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Common app personal statement-- Overcoming failure at my dream school

aevans872 1 / -  
Sep 13, 2017   #1
This essay is a *very* rough draft. I'm not in love with it, so hopefully some comments can help this. It's also a little long so I'm looking to take out chunks of this, too. Thanks in advance for reading!

surrender or persist?

I remember when my hands first gravitated to my family's ancient, out-of-tune upright piano. My mom and I were listening to a disc of popular classical piano music. My six-year-old self was trying to enjoy the music as much as I could until one song in particular caught my ear. I bounded over to our dinosaur of a piano. My fingers stumbled along the keys as I was trying to match what I was playing to the melody I had heard. Although my attempt to play Edvard Grieg's "Morning" probably made my parents' ears bleed, this moment was monumental for me. I had found something I loved to lose myself in.

Time spent transposing music from my head to my hands quickly turned into lessons. I'd often not be able to sit still out of pure excitement while in the car on the way to the music studio. My parents would have to pry me off of the piano at bedtime, before school, and when I had homework to do. While my brother was out playing with his friends, I was always on the piano stool, harping away at the ebonies and ivories.

All of the days and nights spent at the piano seemed to lead up to my audition for Bak Middle School of the Arts. In my mind, Bak was this school built on a hill. Being accepted meant my voice could continue to grow and my hands would become an invincible force.

I'm sitting in the practice room at my dream school waiting for when they call my name. My mind was a stew of toxic negativity, conjuring up a million ways this audition could go wrong. My eyes examine all these other young musicians around me; they're probably all prodigies. In the distance, I hear the sound of my name and I make the treacherous journey down the rows of practice rooms toward the piano teacher's lair. I squeak out a shaky greeting and proceed to the piano. My bones were anxiously rattling as I put my hands in position for my first piece. My mind was foggy with images of others doing better than me and the teacher beside me laughing at my performance. The audition did not go as well as I had hoped, to say the least.

When an envelope addressed to me with Bak Middle School's emblem appeared in the mail, I ran to where my family was sitting and opened it with them. My eyes quickly scanned the letter which was littered with words like "regret" and "rejected". My heart sunk and I walked into my room dejected. I stayed in there for what felt like days.

I considered taking up a new hobby or burning the piano, but my hands still itched to play the keys. I soon decided instead of loathing in my self-pity, I should let my hands express my feelings. I poured all of my anger and sorrow from not making this audition into learning new songs. Maybe I could become better than what they expected and they'll be begging for me to come back.

Although I never set foot on my dream school thereafter, I switched my focus to new opportunities. I had managed to make the audition for the summer piano institute at Florida State University. I felt vindicated. I felt like I accomplished something-until the actual institute commenced. My eyes saw people who were could play circles around me and I was back in the auditions at Bak. But instead of letting this fog my vision, I thought back to the feeling I experienced that day I proudly butchered Greig's "Morning" and I decided to let my hands carry myself forward. Not only did I thrive at Florida State, but I was invited back again the next year.

I learned there are two ways to deal with failure: to surrender or to persist. Even though, at first, I wanted to quit, to surrender to my insecurity, deep inside I needed to prove to myself that my diligence paid off. My failures serve as wake-up calls that push me toward excellence and I am grateful for them in not only my music, but in all aspects of my life.

As I said before, I don't love this essay. I feel like I use some cliches such as "this moment was monumental for me. I had found something I loved to lose myself in." I also feel like the part where I start out with "I'm sitting in the practice room at my dream school..." is a little sudden. Maybe it would be better to start out with? I've heard its a good technique to "drop" the reader in a situation because it makes the story a little more engaging. But I'm still not sure about this. Anyway, thanks again for reading this and please feel free to comment, I love brutal honesty.

Holt [Contributor] - / 8,607 2499  
Sep 14, 2017   #2
Anna, I would open with the rejection from Bak first. Then work my way back to the audition situation. That way, you grab the readers attention first and then involve them in the actual process of how you felt after the rejection. Going back to your six year old self by the middle of the essay as the reason why you decided not to quit when you were told you were no good. Talk about the sense of being 6 years old and told by your parents that your playing was making their ears bleed or something. Then display a sense of self motivation along the lines of, "not even my parents could make me believe I was not good at piano playing and I wasn't going to let some school prevent me from doing what felt natural to me." I believe that such a presentation would remove the cliche feeling of your essay. Try to focus on how you overcame that failure by using it as an inspiration to qualify at the University of Florida instead. That way, when you speak of imagining you were back at Bak, this time, it would be in a sense of knowing that you were better prepared this time and you knew that this time, you would make it. The lessons you learned and indicated at the end are good. However, it needs to be represented in the body of the essay through your actions leading up to your next audition. That way, you not only overcame a failure, but you also built a stronger sense of character and determination in your self.

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