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From Unwanted Companion to Respected Friend
By Mark Liles
With long and deliberate strokes I signed my kindergarten masterpiece, M-A-R-K, narrowly missing the puddle of wet white glue above the floppy plastic eyeball. I paused with a familiar thought: it just didn’t fit. Mark was just too short and awkward sounding and such a great tissue paper turkey deserved a better signature. I couldn’t escape the disappointment because Mark followed me in bold letters everywhere. On my lunch box, the tag inside my coat, my baseball glove, etc. The name Mark was like the annoying neighborhood kid you get stuck with over summer vacation and just can’t get rid of. I had no idea that over time, this unwanted companion would become my respected friend.
Why couldn’t I have names like my brothers? Richard was the oldest and his name was strong and confident. Best of all he could be Rich or Richard, a multifunctional name; Richard when he became president and Rich with his buddies on the playground. And then there was Russell who could always be Russ when the need arose. What were my parents thinking? Did they just run out of letters? It was obvious to me that my name should’ve been Robert. This theory was reinforced by my Sesame Street logic: Richard, Russell, Robert, Mark; which one of these just doesn’t belong? I wanted Robert… not Mark, and like that unwanted tag along there didn’t seem to be anything I could do to get rid of it.
As years went by, various experiences made me more accepting of my name. One of the most memorable came on the first day of middle school when the teacher called out our FULL names in the roll call. I’d always kept my middle name a closely guarded secret, fearing certain humiliation if anyone ever learned what is was. I expected a room full of laughter as she called out “Mark Harold Liles”, but to my amazement everyone was quiet. Then something totally unexpected happened. The quiet girl I secretly admired turned to me and said, “I like your name, it sounds cool”. That day marked a turning point. Maybe I’d been wrong about Mark, maybe the name was ok.
There was a time when I lost my name all together. I had joined the military and had to pack up all of my civilian clothes and personal effects into a cardboard box that would be stored until completion of basic training. My name Mark was put in the box as well, having been issued the new name “Private”, courtesy of the United States Marine Corps. That passage was tough and through it all I developed confidence and greater self esteem. Shortly after finishing boot camp I was given dog tags. Stamped deep in the simple metal tag were the words: Liles, Mark H., USMC. I’d been given my name back, only now there was more; I had earned the title of Marine. Going through this period of losing my individuality made me appreciate the uniqueness that I possessed and gave me a new appreciation for my name.
My time in the military has long since passed, and today my name and I are fully engulfed in the working world. Mark still follows me everywhere, only now it’s on my office door, the cover of business papers, and on the introduction slide of corporate PowerPoint presentations. My name in many ways has become a list of attributes and accomplishments that people associate me with and that I associate with myself. I work hard to make sure that when people hear my name they think of a dedicated employee, a pleasant neighbor, and a good father. I understand the value of a good name and work diligently to protect it.
Sometimes I think back on my days in kindergarten when I didn’t like my name and I laugh. I’m so happy to be Mark and not Robert. I like the person I’ve become and am thankful for the people and events that have helped shape me. I realize how it was never really about my name but instead about personal feelings of self confidence and self worth. There are times in life that I see obstacles and wonder how I’m going to overcome them; I worry about who I can count on to help me. But then I pause and remember that dependable friend that has always been there, I think of my respected friend, Mark Liles, myself.
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Sam: The Motorcycle Chick
By Samantha Miller
On a hot and sunny Arizona afternoon, I stand next to my shiny lime green two wheeled machine and swing my right leg over the hot black seat. I start the engine and listen to the deep exhaust as I twist the throttle. Maneuvering my way out of the parking lot filled with big lifted trucks and neon sport bikes I feel a sense of people watching me. As I look to the left, I see two tall men wearing baby blue collared shirts with looks of confusion and excitement. I begin to realize this must be the first time they have seen a girl who is five feet, four inches tall with long brown curly hair and a small waist controlling what has been traditionally seen as man’s vehicle. My name is Samantha, and I ride and repair motorcycles. Samantha may sound beautiful, soft and caring; however I am brute, loud and hardhearted female in a man’s world of mechanics.
