Personal Statement

So, a few years ago, I was seriously considering going back to school for a counseling degree with the goal of becoming a middle or high school counselor. I went through the application process for a couple of schools in the Seattle-area, but ultimately decided to turn down the acceptance offers for a number of reasons.

As part of the application process, I was required to write a personal statement discussing why I wanted to become a school counselor. Since this is my writing blog and I share some insight into my past life in that paper, I thought I’d post a few excerpts from it here for your reading pleasure(?):

With respect to grades, I was a very good student in school, but it was not until my senior year of high school that I finally began to understand what education was all about. Like most children, I was much more interested in the social scene than I was in studying for a pop quiz on the Vietnam War. In fact, if you were to ask me to tell you the one thing that stands out in my head about middle school, it wouldn’t be a good grade I made on some test, it would be the day my so-called friend, Johdi*, said to me, “So, where’d you get THAT dress?” rolling her eyes. I had gone shopping with my mom the day before and she let me pick out a few things for the new school year that I liked. For once, we both agreed that the dress in question – a fitted whitewashed jean number – looked great on me. But after Johdi’s suggestion that it might not actually be as “cool” as I thought, the dress didn’t see the outside of my closet until years later when it hit the bottom of the Goodwill bag.

Looking back, I regret letting Johdi make me doubt my instincts. I also see that my priorities then were generally in the wrong place. I have since come to realize that the appreciation I now have for learning should have come long before high school graduation and that becoming a legal adult did not automatically make me an emotionally mature adult or ensure that I had the skills necessary to help me through life in the “real world.”

. . .

I attribute my appreciation for learning to the environment in which I was raised. For example, just like many children in my neighborhood, my parents forced me to learn the piano. While the novelty of the lessons was intriguing at first, it wasn’t too long before I couldn’t wait to stop taking lessons so I wouldn’t have to practice any more! The thirty minutes of practice a day seemed unnecessary in the midst of my dramatic pre-teen social life. I was finally allowed to quit during high school. Almost twenty years later, however, I am thankful my parents compelled me to learn the piano because I have been able to quickly pick up playing again. That I had to “grow into” my appreciation for learning is true as well. However, I do think there were other factors at play: it was clearly important to my parents that I get a post high school education, I witnessed my parents read the paper every Sunday, our house had bookshelves full of books, and I had friends who thought it was actually “cool” to be smart. My environment as a whole contributed to my eventual appreciation of learning. I realize that many children are less fortunate than I and grow up in households that are unsupportive of continued education. My goal is to show these children early the importance of going to school for the sake of learning, not because they have to, but because the should want to. I want them to understand that the freedom education provides is something no other person in this world can ever take from them.

But education alone is not all a child needs in life. I have come to realize that more than just intelligence is required to be successful. Throughout my career, I have met many adults who are intelligent but are very poor communicators and thus, poor managers of people. They lack a certain level of what Daniel Goleman calls “emotional intelligence” which would make them successful in their relationships with co-workers, in their personal relationships, in life. In “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than I.Q.”, Goleman argues that attributes such as self-control, the ability to motivate oneself, and social perceptiveness are not given as much attention in schools as the measure of a child’s I.Q. He goes on to argue that these skills can be taught to children, that children can be encouraged to develop the full range of capabilities that will allow them to succeed. School then becomes an education in life skills.

In retrospect, my mind goes again back to my school days and to Nathan* and Betsy*. They were the smartest kids in school. I remember Nathan being picked on by other kids for being a “nerd.” The clothes he wore (shirts with loud prints tucked into high-waisted jeans) drove the other students’ cruelty. Yet, the popular kids didn’t pick on Betsy, who should also have been considered un-hip because her clothes weren’t name brand and she was clearly smart enough to be considered a nerd like Nathan. Rather, she was accepted by the “in” crowd. I remember wondering, if Nathan was so smart, how could he be so oblivious to the social norms at our school. It was also perplexing to consider how Betsy escaped being labeled “un-cool” because of her intelligence. As an adult, I would now say that Betsy demonstrated an emotional intelligence that Nathan lacked. It’s children like Nathan that need counselors to help them develop the social and life skills to function successfully in society.

. . .

As an advocate for the student, a school counselor can have a huge influence. By simply providing a troubled child seeking guidance with an excerpt from a poignant book whose main character the child can identify with, that child has been shown that he is not alone. . . So many things have been accomplished here! The child knows he can trust the counselor with his problems and he is exited about reading. An understanding that his feelings are legitimate, coupled with his ability to have discussion with friends about “this great book” he’s reading is not only educational, it’s empowering!

I have already seen first hand the empowerment a person can gain through education in my . . . tutoring sessions for a Spanish speaking woman in her late thirties named Maria. I teach her to speak, read and write in English. She is an excellent example of someone who has developed a strong appreciation for continued education. She is religious about completing her homework assignments. No one forces her to show up each week; she is entirely self-motivated. For the two plus years I have tutored her, she has always come to class prepared and takes each class seriously. Without fail, at the conclusion of every lesson she says to me, “Thank you, Joy, for this class.” From her, I received a heartfelt compliment when she thanked me for making her feel comfortable during each session. She does not have to be afraid if she answers a question incorrectly and appreciates that I recognize her sensitivity in this area, unlike other tutors she has had. She has, in turn, taught me what someone proficient in life success skills looks like.

