Personal essay a personal challenge for La Jolla student

Roger Li takes a break from decision-making.  Photo: Courtesy
Roger Li takes a break from decision-making. Photo: Courtesy

By Roger Li

Editor’s note: Roger Li is a senior at La Jolla High who has been an intern at the Light for more than a year. In this intermittent series, he’s telling us about the college-application process.

The fall of my senior year, I knew that I wanted Ms. Visconti as my AP English Literature teacher. She was known for being brash, fiercely intellectual and relentlessly honest. Her class was infamous for being the most difficult on the LJHS campus, but all her past students agreed that she knew how to teach writing. With college applications approaching, I wanted Ms. Visconti to read my personal statements.

Several weeks into the class, she posed a question to her students: What do we most like about ourselves? One by one, each student raised his hand and offered his self-appointed redeeming quality.

“I’m good at skateboarding,” said one precocious, but naïve, student.

“Colleges don’t care that you’re good at skateboarding. Half of La Jolla High can twirl around on a skateboard,” said Ms. Visconti. “You need to demonstrate your intellectual capacity by writing well and writing about one specific topic that shows who you are.”

So each student began to think in terms of what’s desirable for a university. Obviously, crippling emotional problems and suicidal thoughts were not examples of attractive essay topics.

Personally, I struggled to find one topic I wanted to write about. I wondered how it was possible to incorporate all my passions in one polished, 500-word essay. Ms. Visconti taught me that the perfect essay detailing my entire life was not only impossible but also frowned upon.

She advised me to pick one narrow topic. Volunteering, my gastronomic escapades, and my passion for modern Japanese fiction were all appropriate topics. Ultimately, I decided to write about my participation in Youth and Government and my work with the International Rescue Committee, a refugee resettlement agency.

My first drafts were composed mostly of facts. They had no personality, no zeal and no life. Not surprisingly, Ms. Visconti hammered them.

“You’re 17 years old and you sound like you’re 80. Why do you enjoy volunteering? Why are you passionate about government? What do you want to convey to a college admissions officer? Why should a university want you on its campus?”

So I set about revising my essays. I added personal touches — my lifelong fascination with Asian culture, the T-shirts I spray painted my face on for my Y&G campaign, and most importantly, my love of fried rice.

At the end of a grueling couple of months, I finally felt satisfied with my essays. They did not represent every facet of my personality, but they did show my best qualities. And fortunately, they did not include any mention of skateboarding.



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