Sometimes recalling the past tough Create an Attention Grabbingtimes is the best thing to do in OPENING:order to see a change in your futurelife. Good first attempt with the opening. Looks good. It’s a good opening, but it can be even better. I suggest you save the main message until the END of the essay. In other words, immediately start off with a story…take us through your struggle, share the advice you received that helped you overcome your struggles, show us how you overcame your struggles…and THEN share your main message/lesson. It’s like watching a movie…you don’t get the conclusion of the movie at the beginning of the story! Take your readers on a roller- coaster journey and, at the end, share what you learned. Make sense? I recommend starting off with a story. Look at the Harvard essays…they start off with a STORY: Sample Story Opening #1: “Before even touching the camera, I made a list of some of the photographs I would take: web covered with water, grimace reflected in the calculator screen, hand holding a tiny round mirror where just my eye is visible” – from “50 Successful Harvard Essays”
Sample Story Opening #2: “The black and white composition book is faded, and the corners are bent. It doesn’t lie flat as many paper clips mark favorite places. Almost every sheet is covered with writing – some in bold handwriting hardly revised…” – from “50 Successful Harvard Essays” If you don’t want to start off with a scene/situation like the essays above, you can start off with a PERSONAL REVELATION…give the reader some personal INFORMATION about yourself that has helped make you the person you are today. Here’s an example: “I’m short. I’m five foot five – well, five foot six if I want to impress someone. If the average height of American men is five foot ten, that means I’m nearly half a foot shorter than the average Joe out there. And then there are the basketball players. My height has always been something that’s set me apart; it’s helped define me. It’s just that as long as I can remember, I haven’t liked the definition very much.” – from “50 Successful Harvard Essays”I am a confident young lady who DON’T TELL, SHOW!
stands up to see a challenge eye toeye and to take it on within me, a Don’t tell me you’re confident –supporter for my school sports show me…give me an example of ateam and a motivator for my fellow situation or a time when you werestudents. But I never used to be confident.this girl; I used to be someone whoshrinks from familiarity from Instead of saying you are aothers – a timid shy young girl. So supporter of your school sportswhat happened to bring such a team, give me an example…paint ahuge change in me? specific picture in my mind by giving me a time. It’s always better to show rather than tell…give me specific stories that help demonstrate that you have these qualities. Showing, rather than telling, will make this an even better essay.I was a reserved and diffident TAKE ME THROUGH YOURstudent, and the reason for this was STRUGGLESbeing placed in the core set of allmy subjects. I could work hard but Instead of saying, “I was a reservedI was always fearful of stepping up and diffident student”…give me aand asking questions which led to specific time when you wereme being in the core set. reserved. Your essay should be a mental movie that your audience members can “see”. Here’s an example of what I mean (although you can come up with a better one yourself): “I used to be a shy student. For example, during one Mathematics class, my teacher, Mr. Johnson, scribbled a complicated looking quadratic formula on the blackboard. “Right, first one to solve the
formula gets a chocolate bar!”I’d spent the night before studyingup on solving quadratic equations,so I was pretty familiar with howto solve them.I began wrestling with theproblem in my math book, andwithin a couple of minutes – viola!I had the correct answer.I looked around the classroom andeveryone else was still scribblingin their notebooks.No, surely I couldn’t be the firstone to have found the answer. Imust have made a mistakesomewhere. (Sidenote: Do younotice how, instead of telling thereader “I began doubting myself”, Ishow them by sharing my innerdialogue? Remember: show, don’ttell!)I quickly re-checked my answer. Itseemed I had the correct answer.I wanted the chocolate, so I raisedmy hand. Mr. Johnson was busydealing with other students, so hedidn’t see me.I quickly put my hand down…whatif I was wrong?I wanted the chocolate, but notenough to take the risk of beingwrong in-front of the whole class.The above is NOT a perfectstory…but can you see how you’re
