Brown students at 250 years: Tales from application essays

"I trace my passion for voyaging to my zeal for learning. As a child, reading about mysteries, space exploration, and anything unknown captivated me. My first international experience snared me inescapably, with its wealth of cultural and experiential learning to be had: the exotic quetzal bird, Copan's ancient temples, and the rolling 'r' of Spanish. In contrast to these upbeat aspects, however, I have also learned first-hand that misery exists. It was witnessing a toddler crouching to drink from a putrid ditch and seeing a dog dying on the sidewalk, covered in flies, which shocked me into the clear cognition of suffering." - Leah Jones '17, public health concentrator
“I trace my passion for voyaging to my zeal for learning. As a child, reading about mysteries, space exploration, and anything unknown captivated me. My first international experience snared me inescapably, with its wealth of cultural and experiential learning to be had: the exotic quetzal bird, Copan’s ancient temples, and the rolling ‘r’ of Spanish. In contrast to these upbeat aspects, however, I have also learned first-hand that misery exists. It was witnessing a toddler crouching to drink from a putrid ditch and seeing a dog dying on the sidewalk, covered in flies, which shocked me into the clear cognition of suffering.”                                                                                                       - Leah Jones ’17, public health concentrator
"Forty-five minutes. That’s how much longer I was supposed to stare at the wrinkly blob resting in my gloved hands. It was a boring shade of grey with dark blue lines running throughout. When I poked and probed it, it squished. No matter how long I stared intently at it, it refused to become anything more than a lifeless lump. A doctor walking by mistook my intent gaze as a sign of confusion. “The brain you’re holding belonged to an 80 year old woman.” I nodded, politely acknowledging his words. When I returned my gaze to it, I couldn’t see this 80-year-old woman. I still saw a nondescript lump of nerve tissue. As I studied the sulci and gyri, my stomach growled. I was excited by the idea of tacos for lunch. I wondered what made the owner of this brain excited. Did she like to read, dance, and sing? What were her dreams like? Did she like tacos?" - Stephanie Hojsak '16, biology concentrator
“Forty-five minutes. That’s how much longer I was supposed to stare at the wrinkly blob resting in my gloved hands. It was a boring shade of grey with dark blue lines running throughout. When I poked and probed it, it squished. No matter how long I stared intently at it, it refused to become anything more than a lifeless lump. A doctor walking by mistook my intent gaze as a sign of confusion. “The brain you’re holding belonged to an 80 year old woman.” I nodded, politely acknowledging his words. When I returned my gaze to it, I couldn’t see this 80-year-old woman. I still saw a nondescript lump of nerve tissue.
As I studied the sulci and gyri, my stomach growled. I was excited by the idea of tacos for lunch. I wondered what made the owner of this brain excited. Did she like to read, dance, and sing? What were her dreams like? Did she like tacos?”
- Stephanie Hojsak ’16, biology concentrator
"I looked up and saw Nicole’s eyes meet mine; hers were trying to reel the words from my mind. Nicole had been urging me to come out, holding my hand through the ordeal of telling each friend separately. I knew she would be so proud of me if I told them in that moment. It was the perfect opportunity. I would regret it if I didn’t. But the actual act of knowing what I would say, understanding the implications, and opening my mouth to raw thought and my heart to the multiple reactions was enough to make me want to shed my skin and leave my body forever. I couldn’t pull apart every thought in my head. The mess was unbearable. “I am.” The world stopped. Nicole smiled." Jeff Ball '17, music concentrator
“I looked up and saw Nicole’s eyes meet mine; hers were trying to reel the words from my mind. Nicole had been urging me to come out, holding my hand through the ordeal of telling each friend separately. I knew she would be so proud of me if I told them in that moment. It was the perfect opportunity. I would regret it if I didn’t. But the actual act of knowing what I would say, understanding the implications, and opening my mouth to raw thought and my heart to the multiple reactions was enough to make me want to shed my skin and leave my body forever.
I couldn’t pull apart every thought in my head. The mess was unbearable.
“I am.”
The world stopped.
Nicole smiled.”
