Below you'll find samples of writing from our many talented students! We're very proud of our students and the progress they've made with us. Check back each month as we spotlight another amazing writer!
Boey Lin, Grade 12 - College Application Essay
“Small,” that was it. Allowing myself to append the word “small” in front of my bucket list made it easier for me to accomplish the goals I’d set for myself. It was 2am, New Years, as I put on my slippers, turned on my yellow lamp, and got to work writing next year’s goals. I had put myself in a comfort zone during my first year of high school that I needed to get out of. And a “small bucket list” did not seem as daunting as a “2021 Resolution.” There were three sections in my “small bucket list”:
Growth. When I wrote that I would take myself on a picnic, I thought it would be simple. However, when I got there I had to set up the blankets and the food by myself, painfully conscious of stares from windows or as people walked by. Who cares? Let them watch. I decided to pretend like I was the only one on the hill. I had an amazing view of the sunset around me, hearing the birds chirping and feeling the wind. Two hours later, enjoying the sandwiches and sushi I had made, I realized that spending time with yourself is worthwhile, and right, and breathtaking. I started to love my own company, and accept myself for who I am. Everyone is unique; why whiten your skin and starve yourself to be beautiful in Asia or tan yourself bronze and get plastic surgery to be beautiful in America when you don’t want to be either?
Giving. Once you start loving yourself, you have a reason to give back to the world. When I started handing out tulips, my favorite flowers, people would often wonder if I was giving it to the wrong person. If they were in a group, everyone would glance at each other, asking who had put me up to this. “I’ve always wanted to be given a flower, so this is my way of starting something good.” They all smiled and thanked me. Then they would laugh and crowd together to take a selfie with the tulip or call someone or take a picture of it. They always looked stunned and amazed that this had happened to them. Giving back to people when they need a little help in this world could be more important to them than you realize. It allowed me to be a part of their story.
Creating. “You have two lives, the second one starts when you realize you only have one.” The idea of making a video started after seeing people on Tiktok documenting their towns. It inspired me to create videos about my town and life; it’s all I’ve known for the past 18 years and one day it is going to be just an image in my head. I realized that I was not appreciating the diversity of everything around me. There are a lot of people from all different types of backgrounds living in my town: those who have been here their whole lives and know everyone and recent immigrants who barely know anyone but bring their culture with them. This video was quite simple, I filmed everything around me: the people at my school, at work, the cars going by, the sunsets and everyday life. I wanted to capture everything because the picnic spot where I spent so many sunsets and deepened so many friendships may soon be overshadowed by buildings. I started loving life more, I have realized how beautiful this place is around me.
One small sheet of paper changed the way I look at myself and the world. I realized how a new perspective on “bucket list” can change so much. Valuing life day to day and lived experience makes me realize happiness happens whenever you want it to happen. Too often, we do not see the happiness of everyday life.
A personal narrative essay used for college application should do a number of things. It should talk about the applicant's character, it should present a story or a number of stories that support this point, and it should be interesting. This essay accomplishes all three goals and is a strong Common App personal narrative. Typically, this kind of personal narrative will focus on a single story and develop the themes (the applicant’s character) through that story. But the essay above does this through a frame story presenting three smaller narratives that each show us a part of who the applicant is. This can be a dangerous approach, since you run the risk of having your essay be to “thin,” where it does not provide the necessary detail to be convincing or interesting. Including multiple stories in the 650-word limit requires an economy of language and efficiency that can be hard to master. But the above student was able to present these ideas in a compelling way. The result is an essay that does a lot in a short amount of time and packs a real emotional punch. Well done!
Zhuorong Tang, Grade 11 - Flash Fiction
Walking down the pavement, Benjamin is certain about what he is going to buy—kids’ cereal, which William has eagerly wanted for weeks, especially each time the TV commercial displays the brightly-colored and appealing bowl of cereal and milk, with cartoon rabbits gulping and then giggling contentedly.
It is a mundane summer morning, Benjamin has just left his work. To be honest, for his intelligence, he could’ve been promoted and be sitting in a clean bright office sipping a latté. But until now, he is merely a hospital buffet cashier who gets paid with only wrinkled cash and coins. Of course he doesn’t live such a dreary life of his own volition, but all his time and energy has been devoted to William, who needs much care and love. Everyone else has told him to live his own life and find others to take care of William, but he refused, saying that he wants to spend more time with him when he can.
As Benjamin walks inside the store, packages of kids’ cereal with bright and dazzling cartoon pictures are arranged trimly. He picks up the one with Edward the Elephants, which is William’s favorite TV show. With a glance to the ‘On Sale’ shelf, he notices that there is a box of toy bricks. Benjamin hesitates, weighing whether to save the money for his haircut or not, but he eventually buys the bricks, for the doctor has said that puzzle games are beneficial for William’s brain development and manual ability.
Benjamin hears the toy train chuffing all around the room as he first steps inside the house. It is William’s favorite toy, and he loves watching it run on the track as if he could ride inside and travel to places with ease. Benjamin walks into the kitchen and heats up two bowls of milk. He then pours the cereal in and mixes it up. Pieces of carefree cereal are dancing joyfully inside the swirl, freely and without a care.
After Benjamin sets the table ready, he calls out for William: “Dinner’s ready, Dad.”
Advisor's Comments: This is a fantastic example of a “flash fiction” story. Even shorter than a short story, a piece of clash fiction seeks to tell a full narrative - fleshing out characters, examining their relationships, and developing them - in an extremely short amount of words. This is very difficult, and the student above does it extremely well. A story of this type requires a very efficient economy of language - every sentence should both describe the setting or characters as well as develop the narrative and themes. The story builds to an effective ending using a twist that can be explained in three short words. Although especially important for flash fiction, this kind of economy of language is something worth studying for use in all writing, from research essays to novels.
