College Essay

Here’s another one from  She plans to submit it to a number of colleges. If you were on the admissions board, would you accept her?


Graffiti is a foreign language to me. I was raised by the whispers of pine trees and the guttural dust of drought; I never learned to speak with the quick vivacity of city streets. My mother remembers New York though, and I think she has always treasured the idea of me being bilingual, of a cultured, cosmopolitan daughter with snapping patent heels. I think she wanted to take me to D.C. in the way that one would take a prospective French student to Paris, to gaze at the Eiffel Tower and be inspired to bloom new accents from one’s tongue.

I found the swells of the railroad tracks to D.C. enchanting, as though a boat rocked me through the long-evaporated ocean of the Green Mountains. The ferns eddied around the tracks with verdant persistence, but concrete rail stations soon replaced tree trunks and riverbeds; we had entered a foreign, galvanized world. This is the point when most passengers stop looking out the windows. Yet my face was still hungrily pressed up against the pane, murmuring something or other about spray paint being profound.

The kids of Baltimore, New York City, and Newark have graffitied the cement veins of the railway, and I found their words so raw and beautiful that I could not look away. I think part of me felt that they had painted their souls on those walls and strung up the intonations of their hearts for the world to see. Each city’s graffiti was different; some patterned, others bold and cleanly outlined: Hero. Family. Waltz. Depression. In Newark, the letters were like scars carved into the city’s skin: Insane. I thought I could hear desperation and poverty in those words, and they seemed to take on a voice, whispering a story from the walls that I strained to hear. It was a language I’d never truly listened to before, something painful, hopeful, and viscerally human.

The train rushed on, but the words had imprinted in my mind, mingling quietly with my own native tongue. Raised by the forest, I have grown up quietly, but I am ready to paint my mind with unfamiliar sights and new words, to throw myself into a world I do not understand. I am slowly aspiring to be someone who can listen to the language of a place, someone who can feel the tint of people’s souls in their words. There is some ethereal thread that laces humanity together, some universal understanding, that I saw a glimpse of on those walls and in myself. It is beautiful, and I want to hear its secrets; I think they are there for anyone who chooses to listen.


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