Defining yourself in 500 words or less - Chapel talk by Jennifer Creel '12

To paraphrase Shakespeare: Now is the winter of high school senior discontent. Jennifer Creel '12 gives her perspective on the college application process.


Tell us about an experience that brought you out of your comfort zone in 500 words or less. Tell us why (insert school name here) in 500 words or less. Tell us about a life changing experience in 500 words or less. Define yourself in 500 words or less. 

Welcome to the college process. Seniors have been groaning all year about it, juniors are just starting it so this chapel talk may seem primarily relevant to the upper classmen, but the real heart of this speech is applicable to everyone. We are all such complex people. Among the seven billion people on this Earth no two are the same, simply due to our personal experiences.  Yet with numbers that large people tend to start looking pretty darn similar on paper. But wait, that service trip I did makes me unique right? I’m a varsity athlete! I’m a cultural minority! Oh and I go the Peddie School! Raise your hands if you fit into any one of those categories.  Yeah I feel pretty unique now too. So I have 500 words or less to tell you why I’m different, to tell you what makes me tick, 18 years of my life history into 500 words. Fantastic. 

This is exactly how I felt over winter break struggling to complete seven college apps. This wasn’t the original plan however. I applied Early Action to my dream school only to get deferred. I stared at that computer screen, refreshed the page, rubbed my eyes over and over again. Nope, I hadn’t misread it, it definitely said, “Dear Jennifer, We would like to defer making a decision on your application at this time.” All of a sudden the service trips, the competitions, the sports, the essays, the all nighters seemed worthless. I thought I am worthless.  This was supposed to be a target school for me, not exactly a stretch to get into. Now I was never going to get into college, get a job, and wind up being a hobo for the rest of my life, if I didn’t finish these new apps. No pressure. 

For a short time, I allowed myself to be defined by people who only knew about me from merely 500 words or less. I let this one decision, which I could not control, depreciate my self-worth.

But then I remembered Declamation Contest my junior year. I didn’t place despite my hours of hard work, but I was proud of the people who did place. It was hard to walk away empty handed but at least I had the experience.  After the competition I checked my email. I had an email from a teacher I had never had in class, barely really knew. But it simply said:

 “It is hard to stand before a group of your peers and remain positive when you do not get what you ultimately believe you should.  You did not let your disappointment show, and that speaks far more to your character than your acting ability. You have a lot to be proud of; don't let two judges cloud your memory of tonight.”

This message applies not only to speaking competitions, but sports try-outs, games, auditions, even tests and essays. Individually it is only one evaluation of your person, in one area of your life. I am more than just a thespian. Sami does more than play the violin. Taylor does more than just play field hockey. Timi is more than just the school President. You’ve worked for years in numerous aspects of your life. This one decision doesn’t make all of that effort invaluable. What truly defines who you are is the decision to either take something from this experience and further develop your character, or allow the situation to control you and unnecessarily influence other parts of your life.

So… define yourself in 500 words or less….

I have my talents.

I have my weaknesses.

These talents have made me feel elated and valuable. But the weaknesses have tried my character and allowed me to grow into the person I am.

That person has value. I am valuable, and so are all of you. No one decision is going to change that. 

Ala Viva

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