New Personal Statement

(Personal Statement Examples, Advice, Critique, . . . )
Judith Butler
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New Personal Statement

Postby Judith Butler » Thu Dec 09, 2010 7:37 pm

The last one was extremely pretentious and long-winded. I tried to do something more, uh, personal here.


Mr. Kollias was the most bitter, antagonistic, cynical teacher at Brunswick High School. He was famous for verbally abusing entire classrooms. In his later years, he probably ranted once or twice a week. His face turned the same shade of purple every time. Mr. Kollias always had a way with words. No one else yelled “STUPID!” with such conviction. His Greek accent was subtle most of the time, but it came out when he was angry. On his worst days, he rolled his r’s. He was also known for his walking sticks. I never saw him use the same one twice, so his collection must have been immense. His favorite way to shock us was by striking a desk with his walking stick like a samurai with a katana. According to school legend, once he used so much force that his weapon shattered.
Mr. Kollias taught my freshman history class. On the first day of class I already had something to share.
“Yes, Miss-uh… Nakamura?”
“It’s 2:15,” I said. “We have five minutes left.”
“Why, Miss Nakamura, would you interrupt the class to tell me that? Do you think I’m blind? Or do you think I’m an idiot?”
Mr. Kollias was not just a formidable man; he was a brilliant teacher. He taught many students, including me, how to think critically. He firmly believed in reason. Everything had a rational explanation. As scholars, it is our duty to find it. Kollias’ world was rationally governed according to certain Truths. His first Truth was the existence of absolute Truth. The second was that we may discern these Truths by analyzing patterns in history. For example, Mr. Kollias truly believed that civilization in America was destined to fail. He argued that we were following the same trajectory Ancient Rome followed. As the Romans adopted more socially liberal values, their civilization declined and collapsed. If something is an absolute Truth, it is always true. According to Mr. Kollias, liberalism would lead America to hell. He did not, however, advocate for all conservative values. Mocking religion was his favorite pastime. He told us a few anecdotes. He encountered two nuns when he was a young man. Both of them had wedding bands. He asked what they meant, and one of the nuns replied,
“This represents my marriage to God.”
“Do all nuns wear them?” he asked.
“Yes, we do.”
“Isn’t that bigamy?”
When I became an English scholar, my studies shifted towards the postmodern. I picked up Judith Butler and devoured Lenard J. Davis. I got lost in Derrida’s prose. Foucault seemed to explain everything for me. Rationalism reached its limit as my life became increasingly complicated. I believed that the world needed an equally chaotic explanation.
I felt guilty for dissenting. For a time, anything Kollias believed was more than good enough for me. I utterly believed that he had untouchable, infallible wisdom. Once, I called him “Socrates.” To my amazement, he chuckled. Pet names are dangerous territory for any teacher. I’m lucky to be alive, because I routinely disrespected almost all of my teachers. For some reason, I was terrified of disappointing Mr. Kollias. I desperately wanted his approval and I still do. My greatest hope is that he lives to see me succeed.
I may, with reservations, accept one of his Truths. As he says, “People never change. If you’re a stupid kid, you’ll be a stupid grown-up.” Six years after he retired, I saw him again. We had a long conversation in a café. He was the same person, only less cantankerous because of age and retirement. I still couldn’t resist pushing his buttons.
“So, what do you think of Derrida?” I asked.
“Don’t say Derrida. If I think about Derrida I’ll start swearing.”

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StillHerexxx
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Re: New Personal Statement

Postby StillHerexxx » Thu Dec 09, 2010 9:47 pm

I don't really feel like I learned anything about you, but I did learn a lot about your teacher. I guess I didn't really grasp how everything connected--it seemed very disjointed. I do love Derrida though.

CanadianWolf
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Re: New Personal Statement

Postby CanadianWolf » Thu Dec 09, 2010 9:58 pm

Your essay is well written & enjoyable to read. This should make a positive impact on readers of your law school application. I think that this personal statement reveals a great deal about you in a very interesting fashion. Although I do think that the "When I became an English scholar" paragraph could & should be improved.

quetzal_bird
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Re: New Personal Statement

Postby quetzal_bird » Thu Dec 09, 2010 10:10 pm

What is your story? I have no idea. I was not sure if I was meant to like to dislike your teacher, and that made me wonder if i was supposed to like you. I don't think this man's influence on your life was clearly or consistently articulated. You spent a very large part of your essay describing him, and almost none on yourself. The opening paragraph, in particular, is repetitive and could be dramatically paired down.

I was distracted by the dialogues, particularly the first one. What does it mean that you said it was 2:15? Its an odd exchange to highlight. I was also distracted by your tangents, like your description of the US and ancient Rome, or your discussion about how giving teachers pet names is dangerous.

