This student committed a cardinal sin of essay writing and chose to address her parents’ recent divorce in her personal statement. She was wary to acknowledge it, knowing that divorce is hardly a remarkable experience among American teenagers. When we first met, the divorce was just beginning to unfold—her father had moved out days before, and with her two little brothers away at summer camp, she was facing a long summer at home with her mother, both of them very sad and unsure. It was an inauspicious place from which to start dreaming of college and her future.
This student also had an unusual transcript, since she had been home-schooled through her sophomore year in high school. She had excellent grades from her junior year, but prior to that was a blank slate, and her college counselor had expressed some concern about how this might be received by admissions offices, who might wish for more than one year of academic performance on which to base their decisions.
It was a difficult combination—she felt at the mercy of events she hadn’t chosen, and what’s more, she worried that if she expressed her concern about these events, she’d come off sounding precious or naïve. But she also had a lovely, sincere voice, and a quiet interest in community service and social justice, which came through in all of her supplements. She had nothing to be ashamed of.
She was admitted early action to Princeton, and in the spring acceptances came from Stanford, Williams, Middlebury, Northwestern, and others. She chose Princeton. She’s currently working in a district attorney’s office, preparing for law school.
As I begin my senior year, I find myself looking ahead to college without the stable base at home I had hoped for. I know that on average, one out of every two families in this country has gone through divorce, but when it’s your own parents breaking the news, everything is different. You aren’t prepared. You never think it’s going to happen to you.
Lately, I have turned for solace to one photograph on my desk. It’s nestled between two old snapshots of my family beaming, and it shows me all alone on an emerald green embankment. Just behind me stands an enormous black bull. It isn’t bright or sunny, there’s no blue sky, and I’m not smiling. My hair is whipping around my face and I’m bracing myself against the wind.
At first I focused on the picture because I look sad and alone, the same way I felt after my parents broke the news. But lately it has become a beacon of hope and a real assurance. It was taken on a winter day eight years ago, just after my family had moved to a remote farm in Colorado and I had started homeschooling. Leaving my home, my school, and the friends I had known since birth in California left me with a very similar feeling to what I am experiencing now: the feeling of being asked to settle in quicksand and still not sink. My house was different, my only potential friends were the sheep that dotted the hills, and my mom was my teacher. Despite the changes, however, I eventually grew to love my life in Colorado. Every day I would go for a walk up the dusty dirt road, winding my way up the hilly pastures. I’d entertain myself by singing songs I had grown up with and that made me feel comfortable. I brought what made me feel secure into my new situation, and over time, I developed a new routine. Homeschooling, far from restricting me, as I’d imagined it would, opened up a whole new world for me to explore. It allowed me to delve as deeply as I desired into the subjects that interested me most, and I began to care much more about the questions than I ever had about the answers. The absence of other kids became an opportunity: my imagination flourished as I scrambled up and down the hills. On my many adventures, I found that the bull would shadow me from inside his wide paddock, patrolling the fence. I talked to him sometimes, about my day and what I was feeling, and while he never said anything in return, there was something in his watery brown eyes that convinced me he understood, or at least sympathized with me.
This picture of me with the bull reminds me that I have been through change before and have come out a stronger, happier person. It helps me to reach out and focus on the life I want for myself in the future. I know I want to see and understand the world in a deeper way. In the process of handling this new element of change in my life, I have learned to observe and think about conflict from a new angle. Whether it’s conflict among those I love or across international borders, I have come to understand that every story has two sides. In my economics class this year, I’ve learned how some conflicts are resolved in the marketplace, and I would like to continue to learn how countries interact on all levels as I move on to college next year. Change has taught me that on the whole, life offers many more new opportunities than it takes away old ones. I look forward to being able to study the world’s interactions in the classroom and experience its varied cultures in person during this new phase of life.