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<BLOCKQUOTE>“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” –Plutarch</BLOCKQUOTE>
I asked everyone how to write a perfect college essay. “Show your passion,” they said. “Proofread” was another common admonition. The most (and least) useful advice came from my film teacher and mentor, who urged me to “just relax and it’ll come.”
I was putting the finishing touches on my piece at the end of October when four National Guardsmen showed up at my front door and told my family that we needed to evacuate our home immediately, that our house was threatened by the wildfire raging a few miles away, one of fourteen that had engulfed San Diego County in the last 24 hours.
In the subsequent week, my family was shunted from a Denny’s parking lot to my uncle’s house to my grandparents’ house. The experience ranged from long, tedious hours of scouring grocery stores for bottled water to the bizarre experience of strolling down the Pacific shoreline with my best friend, singing “I Am the Walrus” and observing how the smoke in the sky had scorched the crisp autumn morning into twilight.
Yes, I had felt sorry for the victims of the Indonesian tsunamis and Hurricane Katrina and donated to the Red Cross in the aftermath of those disasters. I spent three years volunteering at my local hospital. I thought I was passionate about helping people, but like some Gilded Age philanthropist, I had managed to help without having any idea of the refugee experience. Although I felt very strongly about my civic duty to help others at those times, living as an evacuee for a week alongside everyone else I knew instilled in me a redoubled passion to help society’s less fortunate.
The reason I struggled for weeks trying to convey my desire to improve society was that although intellectually I wanted to help the marginalized peoples of the world, the idea of what it was to be in need was something I could only imagine. I no longer have to imagine it, though. I’ve lived it, if only for a week and with no long-term damage to health or property.
That epiphany left me reexamining my passions and purpose in many aspects of my life, all while I’m attempting to chart its course. If my desire to help those in need was only galvanized by experiencing need, then how can I know that my other passions — such as my love of learning, which I’ve had since childhood and have nurtured protectively over the years — are genuine? There was no single experience that made me want to devour books and newspapers, to spend hours browsing the library of San Diego State University purely for pleasure. These things are in my nature, and I’ve always done them reflexively. But can I be truly passionate about learning if, like eating or sleeping, it’s something I’ve always done intuitively?
I believe that I can. Passions formed in a crucible may determine what we do, but it is our long-term interests and beliefs that determine how we fare in difficult situations; this combination of past experience and reaction to our surroundings allows us to grow.
My past will decide where I begin at university. I have my life experience thus far, an allegiance to integrity rather than tradition, a love of diversity and a willingness to do what it takes to preserve it, an insatiable hunger for knowledge, and a clear understanding of the benefits of helping those in need. More importantly, though, I understand that personal growth is about not only where you’ve come from, but also your reaction to the present. I know that attending university will enrich and change my perceptions of myself, my beliefs, and my world. I know that despite my convictions and goals, I may not follow the course I’ve charted in this application. I know that everything I have just written may be proven wrong.
I can’t wait.
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