- Jeff Ball ’17, music concentrator
"My Cambodian pride comes at a significant cost. Like a double-edged sword, I often feel ashamed to identify myself as Cambodian. Ugliness percolates through the nation owing to its undeveloped society and widespread government corruption. Although I strive to look past its flaws, they become glaringly repugnant when contrasted with my American upbringing and values. My American education has taught me that beauty comes through order and peace, the antithesis of Cambodia’s current condition. I do not wish to associate myself with the nation’s monstrous past and its appalling present, yet I cannot relinquish the ancestral ties that I have come to painfully accept. The inner conflict leaves behind substantial questions regarding my cultural identity. Who am I if others fail to recognize my history? Who am I if I cannot even bear to recognize my Cambodian ancestry?" - Sovijja Pou '17, applied mathematics/biology concentrator
“My Cambodian pride comes at a significant cost. Like a double-edged sword, I often feel ashamed to identify myself as Cambodian. Ugliness percolates through the nation owing to its undeveloped society and widespread government corruption. Although I strive to look past its flaws, they become glaringly repugnant when contrasted with my American upbringing and values. My American education has taught me that beauty comes through order and peace, the antithesis of Cambodia’s current condition. I do not wish to associate myself with the nation’s monstrous past and its appalling present, yet I cannot relinquish the ancestral ties that I have come to painfully accept. The inner conflict leaves behind substantial questions regarding my cultural identity. Who am I if others fail to recognize my history? Who am I if I cannot even bear to recognize my Cambodian ancestry?”
- Sovijja Pou ’17, applied mathematics/biology concentrator
"My mother’s forceful but shaky hand grabbed my head and shoved me under the seat of the bus. Quédate allí y ni digas una sola palabra. “Stay there and don’t say a word.” I started to respond in English. “I can’t breathe here!” No hables ingles, she said through her teeth. Something was wrong. Why was I hiding? I heard some people on the bus whispering the word mara, but I had no idea what that meant. Then I heard the first shot against the metal ceiling, which startled my questioning and terrified me. The thoughts of danger and death overtook my petrified and confused mind. A terrible masculine voice snickered far away from where I was, and I was paralyzed. Each syllable that came from his mouth made me shudder and cringe. He wanted to know who on the bus were from el Norte, the United States. My fear grew intensely as I realized that my mother shoved me under the bus seat because I knew English, because I was American, because I stood out from the crowd. My strong American accent would be obvious if I attempted to speak Spanish, and my poofy curly hair would definitely signal to the malicious man that I was a foreigner." - Erika Lopez Garcia '14, geological sciences concentrator
“My mother’s forceful but shaky hand grabbed my head and shoved me under the seat of the bus. Quédate allí y ni digas una sola palabra. “Stay there and don’t say a word.” I started to respond in English. “I can’t breathe here!”
No hables ingles, she said through her teeth. Something was wrong. Why was I hiding? I heard some people on the bus whispering the word mara, but I had no idea what that meant. Then I heard the first shot against the metal ceiling, which startled my questioning and terrified me. The thoughts of danger and death overtook my petrified and confused mind.
A terrible masculine voice snickered far away from where I was, and I was paralyzed. Each syllable that came from his mouth made me shudder and cringe. He wanted to know who on the bus were from el Norte, the United States. My fear grew intensely as I realized that my mother shoved me under the bus seat because I knew English, because I was American, because I stood out from the crowd. My strong American accent would be obvious if I attempted to speak Spanish, and my poofy curly hair would definitely signal to the malicious man that I was a foreigner.”
- Erika Lopez Garcia ’14, geological sciences concentrator
"Mathematically, I knew nothing. If I were to graph the amount of knowledge I possessed, then the graph of that function, zoomed out, barely would appear to extend beyond the point (0,0) on the graph. But I knew that I didn’t want to learn about Shakespeare’s life or the grizzly bear. I knew that I wanted to learn about the United States Constitution and the theory of evolution. I could restrict the domain of possible knowledge by opting to devote myself only to what interests me. Suddenly, the wealth of knowledge in the World Book seemed finite. ... My education is an unbounded function, the course of which is my decision as the function approaches, but never reaches, infinity. I won’t know anything, but I’ll know everything I want to know."  - Olivia Conetta '14, public policy and economics concentrator and former Herald copy desk chief
“Mathematically, I knew nothing. If I were to graph the amount of knowledge I possessed, then the graph of that function, zoomed out, barely would appear to extend beyond the point (0,0) on the graph.
But I knew that I didn’t want to learn about Shakespeare’s life or the grizzly bear. I knew that I wanted to learn about the United States Constitution and the theory of evolution. I could restrict the domain of possible knowledge by opting to devote myself only to what interests me. Suddenly, the wealth of knowledge in the World Book seemed finite.