showing rather than telling?My parents tried convincing me to Again, instead of telling…showwork harder and ask questions in me…give me a specificclass, they compared me to the time/situation when Mum/Dad sattoppers and compared myself to down with you…share inthose students who were worse DIALOGUE what they toldthan me. you…share with the reader how you felt….One day my dad decided to remind CATALYST FOR CHANGEme of the older times when myparents didn’t have enough money You have the foundations of a goodto send me to an international story. Every good story must have aschool, my dad told me about how CONFLICT – which your story has.my mother and him used to keep The conflict is your story is that youaside 10,000 Tsh everyday so that were struggling with your shyness.we they had money in store to payfor mine and my brother’s school Stories must also have a Catalystfees. My father made me recall how for Change. This is themy mother used to wash the one thing/person that gives you thepair of uniform I had every night so courage/wisdom you need tothe next day I could wear the same overcome your conflict. In youruniform and how all my brother’s story, the Catalyst for Change isold school trousers had been made “Dad”. He shares with youinto skirts for my uniform. something important that helps you overcome your shyness in class. DIALOGUE, NOT NARRATION However, you can make this part even stronger by sharing the specific DIALOGUE. Instead of narrating the events, give me the dialogue. Here’s what I mean by NARRATION: “One day my dad decided to
remind me of the older times whenmy parents didn’t have enoughmoney to send me to aninternational school, my dad toldme about how my mother and himused to keep aside 10,000 Tsheveryday”Here’s what I mean by DIALOGUE:One day, Dad and I were sittingaround the dinner table. Dad wasstaring down at my report card,which were a bunch of B’s and C’s.Finally, after contemplating whathe was going to say, he looked intomy eyes and said:“Bintee, I’m proud that you’reworking hard. It’s obvious thatyou’re working diligently in class.However, your shyness in class isstopping you from reaching yourfull potential.”I nodded, a lump beginning toform in my throat.Dad continued, “Your mother andI struggle a lot to pay schoolfees…”Share the rest of the story inDIALOGUE…Use dialogue when sharing howDad used to save TSH $10,000everyday…Also, describe how youFELT…what emotions wentthrough you?
This is an important part of the story, so you need to develop it further.This motivated me to work harder, Overcoming the Struggle Can’tto stand up and ask questions and be that Easy!to get into the extended class and Ifinally achieved this goal. My This part of the essay soundsparents worked that little bit extra slightly unbelievable because youmade me want to work a little bit overcame the obstacle a bit tooextra and so I got involved into easily.sporting activities and was thehouse captain for two years and It’s hard to believe that you weretried being my best at an all- such a shy student, and afterrounder. hearing just a couple of words from Dad, you suddenly managed to overcome your struggles. You need to take the reader through the struggles you faced as you tried to overcome your shyness…give a SPECIFIC example of how you went into class the next day and raised your hand to answer a question (share with the reader the internal doubts you faced as you raised your hand and how you finally managed gather the courage to ask a question).I can’t say that I’m the best student Be Proud of Yourtoday and I am the perfect all- Achievementsrounder but at least I can say I didtry my best at being that all- Instead of focusing on the negativerounder for my parents and myself. (i.e. “I’m not the best student”), focus on the POSTIVE…focus on how you’ve become a more positive person. Focus on how you’ve gained more confidence. Also, share with the reader your SPECIFIC achievements…share how you got the courage to run for
House Captain even though you were shy. Share how you won the vote to become House Captain, how that gave you a bit more confidence, and how you used that confidence to take on more and more challenges…As time went by our familycircumstances became better, nolonger did my parents have to keepaside money for my brother and Ito go to school, my parents gaveboth me and my brother every littlething we asked for and did theirbest to improve our lives.I found how I had changed The two parts of your essaydrastically and that made me think are not relatedabout how education played suchan important role in life to change The first part talks aboutwhat kind of a person you are. I overcoming your SHYNESSthought to myself I would want to because of Dad’s story…do the same for my children, butstopped to think how long away However, the second part of yourthat was to come. I had to do story talks about helpingsomething now, for those children underprivileged kids gain anthat didn’t have parents like mine. education… I suggest you do one of the following: (1) Find a stronger THEME between BOTH stories so that both parts fit together as one coherent essay OR (2) Focus on only ONE ISSUE…in other words, focus on only ONE story. You might choose to focus only sharing your
