纽约时报连续10年，在每年申请季后，邀请当年的申请者们分享自己的 ，并且评选出最优秀的，这些文书涉及 公开发表金钱、工作，或社会阶层。
New York | Bronx High School of Science
Mom always told me that if my hands were smooth and unblemished nobody would be able to tell my age.
She wore rings and gloves to cover up the premature wrinkles from her time as a waitress in high school and the scars on her fingers from her first four years in America as a seamstress.
Try as she might, no amount of jewelry or hand cream could erase those markings. But I envied her imperfections: Mom’s weathered hands spoke volumes about her strength, selflessness and love.
Whenever my family gathered at the dinner table, I would steal glances at their hands. Each wrinkle and scar read like a chapter of a life well lived: a life full of purpose. When I looked at my smooth knuckles and babylike palms, I wondered when I would receive markings that told my story.
When Dad squeezed my hand as we crossed the street, I tried to place the sharp ridges and rock-hard calluses that dug into my soft skin. Did they come from summers in Montenegro, gripping the worn handle of the scythe to cut hay? Were they caused by heavy tiles nicking his palms during the kitchen renovations that paid for my babysitters?
During summers in Pljevlja in Montenegro, I would watch Grandma’s trembling hands as she kneaded each piece of burek. What initially seemed like splotches of flour were actually burn scars from 70 years of cooking. Perhaps they came from adding one too many coals to the furnace or accidentally lifting pots out of the oven with her bare hands.
Their hands symbolized their love and sacrifice for family. But my unblemished hands signified nothing in return, only evidence of wasting away their hard work. So I tried to gain markings the only way I knew how: mimicking my family’s defining actions.
I attempted Grandma’s burek, but my imitation’s flaky shell hardened each time I took it out of the oven. And my burns never felt purposeful, only documentation of my mediocrity.
I tried picking up a needle and thread like Mom. But even as my hands took the shape of hers, the needle pricks left me unsatisfied — it never came naturally like for Mom.
My hands began to read like a list of failed ventures — until I found volleyball. Volleyball seemed like a forbidden interest, so independent from family. But each purposeful movement left me satiated with fulfillment. I picked up the game quickly, and my parents were thrilled: Recruitment was my ticket into a top university. I even fractured my thumb while diving for the ball, the bone awkwardly jutting out as my own personal talisman of greater purpose.
But during high school, I was exposed to a plethora of other opportunities. I began spending Monday nights practicing cases for Mock Trial and dedicated weekends to taking photographs for my school’s Dynamo literary magazine. And though my hands remained unchanged, these passions, along with others, showed me sides of my identity that I didn’t know existed.
But with little time left for volleyball, I came to the decision to leave my club team. My crooked thumb became an ominous reminder of another failed pursuit.
My parents were furious. They perceived my new activities as unfocused distractions, leading me away from my ticket to college.
I soon understood that my parents’ anger did not stem from disappointment, but from unfamiliarity. Their only path forward was committing to their available roles, never pondering the existential questions I did: self-discovery in a sea of options.
Becoming “lost” for pursuing seemingly unconnected interests was not what they envisioned for me, but I realized that the best way to fully take advantage of my privileges was to explore all my curiosities. I stopped emulating the identities of my family and realized that my hands would eventually bear the weight of my pursuits.
More importantly, those markings and hands will be my own, not my mother’s or father’s.
Los Angeles | Van Nuys High School
The room was stuffy, cramped and packed with teenagers. I was about to embark on a new adventure — my first job. I made sure I brought everything listed on the required materials list: Social Security card, passport, student ID, work permit.
As I waited for the human resources personnel to call my name, I gingerly opened my passport. A glance at the photo taken when I was 12 brought a big smile to my face: Chubby cheeks. Bowl cut hair. Forced smile. My jolly mood quickly faded when I read the expiration date: 03 Jan 2022. As I flipped through, each page was blank. My heart felt empty.
