Second Prize: Darya Bor, Scottsdale, AZ: Amherst College ’18
The Importance of Speech
My essay was written, extra-curriculars cemented in, portfolio decided, AP scores sent, and Common App submitted. The only element remaining of the college application was the interview, which was for me the most daunting of all college materials. For the essay, I had pre-planned and edited and rewritten over and over to attain perfection. The extra-curriculars, portfolio, and AP scores showed all my work over the last four years; everything I could do, I had already done. The interview, on the other hand, was information and evaluation on the fly; no time to prepare brilliant answers or handcraft witty remarks. The idea of a stammered sentence determining my future knocked the walls of my skull when I desperately needed sleep, even though I knew the rest of my application was solid and blazing excellence.
So I researched and practiced. The same questions are asked on nearly every interview: Describe a well-spent summer, who has influenced you the most in your life, why are you interested in this institution, what magazines are currently lying on your desk – and I began to craft answers that shone the most positive light on me, avoiding vague and false representations, with all the care and detail of a philosopher pondering a puzzling riddle. Sometimes seriously, occasionally dramatically, I rehearsed in front of my bathroom mirror, making myself more comfortable with my image, my voice, my projection. I knew in my mind I was a candidate worth a second glance and an ‘admitted’ check, and to showcase that, I expanded the limits of my personality. Instead of smiling and swallowing a chuckle, I practiced laughing whole-heartedly – After all, a jovial, outward person is responded to more positively than a shy, reclusive one. Instead of attributing parts of my life to my parents or my upbringing, I claimed a stake in who I am – Yes, I was the one who designed the background for that play (even though I did not paint it – but shh, the interviewer doesn’t need to know what I failed to do; rather, what I did).
The day of the interview, I was prepped and ready to go. Since it was over Skype, I had time before the scheduled hour to choose a nice, well-lit room to show my facial expressions and professional attire: a clean-pressed white blouse, a dark pencil skirt, and a traditional bun – an outfit that showed my care and attention to this important event. The interviewer was casual and friendly, and the numbing stress and short breath I had beforehand quickly eased into an amiable conversation; after all, an interview is nothing more than another chat, but with heavier consequences and rewards afterwards. I played my cards correctly, with my voice clear and loud and my speech ridden with relevant details: I had researched the college I was applying to, my academic plans, my extracurricular plans, my alternatives. The interviewer was not there to answer my questions, after all, but for me to answer hers. When asked about my interests, my childhood, my high school career, favorite books, bands, pastimes, what I had gained and accomplished, I replied honestly but proudly, talking about my achievements rather than my organization’s, my input rather than my friend’s, my contributions to my own education rather than my parents’. This interview was meant to showcase me, my intellect, my abilities, my personality, and give all the reasons for my dream school to allow me in their ranks.
At the end, when the interviewer laughed that she had run out of questions, she asked me if I needed to mention any pertinent information that was not covered. I knew that words said were worth more than words left unsaid, and I added personal qualities of mine I deemed important. If I had been in the same room as my interviewer, I would have given her my resume in a folder, shaken her hand, and left with a smile; however, that was unnecessary in my situation.
With that behind me, the confused and stammering rookie-interviewee I was disappeared, replaced by a confident adult who could sway a person’s opinion through rehearsed, solid answers and a pleasant but killer smile, gaining a spot at my dream school.