struggles with shyness, and how you developed into a confident personI decided to join Saturday school, a Your Essay Needs to Beprogram run by the secondary Emotionally Movingstudents in our school, here weteach students English and other In this part, you give lots ofsubjects such as IT as well as generalities about the problemsraising money for the tuition fees African children face. There areand books. Being a teacher at two problems here:Saturday school made me realizehow education wasn’t the only (1) This is not related to yourimportant thing, in life. A few of battle with shyness, whichthe students I taught often sat back is the main theme of thewith me after classes and told me first part of the essayhow their lives at home were sodifficult. Listening to their ANDproblems I realized how there wereso many problems in every African (2) You are talking abouthouse, electricity, money, generalities instead ofeducation, health care and also focusing on ONEfood. I wished that everything PARTICULARwould change and their lives would STORY/CHILD and howimprove but just wishing for that that moved youwasn’t enough. Saying something emotionally…Focus on onewouldn’t create a difference but particular event and howdoing it would. that affected you insteadWith time I found different of talking generally aboutpossibilities that could help me all the African childrencreate a change. I became a part ofa non-profit organization called Finally, regarding the LeoLeo club and started working with club…while this is a good activity,a bunch of children at school from there is nothing here that separatesan orphanage group called Starehe. you from the rest of the candidates.As a Leo member we conductedmany activities such as blackboard If you want to focus on howpainting in four unprivileged dedicated you are to improving theschools, donation of money to a lives of African children, then youfather who wanted to treat his have to write about something youchild’s cancer, tree plantation of did that demonstrates your200 trees and other activities to COMMITMENT to helpingraise money in order to achieve our Africans improve their lives
goal for the end of this year which (Joining the Leo club is good, but itis to build a well in a small village. I doesn’t demonstrate a high level ofworked with the Starehe children commitment)during my free time on Friday’s inorder to motivate them to workharder in class seeing they were theold me, the ones who were shy.A small role that my parents playedin my life brought a huge differencein me, how I talk to people how Iface challenges and what I havedone as a significance of what theydid for me. My parents are my rolemodels and they have influencedme in such a way to have broughtsuch a huge change in mypersonality. I know university isgoing to be tough, but to help methrough it I have my parentsstanding by my side.OVERALL COMMENTS:You have the foundation of a good essay. I like what you have, so keep itup. Keep working on the essay…the more you work on your essay, thebetter it will get. Great essays are written. They’re re-written.You’ve obviously put in a lot of hard work into the essay. I’m proud ofyou.My advice is: (1) Focus on ONE STORY – e.g. either the story about overcoming your shyness OR the Leo story…not both (2) Give SPECIFIC EXAMPLES – show, don’t tell. (3) Make the CONFLICT harder to overcome – don’t just say “Dad and told me this and suddenly I began working harder”…it’s not
believable. Illustrate the PROCESS that you went through to become the confident person you becameThere is a speech that is similar to the essay you are writing. It’s by aspeaker called J.A. Gamache.Remember, this is a SPEECH, so the writing style will be different fromwhat’s expected of you.However, notice how he talks about specific situations and how heillustrates the PROCESS he went through to become a more confidentperson.Finally, I also advice you to have a quick read through all the Harvardessays…take a day just to go through all the essays and read thecomments. It will give you an idea of what kind of essay is expected fromyouBelow is J.A. Gamache’s speech text (I have added in RED the differenttechniques that you can use in your essay):SPEECH:Mister Chairman, Ladies and GentlemenI stand here today because of my grandfather.Thanks to him I have overcome my fear of competing in an Englishspeech contest. I would have a good reason to be afraid. My nativelanguage is French. I dont speak English. I spit English.Because of my grand-papa today I am able to share with you the mostefficient method I know that could help you to overcome all your fears.First, let me tell you how my grandfather became the inspiration thatgave me the courage to break the chains of all my fears."Grand-papa" and I have a lot in common.For example, we share the same first name: Avenant.
