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To whom it may concern:

I am very aware that you will receive and read many letters of appeal from very deserving students, and that most appeals are turned down. I feel, however, that I did not show everything that I have to offer nor every circumstance that might have disadvantaged me in my high school career.

I did vaguely reference the death of my father in one of my essays. Although that loss was incredibly emotionally difficult for me, in many ways, he was not the only comfort I lost. At the same time, he was my sole financial support. Before his cancer, my mother had stayed at home rather than working for most of my life. Suddenly, she had to start working full time at the same time that she and I dealt with my father’s death. As well as working full-time, she had to go to Maryland for two months’ training during March and April of my sophomore year, during which time I stayed with my grandparents. Although I love my grandparents, I really was not mature enough to live with them. My parents raised me in a similar fashion to the way they raised their children, but in a way just different enough that their expectations of what I should be doing and what I was used to doing were significantly different. I was very unhappy the entire time I lived with them.

I returned home to my mother with horrible third quarter grades. I managed to make up the fourth quarter grades well enough to get at least B’s in all my classes. I was still taking classes that were easy enough that I could do that. I felt that I had to raise my grades because my father would have been disappointed if I did not. I felt that it would shame his memory if I ended up with C’s.

The summer of 2007 was the true beginning of my downward spiral. It started out all right; I volunteered at the Alameda Free Library and saw my friends and had fun. Then I went to La Honda Music Camp, and had fun with a boy I met there. When camp ended, however, he told me he “didn’t do long-distance relationships.” He lived a half-hour away from me. It was a huge blow to my self-esteem to know that someone I genuinely liked and highly respected thought I wasn’t worth a half-hour drive every couple of weekends to maintain a relationship. In this defeatist state of mind, I faced the most personally shattering event in my high school career, whose effects I have never fully discussed with anyone until now.

I normally consider myself a very tolerant person, tolerant even of people I believe to be intolerant. Before this event, however, I always enjoyed trying to persuade people with different opinions than me through debate if they ventured opinions with which I disagreed. I was fairly good at arguing, usually successful at winning the arguments with which I involved myself, and I found using my logic and intellect exciting. I even enjoyed throwing out statements of which I was not entirely certain as if they were fact, just to win the argument, to see if the person was so foolish as to accept what I told them. To be quite honest, I was rather egocentric.

My best friend had always been bright, inquisitive, and fascinated with new ideas. We would talk about the meaning of life, possible ways to fix the problems of the world, ethics, politics, everything. She was never afraid to take on a new opinion and argue with me about it, all in the spirit of the fun of challenging our own orthodoxy. We suited each other because she was always looking for the ideal, innovative way to do things and I was always grounded in pragmatism and tradition. Although we often still disagreed after our discussions, we could see the other point of view and feel that the other was justified in her opinion.

My best friend went to a religious summit camp in Ohio that summer. When she came back, she had been born-again Christian. I consider myself a dedicated, liberal Catholic. I believe the Credo, I believe that the basic message of the Bible is the same way we should live our lives, but I do not believe that the Bible is the literal word of God and I therefore believe that some things in the Bible can be discounted. She was also Catholic before this camp- not as solid in her faith as I was in mine, but she had been elected president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at our school, she had been fascinated with biology, and so many other things. I just never saw it coming. It is true that she had been going through very hard times- her grandmother and one of her elementary school friends both died in a single month. I had never expected for her to turn to literal translation of the Bible for comfort, however. I had never expected her to try to start converting my friends and me to her new religion. She told many of my friends that it was “wrong” to be gay, that they should try being straight. She told many that they would go to Hell if they did not convert. I tried very, very hard to convince her to stop arguing with them, to stop trying to argue with me. I used all my powers of argument, logic, persuasion, empathy, everything I had, and nothing worked. She was convinced that she had found all the answers; our discussions were not really about philosophy anymore, they were not free exchanges of ideas. They became her efforts to try to convert me to her point of view. I suppose I was equally guilty of trying to convince her to abandon her new beliefs, but I just could not take it anymore. I told her that I did not want to talk to her until she stopped trying to convert me to her religion. And although losing her friendship was also very difficult for me, what I really lost was the sense that I was invincible. Before, I had thought that the person holding the correct opinion could use logic and facts to win over any reasonable, intelligent person to that opinion. Later, my friend came around to my opinion, but not through any logic of mine- it shattered my belief in logic, in people, and in the fruitfulness or trying to help the latter using the former.

