So, you are writing a narrative. And it is asking you to write about yourself and let people read it. And it feels awkward and weird and you cannot imagine when you might use any of the rhetoric, narrative, writing stuff in real life. I remember feeling that way. I remember hating writing about myself and wondering why we had to learn things like scene and dialogue tags. I was a working-class kid, the daughter of a migrant worker. College was rough. I worked while I took classes, and I had kids while I took classes. But with support from my community and the faculty I worked with, I eventually finished a PhD program, and now I am teaching students like you.
Here is what, after 11 years of school, I finally understood. Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools I used to succeed. I realized that I needed to tell a good story because humanity shares a common truth — people love a good story. Especially the people who give out scholarships, or accept applications to programs, or accept applications to study-abroad opportunities. I learned to tell my story in a way that I was proud of my past, my people, and my journey. Just as importantly, I also learned to tell my story so that my readers wanted to be part of my success.
You know how we all have that uncle or aunt who is the family storyteller and they always seem to get what they want from everyone? It is because storytelling is compelling. Narrative is human connection. Knowing how to tell a story so that human connection translates into persuasion will serve you as you work your way through the two-year college, if you move on to a four-year college, or if you start applying for jobs. Why? Because people want to give scholarship money, admittance, and jobs to people they feel like they know, to people they understand, to people who make them want to be part of the story.
Tell the story right and an application committee will remember the “boy who slept in his car for two years because it was the only way he could afford to be part of the Robotics Club” despite his less than perfect GPA. They will not remember the many, many students who “have always wanted to build a robot.” Tell it right and they will want to meet the “boy who dumpster dived to build his robot” even though his resume was not as flashy as they others. Tell it right and they want to give money to “the boy who won that competition with his trash-robot,” because storytelling is an incredibly powerful tool. So, here is what I am saying: give narrative a chance. Be brave in your storytelling, be honest, be proud of who you are and where you come from. Tell your story true.
Dr. Bernice Olivas