For a Time Such as This

Common App Essay

“Help, I can’t move,” cried a feeble voice. It was a trapped “victim.” At first, I froze in fear until my team leader yelled, “Radio out!” I composed myself, called our Incident Commander on the walkie-talkie, and reported, “Female, green top, red bottom, broken arm.”

“Perform the head-to-toe assessment and evacuate!” he instructed.

“Copy,” I responded.

We conducted a triage and carried the victim out of the bunker.

“Good job,” our section chief congratulated us upon our conclusion of the search and rescue drill. It was gratifying to be commended as the youngest team member in the exercise. Everyone was impressed with my confidence, especially after I tied a tourniquet on the victim’s broken arm with my scarf. For me, this simulation activity was more than a routine training program for civilians – it was a watershed moment, a stark contrast to the turmoil I recently experienced.

Unexpected family emergencies disrupted my school life, from grappling with my mother’s cancer prognosis in Honolulu during my sophomore year to coping with my father’s quadruple heart bypass surgery in Singapore in my junior year. Soon after, my grandmother battled terminal cancer while my grandfather’s dementia deteriorated. It was heartbreaking watching my food-loving, carefree grandmother lose her appetite. My grandfather, who used to solve puzzles effortlessly, now struggled to even remember my name. I felt pummeled by a never-ending torrential, pelting rain. I was equally distraught by my mother’s lengthy and frequent absences when she travelled to Asia to visit my grandmother. Even when my mother was here, she barricaded herself inside a wall of worries, coiled around with caution tape. All I could do was watch her sleepwalk through her pain. Like a flood victim, I felt displaced. I had no family here in Hawaii. Tension congested me like the flu and my mild eczema went into an overdrive.

In comparison, my senior year has been remarkably uplifting. It felt like the trade winds shifted and the tides turned. Despite my mother’s frequent travel to Asia, the disaster-preparedness training program unexpectedly empowered me to navigate under duress and uncertainty. I was no longer treading water, but swimming upstream.

Acquiring the right mindset was critical. I was taught at the training not to hide under the bed during a fire outbreak, as the victims of the Marco Polo fires did. Likewise, during stressful times, I did not retreat to my safety bubble, but rather reached out to my friends and teachers for support, staying close to my study groups. I recognized stress triggers, and staved off possible burnout by prioritizing my workload. I did not want another potential tidal wave.

“Self-care” and a healthy headspace were also essential – I listened to uplifting music, binge-watched Parks and Recreation, practiced yoga, and invested in a fidget cube! This personal search-and-rescue ritual of keeping calm and staying focused paid off. I achieved a 4.0 GPA this quarter and was appointed by the Global Math Project as a student ambassador to inspire math anxiety-prone kids. It was a simple equation: action plus accountability equals success. Case-in-point: a happy student leads to happy grades! It is the accumulation of these painful moments – the pressure points that threatened to break me, the combating of insecurity and perfectionism – that matured me. Adulting is hard, but not impossible. I do not comprehend why these atrocities occurred; perhaps it is a precursor to my future as an entrepreneur in the tech industry, where failures and setbacks are more of a norm than an anomaly.

Hurricanes. Shootings. Wildfires. These catastrophes are bleak reminders that anything can happen. “Ha’aku’e ke kai” means the sea may be rough or calm; stay vigilant. Flashlight: check. Crank-up radio: check. Emergency contact-list: check. My “go” bag is accompanying me to college. I am more than prepared. I am ready.

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