by Watershed's 2020 Class
Painstakingly crafted to reflect an entire identity in under 650 words, the CommonApp’s personal essay section is a notorious quandary most students must eventually face. As application deadlines approach, we invite you to glimpse into the mundane, the life-altering, and the profound of Watershed’s 2020 class. Read excerpts from class of 2019 here.
Dancing requires minimal conscious thought for me. It is an act of permission, allowing my temporal lobe to process the music, causing my motor cortex, somatosensory cortex, basal ganglia, and cerebellum to send signals through my nervous system leading to the contraction and release of my muscles to the beat. I imagine this process as a multitude of little balls of light racing through a web of tunnels underneath my skin. The process is miraculous and incredibly fascinating. I will forever be grateful to live in a body in which—at least so far—all of the many facets function properly together to create movement.
As I travel the barren path and peer upon the windswept peak I scream “this land is my land!” For the rocks are jagged, the cold is sharp, the legs grow weak and the mind faint. Still, the summit persists, maintains the space where I witness the earth's curvature and the carelessness of the everchanging clouds. As the leaves fall, the snow and resilient wind sting my face, I remind my blistered lips and my bare chest that warmth is inevitable. I whisper in the ear of my love, you make me question my mind and my looks, you cause me heartache when I feel you are upset, however you kiss me softly and brush my cheek with your long dark lashes. Be that as it may, the fire cracks-n-pops its secret language and I imagine the impossibility of the stars above. As I dance to my favorite song and watch my paint evolve the canvasses vast nothingness I insist, “I am here now! This land is my land!”
Heavy flakes of ash drift up the crumbling mountainside, wafting over us and through our shuffling legs, leaving streaks of chalky grey on our nylon pants. The sun is harsh, but a light breeze dilutes the heat. Stepping awkwardly to the left, my Nikes just miss some mud. Stones and tattered shoes hold tarp roofs, from lifting off in the wind, so they flutter against the mud and brick walls instead. I will call them houses for absence of a word to describe the dwellings in rural Xela. They were more tarp than roof, more dirt than floor, and more heart than home.
We wandered around trailer parks, streets, stores, and restaurants to ask average women for interviews, phones in hand. All we got were uncomfortable silences, averted glances, awkward laughs, and fidgeting hands. Interviewers and interviewees alike tiptoed around the controversy. Up until then, my only exposure to right-wing politics had come from vitriolic politicians. But here in Sterling, Colorado, we were determined to be kind, and, likewise, we found our interviewees to be thoughtful and caring. It seemed we had all made a commitment to understanding each other and recognizing our similarities. The hope of mutual compassion grew with each passing question.
A young boy’s scream rings out against a dissonant circus melody and the thuds of wooden props. A life-sized marionette, face painted white, staggers toward him on its knees. An older boy—his brother, maybe—steps back for a moment, seemingly unimpressed.
“She’s not real,” he says, smirking. “Also, they’re legally not allowed to touch you.”
The short, haunting tune pauses, loops back, and repeats.
They hurry towards the next room as it crawls closer, the older boy holding back the young one by his arm. “Slow down!” he hisses as they round the corner.
As they step out of the room, the marionette backs up to the wall and slumps. We share unamused looks. I’ll spend the rest of their time in this haunted house tiptoeing around in the shadows behind them, handing out painkillers, band-aids, and water to a beaten crew.
Before my 8th grade year I actively shunned physically difficult activity, and paid no attention to what I was eating. I was overweight and on the path to becoming obese. My parents tried to get me moving, but outside a once-a-week swim class I was uninterested. My science teacher, Mr. Trasky, was the 8th grade basketball coach. As he was one of my favorite teachers, my parents tried again and signed me up to play. I was pudgy and out of shape, and although the two hour daily practices totally wiped me out, I always felt accomplished and happy afterwards.
From that time on, I slowly changed my life around health and exercise. I have adapted my eating habits from careless consumption to foods that help my body grow and function. My exercise habits changed from nonexistent (playing video games every chance I could) to waking up at 5 AM to complete workouts before school. In the past 4 years, my entire lifestyle has changed because of a whim of my parents to try basketball.