All I Can Do Is Keep Breathing

Recently, I received an email from a staff member here at Purdue informing me that I was named the 2011 Outstanding Senior in English Literature here at Purdue. I was completely baffled; of all the worthy candidates, faculty members thought I deserved the title? I am still surprised, and was even more surprised to see a member of the department stand up today and speak about my application to a group of people (most of whom I didn't know). I felt grateful for her words, and am still stunned that various individuals deemed me credible.

For this award, it was required of me to fill out an application (which I submitted approximately a month ago). The application consisted of questions revolving around my activities at Purdue, classes taken and grades received, plans after graduation, and the like. The last question on the application was, of course, this stereotypical and unsurprising question: Describe, for the selection committee, why you believe you would be an excellent choice for outstanding senior in English.

The following text is my response.


At the age of three, I was taught how to read by my mother, who patiently turned pages of Dr. Seuss rhymes and Berenstain Bears stories. It was then—on the green shag carpet that spread across each room of our old house—that my love of literature began.

At the age of nine, my poetry always had to rhyme, and usually focused around comical characters like talking bananas. In junior high, I had my first poems published in collective anthologies; and, in high school, each of my short stories advanced to the national Scholastic Awards competition.

In junior college, I won the national poetry contest sponsored by Sigma Kappa Delta and started a campus-wide creative writing group. However boastful and seemingly inconsequential these activities may be, they are—to me—representative of the accomplishments I made before I transferred to Purdue.

Unfortunately, my time at Purdue has been limited, and I have had only two years to build an extracurricular foundation while forcing myself—an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist—to maintain my grade point average. In truth, I do not wish to continue to selfishly display achievements, because I feel guilty and undeserving. When I think of all the essay questions I have answered that roughly begin with the words, “Tell us why you think you are [the best],” my posture shrinks and my fingers sputter across the keyboard. Truly, I think, I am no more deserving than another one of my peers who has worked equally as hard during his or her college career. What have I really accomplished?

I look at my meager list of activities that I have participated in during the last two years and wish that I could have done more. Perhaps if I had double-majored, taken honors classes, attended multiple colloquiums, had an internship, minored in Italian, or joined the Outing Club I would have viewed myself as more than an average 22-year-old woman with “only” a 3.89 GPA and “only” three blogs.

However, I can say that, while attending Purdue, I did give my instructors the best I had. I cannot express the gratitude I have to my teachers, who watched me stumble into class, red-eyed and blurry-faced from late nights at The Exponent. Perhaps the reason why my GPA was able to remain stable was because I did not overwhelm myself with outside activities. Instead, I focused on classes and forgot what I truly love to do—read and write for my own satisfaction.

Having been told on more than one occasion that I am a “strong writer” (and my critical self would disagree), I feel that this honor—the recognition of the Outstanding Senior—would eliminate my doubt of possible failure. Furthermore, it would encourage my confidence in what I love—words, stories, and the use of one to convey the other—in whatever location I first settle, be it West Lafayette, Iowa, or Australia.

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