College Essays: Compassion
Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud, and how does it relate to the person you are?
Our Sparkler's Essay:
As we exited the busy freeway, I started to recognize the familiar landscape. Lush, overgrown greenery enveloped the winding streets and the intense humidity pushed its way through the car windows. It had been a few too many years since I had visited my family in Puerto Rico. My grandma turned onto a series of unlabeled streets, signaling the start of her neighborhood. This collection of irregular roads and buildings is known as the barrio of “El Mango.” As we started up the incline of the main street, I quickly remembered that it was full of potholes and speed bumps. Less than ten feet in, there was a pothole to slow us down before the first speed bump. I grinned involuntarily as I saw all the brightly colored houses and questioned why we didn’t paint the houses back home bright yellow, blue, or green.
On the way to my grandma’s house at the end of the street, we passed by a tiny, one room house, enclosed by a chain-link fence. She got out of the car and from behind the fence called out, “RAFA! RAFA!” I saw an aged face looking out through the barred windows and my grandma yelled, “RAFA! Es Mariita, te traje comida,” trying to persuade him to come out by letting him know that she brought him food. Filled with more apprehension than fear, I watched from the safe interior of the car. Out came a shirtless man with a gray, scruffy beard and an overly cautious demeanor. This unkempt man is family; he is my greatuncle. Rafael is my grandma’s schizophrenic uncle, whom she takes care of daily. Because no one else is willing to deal with him, my grandma has taken the responsibility of feeding, bathing, and clothing Rafael.
Though it may not be rational, I’ve always been afraid of homeless people. To be more accurate, I’ve always been afraid of the unpredictability that comes with people who are mentally ill. Seeing Rafael brought back familiar feelings of anxiety and discomfort. My grandma, on the other hand, wasn’t thinking about herself, as I was; instead, she was focused on the needs of her uncle, who would be homeless without her care. Over the length of my stay, we stopped by his house a few more times and I realized that his schizophrenia did not detract from his humanity. Although I said hello, I was never able to trulyfeel at ease around him.
My grandma has proven to be an exceptional individual with a compassionate andgiving character. I like to believe that she has passed down a little bit of herself to me because I, too, have great compassion for human suffering. However, a profound sense of compassion alone is not enough. It’s what I choose to do with this calling that will make a difference. Rafael has helped show me that if I am genuinely committed to fighting injustice, inequality, and oppression, I need to be more like my grandma. I need to let go of my fears, pursue higher education, and seek understanding through service to others. I choose to dedicate myself to promoting the dignity and quality of life thatevery human deserves.
You chose a great personality quality and this is a strong essay. Raphael is a great catalyst in your quest to become a more compassionate person, and your grandmother as a role model is an excellent character in your story. Just make sure that every sentence you write supports that idea.
You spend a lot of time describing the drive, but we would focus on your grandmother. Isn’t she really the star of the show? Isn’t she the one who embodies compassion, the personality trait you are most proud of? I think the bulk of your essay should focus on your grandmother and the qualities you admire in her.
The introduction of Raphael is really good. Quick question, though: if he is your grandmother's uncle, isn't he your great-great uncle? We would rewrite this sentence:
"This unkempt man is family; he is my greatuncle. Rafael is my grandma’s schizophrenic uncle, whom she takes care of daily."
"This unkempt man is family; he is my grandma's schizophrenic uncle, my great uncle, whom she takes care of daily."
This is a sentence that needs to be explored: "To be more accurate, I’ve always been afraid of the unpredictability that comes with people who are mentally ill." Why are you afraid? Also be careful—not all schizophrenic people are homeless! In fact, we would take out the homeless part altogether and just say that mentally ill people make you uncomfortable.
These seem to be conflicting ideas: "Over the length of my stay, we stopped by his house a few more times and I realized that his schizophrenia did not detract from his humanity. Although I said hello, I was never able to trulyfeel at ease around him." Explain more how his schizophrenia did not detract from his humanity. What do you mean? How? Give a specific detail about his humanity. And after realizing that, why do you not feel at ease? (Also, in our version there is no space between "truly" and "feel"—watch your grammar! We also noticed that with "and" and "giving, and "that" and "every" in the final paragraph.)
Finally, it seems like your grandmother's relationship with Raphael has been what's taught you about compassion, not Raphael alone. It's wonderful that you want to be more like your grandmother, but how, specifically, will that help you fight justice? This is also a good opportunity to describe how exactly a higher education will help you do this. Without explaining, it seems like you have thrown this part in, here.
Good work! With a little more detail and exploration, this could be a very, very strong essay. Your grandma should be proud of you!