Personal Statements 2016: Becoming #fearless2try

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Editor’s Note: ‘Tis the trendy season for trends, to reflect on 2015 and to make bold predictions about what next year may hold. This year, we asked thought leaders to share their outlooks on education, but with a twist. They have to frame their thoughts as a response to some of the finest college application essay prompts—yes, the very same ones that high school seniors are feverishly working on now!

Here’s what Chalon Bridges, Director of Learning and Partnerships at DIY.org, had to say.

Writing prompt: Hashtags trend worldwide. Give us a hashtag you wish were trending. #______ Why? (Wake Forest University)

#fearless2try

The most magical, memorable moment of my entire education occurred one semester when I let my desire to create trump my desire to perform. I was on the dean’s list; I was consistently cranking out A’s but something snapped my senior year and I took a giant, risky leap of faith.

It all began when I was on the floor of my room surrounded by drafts of an anthropology thesis that was not coming together. I found each chapter more dry and uninteresting than the last. I’d conducted my own research in Nepal; I was passionate about my topic—witchcraft accusations in Nepalese villages—but the task of summarizing and describing my findings had so far yielded something I didn’t respect and hated reading. A deadline was looming, and I was growing increasingly desperate, so I decided to try writing some of my field notes as fiction just to get my creative juices flowing. My character’s name was Millie. She was black, from the South, and she spoke with a heavy accent. As chapters started to roll, I realized that I could frame the entire first half of my thesis as a story told through Millie’s eyes. This, however, defied every convention of a academic writing. I wasn’t supposed to be creative. I’d never written fiction. Furthermore, a science-based thesis wasn’t supposed to include fictional characters. I’m still not sure what gave me the courage to proceed, but I went for it. I kept my unconventional approach secret from my advisors and knew that I was risking an F. However, for the first time in my entire education, I was making something to satisfy my own creative desires, not my teachers’ expectations. It felt overwhelmingly amazing. I got an A on the thesis but the grade became irrelevant compared to the sheer joy of letting my creativity overcome my fears.

Fast forward twenty years: the most magical, memorable moment of my career in educational publishing occurred another time when I took a risk. I left a successful career at Pearson to see if I could kindle curiosity and creativity in a billion people. I realize this goal is as impractical as my decision to use Millie as the driving voice for my thesis. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that these essential traits are drummed out of far too many kids. It’s a problem I feel compelled to solve. This journey led me to join forces with Zach Klein at DIY, where we are building an online learning community that helps kids become fearless learners and fearless creators. The first step has been designing a safe environment for kids ages 6-14 to try new skills and to share their work with a global audience. Our next step is to expand our audience to 1 billion. We’ve got a ways to go but we are as #fearless2try as the kids in our community.

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