03 March 2012

An essay

This was my scholarship essay this year...I think it kind of describes some of my thoughts at this time in my life pretty accurately so instead of writing "Variations on a theme" I'll just post the original.

Out of the Box
When I was little, I had a huge cardboard box. I loved it. I would crawl into it, close the lid, and find myself in a slightly stuffy, well-defined space. Who is in the box? Valerie is in the box!

Boxes are great on a physical level. But compartmentalizing myself isn’t so easy anymore, because once I was old enough to understand metaphors, I learned that boxes are ways we separate and organize elements of ourselves. Big or small, crazy or serious: we copiously label mental boxes with adjectives and usher in every noun that fits inside.

Labels are helpful. They give us structure, organization. However, what happens when a single label isn’t an adequate description? I was a sponge-like child who soaked up knowledge instead of salt water. Learning to read wasn’t a chore; it was the gateway to understanding road signs and backs of cereal boxes and cookbooks. I loved science: it meant understanding nature. I loved math: it meant understanding distances and time and quantity. I loved everything.

Then came boxes. My sister developed into an “English” person, denoted by her disgust with math classes and love of writing. A friend advanced rapidly in the arena of science; streamlined for a career in biology amidst the natural environment he loved. Everywhere I looked, people expressed their own special talent, a box with a distinct label. I excelled in school, but had no single talent to show me a box I would fit into.

I am lucky to have both innate gifts and external circumstances that give me a broad span of opportunities to pursue. However, it sure makes declaring a college major difficult! That was one of my incentives to take a gap year in Ecuador last year instead of immediately enrolling in college: I hoped taking a step back from the role of a “student” would allow me time to discover who I truly wanted to be.

Ecuador did guide me, though not in the clear-cut terms I was expecting. My experience gave me a new perspective on majors: Instead of confining boxes, it was studying something you enjoy and have strength in, that then branches into a career. This more organic view has helped me grow and answer the big question of What I Want To Do With My Life.

I like language. I have strong memory for words and patterns, two important skills for written and spoken languages. I like to think about how meanings differ between languages. I like science, interpreting patterns occurring in nature’s language.

I’m going to double major in Foreign Languages and Linguistics, with a minor in Marine Sciences, and see where my career will grow from there. Perhaps I don’t fit into the set of boxes I have been conditioned to accept and use. I am learning to leave those boxes behind, though, and revel in the unique mixture of essence that is me. I accept that I am not a math person or history person, and never will fit into a tidy box. I love being who I am, though, and I am happy that UAF gives me the opportunity to express the multiplicity of my interests.


Anyways. Besides the fact that it was pretty close to EXACTLY 3000 characters (the max length) I feel like that was the first time I didn't filter things as much. Usually for a scholarship, I would make stuff up about how it would be a perfect fit and the attributes of the college/money-giving organization that I admire. And it's worked for me. I hope this works for me too on a financial level, but also a real level. Because I liked my other scholarship essays, and I was truthful in them, but I really enjoy the open honesty of just writing about what I want to write about.


  1. I LOVE THIS ESSAY!!! And you. But really, great essay. It reminded me of all those days sitting in the library instead of class and editing each other's essays over and over again. I also really like the concept that we don't have to box everything, because inevitably it becomes impossible anyway.

  2. WOW - nice essay.... happened upon your blog page. Did it work - it should have! You amaze me.....