University Admission Essays for Harvard University :
Robin Potts – Richmond – Virginia
When her father became ill, Robin realized for the first time that her
parents weren’t invincible. She says, “I thought they were perfect, but
they have problems, too.” Robin decided to write about her parents
because she wanted to write about what meant the most to her. A graduate
of Collegiate High School, she plays piano, was captain of the cross
country team and member of the soccer and indoor track teams and
participated in the Federal Reserve Challenge, presenting a project with
her team to the Fed. She plans to work in the financial industry.
Twelve Bobby Pins - Harvard University
The middle-aged woman bending over my father seemed different that
day. As she gently spoon-fed homemade chicken soup to her husband,
years of worry and exhaustion revealed themselves under her swollen eyes,
across her ridged forehead and in her hollow cheeks. Although she carried
her head high as she doted over the weak man, her gray eyes betrayed her
strong composure and showed her weaknesses, her sorrow and her fear.
Her once fluorescent eyes now appeared faded as if drained by the passage
Occasionally, I caught her sighing as she slowly brushed a few loose strands
away from her face. The rest of her slightly over-colored hair was fastened
by bobby pins into a tight twist. Like always, she had used more pins than
were needed. I had often argued with her over this point, trying to prove
to her that five pins rather than twelve would be more than sufficient
to hold her hair in place. She had always responded good-naturedly and
applauded my level-headed reasoning. However, she still insisted on using
twelve pins. Watching her now dab my father’s lips with a neatly pressed
linen napkin, I realized that she had known well before our discussion that
the use of twelve bobby pins was absurd. But, it was their very absurdity
that saved her, protected her and guarded her from the unknown evils of
the universe. Their clinging presence prevented her from becoming undone.
They provided stability when life could not.
I had never before recognized these details of age in my mother. In place
of wrinkles, I had seen lines of laughter. In place of graying hair, I had seen
strands of vibrancy. And in place of absurdity, I had seen reason. During
childhood, I had believed so heavily in her strength that I had never
perceived her weaknesses. Now, as I surveyed the pale outstretched fingers
that stroked my father’s hairline, I understood another side of her. Like me,
she had troubles, unanswered questions and fears. She, too, lay awake
nights, restless with thoughts of how the future might unravel. Despite her
wishes, she could not pin the future motionless like her hair. Challenges
would arise whether she used twelve pins, fi ve pins or no bobby pins at all.
Perhaps it was this realization that had produced some of the deep lines
above her eyebrows, beneath her eyes and around her lips. With these
lines, she showed her comprehension of reality and exposed this understanding
to the world.
As I studied my mother’s affectionate motions, my eyes met hers. Without
words, her expression told me that the fatigued man before us would
survive. He might not recover from surgery today, tomorrow or even next
week, but with her loving medicine, he would eventually pull through. I
smiled at this reassurance and returned her warm gaze. And then, I saw
her eyes twinkle. The clouded, gray eyes shed their foggy covering, releasing
countless rays of grace. The gentle beams streamed out from within
her soul to illuminate every inch of the room. Although this lucent sensation
lasted but an instant, I will remember it for a lifetime. The spark, which
had occurred as a result of her selflessness, awakened me to the true
meaning of “strength.” This word did not connote powers of invincibility
as I had once envisioned, nor did it entail the suppression of all weaknesses.
Instead, strength, as I had seen illuminated in my mother’s eyes, implied
the ability to be dignified under stress. I marveled at the realization that my
mother possessed one of humanity’s greatest qualities. This serene woman,
though weak in appearance, exemplified more strength than I could imagine.
Thus, as I stole one last glance into her eyes, or rather into her, I vowed
that someday my eyes would also radiate such beams of power, compassion
Why This Essay Succeeded
Some students feel they must write about a lifetime’s worth of experiences
in their essay. Robin’s is proof that the description of a single
moment can be more than enough. Her essay shares so much about
her mother and herself. While Robin writes about a very common
topic (Moms and Dads), she does so in a way that no one else will. By
focusing on a specific aspect that is unique to her, Robin guarantees
that her essay will be original.
If you write about a person, you may not have as dramatic an experience
to share as Robin. But what’s important is not the drama but how
you make the experience your own. Think about the person—whether a
parent, relative or friend—and how you can share a unique perspective
about him or her, and in so doing, about yourself.
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