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Prompt #1:  Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Sample Essay:

“SPIC” rang through the auditorium of North Allegheny High School as I jogged to the stage to accept our team’s first-place award. I hesitated for a moment, then let out a quick chuckle to show that it didn’t bother me. But it did. I hated that word and everyone else for just applauding over the person who said it. Yet, as I walked back to my seat, I merely said to my concerned coach “It’s nothing new.” I heard the same word in Spanish class when I rolled my r’s and felt the same pain when the friends I invited over jokingly called me “half-breed” and “mongrel” - words I did not even know existed – after my mother said “¿Escuela era buena?” to me in my home. 

But, to fit in, I started to joke around too; I mocked my Abuelita’s Peruvian accent until it became a common inside joke and even participated in the laughter that erupted at my lunch table after one of my skits. At home, I threw away the tumi that hung on my wall for good luck and stuffed my Peruvian finger puppets into a neglected cabinet in my basement. I chose to eat at Outback with the popular kids instead of eating Lomo Saltado with my mother. But no matter what I did, the slurs reverberated in my brain. 

Even worse, I was betraying my family, ignoring their lifelong efforts to ensure my success. My mother lost her father during her childhood, surviving on food stamps and working all the shifts she could get at the movie theater to sustain her family and pay for college. She often told me tales of my Abuelita fleeing Huancayo, settling in Pittsburgh speaking only Spanish, and raising her four children alone. My mother even recounted stories about how my Polish grandmother - Baba - endured years of physical abuse from her father, married an equally cruel man, and raised my dad, who became a successful physician. I inherited this determination and used it to succeed academically. Yet, here I was, mocking them behind their backs to fit in with people who barely knew me. I could not live with myself. 

I realized that perseverance is not just an obscure, abstract concept to me; it is in my bloodstream, coursing through my body. I am a part of a family whose struggles, triumphs, and sacrifices made me strong and unbreakable. Inspired to help others find their unique voices in a world that so often forces conformity, I founded Forensics Focus Pittsburgh, a non-profit whose mission is to help students discover themselves through speech and debate. 

I began my first season with twelve students, a dreary, rotting basement classroom, and no funding. During the first practice, I realized that many of my students had a fear of public speaking, and that all of them struggled with dysfunctional families. So, we started practicing twice a week, once for speaking drills and once for a forensics-related study-hall for those who simply could not go home. After weeks of practice, we arrived at the season’s last tournament, where most placed first, and all took home a profound feeling of pride. 

Months later, I was at another awards ceremony for the La Salle Invitational. Everything around me seemed the same - teenagers awkwardly fit into suits, trophies shimmering under the spotlight, coaches gnawing at their nails in anticipation - and yet, everything was different. When I walked on stage to accept our award, I stood with my back straight, proud of my heritage and strength. The audience could call me a “spic” or any other slur, but they no longer had any power over me. Any hurtful word they spewed would wither under the perseverance I had inherited from generations of struggle. Walking back to my seat, I knew that I could accomplish and overcome anything with my determination and resilience. 

Outline:

Prompt 1: Background, Identity, Interest - Peruvian

  • Paragraph 1: Begin in medias res (in the moment, in the start of the action)

    • The first sentence, and really the entire first paragraph, is critical - has to start in the moment and the entire paragraph is either describing the moment or giving extremely detailed background as essay support beams

  • Paragraph 2: You take the moment and zoom out - widen the lens and give history specific to what is happening that led to the moment in paragraph 1

  • Paragraph 3: Here you want to examine the history of your community, family and other contributing factors to your background/identity (example - your memories of your grandmother speaking a different language, history of immigration, the values instilled as a result of the inherited culture)

  • Paragraph 4: Get into your accomplishments - how the previous paragraphs informed your life decisions and something you created or overcame - did you start a club? Engage in community service? Get involved with a nonprofit? Organize a protest or community activity?

  • Paragraph 5: Give specifics of the above with moments and details - practicing in a dreary classroom with your debate tutees until they triumph, delivering necessary goods, anything where you lived a value and contributed 

  • Paragraph 6: Another moment in medias res - you are a part of a moment that is very meaningful to you and is informed by your background/identity

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