Julian Jimenez’s winning college essay begins, “Here comes Satanás… Behold his fiery, mischievous, defiant glory.” I know: a risk. Just the kind that apparently makes admissions teams sit up and then salute.
I had worked closely with Julian on his main college essay and supplements–if they don’t take him, they’re confused, I’d think. In admissions, though, criteria are complex. Excellent writing stands out, but it doesn’t stand alone. Though the tone was often playful, I knew he wasn’t playing. So when I saw his long list of impressive acceptances in the email, I was not surprised, but my heart did crack open.
You’ll remember my name
Julian was dubbed “Satanas” as a child; Satan may have a really bad reputation in many circles, but we know what that figure does well is convince others to do things. In this case, his power of language (y’all are going to know my name!) held sway over admissions officers. They remembered his name and they put it on their BRING IT list.
Committed to Princeton
Julian wrote: “I’m proud to tell you that I have committed to Princeton! I actually got into roughly 90% of my top choices including Dartmouth, Columbia, USC, UCLA, Berkeley, Swarthmore, University of Notre Dame, UCSD and UCSB , and a few others.”
Now, if you follow my admissions essay work, you know I am not an Ivy Preacher nor swayed by school branding that’s not backed up by substance and stellar education. Any school must be a potential a fit for that applicant. (Because, no, the Illustrious Ivies are not a fit for all, nor is their egregious price tag).
But in this case, the enormity of the nations top schools saying YES YES YES CHOOSE US speaks volumes about Julian’s renovation of his entire life, and his family’s life and prospects. His was the kind of family this country claims currently to not want within our borders.
Voice to and through the struggle
Most of us have no idea what some students struggle through to get even a decent education, forget about basic dignities they’ve been robbed of. Yes, robbed of. Therefore, it’s especially powerful, especially noteworthy, especially profound, when someone like Julian breaks through the ceiling. Because it is not something you do with a toothpick, but by using your whole body as a sledgehammer.
I looked forward to opening his drafts because he had a natural voice and spun his story in compelling and entertaining ways. Behind each choice was a voluminous history of pain and misunderstanding; in each sentence was declaration, self-confidence, choice.
I knew someone would hear the voice in his college essay, but not which someone. That’s how voice works– it can’t speak to everyone, and you have to hope it lands as intended, with the acceptance that it might not.
Critical Questions for writers
The writer and anyone supporting them must ask: How honest can I be, and about what? How much humor can I risk? What helps the truth emerge? Like most good questions, there is not one answer.
So please take a minute to read Julian’s winning college essay, and you’ll get to say you knew of him when.
If you have the bandwidth, whether you are a teen or adult, see if there is someone in your circle whose educational dreams you can support. You might have to ask– it’s not always obvious.
Nudge them to write something true about themselves. If you have the ability, offer to read it, or help them find solid writing feedback. You never know what you could unlock by the simple question, “Hey did you ever try writing down what happened to you?”
Opportunity Programs and Opportunities
I got to work with Julian through JPMorgan Chase’s The Fellowship Initiative (TFI)–the bank’s philanthropic arm, supporting cohorts of young men of color to become the leaders they dream to be. (Though I’m not always a fan of big banks, this is an initiative the bank got really right).
Their young men are actualizing their hopes, and have financial backing so long denied communities of color. It takes a lot of support, because our culture has told men of color they dare not dream big, and their value is up to white people to decide.
But these young men have decided that they can change the landscape, and show their value by living it.
We helped Julian as he created his powerful future. Are you next?
Julian wrote to me:
“It is difficult to overstate how much my essays improved with the help of Essay Intensive. Not only did my essays sound clearer and well written, they were a better representation of who I was and I truly appreciate that.”
Got a story like Julian’s?
Not sure about how to pay for it, or if this support is for you? Not sure you dare to hope for collegiate education?
Every story, like every person, has value. Every year I work with students who can’t afford to pay for specialized services. Please reach out and share a bit about yourself.