When we asked graduating high school seniors to send us their college admissions essays, we didn’t know what to expect.

But we received dozens of them, and we were impressed by the quality of the writing and the diversity of topics. (One thing that stood out: Nearly all of the submissions came from women.)

Narrowing down the selections to a few proved difficult, but we managed to choose our favorites, which we’re publishing here today.


AUTHOR MOLLY MACK of Portland graduated from Catherine McAuley High School. She will attend Saint Joseph’s College of Maine.

There I was slouched at my desk eagerly awaiting the sound that would mark the end of the day. Preoccupied, with my head resting in my hands, I was half listening to my teacher’s lecture on the Hinduism belief of reincarnation. When I heard my teacher presume, “I’m sure none of you have ever witnessed the death of a human being,” I suddenly perked up and listened intently. An engaged student in the class quickly retorted, “that would be awful; I can’t even imagine!” It was at that exact moment that I realized I had experienced something special in my life. Though I did not say anything to my peer at the time, I wanted to assure her that it is not awful; in fact to witness another’s end of life is eye-opening and illuminating.

Witnessing the death of my grandfather, but more so assisting and comforting him at his bedside, I learned many things about myself I may have never acquired without this experience. I recall gently swabbing the interior of my grampa’s parched mouth and carefully dampening his dry lips with a wet sponge. It amazed me that seemingly simple gestures could comfort him for a while and secure a look of contentment upon his face. As a mere thirteen-year-old, I glued myself by my grampa’s side, held his feeble hand, whispered in his ear and stroked his white hair. I needed to feel assured that Grampa felt as comfortable as possible and experienced as little pain as possible; but most importantly, I wanted him to feel the love of his family surrounding him.

It was not until later when I realized these goals are the same goals all dedicated hospice nurses desire for their patients. Looking back, I further realized caregiving came naturally to me. I was calm, compassionate, and selfless while assisting my ailing grandfather. At the time, my only focus consisted of what I could do next to provide him more support. My friends, my basketball game, my homework suddenly became unimportant. This heartbreaking yet significant occurrence provided me with new knowledge about myself and the woman I will one day become. I decided against confronting my classmate because I did not want to put a spotlight on her or my experience in front of an audience. I feared this would make my memories less special to others and my story might be misinterpreted as a means to gain myself attention. Instead, I lovingly reflected on the memorable times with my grandfather. To know that we all mature at different rates and in different ways, the experience of witnessing a death too early happens to be mine.

When the bell finally rang announcing the end of class, I refrained from getting up because I felt the next phase of my life was just beginning. This experience had stamped a new meaning onto my life.

Now, my sole focus is to learn how to be a skilled and empathetic hospice nurse. Through his death, Grampa showed me how I want to live the rest of my life.


AUTHOR ELIZA LAMBERT of Portland graduated from Casco Bay High School. She will attend New York University.

In Costa Rica, our hotel in San Jose was right next to the National Theater.

But, shuttled away in our tour bus, we sped past a shantytown that sprawled for miles just three blocks from this opulence. In the dirt beneath the colored tin roofs, a small child, barely four, smoked a cigarette. He was in the front seat of a dusty, broken-down, baby blue pickup truck outside a house made of rotted wood and scrap metal. His brown eyes were almost black, wide open and watching.

I pressed my hand up against the window, but the glimpse of the unfiltered Costa Rica passed and before I knew it we were at another tourist site. In the hot spring pools, where tourists in ninety-dollar swimsuits raised their martinis, I couldn’t forget the look on the little boy’s face as we sped by, as though we had forgotten him before we’d seen him. He could have been my brother, in another life.
For my sixteenth birthday, I threw myself a meditation retreat, making space in my busy life to reflect on my coming-of-age. I felt insignificant compared to environmental crises, intimidated by the politics of war. How did I fit into a world where supermodels and third-world children starved? I knew it was safer to remain young, in my stable home, untouched by the outside world. But if I could be aware, wasn’t it a moral imperative that I see? In a world of so much danger and beauty, if I remained blind, wouldn’t I miss things that could help me make change? And so I shut myself in my mother’s studio for three days, and breathed in. And out.

