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College Essay

I’ve decided to share my college essay that helped me get accepted to Harvard in 2014. I wrote this when I was 17, on the bus back from a basketball game.

The Conservation of Energy

The concrete cellar floor is cold against my bare feet, and naturally Jay-Z is pulsing in the background. Usually, it’s him or Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” It’s completely dark down here, the way I like it, with the exception of an upright light bulb that I never bothered to put a shade on. It’s better that way anyway; the bright light envelops my textbook like a spotlight and puts everything else in the dark, out of focus. My physics book is sprawled open on a deep chestnut table from the yard sale on Roosevelt last year, surrounded by an assortment of academic materials whose organization only I understand. ​Energy changes from kinetic to potential​, the black and white words tell me. And just like every night, I am working on my ticket.

There’s a fervent crescendo of noise above me, and it slices through my harmonious place of thought like a knife. I begin to feel that tightness in my chest that ensues whenever my head and heart clash together in discord. Automatically, I turn up the music to deafen the sound and numb my mind, but I know that’s only a temporary remedy. I look up at the enshrined brick wall in front of me, plastered in magazine clippings, music scores, first grade illustrations — anything that has ever inspired me — all​ ​staring back expectantly. I know better. ​Focus,​ my brain demands, but my heart refuses. The theorems and equations on this page can’t abate the thoughts that must be terrorizing my little sisters’ minds right now. The staccato, staggering footsteps from above sound like dropped cinder blocks, but I know she only weighs around 130. She dropped 15 pounds since the arrest, just hasn’t been eating. A slurred, strained yell that has become much too familiar pushes its way down into the cellar.

Instantly, the darkness floods and I rush upstairs.

I smell the bittersweet odor of stale alcohol on her worn button down shirt that is “older than me.” I see her carpet-stained dusty room with every VHS tape, every photograph, every piece of paper a crayon has ever touched, every piece of clothing she’s ever worn piled halfway up to the ceiling. I see the empty pill canisters and long-necked bottles carelessly tossed on the floor. I feel the unsteady car rides to school. I can read the black and white emails and texts that I was never supposed to find, from a man whom I was never supposed to know about. I see the blank look on my father’s drawn face when that overly curious 13-year-old girl showed them to him, terrified. I hear the fluorescent blue lights screaming at me telling me that my world was wrong.

Walking back down the steep cellar steps, the twins’ tiny hands grip mine. Only when her door slams shut do I resurface. The blurriness dissipates but it is replaced by the incessant anger that ignites my core whenever I recall those things; it feels unlimited, boundless. Powerful, even. The spotlight’s still on my book, that one light in the dark. And for some reason I am grateful for it.

Energy is convertible​, the text read.

Every ounce of regret, anger, love, hate, pain — it is all energy. The stimulus and the emotion are irrelevant. Suddenly it didn’t matter who or what hurt me, all that mattered was how I could manipulate what I was given — and it’s all energy, all raw power. A lifetime supply, in fact. I am not doing this solely for myself anymore; my sisters must know that they are not limited. Every ingrained memory is a reason for me to work harder, a reason for me to create a better world for those I love. Negative energy I can convert into something positive. Passion I can use as fuel. Fuel for me to keep working on my ticket. My ticket out of here.


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