I’ve been watching my son work on his personal essays for college applications. It’s been quite a gift to see what he says, both about who he is and the forces that have shaped his life and identity.
I remember very distinctly when I wrote my college essay: New Year’s Eve 1979. Back then, the most significant force that shaped my life was my mother opening our family home as a shelter for battered women and children. That was certainly an attention-getting topic, but in many ways, it’s plagued me as being the thing that is most interesting about me — something that happened to me, not something I did, achieved, led, or created.
My son, in contrast, is writing about personal obstacles he’s overcome, leadership opportunities he’s taken, and insights he’s gained. I’m envious. Sad as that sounds, I do wonder what I’d be like if I weren’t me. If I’d had the class privilege my son has and the unrecognized gift of a quiet home, emotional stability, and financial security. It’s a fool’s errand to spiral into that inquiry, but it’s intriguing.
I feel strongly that one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child is to see them – to really see them. Along those lines, I’ve tried to see the young people I’ve helped with college essays (three and counting) for who they are and who they are becoming. It’s curious and it takes work — really listening to how they describe themselves and their interests and encouraging them to stand tall in their views, maybe for the first time.
While it’s a privilege for a seventeen-year-old to have the opportunity to explain to the college admissions world who they are, it’s also daunting. Moving from teen to legal adult is a big transition that can easily overwhelm, and it coincides with teens often pushing away their parents to seem like they have it together, when they might really need adult perspective and support.
Look around. What young person in your life needs to be seen? Who could use some lifting up, encouragement, or good editing? Who could use some deep listening? (NOTE: not your unsolicited advice or judgments). Very likely it’s someone in your family or in your community. It’s a gift to be seen and its value is priceless. Now’s the time to reach out and work your magic.
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