We all have memories from our childhood that we’d likely rather forget. Sometimes it’s those very same painful life lessons that have the most lasting impact on your world view.
Recent Harvard University graduate Soa Andrian used one of her childhood memories as a jumping-off point on her college admissions essay.
She told the story of a visit to Antananarivo, Madagascar, where she has relatives, and of an impending incident of bullying. A deeply personal story, at first she was going to write about something a little less private.
“My original common app essay was about a poster presentation I made at a summer program and what I learned about being less shy,” Andrian said via email to Business Insider. “But it felt disingenuous. I think it felt disingenuous because I wrote what I thought admissions committees would want to see — a little humility by sharing an insecurity, but a small one that ultimately was easy to overcome.”
Ultimately, she wrote about her more personal experience, and it certainly paid off. In addition to Harvard, she gained acceptances to Brown University, UChicago, Columbia, The University of Florida, Johns Hopkins, the University of Miami, MIT, Northwestern, UPenn, Princeton, Rice University, Stanford, and WashU.
Andrian’s other impressive stats are included on her Admitsee profile. AdmitSee is an education startup that has 60,000 profiles of students who have been accepted into college with their test scores and other data points for prospective students to browse.
Andrian graciously shared her admissions essay with Business Insider, which we’ve reprinted verbatim below.
Four boys stood above me on a pile of garbage. Their words, “Bota, bota, matava” — “chubby”, “fatty” suffocated me:
A familiar sensation of frustration and hurt gripped me. Looking for defence I only saw a cinderblock at my feet, impossible for my eight year old body to heave, so, I screamed in English:
“You are just jealous that you are poor and I am American!”
As the words flew out of my mouth, I knew I was wrong — there was no sense of triumphant satisfaction. I abruptly turned and ran into the refuge of my aunt’s home.
Upon finishing a tearful narrative to my aunt and father, I preferred the comfort of the former’s arms. I avoided my father’s disappointment: I knew as well as he did, that I was not the victim.
Later, my hysteria subdued and guilt temporarily forgotten, I ventured outside to explore the crevices of Antananarivo. The boys were still playing atop the rubbish, then seeing me, scrambled off their mountain and ran in the opposite direction.
It’s ok, I thought, I wouldn’t be a fan of me either.
As I began walking up the street, I heard shouts:
The boys caught up to me and proudly waved hundred ariary bills in my face. In their broken English, they said in earnest and without malice,
“Look! We are not poor! We have money! We are Amreekan too!”
I agreed they were right and smiled sadly: one US dollar was the equivalent to seven thousand Malagasy ariary.
I was made sharply aware of what separated me from these children: oceans, experience, money. Politics, ignorance, the apathy of millions. Ironically, it was also the first time I belonged to my “motherland”. I could share in the simple joy of relishing what “is”, be proud of the sense of resourcefulness engendered by scarcity.
This memory has woven itself into my philosophy and my dreams. The very personal knowledge that millions live in a way such that electric toothbrushes are an unfathomable luxury (my cousin, Aina), has given me the following personal rules:
- Education is an opportunity, not a burden;
- You always have enough to share.
While I may not be certain of my future, I know for certain that I want to serve. I realise that service is as important an aspect of education as is academic work. I know this passion will follow me throughout my life and manifest itself in my actions at Harvard. This memory is a mandate to serve indiscriminately and without prejudice towards those I work with. I am all the more willing to cooperate to bring improvement to the community within the College and beyond the campus. I can bring innovation in problem solving born out of the deep desire to help others. I work for these boys, for all the proud Malagasy (and even those who are not proud to be Malagasy), and the children who cherish “what is” instead of mourning “what could be”.
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You did what? How?
My middle brother, he was definitely The Middle Child, and would always get in trouble and sent to his room. The birth order was 3 girls, 2 boys, 3 girls, and 1 boy. He was the middle child of his set of three, the middle boy, and the middle of all nine of us children. He did not stand a chance of getting caught at anything he did.
At our old house we lived in a one-story, three-bedroom. Everyone knew what everyone was doing at all times. When we moved, our parents found a two-story house. Living there was a bit harder to tell who was in trouble, but it usually came down to the common factor. The middle brother.
One day, we heard the familiar sound of my Dad sending him to his room. He said, "David, leave your brothers and sisters alone and go to your room now!!"
After a while, he was bored. We didn't have technology then, or loads of toys to play with when sent to our rooms. Grounding just gave us more time to increase our imaginations.
He proceeded to entertain himself by a rope he found in his closet. He roped all he could out of the backyard and pulled it up to his bedroom. He filled his room with bikes, rakes, and whatever he could find. He ran out of things he could reach with the rope.
Along comes the youngest child. He talks him into putting the rope around his waist. He proceeds to pull him up, but cannot get his younger brother to stop screaming.
My older sister and I go to see what was going on. We couldn't get into his room for all the stuff he drug up. He told us to go outside before Daddy hears.
We went downstairs to see two feet dangling from the kitchen window right behind my Dad's head as he was reading the newspaper. He looks up at us and asks, "Who's screaming? I sent David to his room."
We said, "We will go check it out." Then, we ran outside.
My Dad was curious as to our reactions of fear and panic and we were hoping my youngest brother could hold on until we got there. My Dad slowly turned to see where we were going. He saw the dangling feet above him. He slowly got up, went outside, looked at David, and said, "You know you're grounded for TWO WEEKS!" Then, he walked back inside and left us to get him down.
We were laughing so hard it was hard to get my youngest brother down. Finally, we did and we told David he better find a way to clear his room before Dad came up to spank him. Too late!! We heard my Dad's voice from the other side of the door yelling, "THREE WEEKS!"
We were so glad not to be David that day!