I tried to shake off the sadness dominating my thoughts. I should not have been bothered by my empty passport or its pending expiration date. But I was. It was a painful reminder that I had never left the country, not once in my entire life.
I remained quiet even as my mom repeatedly asked how my job orientation went. My replies were a mere yes or no. But when we got home, I held up my passport and finally dared to ask her. She looked at me and responded: “I’m sorry, but we can’t afford it. Airfares alone for a family of five would cost an arm and a leg.” Her quavering voice said it all. I walked away, empty. My passport was for “just in case,” not “when.”
When I spend time with Grandma, I am greeted by her cabinet full of cherished souvenirs. Some mark her 90 years on earth, others Grandpa’s travels as a merchant marine. Admiring the elephant tusk from India, brass plates from Morocco and hand-carved Last Supper wall hanging from Italy, I often wondered what it was like to travel the world just like Grandpa did.
Today, I catch myself looking back at those visits at Grandma’s and realizing I don’t need to leave my beloved city — Los Angeles — to experience the world. I satisfy my wanderlust by feasting on hearty, delicious global cuisines here in my neighborhood. Couscous from Morocco. Vindaloo from India. Gelato from Italy. Each is a small marker of my city’s diverse population and the perspectives and experiences surrounding me.
The first and last thing I see from my bed is my vast world map from Ikea, occupying almost an entire wall. This map has been my constant travel companion since I was little. Beginning with Dad’s stories about his business travels early in his career, this map has taken me to the countries he toured and locals he befriended from Belgium to South Korea to Indonesia.
Through Google Earth’s lens, I’m able to transport myself to any far-flung places without leaving the comfort of my bedroom. I have explored the Philippines, where my mother was born and raised. Her accounts of her upbringing fascinated me growing up, the tropical climate a drastic change from L.A.’s dry, sunny summers. When I showed her the schools she attended, the church where she and her family worshiped every Sunday, and the empty land where her house once stood, she was delighted. I was, too.
I don’t need to set foot in an airport to know every country, city and capital in the world. The knowledge I amassed, from the map in my bedroom to virtual tours, has taught me that not traveling outside my birth country will not define who I am. I pull what I can from my surroundings, whether wandering my neighborhood or following the virtual tour of the Louvre’s Petite Galerie exhibition of founding myths. And there are dozens of UNESCO sites still to see.
I am a globe-trotter. Travel costs may prove too great a financial strain for my parents, but my world map and ingenuity are free. So while my passport pages are empty, my limitless adventures are being vividly stamped in my mind forever.
Mimosa Hứa Mỹ Văn
Tucson, Ariz. | Flowing Wells High School
I was 6 years old.
Waltzing into my room, I had no room to dance. Looking at the floor, I would not be able to convince anyone it is hardwood. Clothes with price tags and unopened toys covered every inch of the ground. Mountains of freebies from convention centers engulfed me every time I entered the room. It was chaos.
Each day, these mountains became mountain ranges. As time passed by, I thought this accumulation would make me better. More items, more wealth and more friends. Having more meant a better life, right?
I waved to my dad at the screen door while I was yawning in jammies that were made authentically from Vietnam. He hopped into the only car to drive eight miles south to sharpen blades for lawn mowers as my mom cared for me, my brother and the house.
And every morning, my mom dropped me off at school on the next fastest transportation: the only electric scooter. Other days, my dad would pick me up and head to the doctor’s as the English-speaking parent before dozing off until his next shift. I cherished my parents’ efforts and actions for me.
When I was 10, my dad was heading into his mid-60s, and he retired. The income cash flow was dripping as my mom joined the work force and slowly gained clients. We celebrated every time a letter came in with government assistance.
We savored all the stuff. Every item made us the richest people on earth. My mom told me stories about when she was younger in Vietnam. She never had new clothes or gifts. She always got hand-me-downs.
I treasured and kept every item as sacred as a pirate’s gold. I felt like I won the lottery by having all this stuff.
