Who am I? I have no idea. Can I give up already? This is the conversation I have in my head each time I sit down to write a college essay. I’m reminded of the first time I was tasked with writing a personal essay; I say “tasked with writing” instead of “wrote” because I didn’t achieve this goal. It was in my sophomore English class when Mr. Harris assigned us personal essays, and having no idea what this personal essay thing was, I turned in a jumbled mess of half research paper and half philosophical treatise. The hardest part was trying to put myself down on paper. It felt too revealing. And, when I saw my words in print, it felt too flat. Although I understand the personal essay format better, I’m still uncomfortable with the process of pulling out what seems to me private stories and posting them for all to see.
Another part of me wonders how colleges can even ask me to tell them who I am and what I am going to study at their institution. After all, isn’t this why I am going to college in the first place? I’m supposed to take advantage of the next four years to explore my passions, my talents, my perceptions. I imagine that if all goes well, I will learn a great deal about my personal identity and my relationship with the world during those four years. If all goes well, whoever I am now will cease to exist, replaced by a new state-of-the-art software update. I also can’t give colleges a definitive account of what I want to study because I haven’t yet had the opportunity to study enough subjects to know. I’ve never taken a class in anthropology, economics, or a host of other fields that I could one day make into a career. Based on my past record, I’ve found that I’m passionate about a lot of things, and the more I’m exposed to new things, the more excited I get about life’s possibilities. There’s still a whole world out there for me to explore. They can’t possibly ask me to choose already, can they?
Yet, I know that personal essays are the only way that colleges can get any idea of whom they’re admitting, and so I must try to silence the voices in my head. This doesn’t work because next question I ask myself is What am I going to write about? It’s this question that ultimately makes me grateful for the college essay-writing process because writing these essays really does make me think about my life so far. What was once an intimidating process, one that forced disclosure, now forces me to think about my life. As I ask myself What should I write, I take a walk through my memories and am reminded of people and experiences, both good and bad, that have shaped who I am today. This exploration through my past has been a real coming to terms with myself, and has brought me some new perspectives on my personal identity. Frankly, I can’t think of a better way to start the next part of my life than to appreciate what has already happened.
So, each time I sit down to write the next college essay, I am reminded that, even though I still cannot answer the question “Who am I,” there are many good reasons to remember who I have been.