Why we tell you to keep developing your essay ...even after admissions
When Reggie handed me his college essay free-write in the middle of my Essay Intensive writing workshop at JPMorgan's The Fellowship Initiative, I just about fell out of my chair.
"I haven't really written about this before," he said offhandedly. "What do you think? Could you tell me if it's good?"
Students contextualize their writing this way to me all the time-- regarding everything from compulsory chicken scratch, to sob stories about a low grade on a math test, to Oedipal tales, to wrenching sagas of family illness.
But this essay was different. Within a few sentences, a loved one was cruelly dead-- and his real loss was not even months old.
Not where the story ends!
shit writ!, I responded-- which was about as accurate as it gets. I'm from Brooklyn and we know a well-timed curse is sometimes the only and most appropriate testimony.
I share Reggie's brave, pared down essay with you below. However, Reggie's work, in every sense, is not done yet. Now that he's happily accepted into college, he emailed me to say that he's ready to take up my offer and develop the essay further.
What you have here is the version he submitted to colleges. But it's not where the story ends-- not at all.
That's why we keep working with our students. It's also why we tell you even AFTER you've submitted your application to colleges, you should keep developing your essay.
Sometimes there is so much more to the story, and it matters that you say it.
Check back in a few months to see what Reggie did with this-- the essay of his life.
My Second Nature-- by Reggie Woods (Developing Your Essay series)
2016 was the best and worst year of my life.
I was in Spanish class when my mom called, which was surprising because she never calls during school. I didn’t know that this was going to be the worst call I’d ever answered.
She just got straight to it: “ Reggie…don’t overreact and DON’T cause a scene, okay? I need you to be a man and keep it together… Okay?” So many different possibilities went through my head, except what had actually happened. “Baby, your sister was just found dead… Renia is gone, baby. Now go get your brothers and come home.” As she was speaking, all I could do was see Renia every time I blinked, hear her voice out of nowhere, and recall our past memories and shared moments.
“Body of a high school senior, 18, found behind a dumpster” was the headline for every article on the internet. I couldn't escape my sister like I used to when we played hide and seek as kids. She was one year older than me. Just about every moment in my life included her. As time went by and the days got shorter I felt like my entire world was over and everything started to fall apart piece by piece. My grades for junior year, the most important year in everyone's high school career, dropped drastically. My social life went from being that guy everyone knew and loved to being the guy that dropped from the face of the earth. The one thing I loved doing to make myself feel better, singing, ended up hurting me every time I did it.
Music is my passion. It's my outlet. Singing makes me feel like I’m on top of the world, bringing complete joy to my heart. Exactly a month after my sister's death, my high school vocal ensemble was invited to audition for the television competition America's Got Talent. That audition changed my life. On April 20th, we had to sing in front of the four celebrity judges. There were thousands of acts and everyone had the same nervous looks on their faces. I found it funny so many different people could make the same face.
Normally I’d be a nervous wreck but I was unexpectedly calm that entire day. I focused on trying not to break down and show weakness. Our group received four yeses–shockingly, every judge wanted us on the show. This gave me a boost of confidence I’d never felt. They flew us out to L.A for filming and we were treated like stars. It felt so unreal.
The thing that I loved the most was the hearts my story touched as I openly told it on Americas Got Talent. Many people reached out to me with prayers and their similar stories, which gave me some sort of peace. Our group was an underdog but we made it all the way to the semifinals. But none of it mattered to me. I was overwhelmed with sadness. I couldn't enjoy my success. I couldn't live in the moment. I couldn't realize that I was experiencing the highlight of my music career. I really didn't care.
After our season ended, I was able to take a break and breathe for the first time in a long time. During this long breath, I realized the mistakes that I was making. My sister was taken her senior year. No prom, no graduation, no joy from her first college acceptance letter. Nothing. I realized that I had to graduate for her and make her proud. I'm allowing her to live through me, her baby brother. I will make it out for her, no matter how afraid and sad I am, I will make it. My grades are back up, the friends that I once thought were gone have reappeared, singing is again my second nature, and I'm 18, like Renia, applying to colleges and making it.