I think this theme of "Truth" and "Rationality" does not work. Its not clearly explained what you mean when you use these abstract terms. I also do not think truth should be capitalized. You discuss your chaotic life and then don't explain why it was chaotic. No idea how the last "Truth" applies to you. Are you a stupid grown up? Is that what your teacher thinks you are? The conclusion did not tell me anything.

Sometimes the problem is that we tell but we don't show. I think you were trying to show a lot with this PS, but didn't tell the reader anything. I am not really sure you can get a cohesive PS out of this theme with your teacher, but if you decide to keep it this needs some substantial change IMO.

....
also, why do you call yourself an "English scholar" and not an English major?

Fadedjoebreezy
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Re: New Personal Statement

Postby Fadedjoebreezy » Fri Dec 10, 2010 5:31 pm

I must be missing something reading all these personal statements, I've read about 30-40 this week and all seem to start with some sort of story that really doesn't reveal much about the applicant and then a small paragraph or two is thrown in at the tail end to explain how they would like to study law. I guess maybe I am missing the point on PS's in general, I thought the point of the narrative was to explain why YOU are a good candidate for school/what drives you to study law. Am I wrong on this? No disrespect to the author on this post, I just did not want to create a new topic and seem as if I am "trolling" these boards. I just randomly decided to post my thoughts after reading this statement.

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StillHerexxx
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Re: New Personal Statement

Postby StillHerexxx » Fri Dec 10, 2010 6:22 pm

Part of it is to show your writing ability too, but it seems like that takes over showing something about yourself. I agree though, everyone is trying to use adjective filled language explaining scenes that don't need it in an attempt to make their writing interesting, and inevitably, someone thinks its good writing. Often not the case. There are much more artful and powerful ways to flower prose.

By the way, OP I was not trying to attack you. More of a rant in response to fadedjoebreezy.

CanadianWolf
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Re: New Personal Statement

Postby CanadianWolf » Fri Dec 10, 2010 6:26 pm

Part of one's personal statement objective should be to get the reader's interest and keep it throughout the essay.

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crumpetsandtea
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Re: New Personal Statement

Postby crumpetsandtea » Fri Dec 10, 2010 8:15 pm

I like the story, I think it's cute, but I don't think it's a good choice for a PS. Like others have said, we get very little about YOU. You spend a whole paragraph on your teacher's opinions and yet you hardly bother to specify your own. While I think the idea of you breaking away from following your teacher's beliefs is an interesting idea, I don't know that adcomms will see the connection to law school.

In fact, you don't mention law at all. One might wonder why you're pursuing a legal career instead of a masters in English. Also, if you do want to continue this teacher v. you thing you have going, I'd start with a different example/story, perhaps one that paints you in a better light. I don't know that interrupting-the-lecture-to-try-to-get-out-of-class-on-time is the right persona to be sending law schools right off the bat, especially since you don't make a point of demonstrating that your ability to be disrespectful to your teachers has changed in any way.

Judith Butler
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Re: New Personal Statement

Postby Judith Butler » Fri Dec 10, 2010 9:58 pm

Thanks for the honest critique. I did need the nice comments as well (so I wouldn't cry). On the other hand, I don't want deluded into thinking this good if it isn't.

I didn't anticipate I would be struggling so much. I think I've forgotten how to write about myself after years of writing papers. Yes, the writing itself is a problem too (I'm make a note to watch the adjectives). Oddly, when I write papers with lots of nonsensical "lit crit" vocabulary, semicolons, and clunky syntax. Maybe writing about deconstructionism eroded my ability to write well. (See original PS). :lol:

One idea I have is to write about how Mr. Kollias' class and ideologies impacted my thinking. I grew a lot because of him. I'm interested in law, theory, and research because he pushed me to think. He made me curious.


This is harder than the LSAT. Help!?

Judith Butler
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Re: New Personal Statement

Postby Judith Butler » Fri Dec 10, 2010 10:01 pm

I don't know that interrupting-the-lecture-to-try-to-get-out-of-class-on-time is the right persona to be sending law schools right off the bat, especially since you don't make a point of demonstrating that your ability to be disrespectful to your teachers has changed in any way.


Too true. Fortunately, I'm more tactful than I was at 14.

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crumpetsandtea
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Re: New Personal Statement

Postby crumpetsandtea » Fri Dec 10, 2010 10:25 pm

Judith Butler wrote:Thanks for the honest critique. I did need the nice comments as well (so I wouldn't cry). On the other hand, I don't want deluded into thinking this good if it isn't.

