Stanford Essays

Of all the activities, interests, and experiences listed on the previous page, which is the most meaningful to you and why?

Every Saturday during the winter months I have to abandon my given name and assume a new identity, randomly assigned to me by anonymous sources. When I enter a speech tournament I am no longer known by a name, but distinguished by a code given to competitors in preliminary rounds. I enjoy this code system. As I examine the competitors listed in my rounds I cannot derive a prior estimation or formulate an opinion about them. Codes cannot in any way distinguish competitors; while names can reveal traits such as gender or ethnicity. I am familiar with being “pre-estimated” in a competition. My competitors take one glance and immediately expect that I am not a major concern for them. Unluckily there is no code system for skin color. As an African American speaker I faced struggles that most of competitors could not comprehend, as I had to constantly disprove the image of poor black language depicted by pop culture, and cancel out years of improper grammar mechanics. My beginning experiences were not exactly pleasant, I felt as if judges were more critical towards me about articulation and grammar than other competitors because they already expected that to be my greatest struggle. As I developed as a speaker I worked harder to rebalance the playing field. Ultimately, it makes no difference what my name is, or my skin colors. The generalization that “black people can't speak” does not have anything to do with me. People formulate preconceptions and set expectations, and it is exceeding that expectation that gives me the greatest satisfaction.

Sharing Intellectual Interests is an important aspect of university life. Describe an experience or idea that you find intellectually exciting, and explain why.

“It has been said something as small as the flutter of a butterfly's wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world,”-Chaos theory. The Butterfly Effect refers to Edward Lorenz’s mathematical discovery that over time, minute changes in a complex system can lead to large consequences. My calculus teacher used this theory as a tool to explain the chaotic nature of functions, but it seems logical to assume that what is true for the complexity of functions is equally true for the complex, chaotic social systems we find ourselves immersed in.

Applying this theory was especially invaluable in implementing my own outreach project: shooting documentaries that would increase environmental awareness and care in my community. Film is an opportunity to change the world through the audience, instilling a new and lasting appreciation for our planet. I firmly believe in my ability to transform this planet into a more sustainable place for future generations. Apathy and indifference in my community are difficult tasks to handle, but I used this theory as a tool to inspire and guide the production of my film. When I first rallied the handpicked film crew my first order of business was illustrating how our film could create a change in society. My tool for illustration: a butterfly. We each do our own “flapping”, most of which isn’t nearly as placid as that of a butterfly. We live in an interdependent world in which every person has the power to cause major fluctuations in the dynamic function of life. It is in recognizing this that we can confidently create a positive change. We can only continue flapping so that someone somewhere down the line may enjoy the refreshing breeze.

Jot a note to your future roommate relating a personal experience that reveals something about you.

One detail that you may find indicative of my peculiarity is that I enjoy playing the trumpet, naked. I realized this one-day as I played alongside Michael, a close friend and pianist. We were blazing along the staffs conquering every measure after measure. Unfortunately, this was all ruined once I reached a particularly difficult section laced with key changes and a particularly awkward valve combination. I lost the last note, faltered and destroyed the rhythm of the piece prompting a repeat of the section. Again I attempted to repair the note and again I flubbed. Consequently, Mike suggested that I play naked. Fortunately he continued to explain that by naked, he did not want me to clothe the prodigal note. “You are trying to beat yourself onto this path of what is written on the staffs of this music when really, Cameron Drake’s sound doesn’t exist in between those lines. So take off your clothing and play it over, the way that Cameron would play it.” I had hit plenty of high notes, mastered and executed the song almost flawlessly. That one note did not take away from my sound, it defined my sound. Similarly, in life those notes can go uncorrected in the form of the calculus test that I did not do excellent on this morning or the race that I could not win yesterday. It is in that moment of emotional vulnerability and nakedness that I realized, that which prevents me from being perfect is not my inadequacy, but simply definitions of my character. Those things are not haunting sixteenth notes creating anxiety and disappointment, but are just a part of the beautiful music of my life.

As you reflect on your life thus far, what has someone said, written or expressed in some fashion that is especially meaningful to you? Why?

I thought that I was in the wrong place that Thursday night. In reality I could not have been in any better place that night. My church’s substance abuse ministry meeting hosted a weekly outreach meeting for drug addicts and their co-dependents alike. Many were there to try and understand and if fortunate enough, cure a problem that plagued them all. I was there at my pastor’s request to share my experiences with this group. I could relate to the people present at this meeting. My mother had been addicted to drugs for nearly 12 years and is still today. I had to accept the fact that my mother was often missing. Initially it was difficult for me to comprehend why my mother would leave for months or even a year at a time. I pleaded to God nightly to “send my mommy back home”, so often in fact, that I unconsciously said it even when she was at home. My grandmother who raised me through her absence soon gained guardianship over my brothers and me. It was not long before I realized that I was better off without her. I could not survive the abusiveness and lewdness of all of her ‘boyfriends’. I overwhelmingly preferred life with my grandmother. Living with my grandmother was the only way that I could find stability, knowing that I would always have someone to pay attention to me, keep me safe, and prepare dinner every night. I also had its shortcomings. My grandmother was old, too old to keep up with three little boys. When my grandmother died my aunts blamed my brothers and I because we had put her under extreme stress at her old age. They performed their own autopsy and the causes of death were “three nappy headed boys”. They did not care about hurting my feelings; I was just the son of their adopted sister, whom in their opinion had contributed her own fair share to my grandmother’s death. My grandmother’s death also meant that I was without a home, as my mother was missing at the time of her death. No one would take on the ‘burden’ of the three of us. Fortunately my living grandmother decided that she would take us in, and we have lived with her since.

As I shared my experiences I asked myself: How? Viewing my own life experiences objectively for the first time I pondered what was the driving force that allowed me to survive, to become who I am today. I managed to excel academically, despite the fact that I attended nine different schools before the eighth grade. I accepted the fact that my mother had contracted HIV and would eventually die from the disease. I had no parents in the stands cheering when I rounded the track in first place to qualify for state or in the audience when I won speech tournaments because my grandmother was too old to climb into bleachers. How? At that point I wanted to interrupt and tell everyone in that circle exactly what steps I had taken to live despite the poisonous circumstances given. But I could not possibly articulate at that moment what drove me to conquer those hardships. I wanted nothing more than to tell everyone that he/she is not confined to the path that his/her life had molded thus far. I don’t pretend that my past didn’t happen or didn’t affect me. It did happen. I embrace that and draw strength from the experiences that can easily cripple and weaken others. My story is not one to lament over and use as an excuse. I chose to accept the things that I could not change and focus on controlling my life. Furthermore, I was not fortunate enough to endure my hurdles in life just to wear them as an accolade. My story does not serve as a badge of honor to amplify my accomplishments. My story holds answers for people who otherwise would be lost and confused. I want to give them those answers. I could not do it that night, but I returned weekly since that day. I cannot fix their problems. As an individual I do not know what will work for everyone. I know what worked for me. And if I must relive my negative experiences on a weekly basis, so that someone may find an answer, then I’ll do that.