College Admission Essays :
Lily Johnston - Federal Way - Washington
When a close friend attempted suicide, Lily reevaluated her priorities
and had some realizations about the expectations placed on females. She
volunteered with the Real Women Project, an organization that seeks to
show the beauty of women. She says, “Writing about depression, body
image and how this affects young women was a natural extension of
my work at Real Women as well as my way of pulling together what I
was experiencing personally with what I was observing publicly.” At
Charles Wright Academy, she was editor of the yearbook, a managing
editor of the newspaper and captain of the volleyball team.
In for the Long Crawl - Princeton University
We died that day. Not her, not I, we. She came close enough for the both
of us. I can still remember that feeling of the earth just dropping out from
underneath me when my mom told me that Chris had tried to kill herself.
The worst part was that I wasn’t surprised. I knew she had been “sick” for
years, but that old scar on her wrist was always “a scratch from the coffee
table.” Since that day, we have never shared a secret or dreamed up a
new fantasy—the “we” that had defined us for so long, those 10 years of
friendship, that sisterhood, was the one thing she swallowed that a stomach
pump couldn’t remove. From that day on, I made it my mission to find
the cause of the nation-wide epidemic of depression that had shattered
our lives and to do everything in my power to find a cure.
In her world, everything was warped. In her delusion, a pocketknife, a gift
that should have marked her coming-of-age and responsibility, became the
“coffee table.” Her grandfather’s illness, which should have been sad but a
natural part of life and living, was seen only for the drugs it would provide
her for death and dying. I watched as she dug her own grave for two
years. I don’t feel guilty; I did everything I could to help her but alert the
newspapers. What I would later understand and what would fuel my desire
to help others was that she couldn’t process or even understand help at
that point; she was too sick.
My family is the only reason I didn’t share her fate, they are why she ended
up in a mental ward and I didn’t. They were the only substantial difference
between Chris and me: we were both depressed, we both had few close
friends and we both were too young for our grade and too old for our own
good. It was the little things that really counted. My parents didn’t yell at
me or each other. My sister and I never fought. My father didn’t commute
to another state regularly. I felt sorry for Chris and her family, but I realized
early on that I couldn’t control people’s families or home lives, so I changed
my focus to the things that I saw around me that made people feel “lessthan”
Opening my eyes has never been such a powerful experience. I began to
see things all around me that had the potential to make people, especially
girls, feel depressed. Around every street corner, in every shopping mall
and even in museums these images and ideas accosted me: anorexic girls
modeling the latest fashions and the latest fashions only available in sizes
0 to 10 are a few examples. At one point I wondered if there existed some
large-scale conspiracy to make all the girls in the United States depressed.
The idea of social, physical and intellectual perfection was defined and fed
to us as if there were such a thing as perfection and it could be defined
only one way. It was all of a sudden a wonder to me that we all didn’t just
start jumping off cliffs, one after another like lemmings.
Trying to reverse a nationally accepted image has been like trying to crawl
up Mt. Everest. As one might expect, I’ve made little headway and have
run into more obstacles than I can count. Apparently, it’s common for
people to be advocates for women but to be much stronger advocates for
their own pocketbooks. “Yes, we would really like to promote reality,” they
say, “but people don’t buy reality. We’re a business, not a charity.” But,
for Chris’ sake, and for the hope that our relationship may still be salvaged
someday, I will keep crawling as long at it takes to save one life, for if I can
save one life, I have saved two. If I have saved two, I’ve saved them all. If
I’ve saved them all, I’ve finally saved myself.
Why This Essay Succeeded
One of the biggest mistakes that many students make when writing
about an issue is that they do not personalize it. They write about an
issue as they would for an assignment for a social studies class rather than for a creative writing class. Whatever the issue, there needs to be
a reason why it is important to you. Clearly, teen depression is a huge
national issue. But Lily does an excellent job of making it close to home.
Her essay covers both her individual experience with depression and
some of the larger societal issues that she believes perpetuate it.
Notice that her essay contains a lot of thoughtful reflection. She realizes
that she can’t change the world in one fell swoop but she also knows that
there are things she can do to help. This essay is not so much a display
of her writing ability as it is of her ability to think, feel and analyze.
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