In this state of mind, I entered junior year. I was not worth the time of a boy I liked, and I could not even convince my own best friend to stop terrorizing gays. How could I possibly be worth anything? My mother loved me, but she was my mother. Mothers are obligated to love their children. I felt like I had no one to talk to- my friends were very nice people, but their life experiences were normal teenage problems. I felt I had aged way beyond them because of my trials and tribulations. I could not talk to my mother because I did not want her to worry about me. I failed to do homework in several of my classes- I did not see the point of doing homework when I was such a completely ineffective person. I would often go to the Fruitvale bridge, which I had often run to as a child when I was angry at my parents, and think about jumping off. I would lean over the side and look at the water, and then be too sympathetic to the idea of my mother’s grief to go through with it. I was hostile to teachers, I was hostile to most people in general. I decided in November of 2007 to get evaluated for depression.

They put me on a low dosage of Prozac and they also set me up with both individual and group therapy. The Prozac helped me not think about suicide and also helped me be functional, but at the same time, I kind of felt like the pills were duping me into being happier. I went to the individual therapy, but I never told my psychologist nearly as much as I have written even in this letter. She had told my mother that it was normal for people to go through an “anniversary reaction” to a death, a sudden onset of dysthymia or major depression after the anniversery of a death. I had no desire to disabuse her of this notion. She was not the kind of person I felt I could talk to about my problems- she seemed like she would be shocked if I told her about things I thought about doing. I think that is probably an unreasonable assessment of her abilities, but I felt that telling her about my actual thoughts would worry her, and she seemed nice. I just did not think she deserved to be worried about someone like me. So I did not tell her most of what I was thinking.

I went to the group therapy sessions, where I met many depressed teens who I liked and who liked me. I loved helping them- I have always loved helping people. Although some dropped out of school and many were failing several of their classes, I do not believe that they were really doing any worse dealing with their depression than I was doing with mine. Most of them were from Oakland- more economically disadvantaged than me, more street-hardened as well. I had only had one friend murdered- many of these kids had seen several of their friends die as a result of gang violence. They were all very nice though. When I “graduated” from the twelve-week course, they all seemed like they would genuinely miss me.

When the group therapy ended, I stopped going to my individual therapy sessions. I was somewhat ashamed that I was wasting my mother’s money on copayments for appointments where I was not even honest enough with my psychologist to possibly be benefitting from the sessions. I continued going to school, taking my antidepressants, and pretending to the outside world that I was a normal teenager. I acted out less in front of adults. In English, we started reading The Catcher in the Rye, and Mr. Martin wanted us to write about the symbolism of a boy’s flatulence; he thought it would be a fun assignment for most of us. I wrote a long, angry letter about how insane and fake it was to be writing about death and farts in one essay. I really did not want to turn in that letter instead of the essay, but my mother found it on accident and told me I should turn it in.  I did not mean it to be so, but the style was very much like that of the book. I had over-likened myself to Holden Caulfield, the main character. He wrote me a long response back, and from then on I did all the rest of the assignments for his class.

I had also started going to Mr. Joo’s room after school most days. I was allegedly making up homework for his class, but what I ended up doing most days was helping other students with their homework. I liked tutoring them because it made me feel useful. It also helped me avoid going home to my empty house, where no one could distract me from my own self-loathing. At home, my distractions were limitless, but they made me feel worse about myself for indulging them when I should have been doing something else. At least in Mr. Joo’s room, someone benefitted from my being there, even from my existance. It did help my self-esteem some to feel wanted, to bring my grades up from the depths where they had sunken, and to hear people happy about my efforts.

I did fairly well that summer. I got off the antidepressants. I did all the assignments for my AP Art History class; I had not done all the assignments for any class with homework since fourth grade. I went to La Honda again that summer, and found that people there liked me despite the fact that they gained nothing from knowing me. I went to school again more optimistic.

I started my senior year well- I did well my first month. Then UC Santa Cruz decided that my brother could not attend school for a quarter due to his sub-par academic standing. This in itself did not affect me very much, but it made my mother extremely worried about me. He also got bad grades in high school, not because he did not understand the material, but because he did not do the work- nearly identical to me. My mother began to worry about my habits, to wonder if maybe I should not go to college next year. I am not entirely certain about this, but I also detected an implication that maybe I should not go to a college with demanding curriculum, like Cal, because of my lax study habits. I felt, in fact I still feel, that she did not believe in me.

I know that sounds strange because she has always thought that I am very smart, analytical, and good at nearly everything I do, and she has always loved me very much. She does not have my father’s confidence in me, however. Perhaps my depression made it impossible for her to have his brand of confidence. When my father was alive and I got bad quarter grades, he would get very angry at me because he thought of it as uncharacteristic behavior. He thought that there must be something very wrong for me to not be getting the grades I could, and he would yell at me about it. I might have argued with him about the grades, but because he had the confidence that I would fix the grades once he pointed out to me that they were unacceptable for someone as capable as me, I accepted his assumption that I was capable of fixing them. The idea that maybe I was not cut out for hard work, that maybe I was incapable of hard work never occurred to me until after he died. It was not just that I lost his love and wisdom, I lost the confidence that he inspired me to have in myself. I made up the grades because I knew that he would be disappointed if I did not, and I could not think of anything worse.