And did it again. I explored my inner landscape, trying to find a balance between my wild-elephant dreams and my sensitive-sponge heart.

I saw that I was both a reflection of my world and yet fully, joyfully myself; flawed but blessed, blessed but flawed.

At the end of the three days removed from real life, I threw open the door, ran from the room and danced out on my driveway in my bare feet. Out under the sunshine, all beautiful light and damaging ultraviolet rays, I breathed in the deepest breath yet. I was ready to see the world.

If it were up to me, I’d have taken myself off that tour bus and wandered through a 3-D National Geographic Magazine. I’d have learned how to shave a coconut with a machete in thirty-seconds flat.
I’d have spoken to the smoking child in my broken Spanish, and tried to learn his story. I don’t want to be a protected passenger in life, without curiosity or spunk.

It’s important to see that even in a beautiful place like Costa Rica, a continent that boasts 3,500 species of ladybugs, there are uncompromising truths that reveal the more accurate picture.

I want to know the truth about the world and about myself, wherever it falls on the gray scale of our blessed and flawed reality. 


AUTHOR SONIA DIAZ of Scarborough graduated from Scarborough High School. She will attend Colby-Sawyer College.

Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to have a different lifestyle? Have you ever wanted to travel hundreds, or even thousands, of miles to see things out of the ordinary? People crave new experiences, but they don’t fully understand the risks of leaving everything they have to begin a new life. As a Mexican immigrant, my family left behind our country and our culture to pursue the American dream. Despite the challenges of becoming a Mexican-American citizen, the rewards are even greater than I expected.

When I was 11, my family decided to travel to the United States. My father only wanted to go on a vacation and wasn’t planning to stay. After a few weeks, my mother and I told him that we wanted to begin a new life here. It wasn’t what he wanted, but he did it for us. After four years living in the United States, my father has become open to the idea of buying a house and staying indefinitely. It is difficult for my parents to adapt because of the language barrier; not many people speak Spanish in Scarborough. I had a short amount of time to learn a new language and adapt to this “dream country,” the United States of America-a beautiful, peaceful place to live.

Growing up in a different country and then moving the year before I became a teenager has changed my life completely. At only 12 years old, I had to have the willpower to live far away from my two older brothers and struggle with the new language. I had to translate everything for my parents. I felt like I had all the responsibility on my shoulders, but I had to be strong and accept the challenge. In most cases, parents protect their children and do everything for them. In my case it was different.

Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to grow up so fast and travel to every part of the globe. My parents would take me to different states in Mexico to learn about their history and see the different cultures. I was eager to know more about the Mexican history that I was learning in school. I never got bored because I knew one day I would go there and see the beautiful places with my own eyes.

I never realized how expensive it was to travel; I was just a little girl who felt extremely happy to embark on an adventure. Now I see how my parents had to work so hard to get paid a decent wage. It was not easy for them because, as the oldest in their families, they were expected to help raise their siblings. My father has 12 siblings, and my mother has 15. My parents contributed to their households by helping to pay the bills and buying food for their families with their own money. Their lives were difficult, but they somehow survived.

There are a lot of young people my age who don’t appreciate what they have. They might consider themselves underprivileged just because they don’t have an iPhone or they don’t get every single thing they wanted for Christmas. I know the value of hard work and the pride that comes with it; I have earned good grades my entire life, I have supported my brothers and parents, I have been responsible for the chores at home, and I have participated in my community. In short, I have led an active, involved life.

I could not ask for better parents. I am very blessed to have such an amazing family who cares for my well-being. I want to show them that all their sacrifices have paid off by getting a college degree and making the right choices. It has been hard for them because they left everything they had in Mexico to let their daughter have a better life, become bilingual, be a resident of the United States and-after five years-become a citizen.

I am just myself, a simple teenager eager to reach my own potential, to be someone who is remembered for great achievements. I want to be the one who travels around the world, not simply to travel, but to save lives. I want to leave my mark on this world by making a difference.