Because I knew the most English, I researched Americanized things and how-tos for my parents. With a disastrous house at bay, my mom suggested to me to research how to get a cleaner house. I typed it into the Google search bar, expecting nothing helpful. I went down the rabbit hole, weaving from grease, storage containers, organization and more.
And then, I found this foreign word, minimalism.
Simplifying the number of items in possession to have a tidier home can make people happier. What were these jabberwocky words arranged in this order doing here? Can this end my chaos?
But, I thought more meant better. My treasure was occupying my time and mind. Overflowing piles, boxes and chaos tornadoed around me.
What about the social pressure? What would all my friends think if I didn’t have a lot of things? Would they think I was poor, poorer than I already am? Or worse, could I lose everything in life?
You know what? Let’s just do it. The chaos needs to end.
I slowly start to sort piles and load the car trunk. A part of me vanished at first. As days went by, I felt a weight of possession leave my chest and free me from all of the strings from each item tying me down.
Now, I zoom from assisting my mom with dishes to checking out TED Talks and self-love Instagram reels to working on my random urge to do pottery. The void has been filled with experience, knowledge and gratefulness.
My hands dance as I attempt to take in every single word that emerges from my wandering thoughts. I observe my sleeping plateau and two work space plateaus with a small stack of notebooks and feel content. “I appreciate myself,” I scribbled with one of my five — and only five — writing utensils.
I don’t need to rely on items, wealth and friends to be content. Others’ opinions of my display of wealth are not necessary to me. Without these items gluing me down, I easily settle from place to place. The internet was right. I can experience life now, for new challenges, opportunities and experiences.
New Windsor, Md. | Delone Catholic High School
Digits. Miles on the odometer, time on a clock. Neon clock face — 4:00 on a Tuesday morning. Driving 25 quick miles to swim practice, then 45 long ones to school. A rushed 11 miles to work. Finally, 9:30 p.m. Shift over — 13 miles home.
Total: 94 miles in 17.5 hours. A typical Tuesday bleeds into a typical week, adding up to a total of over 600 miles. Nearly three hours each day before I add in school, work, swimming and commitments as a brother, as a son.
These miles are unavoidable. Living in a rural farming community, you soon realize that everything is far away.
Being the oldest of five children, a perch I share with my twin sister, I know what my parents have sacrificed to provide a loving and stable life for us. My dad gets up early every morning — working weekends and missing vacations to provide for our family. My mom gave up her career to raise my four siblings and me.
Their sacrifices have formed the foundation of who I am. The miles that I drive, and others that I walk, are a small part of what makes it possible for our family to function, even thrive.
The longer drives lull me into thinking. Goals and ambitions — for tomorrow or 10 years from now.
I often think about what I have and the people around me who have sacrificed to get me where I am today. Sacrifice isn’t giving up or missing out on something. It is making the hard choices that will lead a person to become extraordinary.
Today, my choices are laying the foundation for something extraordinary of my own, shaping me into my future self. My foundation is supported by cornerstones — a big, loving, supportive family; work with meaning; financial independence; self-direction.
At age 2, I received my first wheelbarrow. It was small, tot-sized, but I used it to help with yardwork. Today, I spend weekends planting and maintaining the gardens — a sacrifice of time and a strain on my body.
Beginning with seeds in the greenhouse and continuing through harvest, I enjoy watching the produce grow and reaping the bounty of my work. These gardens provide us with much food. My wheelbarrow is full-sized now, just like the role I play in helping sustain my family.
The miles I walk pushing a wheelbarrow offer one type of support. Those I drive to and from my job as a restaurant dishwasher provide another 20 to 25 hours a week I scrub and rinse, pacing myself to stay ahead of the front of the house.
These hours demand a different type of sacrifice, but offer the promise of financial independence, my ability to save and even invest. I crave stability and dream of a future I can provide for myself. I want to help pay for college, buy a home on the water, maybe even have a boat.
But the miles I drive to swim practice feel different. These are just for me.
