and thus constantly learning about improv. In fact, last week was show week for our 2nd theater production of the year which was an improv meets comedy sketch variety show called “A Night of Stars.”
There’s a lot we can learn from improv- no matter who you are. I like to call these key learning moments the “Improv Rules for Life.”
- Jump In & Have Fun: Improv, like life, can feel scary and uncomfortable, but the only way to stop feeling uncomfortable and move past the fear of the unknown is to jump in and try it out. Put yourself out there and over time it will stop feeling so scary. One of the hardest parts of taking the first step is often just standing up, but once you’re up it’s a lot easier to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Just keep having fun and you’ll be fine.
- Go All Out / Believe in Yourself: Make big choices and commit to them! If you are going to use a toy horse as a tennis racket, then you have to do everything in your power to really make that horse seem like a racket. You have to convince yourself of your choices before your audience will ever believe you, so if you start swinging a toy horse around like you truly believe it’s a racket then you’re audience won’t even think about calling it a horse.
- Listen and Respond: Help you’re partners out!!! It’s hard to constantly come up with ideas all on your own, so listen to the people you are working with and work off of each other. Listen to what they suggest and respond to it with a new suggest that adds to what they said. When everyone helps each other out, things get most exciting.
- Think Positive / “Yes And…”: Saying negative words like “no, but, death, etc” is the fastest way to kill a scene and put your stage partner in a really difficult position. Keep conversations light hearted and agree with your partners; it will make for a much more interesting conversation with some crazy ideas being easily generated.
- Fail-Up : Push the editor off your shoulder. Don’t be afraid to fail, because it’s inevitable that you’ll mess up at some point in time. Just keep trying your hardest and commit to everything you do, that way when you fail, it’s a spectacular failure that you can later laugh about because it was just that horrendous. The best improvers still fail, but when they fail, they laugh it off and keep moving forward- sometimes it even becomes a part of a later sketch. It’s true that if you don’t try you won’t fail, but you also won’t succeed that way.
When thinking of college, and many difficult and potentially uncomfortable life situations, I try to remember these improv rules for life. I’m never going to feel 100% ready, but eventually I’m just going to need to jump in, go all out and believe in myself, learn to respond in my new situations, think positively and don’t shut down new ideas, and remember that the fear of failure should never stop me from dreaming big and committing to my actions.
I know I’m a nerd and an actress, as do many others, but a lot of people don’t realize, or remember at least, that I’m also an athlete- and I’m not just talking about gymnastics/acrobatics. I’ve been playing soccer since I was three years old and I’ve played on a number of teams from the YMCA, to Concord Fire, to Windsor’s select team, and my freshman and sophomore year I attempted to juggle playing Varsity on top of everything else.
Last year was actually the first year since being three that I didn’t play soccer for any team. My rec team didn’t have enough girls signed up to play in the fall. Then in the spring, I quit Varsity because trying to go between drama and soccer was challenging, and being the only girl in the grade playing on top of not really making practices made it hard to connect with everyone. But connection is in my opinion one of the most important parts to having a successful team of any kind. My rec team has been playing together since u8, so for about 10 years now. Back then we had two teams because there were so many girls and our coach had two daughters about 2 years apart, so there was an older team and a younger team and some of us played for both. Every year we have some people leave, some people get too old to be on the team, and some new people join, but the team has always had a strong core of people who have been playing together since the beginning. This strong core has continued to make the team so much stronger because we all know how each other play and can trust each other on and off of the field. The group mind is so good that there are times where we can say nothing and yet know exactly how people will move on the field and get the ball to our team.
I use to go to school with a lot of my teammates and they’ve always been some of my best friends, so not having this team last year was really hard because then I didn’t see people as often. Luckily this year our team is back and I’ve had a great time so far at our two games getting to play a sport I love with people I love. We call ourselves the Misfits since most of us have past playing for really good teams, but now we just play rec, don’t practice, have barely enough to play each game, and typically play the entire game, yet we are still able to win 4-0 like this weekend’s game even with two new girls who have never played before.
