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Personal Statement 1

Accepted into: Yale, Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia, Brown  

The first time that I attended a water ballet performance, I experienced a synesthesia of sorts as I watched the swan-like movements of the swimmers unfold with the cadence and magic of lyrical poetry, the precisely executed sequences melding with the musical accompaniment to create an ethereal beauty that I had never imagined possible. “You belong out there, creating that elegance with them,” I heard the quiet but powerful voice of my intuition tell me. For the next six years, I heeded its advice, training rigorously to master the athletic and artistic underpinnings of synchronized swimming.  

I flailed and plunged with all the grace of an elephant seal during my first few weeks of training. I was quickly and thoroughly disabused of the notion that the poise and control that I so coveted would be easy to obtain. During the first phase of my training, I spent as much time out of the water as in it, occupying myself with Pilates, weight training, and gymnastics in order to build my strength and flexibility. I learned things about the sport that outsiders seldom realize: that performers aren’t allowed to touch the bottom of the pool, relying on an “eggbeater” technique also used by water polo players to stay afloat; that collisions and concussions are all too common; that sometimes the routine demands staying underwater for so long that the lungs burn and the vision becomes hazy. My initial intervals in the water were marked by a floundering feeling that seemed diametrically opposed to the grace that I sought. I began to question whether I was really cut out for the sport.  

I persisted through all of this and slowly but certainly I saw myself progress. My back tucks became tight and fluid, my oyster maneuvers controlled and rhythmical, my water wheels feeling so natural that I could have executed them in my sleep. Moreover, I became comfortable enough with my own role in the water that I was able to expand my awareness to the other members of my team, moving not just synchronistically, but also synergistically. During one of my first major performances, our routine culminated as I launched myself out of the water in a powerful boost, surging upward on the swelling currents of the symphonic accompaniment. I owned the elegant arc that I cut through air and water, my teammates and I executing the leap with the majestic effortlessness of a pod of dolphins frolicking in the sea. I reveled in the thunderous applause at the conclusion of our routine, for it meant that I had helped to create the kind of exquisite beauty that I had so admired years before.  

Though I never would have guessed this at the outset of my training, synchronized swimming has provided one of the central metaphors of my life. The first and most fundamental lesson that I learned was persistence, which I absorbed humbly and viscerally by way of aching muscles and chlorine-stung eyes. More subtly and powerfully, the sport also lent me an instinctive appreciation of the way that many parts interact to form an emergent whole, an understanding which I have applied to every area of my studies, from mechanical systems to biological networks to artistic design. I have become cognizant of the fact that, as when I am in the water, my own perception of myself is narrow and incomplete, that to really understand my role in life I need to see myself in terms of my interactions with those around me. Six years after my training began, I still pursue the sense of harmony and unity that synchronized swimming has instilled in me, riding the soft swells of destiny forward as I move on to the next phase of my life.  

Personal Statement 2

Accepted into: Columbia, UPenn, Dartmouth, Brown  

Every night when the clock struck seven, I was tormented by the “entertainment” Mary provided. In oversized pants and a dazzlingly shirt, she would sing and dance awkwardly to Latin music. Mary was my host mother last year during an international exchange program in La Porte high school, and apparently, also a salsa aficionado. Upon hearing that I had taken piano lessons for over ten years, she encouraged me to take part in the school’s annual musical.  

“It’s the biggest party of the year! Cathy, you’re good at this. Just go for it and have fun!” Unable to say no to such an enthusiastic face, I nodded, auditioned, and eventually scored a role in the chorus. It was a backstage role, which might be the only reason I had so quickly acquiesced to Mary’s request.  

Practices went smoothly—I made several new friends and shared laughs with the other cast members. Just one day before the performance, however, the director announced an unexpected change: the chorus members were to perform in the middle of the audience instead of just standing behind the orchestra. While most of the others cherished the chance to publicly display themselves, I became uncontrollably anxious. The memory of my last stage performance haunted me.  

You see, my first (and only) piano concert was a catastrophe. At first, the notes flowed smoothly from my fingertips, effortlessly dancing across the ivory keys. Unwisely, I lifted my head from time to time to steal a glance at my parents and teachers in the audience. Trying to distinguish their emotions through their facial expressions, I found my attention gradually drifting. Before long, the melody completely escaped me! Empty-minded and petrified with embarrassment, I froze on the bench for the longest two minutes of my life before dashing offstage. All I could see when I finally mustered the courage to peer out from behind the curtain was the disappointment in my parents’ eyes and the overwhelming darkness of the stage.  

Since then, I have avoided such public shows, lest I re-experience such humiliation and fail to meet others’ expectations. But this time, it was too late to quit. I had already made a commitment to not only Mary and myself, but to the entire cast of the musical. Despite being just one member of the chorus, every voice mattered and my duty simply could not go unfulfilled. So, I rehearsed repeatedly that evening. Unfortunately, the more I practiced, the more nervous I became, and the more mistakes I made. My nerves were shot.  

The dreaded moment still came. I stood in the darkness like before, awaiting the guillotine. Unintentionally, my eyes found Mary’s face in the audience, and it was a sight to behold: it gleamed with appreciation, joy, and grace as her body swayed to the music. Her rhythm was not perfect, but it evoked my remembrance of my initial impetus to practice music. Something in me changed in that moment, as I observed Mary freely surrender.  

Spellbound, I sang naturally and danced harmoniously. For the very first time, I did not feel that I was performing for someone else, neither my parents nor my teachers, but for myself. Even when the music ceased and the applause rose, I was still singing. Not until the other choristers came to hug me and roared with excitement did I realize that I had successfully completed the show.  

For years, I had been a timid girl always content to hide behind others and blaming my diffidence and cowardice for my lack of familiarity with the circumstance I faced. Now, I realized that what intimidated me were never actually the expectations from my parents or the audience’s gaze, but rather, my inner insecurities. With the new understanding of music as a means of creative self-expression, I finally embraced my newfound strength and maturity.  


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