My education is an unbounded function, the course of which is my decision as the function approaches, but never reaches, infinity. I won’t know anything, but I’ll know everything I want to know.”
- Olivia Conetta ’14, public policy and economics concentrator and former Herald copy desk chief
"Much noise has been made but practically little has changed when it comes to women’s opportunities to have a career, to participate in politics, economics or science. It is shocking that today’s Albanian society, 150 years later, is still is far from the reality depicted in “A Doll’s House”. Albanian women lack the courage, initiative and determination to free themselves from the pressure of inferiority and prejudice. The much awaited “revolution” has to start from the hearts and minds of the women. Only then will they break the cage bars that hold them back and take their lives in their hands." - Chiara Prodani '14, biology concentrator
“Much noise has been made but practically little has changed when it comes to women’s opportunities to have a career, to participate in politics, economics or science. It is shocking that today’s Albanian society, 150 years later, is still is far from the reality depicted in “A Doll’s House”. Albanian women lack the courage, initiative and determination to free themselves from the pressure of inferiority and prejudice. The much awaited “revolution” has to start from the hearts and minds of the women. Only then will they break the cage bars that hold them back and take their lives in their hands.”
- Chiara Prodani ’14, biology concentrator
"I first brought my camera to tennis during sophomore year. My tendency at the time was to portray subjects and incidents in the way I wanted them to appear. But, after a year of orchestrating Kodak moments, I began to realize that, instead of painting the picture of a perfectly functioning tennis team, it was far more interesting to portray the group of stubbornly different girls we actually were. I learned to watch for the strangely synchronized upheaval when the artsy Africa aficionado played with the focused and direct class president. In their matching skirts and jerseys, they appear to be the average harmonious doubles team. Yet, by knowing where to look, I can see the class president’s strained stance and dominating position, her discomfort at letting control of the ball go to her partner. Tshck." - Carolyn Vincent '14, international relations concentrator
“I first brought my camera to tennis during sophomore year. My tendency at the time was to portray subjects and incidents in the way I wanted them to appear. But, after a year of orchestrating Kodak moments, I began to realize that, instead of painting the picture of a perfectly functioning tennis team, it was far more interesting to portray the group of stubbornly different girls we actually were. I learned to watch for the strangely synchronized upheaval when the artsy Africa aficionado played with the focused and direct class president. In their matching skirts and jerseys, they appear to be the average harmonious doubles team. Yet, by knowing where to look, I can see the class president’s strained stance and dominating position, her discomfort at letting control of the ball go to her partner. Tshck.”
- Carolyn Vincent ’14, international relations concentrator
"Practicing with all those boys taught me to perform more assertively. As a successful female musician, I insist on equal treatment. A male friend and I wrote the music for our student variety show, and our advisor described his music as “cool” and mine as “cute.” Of course, I objected. I hope someday that girls in jazz bands will have more female company and will routinely hear that their work is “cool.” The girl in the pink dress has become a musical “beast,” proud to make the trombone section a little safer for girls." - Erin Reifler '17, music concentrator
“Practicing with all those boys taught me to perform more assertively. As a successful female musician, I insist on equal treatment. A male friend and I wrote the music for our student variety show, and our advisor described his music as “cool” and mine as “cute.” Of course, I objected. I hope someday that girls in jazz bands will have more female company and will routinely hear that their work is “cool.” The girl in the pink dress has become a musical “beast,” proud to make the trombone section a little safer for girls.”
- Erin Reifler ’17, music concentrator
"Freediving had become such a large portion of my life, that I defined myself by it. To lose my ability to dive would be to lose a significant portion of my identity. What is the point in living, if you do not live your life to its fullest and take advantage of the opportunities presented? I stood at a crossroad, faced with a dilemma much like that of  Achilles from Ancient Greece; down one path I follow my passion, despite my doctor's recommendation, and down the other, I succumb in light of the implications. Presented with this upheaval, an unprecedented degree of clarity unfolded, my vision suddenly snapped into focus. My choice became obvious, I realized that I could not stand idly by as life blew past me. I knew that at the deepest level, I needed to dive."  - Kyle Gion '17, biochemical engineering concentrator
“Freediving had become such a large portion of my life, that I defined myself by it. To lose my ability to dive would be to lose a significant portion of my identity. What is the point in living, if you do not live your life to its fullest and take advantage of the opportunities presented? I stood at a crossroad, faced with a dilemma much like that of
Achilles from Ancient Greece; down one path I follow my passion, despite my doctor’s recommendation, and down the other, I succumb in light of the implications. Presented with this upheaval, an unprecedented degree of clarity unfolded, my vision suddenly snapped into focus. My choice became obvious, I realized that I could not stand idly by as life blew past me. I knew that at the deepest level, I needed to dive.”