As long as I can remember, I have been labeled as a tomboy. I believe this is how I adapted the nickname Sam so easily. Sam is a short version for the masculine name of Samuel. A particular memory I have using the name Sam over Samantha was on Monday, June 6th, 2005. It was my first day of class and I remember entering a classroom full of men ranging from a young smug football player to a kind simplistic looking grandpa. I sat down in the closest blue plastic chair that was available, not realizing it was broken. I began to wonder if this was a place for a “Samantha.” Surely they would accept a “Sam” as a serious and strong person in the motorcycle industry. So, as the potbelly forty-year-old man with short gray peppered hair and a five o’clock shadow called our names, I simply replied with “Here” and “Call me Sam.” Throughout the rest of my training at Motorcycle Mechanics Institute, my bully attitude and dirty clothing tagged me, Sam, as one of the guys.
Even though I respond to a masculine sounding name, I use my gentle feminine Samantha side to listen and express myself to others. Whenever someone is talking, I listen with full intent. The words inhabit my brain as I imagine myself in that person’s shoes. However, I do not like to repeat myself. If I have to repeat something to a person, who has clearly not listened, I will repeat it very loudly to express my irritation. Maybe it’s just me or the fact my name means listener, but listening is not hard. Listening is very beneficial because absorbing and maintaining information is useful for solving problems. For example, I would yell across the service shop to a very tall barbarian classmate who constantly forgot to put the special tools into the large red metal cabinet. When a man hears a woman’s enraged voice yelling, he soon remembers her words.
In combination with yelling, my blood starts pumping and my mind begins to take over responses, leaving all feelings aside. My heart will give a little when someone is hurt or in need. However, if a person carries out a dim-witted decision, I feel they should learn from their actions. This stubborn method of thinking symbolizes my German last name Miller. My German grandfather, Leroy, fell in love with a beautiful but stubborn Norwegian woman named Marjean. Even to this day, at the age of 76, my short, plump and snow white curly haired grandmother will not take “no” for an answer. Sometimes I wish my last name was a softer one, like Bloom. I could than be imaged as a flower, which is the Greek definition of Samantha. Samantha Miller, a girl who is a flower that blooms. But, I am not Greek and all eventually flowers die.
In the end, people will remember me as Sam Miller, a strong woman in a man’s world of mechanics. I am a tomboy who enjoys wrenching and repairs anything that produces speed. I am also a beautiful girl who listens well and expresses irritation when others do not listen. My family brings out my stubbornness that allows me to be tough on others when they make bad decisions. I am a brute, loud and hardhearted who thinks like a boy and acts like a boy. But, I still turn heads when people see a small figure on a lime green two wheeled machine with a long brown hair waving in the wind.
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Paola: Your Instructor
By Paola Brown
Paola Brown is an enthusiastic woman who enjoys wearing many different hats throughout her week. Every day, she is a wife and a mother. Having been married for almost five years, her husband and she just welcomed their first son, Mateus, into their family about a year ago. While she loves spending the day at home with Mateus, she sincerely enjoys teaching her online and night classes. Currently, she is teaching freshman composition at Glendale and Gateway
Community College. Paola also loves to write. She has recently submitted an article, an ethnographic research study she conducted in 2007, to a professional magazine, and it is under consideration for publication. While this kind of academic writing can be a creative outlet for her, she also enjoys writing children’s fiction. As a Brazilian-
American, much of her fiction is bilingual, weaving English and Portuguese within the story’s plot. Indeed, Paola’s variety of hats brings her life exciting opportunities for spending time with wonderful people and for expressing her creativity.
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Below is a pdf link to personal statements and application essays representing strong efforts by students applying for both undergraduate and graduate opportunities. These ten essays have one thing in common: They were all written by students under the constraint of the essay being 1-2 pages due to the target program’s explicit instructions. In such circumstances, writers must attend carefully to the essay prompt (sometimes as simple as “Write a one-page summary of your reasons for wanting to pursue graduate study”) and recognize that evaluators tend to judge these essays on the same fundamental principles, as follows:
- First, you are typically expected to provide a window into your personal motivations, offer a summary of your field, your research, or your background, set some long-term goals, and note specific interest in the program to which you are applying.
- Second, you are expected to provide some personal detail and to communicate effectively and efficiently. Failure to do so can greatly limit your chances of acceptance.
