The Power of Pain

In his inaugural speech in 2005, Wake Forest University President Nathan O. Hatch praised the University for its commitment to liberal arts education, character development, and diversity, and described Wake Forest as “a vibrant learning community, one that weds knowledge and experience.” How might your education, background, values, and life experiences contribute to the Wake Forest community?

I steal into her room when she is away. Borrowing make-up, clumsily applying too much blush, stabbing myself in the eye with mascara, and slicking on foundation like icing, I proceed with one goal: to be my big sister. She is the older one, the smarter one, everything I want to be. I idolize her, admire her, endeavor to emulate her. I eavesdrop on her titillating conversations: the who’s who of high school, the inexorable female drama, and the tender friendships filled with laughter…everything I wish I were old enough to experience. I had that sister growing up, or so I thought. At the age of eleven, really too young to realize the extent of the problems in my life, I began to acknowledge their existence. The fiery arguments between my parents did not seem so normal. My sister’s thin body was no longer beautiful, but skeletal. The fighting never stopped. I did not have the perfect family; it became quite evident that it was that idea of perfection that had begun to tear us apart. My sister is bulimic, and has also become an alcoholic in an attempt to appease her inner chaos. Pale skin, more translucent than white, anguish emerging from behind bloodshot eyes, stumbling towards me with outstretched hands, she wants, for that one instant, to be my sister. Jumbled, incoherent words, twisted lies of self-loathing, late-night, drunken phone calls, gagging noises she doesn’t even pretend to hide, the porcelain seat crashing down, and the water flushing: haunting sounds, disturbing images, unwarranted memories illustrating how badly life can hurt you. Her tragedy lives within me. My sister has changed my life. This statement typically signifies inspiration, motivation, or encouragement, a person who has set an example of sublime proportions. In fact, what my sister has taught me is that I do not want to be like her. I grew up attempting to mature too fast in her image, and my family’s struggles forced that adulthood upon me. Propelling myself forward with lofty goals and ideals, I now pursue perfection and grapple with its futility all in an attempt to be better. Painful memories do not daunt me: they provide me with my power. The view I had of my sister was how I viewed the world: with innocent eyes. I was selfish. A member of the ‘cool,’ snobby dance team, I made every attempt to fit in. Laughing at crude and cruel humor and flirting with older boys, I assimilated myself using Hollister jeans and Abercrombie tops. I did fit. But I was never happy. I wanted so badly to join the discussions about boys and make-up, but never could. It seemed so immature compared to the life I knew. The day I found out my sister was an alcoholic was the day I decided to leave the dance team. Pointless, superfluous, and inane drama was not what I wanted to fill my life with. I realized what I want is to never be the one who makes my mom cry. I cannot be that person. I will not be that daughter. Weakness has shown itself to me, and I am stronger for it. Life is not something to merely be lived; it must be experienced. Only through suffering have I learned that I can be more, go further, work harder, and fight back. From adversity comes will, and my will supersedes hardship. I have always been diligent, assertive, and focused, but combine that with goals, a passion for life and learning, and you get who I am. Recently, my class was asked to read the Epic of Gilgamesh for an assignment, and I was the only student in a gifted class to do more than just read, but analyze and question. When the College of William and Mary came up in a discussion, I began recalling facts about William of Orange and the Glorious Revolution, unable to restrain myself from researching the seemingly incontiguous facts. This boiling desire for knowledge manifests itself within me. Organized and disciplined, my life is coordinated onto a twelve-month desk size calendar. I am motivated by a resolute need to understand, and by the idea that perhaps, one day, something I learn will show me how to live my life voraciously. I will never waste the time I have. I never asked for the family I have. I was never questioned about my preferences, never got to choose. And that is my greatest happiness, because I would not have chosen this life without hindsight; no one would. My family and friends have surrounded me with chaos and pain, but I am grateful nevertheless. The disarray has made me disciplined, and the pain has made me strong. There is no need for big words and excessive letters to describe who I am. I am powerful. I am a leader. I take control. Although I aim for perfection, I know it is unattainable. Rather than feigning to embody it, I have come to understand that true perfection is imperfection. I feel quite average at some things I do, but my mediocrity is not wrong or misguided…quite the opposite. It is that invisible force which drives me to work harder. My sister and my awareness of my naïveté (for, of course, it is still present) have empowered me with this control over my life. I am me because of my past. Rather than lamenting my experiences, I exploit my pain for growth toward becoming the woman I am already developing into: a successful student, a cheery and optimistic individual, a dynamic businesswoman with an MBA, but most of all, a person with the strength to truly live. So to answer you question of how I will contribute to the Wake Forest community, I simply say this: I will be me.

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