I didn't anticipate I would be struggling so much. I think I've forgotten how to write about myself after years of writing papers. Yes, the writing itself is a problem too (I'm make a note to watch the adjectives). Oddly, when I write papers with lots of nonsensical "lit crit" vocabulary, semicolons, and clunky syntax. Maybe writing about deconstructionism eroded my ability to write well. (See original PS). :lol:

One idea I have is to write about how Mr. Kollias' class and ideologies impacted my thinking. I grew a lot because of him. I'm interested in law, theory, and research because he pushed me to think. He made me curious.


This is harder than the LSAT. Help!?


to the first bolded statement--that's how I feel about my PS too, though no one's commented on my 2nd draft of it yet D:

to the second bolded statement -- I can see this being very interesting, but if you decide to go this route, I'd say to make sure to really bring in specifics. Like, specific philosophers/writers/ideologies that helped you grow, and specific instances/examples of how he's led you to become interested in law. Otherwise, if it's too general (ie glossing over the ideas with broad terms), we still won't get a feel for who you are and you'll miss out on a chance to really impress adcomms with your knowledge (:

Saltqjibo
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Re: New Personal Statement

Postby Saltqjibo » Sat Dec 11, 2010 12:04 am

Foucault seemed to explain everything for me


douche-o-meter at.... yellow?

Judith Butler
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Re: New Personal Statement

Postby Judith Butler » Sat Dec 11, 2010 12:22 am

My first PS was catastrophically pretentious, so I'm worried that writing too much theory will lead me down that path. My instincts want me to write about Deaf studies/theory, which is indebted to Foucault's ideas about power and the body. I believe that the Deaf are a language minority, not "disabled." Admittedly, "disablity" as a word and concept does have political benefits for the Deaf. The ADA, for ex... ...blahblahblahblah I hate interpreting blah blah... I am attracted to law because I am fascinated with semantics, logic, the ADA, and the political implications laws like the ADA. Disability lawyers who understand Deaf culture are a rare asset.

Okay, I wanted to write about how I got into philosophy because of 9th grade history, but I ended up with the ADA. I can go on, but I know better. At least I mention my goals for LS... Salvageable?

I would really, really love it if I could brainstorm with someone. I think if I bounce my ideas off of a partner, my final PS will be more focused, or could even have a focus. My problem is that I have too many ideas. (ADD addendum, anyone?)

Outline. I need an outline.

Judith Butler
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Re: New Personal Statement

Postby Judith Butler » Sat Dec 11, 2010 12:32 am

Saltqjibo wrote:
Foucault seemed to explain everything for me


douche-o-meter at.... yellow?


Really dude? I may be a douche, but you're the rude one. I was a sophomore who read Civilization and Madness for the first time. His work helped me come to terms with my bipolar disorder (yes, I go to a doctor and manage my illness). Lay off.

Saltqjibo
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Re: New Personal Statement

Postby Saltqjibo » Sat Dec 11, 2010 1:21 am

Take it as you will. I thought I was going easy.

I come off as a douche myself all the time (setting it up, i know...). Especially when I try to write about myself. I see no shame in it (besides the meter was only at yellow, most of the time it gets pushed straight to red).

What I actually mean about your PS is that there are elements of it that I don't think reflect especially strongly on you: the pet names for your teachers thing i think shows disrespect

And more fundamentally, I think there are some adcomms who might have the exact same reaction to names such as "derrida" and "foucault" that your esteemed teacher did

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StillHerexxx
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Re: New Personal Statement

Postby StillHerexxx » Sat Dec 11, 2010 7:59 am

I don't think its the names so much, I would just make sure you aren't using them solely to name drop. I have studied theory extensively, and Derrida and Foucault, though interesting, are fairly widely known thoerists, so the names alone won't really impress anyone. If you want to discuss them, talk about how their theories helped you grow in some academic way and then connect it to law school?

In a strange way, Louis Althusser affected me in a lot of ways, but I didn't discuss it in my PS. I do shortly discuss Dostoevsky and how one of his novels really struck me and helped me break out of the idealistic world of theory and strive for something more pragmatic.

albanach
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Re: New Personal Statement

Postby albanach » Sat Dec 11, 2010 9:10 am

StillHerexxx wrote:I don't really feel like I learned anything about you, but I did learn a lot about your teacher. I guess I didn't really grasp how everything connected--it seemed very disjointed. I do love Derrida though.


And if the admissions officer has no idea who Derrida is? They're unlikely to use wikipedia to help decipher a PS.

What if they were considered a bit 'stupid' as a kid, but later excelled? What if they have a kid who is currently not excelling?

sarahlawg
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Re: New Personal Statement

Postby sarahlawg » Sat Dec 11, 2010 11:49 am

Just one more food for thought... you're writing about something that happened presumably at least 8 years ago, but don't talk about how its still affecting you. I think it would be a good essay if you wrote one paragraph on your teacher and the rest on how his ideas impacted you, where you are now, and where you want to go.

The PS is very hard. I had the same struggles as you.




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