Tingyue Huang, Grade 9 - Personal Narrative
I was born in winter, maybe because of fate, as all of the women in our large family have been born in winter. My parents named me Tingyue, which means treasure. Maybe because of the name, I'm really fragile. My mother often talks about accidents that happened when I was a child. For example, when I was no more than two years old, I got stuck in a crab shell and went to the hospital. Soon after I turned four years old, I broke my forehead and went to the hospital for 3 stitches. Fortunately, I survived.
When I returned to the United States, my focus remained on my studies. There are four generations in our family, and no one has ever been admitted to university. My family members feel like I am the hope of the whole family. I felt that I was not smart enough and had no talent in learning. Therefore, the hope of the family has been an invisible pressure on me. My grades are stable, but far from reaching the level of excellence. My math and science work is always better than language-related subjects, such as history and English. In China, my worst subject was also Chinese. This is very puzzling to me, as it is said that girls are better at liberal arts than they are at science, and I am the exception.
Only one-sixth of my life has passed. I am still a teenager, and there is still a long time, and there are many things waiting for me to explore and experience. I am not afraid of a long life because I know that my future is definitely bright.
Advisor's Comments: One of the recurring essay prompts for college application essays asks the students to talk about their cultural or family background. For many of our students, this means talking about their experience as an immigrant in the US. The above excerpt is a wonderful example of this kind of essay and emblematic of the themes that many of our students write about - feeling different, feeling “weird,” the pressure to perform, and hope for the future. This dichotomy between challenges and hope is framed in the context of her name and the small accidents that befall her. In her writing class, this student has had the chance to begin working with themes that will show up again in her eventual college application essays and refine the way she’ll talk about them in the future!
Nicole Hou, Grade 9 - Personal Narrative
“And next we have-” Oh no...that’s me...
“giving an impromptu speech-” I’m not ready?
“for five minutes.” Why am I here again?
From the very start, I was afraid of speaking in front of a crowd. They say that fear of public speaking is second only to the fear of death, and I believed it. I was the standard ‘introvert’ and I always envied the people who could strike up a conversation with strangers. Instead, I holed up inside of my room, like a burrowing owl, and read my favorite books.
Fast forward to our school’s Club Rush. As each and every club advertised why we should take part, lunch period was a whirlwind of flyers being shoved in everyone’s faces. And in that chaos, one club that stood out was Speech and Debate. I was fascinated by their showcase: speakers came up with five minute long speeches on the spot, while debaters engaged in long clashing arguments that stunned the crowd.
Of course, this didn’t mean that I would join...right? After all, I couldn’t even speak in front of more than two people, with the condition that those people were my friends or family! What if I failed? What if I embarrassed myself so much, I wouldn’t want to leave my room for an entire year? But as my parents pointed out, how would I know if I didn’t try? So try I did.
I’d like to say I was a natural at public speaking, but honestly, the first practice was a complete disaster. I was called on to give an improvisational speech on confidence, just the thing I was lacking. After all, I was the least confident person I knew! After stuttering through 2 painful minutes, I finally ended the misery. I was done. I wanted to quit. Why had I signed up for speech and debate? I hated speaking in front of people!
I went home, full of my complaints about that practice, expecting soothing sympathy and understanding that I was quitting. But the second I spilled my miseries, my parents told me to stand up, brush myself off, and go right back out there. Evidently, my initial response was no. Why would I want to purposely embarrass myself again? But as I sulked in the comfort of my room, I wondered…did I really try? If I quit, sure, the introvert inside of me would be relieved. But another part of me, a part that had always been hidden in the recess of my mind, protested. That part told me to give Speech and Debate another chance - what was the worst that could happen?
So I did. I went to every single practice, and from that day on, it didn't matter if I embarrassed myself. I tried my very hardest during every single practice and learned as much as I could. Of course, my speaking skills didn’t automatically professionalize themselves. There were still days where I messed up and made a fool out of myself, but during those times, I had my friends and family to prop me up and push me forward.
After a few months of training, I decided to sign up for a speech competition. As a challenge, I chose impromptu as my category, a type where there's no previous preparation, and you choose a topic on the spot.
“You may choose one: your greatest fear, worst moment in your life, or your greatest regret.”
Well…I think the topic of choice would be obvious, wouldn’t it?
“You may begin.”
“From the very start, I was afraid of speaking in front of a crowd…”
Advisor’s Comments: The personal narrative style of writing is especially important for students applying for college - the vast majority of college essays will be of this type. Its purpose is to display a quality or skill of the writer through the medium of a story or example that is interesting and revelatory. Although this still of writing will be important for their academic future, many students are unfamiliar with it. The story above, from a student in our Advanced High School Reading & Writing class, presents both a student's passion (speech & debate) as well as a quality of the student (perseverance). What this student has done so well is to humanize what might otherwise be a dry recitation of a hobby. By giving us specific, sensory details (direct quotations, specific descriptions) as well as the emotional response of the narrator, we are carried on an emotional journey with the author. The further use of an in medias res opening, which wraps back around to contextualize the initial scene throughout the essay, allows us to fill in our understanding of the author as the story is revealed. These structural choices and the richness of the prose make this essay an entertaining read in addition to emblematic of the author’s character - something absolutely crucial for a good personal narrative, college or otherwise.