Appeal of a Non-Traditional Student: Extended Admission Essay

Jazzi Mason, Senior Editor

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Note from the Author: I wanted to share this essay because I understand there are many non-traditional students like myself struggling with feelings of inadequacy. I want these people to know they are not alone, and that their worth is determined by their own work and not other perspectives. This essay is very personal; I opened many wounds to be as honest as possible and ran out of figurative tissues. The feelings in this essay are very raw, and I ask only for the respect such openness requires to flourish.

 

Standing between me and my car were two adult geese protecting four goslings. Driven by my knowledge of the vicious nature of a hissing goose, I halted to examine my options.  Option one: walk around the apartment complex to the back of the garage and be late for class. Option two: advance upon the geese–because to be bested by them is incomprehensible. Scowling at the unimpressed geese, yet having no knowledge of how to inspire the malevolent waterfowl into movement, I frantically formulated a plan. I slowly advanced, stomping my foot, vigorously shaking my car keys in their direction, and yelling “MOOOOOOOOVE” loud enough to draw the attention of sleeping neighbors. As the geese skittered in one direction, I sauntered to my car reveling in my laughable victory. To me, backing down from a battle of grit was never an option even with an opponent as ludicrous as a goose. Or in my battle to obtain a world-class education.

Since childhood I’ve been receiving lessons in approaching obstacles with grit and adaptability. In a Naval household, where you ate everything on your plate before leaving the table, my sleeping body was carried to bed in a non-green-bean-eating victory many times. In a single-mother household, where homes never lasted longer than two years, my brother and I quickly acclimatized to relish in the feeling of home as long as we could. I adapted into an expert of harmonization after attending three pre-schools, three elementary schools, two middle schools and three high schools. Life was a never ending adaptation; from sharing a bed in a basement to having my own room in an affluent neighborhood and back to the brink of homelessness.

When we exceeded the two year mark during my freshman year of high school, I finally felt a relaxed permanence in my life. My mother had a seemingly stable job at one of the top mortgage lenders in the country, but it was 2007. The 2008 mortgage crisis burgeoned and launched our first-hand experience of the housing market downfall. We lost our home when my mother was laid off and lived on the generosity of others until we had no choice but to restart our nomadic lifestyle. We moved twice my sophomore year, each move creating a devastating ache for homes from which life forcibly ejected me. Arriving at my third high school that year, with no one to confide in but a depressed and disconnected mother, I spiraled into perpetual ambivalence. I absently sat in class everyday, living in a nostalgic trance. What remained of my sophomore year was marked with hiding in corners and hushed crying in bathroom stalls. I was broken, disillusioned, and lonely.

Before that time in my life, I ceaselessly planned extraordinary aspirations for my education: Law at Harvard, Linguistics at Princeton, English at Brown. However, the chaos of those years caused doubt and neglect of those aspirations as I settled on Portland State, started working, and moved into my own apartment. While I am proud to say I have been independent since then and Portland State eventually revealed my desire for a more demanding and felicitous education, it was a mistake nonetheless. The new responsibility of work prevented full commitment to school, and both my grades and perception of college suffered. My first day of college followed ten nights working graveyard, and the stark contrast of student life colored my perspective of my peers in shades of immaturity and ignorance. Responsibilities outside of the classroom quickly overruled academic purpose and halfway through the year I decided my time could be better spent elsewhere rather than meandering through college without a goal, despite the nonsensical advice from professors “that it was okay to change your major a dozen times.”

In search of a battle I could be proud of winning, I moved to attend the Nevada School of Massage Therapy. I committed to weekdays of four hour bus commutes, seven hours of class, and additional hours of homework. Even though my passion for school lightened the strain of my schedule, my only source of income was weekend hours on minimum wage. When I left my unsupportive partner and roommate, the logical choice was to quit school to work full-time. As tempting an option this was, I refused. During my last months of school I lived on the threshold of homelessness, dependent on charity and often going days without eating. Even now, not many people know about this time of my life and I didn’t tell anyone because I felt it was my duty to bear my own burdens. I needed to prove to myself that I could.

Prioritizing the development of relationships with the black half of my family, I eventually settled in South Carolina to reconnect with my father. I built a comfortable life working as a massage therapist, attending classes at the local community college, and living with my new fiance. I was ecstatic to be academically engaged once again, but my transfer to the nearby University was thwarted when every avenue for financial aid was exhausted and insufficient. Although the disappointment was indelible, it revealed the opportunity to recognize that I had simply settled for a convenient education and future instead of striving for the height of my potential.

From that point I transitioned away from both formal education and my career as a massage therapist. I began working in a glass plant as the only woman on the floor, creating new organizational systems to increase effective communication between the plant floor and the office. I enjoyed exceeding expectations in the male centric company, but a few months later I was out of work on disability for chronic knee pain. During this time, my engagement also collapsed and I realized I had forfeited my empowerment to live out a selfish existence of mere contentment. I had not struggled my entire life just to retire in fear of loss, or cower in my own addiction of safety. My disappointment in myself awakened the fierce intention to draw from the pain and loss of my past to empower others through tenacious example.  My fiance could not recognize the woman standing before him as I finally confronted the collision of my mixed racial identity with my feminine identity and internal motivation. We incinerated as quickly as we had ignited when he declared he would not wait for me to “save the world.” I crawled away from the anguished ashes, barely rising, eyes locked on my potential miles ahead.