- Kyle Gion ’17, biochemical engineering concentrator
"I’ve never had a craving for grape ice cream — but when I learned it wasn’t widely available, I instantly wondered why. I’d heard of Tabasco-flavored ice cream and even sardine-and-brandy flavor. Why would grape, of all flavors, be so rare? As it turns out, grapes are made mostly of water and can’t provide much flavor, especially if in a milk base; for that reason, any grape ice cream would require lots of artificial flavoring, lest the ice cream come out weak in flavor and icy. Although I don’t know if I would ever try grape ice cream, I loved wondering about it. Whenever I realize that I don’t know something, I ask questions about it. Why do new shoes come with paper inside them? How does the gene FOXP3 help regulate T cells? Why isn’t there a verb form of the adjective “distraught”? (There’s one in Greek, but not English.)" - Sahil Luthra '14, cognitive neuroscience concentrator and a former Herald science and research editor
“I’ve never had a craving for grape ice cream — but when I learned it wasn’t widely available, I instantly wondered why. I’d heard of Tabasco-flavored ice cream and even sardine-and-brandy flavor. Why would grape, of all flavors, be so rare? As it turns out, grapes are made mostly of water and can’t provide much flavor, especially if in a milk base; for that reason, any grape ice cream would require lots of artificial flavoring, lest the ice cream come out weak in flavor and icy.
Although I don’t know if I would ever try grape ice cream, I loved wondering about it. Whenever I realize that I don’t know something, I ask questions about it. Why do new shoes come with paper inside them? How does the gene FOXP3 help regulate T cells? Why isn’t there a verb form of the adjective “distraught”? (There’s one in Greek, but not English.)”
- Sahil Luthra ’14, cognitive neuroscience concentrator and a former Herald science and research editor
"People are like aquarium exhibits. You can see what they choose to show you, but no matter how you try, you cannot get past the glass without destroying the specimen. But that’s why I really try to get to know each person I meet. Because I realize that though I can learn how to bartend, find the derivative of music, and learn everything about the universe from my point of view, I will never really truly know one bit of it from yours, unless I try. " - Sophia Liang '15, biology concentrator
“People are like aquarium exhibits. You can see what they choose to show you, but no matter how you try, you cannot get past the glass without destroying the specimen.
But that’s why I really try to get to know each person I meet. Because I realize that though I can learn how to bartend, find the derivative of music, and learn everything about the universe from my point of view, I will never really truly know one bit of it from yours, unless I try. “
- Sophia Liang ’15, biology concentrator
"An hour later, trash bag in hand, I re-enter the tent. This time there is no smoke, and no one to part the curtain. It feels like minutes ago that my fellow performers and I were standing in this ring in full costume and make-up, the stage lights bathing us in their magical glow. Now, I stand alone - no lights, no costume, no make-up. I stride to the bleachers and bound to the top, joining the other performers to clean up the mess the audience has left behind. I pick up a folded program, glancing briefly at our smiling pictures on the open page before stuffing it unceremoniously into the trash bag. A little while ago, its owner sat crammed into these bleachers watching the show we spent weeks perfecting. Now, holding a bag of half-eaten hot dogs and ripped tickets, I move about unwatched. Minutes ago I was flying, but now have folded my wings to flounder in a sea of rubbish with only a broom for company. It would be easy to resent the audience for leaving such a mess for us to pick up. But this part of circus life seems fair. It balances the adrenaline rush, the airborne feeling of being center stage. We may delight and amaze in the ring, but once the show is over we live on the ground." - Sonya Gurwitt '16, literary arts and environmental studies concentrator
“An hour later, trash bag in hand, I re-enter the tent. This time there is no smoke, and no one to part the curtain. It feels like minutes ago that my fellow performers and I were standing in this ring in full costume and make-up, the stage lights bathing us in their magical glow. Now, I stand alone – no lights, no costume, no make-up.
I stride to the bleachers and bound to the top, joining the other performers to clean up the mess the audience has left behind. I pick up a folded program, glancing briefly at our smiling pictures on the open page before stuffing it unceremoniously into the trash bag. A little while ago, its owner sat crammed into these bleachers watching the show we spent weeks perfecting. Now, holding a bag of half-eaten hot dogs and ripped tickets, I move about unwatched. Minutes ago I was flying, but now have folded my wings to flounder in a sea of rubbish with only a broom for company.