Avenant in French means lovable. Thats my grandfather.... and that’sme too. Both lovable and also extremely shy.Thinking of our family get-togethers, I can still see him, sitting off to oneside of the room, a tin of tobacco between his knees, rolling anothercigarette, unreachable in his silence, as if his shyness chained him to hischair.Do you see how he paints a SPECIFIC picture? “I can still see him,sitting off to one side of the room, a tin of tobacco between his knees,rolling another cigarette, unreachable in his silence, as if his shynesschained him to his chair.”We were the same: so scared to bother people.For example at movie theatres I would rather sit in the front row thandisturb anyone to have a decent seat. Have you ever watched a moviefrom the front row?Share how your shyness AFFECTED you: What problems did youface because you were shy? What did you miss out on? Make thePROBLEM (your shyness) so painful that it requires a solution…When Avenant passed on, he was 92 years old.I will never forget that day.When I entered his hospital room, he had just died.I was alone with him.He had become so thin that I could hardly recognize him.For a moment, I thought, I was with a stranger.I wanted to touch him, but all I dared to do was to rest a finger on his bigtoe.Thank you Grand-papa,Thank you for giving me your name.I am so proud to be called Avenant.Bon voyage.
Then it struck me. Like him I was chained by fears, waiting to die. Nomoney. No real love. No achievement to be proud of. I was wasting mylife and I knew it.It wasnt until I could no longer touch grand-papa that he really touchedme. It was as if I could hear Avenant whisper: "Break free. Break free,son".But how could I break free?The answer came from a psychologist who told me: make a list of all yourfears, start with the smallest one, work your way up to the biggest oneand keep track of all your successes in a journal.Introduce the GURU who provides the solution. In this case, it is apsychologist who gives J.A. the wisdom he needs to overcome hisshyness. Share the specific advice Dad gave you…So I did it. Was it easy? Of course not. Slowly, I became more assertive aseach little success broke a chain of fear.At the movies. Not only did I challenge myself to sit in the middle of arow, I would even get up and change row one more time!To challenge my fears even more, like you, I joined Toastmasters.Share the PROCESS of how you overcame your shyness: Don’t just say,“I began working harder, etc”. Share the exact process..what exactly didyou do DIFFERENTLY because of Dad’s advice and wisdom?Notice what J.A Gamache does differently.BEFORE the psychologist’s advice: For example at movie theatres Iwould rather sit in the front row than disturb anyone to have a decentseat.AFTER the psychologist’s advice: At the movies. Not only did Ichallenge myself to sit in the middle of a row, I would even get up andchange row one more time!
Share the SPECIFIC things you did differently. Share you BEFORE andAFTER transformation…No longer afraid to voice my emotions now I write poems… and loveletters. Gentlemen, you have no idea of the power of a love letter untilyour wife intercepts one!And here I am in Anaheim, California in front of nearly 2000 friends.This years theme of "Friends helping friends succeed" is so true. At thisvery moment, with your help, I am finally marking off the biggest fearfrom my list: fear of failure. That makes me a winner in the contest oflife!Ladies and Gentlemen, overcome your fears or they will overcome you.Break free from your chains.Just do like Suzan Jefferss book says: Feel the fear and do it anyway.Begin by facing your smallest fear.Celebrate each little victory.Challenge your fears until you have overcome the biggest one.And when that time comes, you will feel, like me, the urge to shout thisinspiring cry of hope from Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Free at last,free at last", thank God almighty,Grand-papa I am free at last!FINAL WORDS:Go ahead and start working on your speech…Don’t try and get it perfect. We’re not looking for perfection, we’relooking for IMPROVEMENT…Just start writing and let your thoughts flow freely…
Your essay is already better than mine was when I submitted it…soyou’re doing really good The only reason I know all these techniques is because I have studiedpublic speaking. So use the techniques I’ve given you, implement them ifyou can, and send me the next version of your essay so we can continueworking on it.I love you little sis.Akash