Strong Personal Statements, Part 4: Making it a Conversation

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We’re sharing exceptional personal statements from last year’s applicants in hopes of illustrating that a good personal statement can cover a wide range of topics, but ultimately, showcases the student’s character, curiosity, and voice. These statements, written by students now enrolled at Emory University, were selected for a multitude of reasons, and we asked our admission staff to share what made each statement stand out. This is number 4 of a 5-part series on application writing; read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 5 here.

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Eulogy for my Dear Friend Latin

I don’t know about you, but in my life, I never hear my parents say “defer tuam sordidam tibialem” (roughly translated, “bring down your dirty socks!”), and I never hear my friends yell “agamus ad Starbuckes” (“let’s go to Starbucks”). Nobody speaks Latin in everyday conversations because at some point in the last 1500 years or so, Latin became as dead as an early medieval doorknob.

A proper eulogy, therefore, appears long overdue. Ahem, here we go:

I met Latin in sixth grade, and, at first, the two of us resembled oil and Dasani. Latin evoked feelings of dread, boredom, and helplessness—and that was on a good day. Memorizing the chants for noun declensions had not yet created a spark in my mind.

In seventh and eighth grade, something began to change. I’m not sure if, as a student, I became a touch more serious or if, as a language, Latin became a bit more fun, but we started moving closer together. I also started to appreciate Latin’s presence outside of class. I saw Latin on an Aquafina bottle, on my friend’s ASICS shoes, and in the occasional movie. I decided that I would take Latin in high school, and I looked forward to the challenge.

But then I moved from Minnesota to California and found myself in the epicenter of earthquakes, intensity, and bubble tea: Silicon Valley.

In ninth grade, Latin stabbed me in the spinal column. I thought I knew Latin well, but it turns out I had never learned the vocabulary and grammar that I needed for high school Latin, at least in Silicon Valley. In the first six weeks of high school, I began in Latin 3 and then parachuted all the way down to Latin 1. I won’t burden you with the Latin word for “humble,” (okay, fine—its “humilis”), but that’s how I felt.

I soon realized that I needed to become a more serious student if I wanted to win Latin over. And that’s when Latin helped me learn something about myself: I enjoy kicking into “intense” gear and diving deep into all the twists and turns inside this dead language. And as I spent more time with Latin, I appreciated that Latin was the only friend who had moved with me from Minnesota.

My new friends wondered why I would study a dead language. They did not understand why I rejected French, Spanish, and other more popular languages. But I was at peace with embracing a language that was as quirky as I am. And in response to other people’s distaste towards Latin, I did my best to defend Latin’s honor, or at least Honors Latin.

By the end of my sophomore year, I enjoyed Latin so much that I chose to spend my entire summer with Latin at Stanford University. We had a blast together. While in another new environment, I found comfort in Latin. Latin brought out the offbeat, nerdy side of me both in and outside of class.

Fast forward to today: Latin is one of my best friends and I plan to bring it with me to college. While most people share my sixth-grade view of Latin, I no longer see it as a difficult and tedious language, but rather as an extension of my own personality. And while it pains me that Latin is a dead language, it still is very much alive in my life.

Feedback from Admission Staff

As we read applications, every student has a team of admission staff assigned to their file to thoroughly review it and assess the student’s potential. The staff responsible for this student’s file had this to say about her personal statement:

One of the saddest parts of the admission process is that students seem incredibly stressed about writing essays. Do not forget, essays are supposed to be the fun part of this process. Every applicant has distinctive qualities, personality, and potential. Think about what makes you unique, and make both content and form reflect who you are.

An essay should have an immediacy to it, like a direct conversation instead of a game of playground telephone. This piece successfully performs this. I felt as I read the piece that the writer was speaking to me in person in our campus’ Starbucks in her normal, everyday tone. The writing is sly yet chatty. There are some erudite Latin puns, but the writing is never cloying. The self-deprecating humor of the speaker makes the piece feel more like a conversation than an interview. It wasn’t overly striving to sound formal or academic. She clearly knows her stuff when it comes to Latin, but she’s here to confide in the reader rather than impress.

This essay’s subject is also clearly a distinctive passion of the student. That’s what the non-classicists reading this blog post should take away. Beneath the humor and wordplay, there is a very ordinary story of a student finding her passion and a successful work ethic. Regardless of your level of natural sophistication as a writer, this is the type of story everyone is capable of telling.

Don’t forget to read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 5 here.

 

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