How NOT to Write a Personal Statement
By Renee Gauthier
Published on Friday, April 27, 2012
If one is very lucky, one is presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change oneself for the better. Although I am only 18 years old, I have been fortunate enough to have an opportunity like this, an opportunity that has unequivocally and irrevocably changed my life forever (certainly more than college, future relationships, a job or any other activities I may pursue in the next 60 or so years).
My life-changing event occurred when I volunteered over the summer in a developing country. Any developing country, just pick one. It doesn’t really matter. In this country, I learned the value of helping others. I was never happier than when I was teaching young orphans to read as we worked together digging wells to provide a fresh water supply for the village, except for when I was teaching them math as we built the health clinic.
Over the summer, I discovered who I really am: a person who loves to make the world a better place. It is a passion that has guided my actions ever since. It led me to found the Making Things Better Club at my school, and it informed my campaign for student body president, where I made things better for the student body by subsidizing the ticket costs for prom, bringing the price down from $150 to $148.50 per couple. I also managed to upgrade the venue, relocating the prom from the Garden Room at the Holiday Inn to the Poolview Room. The senior class was very grateful, but I told them none of it would have been possible without the tireless efforts and teamwork of the Prom Committee, which I founded and chaired.
My passion for improving the world around me also guided me through turbulent waters in my personal life. After I returned from my summer abroad, my life was touched by tragedy when my grandma/gerbil/favorite television character (I forget which) died. This devastating event forced the iron to enter my soul, but it also imbued me with a steely determination to succeed. As a result, I underwent training to become a grief counselor to help others through difficult times. I also coordinated the funeral service/backyard burial/season finale party (again, my memory fails me), where I played “Amazing Grace” on my flugelhorn to help my friends and family cope with this difficult event.
My personal experiences have taught me that I have a responsibility to improve the lives of others. No one should ever have to experience the adversity that I, a middle-class, well-educated, white American with a happy childhood and a safe hometown, have experienced. But I also know that in spite of my life issues, I have been blessed with wonderful opportunities, and that these opportunities obligate me to make the world a better place for my fellow human beings. Not everyone understands this about me. I have been called everything from “naive” to “self-righteous,” but neither of these words truly describe my inner soul. Instead, I would characterize myself as “determined,” “helpful” and “caring.” Oh, and “smart.” I got a 2300 on my SAT. It would have been a 2400, but during the test, I saw a kitten stuck in a tree outside the classroom. Consequently, I spent several precious minutes helping to save said kitten, but it was well worth the sacrifice. The local newspaper ran a front page story on it, which I have enclosed with my additional materials (“LOCAL HERO SAVES CAT, RECEIVES KEY TO CITY,” June 19, 2011).
But my efforts to improve the world around me are not always flashy, newsworthy endeavors. Sometimes, improving the world simply means listening to my friends when they share their problems with me. Sometimes it just means offering advice to my school principal on how to cut my high school’s dropout rate by 50 percent. Sometimes, it means leading a study group for every AP class I’ve ever taken (12, as you will see on my transcript). But I don’t mind doing quiet, behind-the-scenes work. I enjoy the satisfaction of watching others succeed, although none of them have managed to achieve as much as I have. But I try to be both supportive of others and humble about my own endeavors — there is no sense in making someone feel bad just because I got fives on 11 of my AP tests and they only got fives on 10 of theirs. In 10 years, when we look back on our time in high school, none of these things will matter. I plan to say as much in my valedictorian speech in June.
In conclusion, I feel that my life experiences thus far have prepared me to be a productive member of any college or university. If I am accepted to Dartmouth, I will bring with me a passion for improving not just myself, but also the world around me. I look forward to sharing that passion with other members of the Dartmouth community, whether they are ready for it or not.