Setting goals and working to achieve them empowers me. After an early alarm and my daily decision to sacrifice sleep and free time, the tough morning workouts motivate me to push through obstacles. I can carry these lessons through college, my future career, my personal life.
These miles, hundreds walked and thousands driven, take me to and from the century-old farmhouse we call home. We have expanded it several times to house the seven of us, each new cornerstone marking the sacrifices made to get to that point.
Soon, I will expand my foundation, adding cornerstones uniquely mine to the ones I share with my family. This expansion will be in stages — college, a job, a family of my own — but I know how I will mark them. Miles walked, miles driven, sacrifices made. And I know that with each one, I am building something extraordinary
Charlotte, N.C. | Olympic High School
Pieces of me live in my kitchen.
An art easel stands sentry nearby with stained paintbrushes and repurposed mugs. The curtains are drawn back, revealing clouds ambling against a sun-streaked sky.
Cherry-red and mint green boxes of tea sit in the cupboards above the sink — Earl Grey, peppermint, jasmine. Peaches sprawl across the counter, next to honeycombs I would suck on during long, oppressive summers. Very Monet, don’t you think? Beautiful, sweet, impressionist.
Yet if you peer beyond the bowl of bananas and crooning stereo, you would find a drawer of flatware. Rusting. Brown. Cheap. I didn’t know I was poor until I noticed the flatware. You can beautify the ugly in all sorts of ways, paint and plaster over all the cracks and holes. But the truth will stick like tar.
It was the autumn of 2019, and my mother was hunched in the kitchen, beaming and bright. “Look,” she beckoned. She handed me a fork and spoon: so shiny I could see my reflection, heavy in my hand and cold to the touch. There were two more pairs on the counter. She had replaced the entire drawer.
“Three hundred dollars,” Mama said proudly. “Two graveyard shifts.”
My mother works two jobs. I save coupons for back-to-school shopping. Why did I take so long to notice? Maybe I wanted to see myself as something other than a stereotype. Another brown body who lives under the umbrella term of low-income, first-generation. Maybe my mother was embarrassed to be another brown body who couldn’t afford a good cutlery set without 20 extra hours.
But I never had to think about it, because she kept the kitchen picturesque, and I never mentioned the bags underneath her eyes. It was some dark, dirty secret we clutched to our chest, kept away from prying eyes. No one should know (not even us).
“Poor” has always been a tainted word, like “homeless” or “beggar.” The generous donate, the indifferent ignore, the unkind scoff, but there is a quiet murmur, an intrusive “this is your fault” inside all of us. That’s why we say “escape poverty” like it’s some monster under our bed, not a symptom of a monstrous society. We are all eager to escape, and when we do, we do not look back.
I have always had a deep longing for more. I was named Jaylen after a basketball player, but I tell people I was named after the blue jay. Inside me, a small bird, like my namesake, was desperately trying to fly. I wanted to leave, because I was ashamed, and by wanting more for myself, I forgot to want more for everyone else.
But standing there, I saw my mother for the first time. I saw the pride in her purchase, her sunken face, how her hands shook and her hair grayed. She worked every day, so I could one day rest. She never kicked up her feet and enjoyed honeycombs on a Saturday afternoon. She loved my future enough to forsake her present.
Each of us has that small bird inside of us, but birds fly in flocks (and together, cages aren’t really cages). The duty of our generation is to ensure the next generation has it a little easier. There is no shame in that weight. There is pride.
We plant seeds so that our daughters and sons can enjoy the flowers. We add semicolons so that our children continue our story.
I work, no longer to escape my community, but to transform it. I distributed hundreds of letters that I and my classmates had written to nursing home residents who were in quarantine during the holidays. I taught computer science and business classes to underprivileged students. I helped underclassmen transition to the turbulent ocean that is high school. I paint murals, drink tea and take birds with broken wings to animal hospitals.
The other day, I bought my mother another set of cutlery that I hope to give her soon. I can finally say I learned how to fly.