Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
There are few places in this world as diverse as my high school cafeteria on a food sale day. A tell-tale spicy aroma draws students with jingling pockets to the back table where they are greeted by an array of cultural foods. They fight over the last empanada, compare the prices of jollof and pork lo mein, and choose between the Spanish and Chinese fried rice sitting side by side. Most of the food is gone within minutes, but, clutching precariously to the far edge of the table, a plastic package remains unopened. Inside are store-bought chocolate-chip cookies, priced at twenty-five cents apiece – my contribution.
I am lucky to go to a school with a largely immigrant student body that hails from eighty countries and speaks seventy languages, but sometimes I cannot help but feel inferior to my classmates. They possess something I do not, something incredibly valuable, something imperative to life in our community – a culture of their own. Each has a one-of-a-kind background; they all bring new stories, traditions, and perspectives to the table. Me? I bring the chocolate-chip cookies.
I am utterly American. I’ve never left U.S. borders; I was born and raised in one house, in one city – the city my parents grew up in, and their parents before them. My ancestry in this country traces back to the Civil War, perhaps even farther; my genetic makeup is Polish, British, Irish, German, and Scandinavian – so convoluted I hardly have an identity.
I wish I could be more like my classmates, and not be like anyone at all. I crave a unique heritage that would influence my behavior and beliefs. I want to fill the morning bus on food sale days with penetrating tendrils of flavor that I alone recognize as my cultural dish. I wish I was a bit more exciting than a chocolate-chip cookie.
And yet, there is a comfort in a cookie. It’s an everyman’s food; I’ve never met a soul who didn’t enjoy cookies and milk. And every bake sale, the cookies do sell out, if not at first. Even better, they never sell to one group of people, to one nationality or culture . Everyone buys them. Everyone, regardless of age, race, or culture, can get together over a package of Chips Ahoy. This baked confection has the ability to bring people together across borders, cultures, and backstories. America, with its melting pot of people so evident in my high school cafeteria, demonstrates the same quality. I like to think I do as well.
Sometimes in my school, people are identified by the country from which they came. Cultures have such heavy influence on our lives that we come to embody them. But while I might recognize my classmates as Vietnamese and Cambodian, Dominican and Puerto Rican, Ghanaian and Nigerian, I never began to think of myself as an American until very recently. I always felt I was a fish swimming without a tail fin, a shadow making my way through life without forming an identity, without truly living. But now, I have realized the full potential of the chocolate-chip cookie. I do have a culture, a culture so embedded in my very existence that I hardly knew it was there. It’s in the Fourth of July parties, in my catchphrase – “Jeez-Louise” and my taste for Jell-O. My culture is in the glue that holds my community together, in my smiling, approachable demeanor, in the place that people of all cultures can call home. My culture is mixed – it borrows traditions from far-off places and people and makes them it’s own, and it’s still expanding. My culture travels to the far corners of the world without moving an inch.
In the cafeteria, the place where tastes and cultures converge, where individual histories and traditions are discussed over steaming plates, I am more than a chocolate-chip cookie. I am part of our diverse America.