This time of year, I spend a lot of time sitting in cafes with my friends’ children, helping them with their college application essays. (The University of Michigan’s early decision deadline is November 1.) Reading their essays is such a privilege, such a window into their worlds (that they often do not even share with their own parents). I learn so much about ethical dilemmas they have faced, challenges they have overcome, their diverse communities, their families, their dreams. Working on successive drafts together, I ask questions and push for clarification, and these teenagers that I have watched grow up and who thought they knew it all realize that there is more to learn, more to write, more that can be done. The difference between first and last drafts is stunning.
Going through this process with them always reminds me of when I applied to college. I applied to nine universities—Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley, Stanford, Dartmouth, Georgetown, etc. My friends and I were debaters, all so cocky and sure about ourselves. We had serious discussions about whether or not we would turn down Stanford in favor of Berkeley, Harvard in favor of Stanford. When the acceptance and rejection letters began coming in, it was quite humbling that of those nine applications, I was only accepted into my safety school. Of course, my safety school was UC Berkeley, which still says volumes, but I learned a huge lesson in humility that year, and I am better for it.