Uprooted, I was compelled into the stimulation of redefinition and forging of new purpose. I was broken open and the next arduous months filled me with visions of my black kin fading under the abuse of power, my Syrian cousins drowning in a sea of wind-whipped canvas, and my kindred sisters ripped from their own bodies as living phantoms. Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve known and am yet to know.

Working in the Stanford community, surrounded by dedicated students, my passion for education rekindled. I returned to college with no career in mind, but a dedication to arming myself with the knowledge that could “save the world.” I am living my passion outwardly, every beat of my heart committed to building a platform from which to speak and empower others to make cement from the ashes of their trials so they, too, may stand higher than their past. In example, I went against every adult instinct and abandoned the safety of my accounting job at Stanford to devote myself to education full-time. I typed “non-profit” into the search engine and applied only to companies with causes I fully support, which lead me to the most fulfilling position as a mentor with The Boys & Girls Club of the Peninsula. Living out my mission to inspire courage and belief of education as a force of positive impact for both racially and internationally underrepresented peoples, I am calling out for my tribe to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me in compassion and solidarity.

My first quarter at Foothill College epitomized my self-imposed limitations as an adult coming out of the workforce; my insecurities of returning to school at 24 and finishing a degree at 27 with peers years younger limited my self-perceived value. However, a recommendation directed me to the Honors Institute, which repeatedly opened my educational vision and forced me to revise what was possible for myself. I avoided the overflowing UCLA college fair table, approaching the deserted Columbia School of General Studies line to unabashedly question why a top tier university was interested in the anomalous paths of the atypical student.

My apprehensive excitement and incredulity compounded into a blaze of hope as I felt Columbia stare into me and say “we value you.” The School of General Studies says to people like me that we are not defective, that we are not academically stunted, and that we are worth an elite and challenging education despite our nontraditional route. I am granted confidence that, despite my divergent experiences, I will not be rejected because I have more work experience than volunteer experience, or because of perceived notions of my disunity within a younger community. The commitment of the program to offer individualized and considerate guidance ensures the success of its students, despite the ongoing complexity of a dual student/adult identity. GS offers a community that comprehends the terror of balancing the dream of pushing yourself for more and the crushing weight of responsibility. I have been enduringly seeking such a community to contribute the sum of my developing racial identity, experiences of maturation in adulthood, and established worldview objective.

The Columbia Liberal Arts curriculum manifests analytical thinking to comprehensively make connections between disciplines explored in the unique Core. To revisit Rousseau and Plato, delve deeply into the mind of W.E.B Du Bois, and explore my favorite novel by Jane Austen in the academic setting thrills me. Making connections between ancient and modern philosophy to derive the impressions on current day society, while questioning works such as Dante’s Inferno and Virgil’s Aeneid, is a peak of intellectual stimulation. History collides with the modernity of The West in Global Thought and Global Urbanism to expand the understanding of geosocial implications. There is no other University that offers a high caliber program echoing all that embodies my intentions for my present identity and aspirations for the future. The essence of GS is a value system nontraditional students can symbiotically contribute their experiences to, and the full inclusion of balanced and resolute adults in the academic rigors of a top tier Liberal Arts institution that draws from one of the most vibrant and international cities in the world.

I will be a global citizen, utilizing education and knowledge as the means for empowerment. I won’t limit myself to one career path but to one mission, because I know that if I steadfastly advance within my purpose I can continuously reach for my higher potential in the service of others, either through the nonprofit sector or the geopolitical sphere. I lived through the theme of “honesty with self and others” last year and it fostered an uncontaminated perspective through which I learned to relentlessly battle for the path to global human rights. My theme for this year is “shattering the comfort zone” and as a result I discovered my unexpected love of International Relations, stepped out to apply for Fall after visiting campus, and bought a plane ticket to work in Spain for the summer. Through this theme of courage it is possible to cultivate my world perspective with international travel, and set an example of breaking out of self-imposed limitations to pursue education with abandon. Working with the community and peers of Columbia University, I believe in the inevitable achievement of developing a stable foundation for world wide liberal and progressive change. The hardships I’ve endured and seeing those hardships as nothing more than the natural occurrences of life, have prepared me for the time of committing to a life of service and proving my grit and greatness to myself. Now is that time, and I believe Columbia University is the place.

 

© 2017 Jasmine Mason

1 Comment

One Response to “Appeal of a Non-Traditional Student: Extended Admission Essay”

  1. Kelley Valentine on July 18th, 2017 8:30 am

    Killed it! Congratulations and good luck!

    [Reply]

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Appeal of a Non-Traditional Student: Extended Admission Essay