It would be easy to resent the audience for leaving such a mess for us to pick up. But this part of circus life seems fair. It balances the adrenaline rush, the airborne feeling of being center stage. We may delight and amaze in the ring, but once the show is over we live on the ground.”
- Sonya Gurwitt ’16, literary arts and environmental studies concentrator
"Competing and winning in spelling bees taught me a priceless lesson: success is not an entitlement, success is earned, sometimes one letter at a time. Finishing in second place for three straight years was stressful and heartbreaking then, but it has made me a more determined and dedicated student, athlete and young woman today." - Alexandra Conway '15, health and human biology concentrator and a former Herald senior staff writer
“Competing and winning in spelling bees taught me a priceless lesson: success is not an entitlement, success is earned, sometimes one letter at a time. Finishing in second place for three straight years was stressful and heartbreaking then, but it has made me a more determined and dedicated student, athlete and young woman today.”
- Alexandra Conway ’15, health and human biology concentrator and a former Herald senior staff writer
"Constant fear helps when things get really tricky: When the going gets tough, I sweat a lot. But I’m used to the pit stains, so I just keep going. Now when people ask me why I perform, I have a new response for them: “Because I like to be afraid - it means I’m doing something right.” - Emma Brandt '14, sociology concentrator
“And of course, there’s ‘Hallelujah’ — I’ve listened to the song probably hundreds of times now, and I am little nearer to understanding it than I was when I first heard the chords and felt them resonate on a deeper level. I’m too young, probably, to really understand what the words mean, to acutely feel the emotions expressed in the ascending scales and the heartbreaking, matter-of-fact two-chord drops. I don’t know much about the history of the song or the artists who contributed to it, and I don’t know enough musical theory, despite my halting attempts to learn the music, to truly analyze its progressions. Here, too, however, the words of others are perhaps best. ‘The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing,’ said Blaise Pascal, and Robert Frost: ‘We love the things we love for what they are.’ Does it really have to make sense?”
- Emma Brandt ’14, sociology concentrator
"When I was sixteen, my nine-year struggle with OCD was reduced to one single moment; I experienced a panic attack in a crowded McDonald’s on a class trip. Germs proved to be too much, and suddenly I was the feeble girl defined by her weakness. In the presence of my humiliation, I promised myself I would never again feel reduced by this disorder." - Stefanie Kaufman '17, neuroscience and social innovation concentrator
“One, two, three, four. Touch left, touch right. Not right – again. Play it again, until it’s perfect. One, two, three, four. My head is a constant configuration – an organized mess of rules, preoccupations and commands over which I have no control. It is a mental “hiccup” which disrupts the order and normality which so many take for granted.”
- Stefanie Kaufman ’17, neuroscience and social innovation concentrator
"Dear Hochan: Our university regrets to inform you that we cannot offer you admission. However, we will spurn those worn-down excuses of logistics or how this year was particularly competitive. We have specific reasons why you were rejected, reasons we will do our best to elucidate. An immediate discrepancy was your first-choice major of philosophy. This caused us alarm: as an Asian applicant, you were limited to Biology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, or Engineering." - Hochan Kim '16, philosophy and political science concentrator
“Dear Hochan:
Our university regrets to inform you that we cannot offer you admission. However, we will spurn those worn-down excuses of logistics or how this year was particularly competitive. We have specific reasons why you were rejected, reasons we will do our best to elucidate.
An immediate discrepancy was your first-choice major of philosophy. This caused us alarm: as an Asian applicant, you were limited to Biology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, or Engineering.”
- Hochan Kim ’16, philosophy and political science concentrator

 

"When I was 12, I was diagnosed with late-stage Lyme Disease, Babezia, and Erlichiosis. Because of this, I have arthritis in nearly every joint of my body, but this is not a sob story. This is where my story gets interesting." - Charlotte Bilski '16, public health concentrator
“When I was 12, I was diagnosed with late-stage Lyme Disease, Babezia, and Erlichiosis. Because of this, I have arthritis in nearly every joint of my body, but this is not a sob story. This is where my story gets interesting.”
- Charlotte Bilski ’16, public health concentrator

 

A previous version of this post incorrectly attributed writing from a different author to Emma Brandt ’14. The post has been updated to correctly include an excerpt from Brandt’s essay. The Herald regrets the error.