Playing on this team reminds me of how sad it is when you stop seeing some of your best friends all of the time. School is such a big part of our lives that once you go to a different school it becomes so much harder to stay in touch with people. That’s what I’m least looking forward to about college- saying goodbye to so many great friends. Sure I hope to stay in contact with people, but I know from experience that you never stay as close to people once you stop seeing them everyday. Even seeing my soccer friends again this year at games doesn’t feel like enough. It often seems that there will never be enough time, so I’ve just learned to remember to cherish every moment of time we do get to spend together.
Today was a pretty productive day for me. After taking my dogs to the dog park I basically worked on college short answer/supplementary essays all day. I answered 9 questions which only leaves me with one 150-250 word question left!!!
So with all of the writing I did today, I’m now not in much of a blogging mood, but I wanted to still put something up. So here is my college process metaphor:
The college process is like a treadmill; no matter how much you walk, you never really move anywhere. That’s pretty much how trying to fill out applications feels. I’ve worked through so much today, and yet nothing is done or finalized and some of it is not even the right length; therefore, there is still much work to be done even after a day of writing.
It’s amazing how much blogging has made my life better. Not only has it made me a better writer, increased my network, allowed me to track my learning, helped me clarify thoughts in my head, and gotten incredible writing opportunities, but it’s also helped a lot in the college process.
Most students have a hard time writing about themselves because creative non-fiction is a genre of writing that is focused on hardly at all in grade school. However, my blog is entirely about myself in someway or another because it’s all about my thoughts on the world, and my actions, and my life in general. My blog has helped me find my voice- not just the voice I take on when trying to write for school- but my authentic internal voice, which is supposedly what colleges want to see.
I’ve had the opposite problem of most students when writing my college essay because most students don’t know what to say or where to begin. Meanwhile, I’ve grown so use to writing a story every single day, that I felt like I had a million stories I could potentially use for my Common App essay. I had 3 different drafts done by Senior BootCamp, and had many more stories I could’ve told. I then narrowed it down to two, but thought they both represented me well. Finally, after some help from my college councilor tonight, I was able to pick one for my Common App essay which has to do primarily with when I first gave my MoVe Talk: Thinking Like a Designer.
I can only wait until I start working on college specific essays and other supplement questions, because with my blog it’s so easy to just scroll through the past few years and remember not only things that I’ve done, but also how I felt and what I was thinking about the day they happened. It’s kind of the best!
I’m officially starting to feel like a senior after our first Senior Bootcamp day of the year. I don’t know what that means quite yet, but I guess calling myself a senior seems a little less weird.
There’s no exclamation point after either of those sentences because I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I actually really enjoy most parts of school, which not every student can say honestly. So it makes me sad in a way to be a senior because I don’t feel ready to leave just yet. I feel like there is so much more I’d like to do and contribute to the school community, but mostly I feel like so much of the excitement about some of what I do is just because I’m a high schooler. What happens when I stop being a high schooler?
Plus on top of that there is the whole application process, which honestly frightens me…
I know it shouldn’t be that scary, but it seems like I’m just constantly learning more things that I don’t know. I don’t like the feeling of feeling like I don’t know everything about what I’m working on. I definitely learned more today at bootcamp where we discussed everything from the nuts and bolts of how to use different websites to discussing the art of storytelling and how everyone has their own story for an essay.
In short, there was a lot talked about today from 8-3 with the class of 2017, and also a lot of laughs too which is good. Yet, there seem to be so many unknowns still.
I am excited for this next school year, but the whole “being a senior” part only kind of excites me. I am terrified for that moment when I start loosing my motivation. I know it happens to pretty much every senior because the end of the school year after being accepted just seems to stop being so important. As one of my friends who graduated said, “You’ll want to continue to do well but you won’t want to have to work for it.”
I’d like to say that I’ll be the person to not fall into that stereotype, but who knows. I already wish so much of school, and sadly a huge current motivator for half of it just has to do with getting into college; and I love learning, but that doesn’t change much. I don’t want to loose motivation, but what if I do? What if my drive leaves? What is my motivator to do well in school? Not theater, ID, band, extra projects, or those kind of things, but just the nuts and bolts of school: classes.
These are the questions I wonder while going into my senior year after a day of learning about the college process.