Since he died, I have lost that motivation to finish papers, to make up grades. It is not just that he is dead so he cannot be disappointed if I do not make up the grades. I remember a time where I would realize how much I had procrastinated on my homework, and desperately rush to finish it before school the next day because I felt that getting a bad grade was such a horrible thing. Now that my father is dead, I realize that I might get a bad grade on something, and I think, “Oh well. It’s not a malignant tumor.” I suppose that for my age I have an over-developed sense of perspective. No one will die if I get bad grades. No one will die if I do not go to Cal. So I really did not try very hard to raise my grades to apply to college, thinking I could be okay with going to one of my safety schools. I have always wanted to go to Cal, ever since I was little, riding to Cal football games on my dad’s shoulders, behind the band. I remember him being so proud when I had memorized all the verses to the songs the band plays. My family culture is very Cal-oriented, and while some people want to break with their family traditions, I have always been very fond of all things Cal. Because of my grades however, I resigned myself to the idea that it was a long shot to get into Cal, and I thought it would be fantastic if I did get in, but not the end of the world if I did not.

Well, it is not the end of the world. I have been rejected from Cal and no one has died, I have not cried over it, I am not overly traumatized because I did not in fact expect to get in. Nevertheless, I am not satisfied. I toured the colleges I did get in to last week, and I liked the professors, I liked the campuses, and the students seemed all right, but in the back of my mind lingered a question I thought it would be rude to ask: “Is it easy to transfer credits I gain at this school to Cal?” I realized that I would rather work very hard and go to Cal and be disappointed with my experience there than love going somewhere else and always wonder if I would have liked going to Cal even more. I wish I had realized this sooner. I wish I had understood this and understood that I needed to go to Cal to be satisfied with my college experience, because I would have worked very hard during high school to get in. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.

As I said, I understand that my chances of getting with this appeal are very slim. Instead of going to college next year, if this does not work, I will join Americorps and spend my year helping people in whatever way I can. I will apply again to Cal in the fall. Although I do not particularly want to go to any other school, I will also apply to other UCs because I know that it is much easier to transfer within the UC system if I work very hard and get A’s in all my courses at that school. If I do not get into Cal next year, I will go to one of these UC’s and try to transfer again the next year. If I end up graduating from the UC before getting accepted for transfer to Cal, I will have known that I did all I could from this point forward to get into Cal; I will know that there was nothing more I could do, since I cannot change the past.

I hope that although this letter certainly does not change the past, it at least puts it in context. Thank you for considering it and for reconsidering me, whatever you decide.

Yours very truly,

Sally Brownson.

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One Comment

  1. This is an incredibly well written letter Sally, it’s very raw and personal. The question is whether or not Cal wants raw and personal. It will set you apart for sure, but I think there are some things you should emphasize and de-emphasize.

    Now I’m going to be honest, don’t take it personally, but I’m talking to you like I’m an appeal board, not your friend kay? As a friend I think this is beautiful.

    There are some parts where your tone sounds like your talking to a very dear friend/therapist, for example the part where you talk about your best friend becoming a born-again Christian. You aren’t talking to a therapist, you’re talking to an appeal board. While this part gives some perspective, it is also a pretty common-place experience among teenagers. You should probably de-emphasize this, now matter how important it was to you personally. Also, I am proud of you for hardly mentioning the guy that rejected you, but you could probably talk about this point a bit less. A Cal appeal board is not going to care about your being rejected (by a guy), I think you could probably sum this up in one sentence “I got dumped, it hurt my self-esteem a lot, which didn’t help with further problems that I experienced,” only more eloquently.

    There are other parts where you are very personal, that I think should be a bit more formal, but it is very hard to talk about these subjects without being personal so I really don’t know.

    There are three points I think you should emphasize more on your father’s death (for example, what he died of, you allude to a malignant tumor, but never exactly say), how you have recovered from depression, and the perspective you have gained in life. These three things set you apart. You should assure Cal that you are stable now and (to quote myself) one of your friend’s considers you to be “the most stable person they know.” They want to know that you are not an emotional basket case but someone who has gained incredible perspective, and has recovered. That your experiences have made you a more mature human being today, and have made you truly unique. Lastly, I think you should say that if you are accepted on your appeal that you really will try your hardest and best to do well at Cal.

    As a friend, this is beautiful Sally, and I respect you more than you can imagine to be able to spill your guts out on paper to some middle-aged people who will probably never meet you. You are an incredibly stunning girl (WOMAN, heh) and if anyone deserves a place at Cal, it is you, not the stick-up-their-ass perfectionist girls at my school that got in. I wish you all the best and love you dearly. ❤

    ~Hannah


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