In my professional life as a consultant, I have enjoyed being a teacher to my clients. However, in the five years I have sustained this role, I have not received that same personal satisfaction that I receive in just one session with Maria. I now seek to find a rewarding teacher-student type relationship beyond the conference room walls.

. . .

There you have it folks. That’s my personal statement that states things – personally.

*Name changed in case these friends should show up on Facebook and decide not to confirm my friend request after reading about themselves in these illuminating little antidotes. Friends, of any nature, are all that matter on Facebook y’all!

3 Responses to “Personal Statement”

  1. Carrie Howell Says:

    I have my personal statement that i wrote years ago as a model for my students. It’s way cheesy, but I wanted to show them how to include sensory details and to tell a story, since college admissions officers like that. Anyhoo, here it is:

    It was warm next to the fire this late December evening. We huddled our young heads together amid the orange glow of the flashlight. Our warm breaths, still sticky with the scent of candy canes shared the many splendors of our Christmas gifts. We spoke of our wishes that had come wrapped in cheap reindeer paper and stick on bows that we now wore on our heads, like festive crowns. The prince and princess of Christmas Day, we were.
    It had been months since I had seen Rob, the closest thing I then had to a brother. Our relationship was close; we admired and copied each other slyly, as siblings often do. Yet, what I wanted more than anything was for Rob to think I was fabulous, for him to look to me as the wise, worldly one. I wanted to prove that the two years I had on him made me smarter, and, more than anything, cooler.
    I guess it was this desire to impress that urged me to do the unthinkable. Nestled inside the tent Rob had received as a gift from Santa, we knew our time together was soon to end. The adults were drinking coffee and eating mom’s pecan pie. That meant a long drive home and months of separation. As Rob bragged of his tent and how good of a boy he had been this year (hence the glorious gift), I began to burn with jealously, a need to one-up him.
    “You know Santa isn’t real,” I blurted. Having been brought into the light only weeks before, I felt accomplished, no longer part of the “kid crowd.” And nothing makes one feel older and more “in the know” than exposing someone else who is still living in the dark. I shone my flashlight on Rob’s face as I whispered, “it’s really just your mom and dad who–”
    But I couldn’t finish my confession as I was ripped from the tent by my arm. “What is wrong with you?” Rob’s father accused. His face was red. His eyes, even when shielded by the thick lenses of his glasses, burned with anger. His disappointment burned with unmistakable fury. He reminded me, “He’s just a kid. Way to ruin Christmas.” He released my arm, but didn’t release me from my immediate sense of shame and regret. The room fell silent.
    The adults’ goodbyes were quiet and dull this night. Rob never left the tent. I left his flashlight outside the zipped up door of the tent.
    The drive home that night was longer than usual. I never drifted off to sleep, didn’t trace the raindrops as they raced like rivers on the car windows, wasn’t able to count the traffic lights from their house to ours. Guilt choked me all through that ride home. I couldn’t forget that I had ruined Christmas.
    For years, that event had stayed firmly planted in the back of my mind every time I saw Rob. No matter how much fun we were having, I always felt indebted to Rob, owing him more than I could ever repay. And it was all because of my selfish need to appear “cool.”
    It wasn’t until many years later that I finally released myself from the guilt of that Christmas blunder. Now, it is easy for me to forgive the 6-year-old girl who spoke without thinking. And though I have forgiven myself for making the mistake, I will never forget that Christmas, for it taught me a very valuable lesson about trying to look better than others.
    Now I know that what draws people to me is not how smart or worldly I appear. I know that being “right” sometimes leads to being alone. That Christmas, though it took me years to realize this, let me see that I don’t have to work hard to impress others—simply giving a piece of who I am is enough. It’s not in taking away a hope from others that makes us feel better–it’s in sharing that we feel satisfied. In my daily life, I try to live this: by giving to the students I teach, by giving to my friends and family, and by even giving back to myself I am a happier and more fulfilled person.
    So, though I may have told Rob otherwise on that fateful Christmas, maybe Santa really does exist. If we look hard enough, we can find a jolly bag full of gifts inside ourselves.

  2. JoyLuck Says:

    Girl, I don’t know why you stopped doing your blog. This is exactly the kind of thing you should use it as an outlet for! I guess you’ll just have to get your stories published if you aren’t going to do a blog so that others can enjoy your writing. Until then, you are welcome to publish away on my blog, although your audience will be a bit limited . . .

  3. Kittushail Says:

    REBEKAH!!! ALL the images are soloooo freakinb4adorable! I canb4t believe you hid them for soooo long! I remember last year as I came across Shona and her husbands wedding I showed it to all the people dear to me! I love this couple soloooo much! And now this wonderufl session! I had to pin almost every second pic! You are such an idol for me!!! I love your art! (would love to meet you one day!) ~ Saluti.

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