Good writers accomplish these tasks by immediately establishing each paragraph’s topic and maintaining paragraph unity, by using concrete, personal examples to demonstrate their points, and by not prolonging the ending of the essay needlessly. Also, good writers study the target opportunity as carefully as they can, seeking to become an “insider,” perhaps even communicating with a professor they would like to work with at the target program, and tailoring the material accordingly so that evaluators can gauge the sincerity of their interest
Overview of Short Essay Samples
Geological Sciences Samples
In the pdf link below, the first two one-page statements written by students in the geological sciences are interesting to compare to each other. Despite their different areas of research specialization within the same field, both writers demonstrate a good deal of scientific fluency and kinship with their target programs.
Geography Student Sample
The short essay by a geography student applying to an internship program opens with the writer admitting that she previously had a limited view of geography, then describing how a course changed her way of thinking so that she came to understand geography as a “balance of physical, social, and cultural studies.” Despite her limited experience, she shows that she has aspirations of joining the Peace Corps or obtaining a law degree, and her final paragraph links her interests directly to the internship program to which she is applying.
Materials Sciences Student Sample
For the sample from materials sciences, directed at an internal fellowship, the one-page essay has an especially difficult task: The writer must persuade those who already know him (and thus know both his strengths and limitations) that he is worthy of internal funds to help him continue his graduate education. He attempts this by first citing the specific goal of his research group, followed by a brief summary of the literature related to this topic, then ending with a summary of his own research and lab experience.
Teach for America Student Sample
The student applying for the Teach for America program, which recruits recent college graduates to teach for two years in underprivileged urban and rural public schools, knows that she must convince readers of her suitability to such a demanding commitment, and she has just two short essays with which to do so. She successfully achieves this through examples related to service mission work that she completed in Ecuador before entering college.
Neuroscience Student Sample
The sample essay by a neuroscience student opens with narrative technique, telling an affecting story about working in a lab at the University of Pittsburgh. Thus we are introduced to one of the motivating forces behind her interest in neuroscience. Later paragraphs cite three undergraduate research experiences and her interest in the linked sciences of disease: immunology, biochemistry, genetics, and pathology.
Medieval Literature Student Sample
This sample essay immerses us in detail about medieval literature throughout, eventually citing several Irish medieval manuscripts. With these examples and others, we are convinced that this student truly does see medieval literature as a “passion,” as she claims in her first sentence. Later, the writer repeatedly cites two professors and “mentors” whom she has already met, noting how they have shaped her highly specific academic goals, and tying her almost headlong approach directly to the National University of Ireland at Maynooth, where she will have flexibility in designing her own program.
Beinecke Scholarship Student Sample
The Beinecke Scholarship essay is written by a junior faced with stiff competition from a program that awards $34,000 towards senior year and graduate school. This student takes an interesting theme-based approach and projects forward toward graduate school with confidence. This writer’s sense of self-definition is particularly strong, and her personal story compelling. Having witnessed repeated instances of injustice in her own life, the writer describes in her final paragraphs how these experiences have led to her proposed senior thesis research and her goal of becoming a policy analyst for the government’s Department of Education.
Online Education Student Sample
Written during a height of US involvement in Iraq, this essay manages the intriguing challenge of how a member of the military can make an effective case for on-line graduate study. The obvious need here, especially for an Air Force pilot of seven years, is to keep the focus on academic interests rather than, say, battle successes and the number of missions flown. An additional challenge is to use military experience and vocabulary in a way that is not obscure nor off-putting to academic selection committee members. To address these challenges, this writer intertwines his literacy in matters both military and academic, keeping focus on applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), his chosen field of graduate study.
Engineer Applying to a Master’s Program Sample
This example shows that even for an engineer with years of experience in the field, the fundamentals of personal essay writing remain the same. This statement opens with the engineer describing a formative experience—visiting a meat packaging plant as a teenager—that influenced the writer to work in the health and safety field. Now, as the writer prepares to advance his education while remaining a full-time safety engineer, he proves that he is capable by detailing examples that show his record of personal and professional success. Especially noteworthy is his partnering with a government agency to help protect workers from dust exposures, and he ties his extensive work experience directly to his goal of becoming a Certified Industrial Hygienist.
Click here to download a pdf of ten short essay samples.