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Describing the world I come from

November 29, 2014

Over the past few days, I’ve been browsing CollegeConfidential’s College Essays forums, looking for high school seniors to assist. On this forum is etched the ebb and flow of the annual college application season. If you view it now, you will likely (and accurately) guess that is the University of California system’s application deadline. As it approaches, so many students ask for help with UC Prompt 1 or 2.

After critiquing a few essays, I thought to myself: wouldn’t it be fun to write an essay as if I too were applying to the UC system?

So here in this post I will take a look at the UC system freshman application prompt:

Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

I will follow a few rules for myself:

  1. I will limit the essay to 500 words. Students applying to the UC chain have a combined 1000 words to split between two essays. While theoretically, they can split these words however they want, I am only writing one, so I will only use 500.
  2. I am writing as if I were a high school student graduating in spring 2015. As such, I will refer to outside events that occurred after I actually graduated in 2007. However, I will not refer to things I did after I graduated high school if I would not or could not have done them before I graduated.


My parents converted to Mormonism before I was born. I imagine it was sometime after 1978, when the church finally ended a ban on access to the priesthood for black members.

Many non-members ask me what it’s like to belong to a church that once viewed people like me as accursed. However, to me, Mormonism is all I have ever known, and never have I been called accursed. Only once did an elderly man suggest that due to my righteousness, I would be “white and delightsome” in the next life. What was that like? I probably withered when I heard that, but that’s because I was awkward, not because I was offended. I may have quickly accepted it as a compliment before slinking away. Isn’t it the thought that counts?

Though non-members criticized the church for its past racism, I found that Mormonism first gave me the tools of respectability. As a Mormon, I planned service activities for my quorum of 10 to 15 other young men. As a Mormon, I learned to speak in front of a congregation of hundreds – which gave me the confidence to speak in front of three judges at the United States Academic Decathlon nationals my junior year for the silver medal. As a Mormon, I learned to tie a tie and to shine my dress shoes.

At the same time, there were events for which Mormonism could not give me tools. As I followed the news about the shooting of Trayvon Martin, there was a horror etched in my mind to which my Mormon friends were blind. They saw me as unlike him – neither a troublemaker nor a thug, but perhaps someone who would be white and delightsome in the next life. I saw myself as basically like Trayvon – someone whose body and skin were threatening, dark and loathsome, whose very life was made of trouble.

It happened all over again with Mike Brown. I joked once that since I follow the Word of Wisdom (which prohibits alcohol and tobacco), I would never be caught (and shot after) stealing cigarillos. The humor was only to conceal my fear – that no matter what I did, I could never become white and delightsome. I would never be safe.

I aspire for a life without fear, but the tools my world has given me are only the tools of respectability. So I’ll aspire to be respectable. Many of my teachers have asked me why I want to be an accountant. They may not say it, but their tone betrays their disappointment in what they find to be a boring, quiet, unambitious career. Therein partially lies the answer. I want to live a boring, quiet, drama-free life. If I cannot be white and delightsome (or would not even want to), maybe I can become an invisible man. Then and only then, I will cast 1,369 lights on the injustices of my choosing.



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