I just graduated high school. After hours spent reminiscing through old photos and writing, I decided to revisit my college admissions essay. Writing this essay helped me understand who I am. Through that journey I’ve learned a few things that new high school grads can use to help them navigate life post-graduation:
Allowing yourself to be vulnerable gives room to experience every moment to its fullest. If you are open to your life experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant, you will understand yourself and your surroundings better. Allowing yourself to hear your own thoughts that you may keep pushing to the side is essential to foster personal growth.
Pay attention to detail.
Going through life at the fast pace in which society currently travels can be quite overwhelming; however, it is extremely important to take the time to observe even the smallest of details. This attention to detail can be of great help in understanding what makes you who you are and can serve as a great tool for personal writing at a later point.
Take all of your notes and write. Disregard all of your notes and write. Keep journals, notes, tabs. Anything, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, can become one of your greatest pieces of writing and self-expression.
Putting some of my most complicated feelings down on paper proved to be a challenging experience; however, allowing myself to be vulnerable in writing helped me understand my own experiences in greater detail. Although I do not yet know who I am becoming, at least for now I am certain of who I am.
The following is the essay that’s inspired this self-reflection.
The lights dimmed suddenly as the once incessant chatter softly diminished. I could feel my heart racing- a feeling reserved for only the greatest of love stories. Entranced, as the silky lavender curtains parted from the stage in perfect unison with the musical crescendo, I was greeted by the familiar rhythm of my beloved claves, my infectious guaguancó, my treasured comparsas. In an instant, I was home.
I could feel my excitement rising; the butterflies in my stomach seemed to dance in perfect unison with the syncopated rhythm. Watching On Your Feet at the Adrienne Arsht Center, with wondrous eyes and the hairs on my arms standing taller than the Freedom Tower, I saw myself on a Broadway stage- a young girl in Miami carrying with her dreams for a greater life. That night, for the first time, I fell in love with myself.
I was born in Miami, Florida, but my recollection of home has always been far beyond my reach, taunting me from 90 miles away. Home surrounds me from my daily morning cafecito to the distinctive sound of Celia Cruz’s “¡Azucar!” found at every family party. Even though I was born in the United States, Spanish is my first language as my mother refused to teach me “bad” English. These are all features I am honored to have shape my identity now, but the journey towards understanding the beauty in who I am was an arduous one.
As ashamed as I feel to say this now, going to a private Catholic elementary school, I always wondered why my parents weren’t as “smart” as all the other children’s parents who were doctors, lawyers, and bankers. In my childish naiveté, I never realized my parents were just as intelligent; however, they were forced to give up their professesions.
When my parents were in their early twenties, they were exiled from Cuba to the United States as political refugees. As I got older, I learned that value is not the degree, the title, or the ranking. In my early teens, I realized that worth lies in effort, in strife, in perseverance. I slowly understood that if my mother had not sustained jobs such as cleaning houses and fixing hair all while attending the local community college, and if my father had not worked tirelessly remodeling houses, I would have taken much longer to understand the definition of perseverance. Through their sacrifices and determination, I understood the power of tenacity.
Identifying with Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s story taking shape on stage, I watched my story unfold through scenes which caused emotions ranging from violent laughter to lively dancing to a symphony of sniffles. I watched my story unfold through my daily emotions. In a memorable moment of On Your Feet, Emilio Estefan, upon being told his music would only appeal to “the folks back home,” replies with: “I am not too sure where you think I live, but this is my home. And you should look very closely at my face because, whether you know it or not, this is what an American looks like.” The audience burst into a frenzy of blurry applause as tears of gratitude lined my eyes. As I watched those around me rejoice, I realized every aspect of me was deliberately arranged to create the perfect product labeled “Cuban-American.”
I am the young girl from Miami on the Broadway stage with ambition as vast as her mind’s capabilities. I am the daughter of two esteemed accountants, yet I am also the daughter of a housekeeper and a handyman. I am the daughter of two outspoken, courageous individuals who were forced out of their country for standing up for individual liberties. I am the daughter of El Sueño Americano. I am the daughter of liberty.
I am what an American looks like.
Author: Melanie Rodriquez
Melanie Rodriguez is from Miami, Florida is a rising college freshman at Florida International University majoring in Journalism. In addition to her love for the written word, Melanie is also an avid performer and producer. She combines her passions with her dedication to political activism to approach these topics in a creative manner; she hopes to create a non-profit organization in the near future to address these issues through youth interaction. Melanie is eager to work with Make Muse to enact social change through creative means.