Thursday, February 6, 2014
On First Impressions
Lacking the momentum to form an exit wound, it caromed intracranially, then skittered to an uneasy stop. I've read that a .22LR bullet can be quite damaging in this way, and I mused on its analogy to the first sentence of the applicant's personal statement now before me: I felt stupider for having encountered it.
Would-be matriculants might not know that during my stint on this planet, I've read many, many first lines. Lines like "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day” and "Her gynecologist recommended him to me". They also might not know that by attempting such lines in the vignettes that open their personal statements, they could elicit in me something quite unlike what they surely intend. Down the rabbit hole I go again.
First I recollect how when my father alerted me to the trend, he was referring to the news. In the decade or so since, I've forgotten his exact words, but they were something like, "Did you ever notice how they can't just get to the point anymore? The headline might say something like 'Foreclosures at all-time high' -- that's what the item's really about -- but the opening is more like, 'Ever since Kheighleigh Pritchard-Smythe was a little girl, she dreamed of living in her own six-bedroom, five-bath rancher in a gated development with a pink playhouse in the back yard to complement the in-ground pool.' They think they're hooking you with the human angle, but they're just not getting to the point!"
Back in the present, I regret having deviated from my usual practice, honed by reading the types of items that had so frustrated my father: begin a few paragraphs in, and if that proved too in medias res, skim backwards till I find the beginning of the major story. I hypothesize that I'd been caught off guard by the page-and-a-half essay's having comprised a single paragraph. Now my optimism wanes that I'll ever attend to the mostly unread text at hand.
Next, I wonder if trying to make a personal statement begin like a novel is a shibboleth of sorts, like wearing a suit to defend your thesis. While it doesn't bear much on the matter at hand, to not do it is in itself a statement. I was once a reader at a defense to which the candidate wore jeans and a faded polo shirt. When another reader took him to task for this, he was perplexed, so I continued: "We don't really care about what you look like, but we do care that you care. If you didn't know what was appropriate dress, then it's because you didn't care to find out. If you did know, then you didn't care that the rule applied even to you. None of these says anything good about you as a scholar, and you really don't want us pondering such things while we're supposed to be deliberating on the fate of your thesis."
Now as I should be deliberating on an applicant's fitness-for-duty within our program, I am instead asking myself, who is telling these kids that they will suffer if they don't do this “hook” thing that instead of being edgy or unique just makes them look like they got the same memo as so many others before them? A voice.
A voice, not mine, in the room with me. "Hnhnzz?" I manage to emit, looking up just in time to lock eyes with Adeline from Admissions. My cue to stand.
"Proctor Hep," chimes Adeline, "this is Harold Hopeful. Harold, Proctor Hep. Proctor Hep is on the faculty here, and he and I will be interviewing you today."
Handshakes and goodtameetyas, and we sit. I steeple my fingers against my chin as Adeline smiles at Harold. She glances sideways at me knowingly, then faces me, eyebrows raised.
"Proctor Hep? Your first question?"
"So.” I pause, only partly for dramatic effect. “If you were to summarize the most important aspects of your personal statement in just a few sentences, what would they be?"
Brought to you by Ogre Proctor Hep