Anorexia, Untranslatable Words, and a Wrestling Move
College essays are “microcosms” of students’ lives.
Susanna Langan ’21 wrote a college essay last fall, just like every other member of the Class of 2021. She read five or six, too, helping out some friends as a proofreader and editor. “I’m good at grammar,” she says. But she also loved seeing the “pieces and parts” of her friends come together in their writing. “College essays are like a microcosm of someone’s life,” says Langan, who is headed for Tulane University in the fall. “Whatever people write about, it’s who they are, it’s what they feel. It’s a way in.”
We invited the Class of 2021 to share their college essays with NMH Magazine. Here are excerpts from a few of them, edited for length.
Yudai Higuchi ’21
Yudai wrote about blending his Judo skills with American wrestling on NMH’s wrestling team. He will attend Cornell University.
As a lifelong Judo kid with prefecture-level recognition in Japan, I devoted heart and soul to the Judo spirit of respect and humility. However, wrestling at two weight classes heavier [at NMH] to meet the team’s needs led to many failures and a loss of confidence. Seeing my teammates succeed with basic wrestling skills, I initially chose to suppress my Judo roots and conform to authentic U.S. wrestling. However, this decision caused a serious setback. I had to carve my own path and strike a balance between the Judo Yudai and the U.S. wrestler Yudai.
It all came together in my third season. My newly developed wrestling techniques are now like the first creases of origami: the deftly executed folds — fake shots, head snaps, underhooks — set up for the eventual “crane”: the uchimata. I imagine a perfectly balanced origami masterpiece as I manipulate my opponent’s balance — one fold, to another. I swiftly sneak under my opponent’s body and kick up my right leg. This explosive move makes us fly, until we land with a thump. My season ended with a sensational uchimata win in my New Englands placement match. This win was the first of my thousand origami cranes — a traditional good-luck charm in Japan — each symbolizing the challenges I set and the paths I carve.
Zari Newman ’21
Zari described her ambition to bring more equity to health care. She will attend Johns Hopkins University.
When I was 8, my mom bought me this ginormous “Human Body” book. I’d pore over the pages of the reproductive system chapter, trace the diagrams I found there, and tape them on the walls of my room. Most people would be horrified if they walked into their 8-year-old’s room and saw a bunch of penises and vaginas on the wall, but I think my mom was proud; I’d found my calling. For hours, I’d read the chapter on pregnancy and marvel at the complexity of human creation. Later on, when I decided I wanted to become a doctor, it didn’t take long for me to figure out that I wanted to pursue a career in obstetrics.
As I continued to research my chosen field, the lack of representation of Black and brown doctors was striking. Hispanic and Black/African American physicians only make up about 11 percent of all active physicians. This means more than 50 percent of doctors are white. Rhetorically, I asked myself, “Is this the reason for the historically high Black maternal mortality rate in the United States? Is this why Black women are three to four times more likely to experience pregnancy-related death than white women?” It was clear to me, those statistics were the effects of the structural racism that persists in every aspect of our nation. In addition, they contribute to the difficulties Black and brown people have in becoming doctors and to the barriers preventing Black women from accessing prenatal care.
Eva Markham ’21
Eva, a longtime performer, wrote about her struggle in directing a play for the first time. She will attend Macalester College.
Two weeks into rehearsals and things were not going well. Going into this directing position, I expected that I had to have all the knowledge, and everyone was just waiting for me to instruct them. But as I worked with my two actors, I was so caught up in feeling like a poseur — like an actor playing the role of a director — that I found it nearly impossible to discuss the show with them or give any feedback.
Finally, I came to rehearsal with a new exercise I’d crafted: “Choose a noun — cake, ball, rabbit, anything.” The word the actors chose was the only word they could use, and they had to perform the first scene with that handicap. Unable to depend on the content of their lines to express the feelings or events of the show, they struggled at first, but quickly grew more comfortable and adventurous.
I watched them access the core of acting, understanding what was required of them, and where they had freedom in their performances. I then realized that I could direct without relying on the power dynamic between me and them. Directing wasn’t just about telling my actors what to do, it was about collaborating and helping them realize their own freedom and power. In class, my teacher taught us to counter actors’ questions with “What do you think?” I understood this in principle, but it took experiencing it myself to understand that the knowledge didn’t belong to the director or the actors. Instead, it was a circulating, evolving thing between us all.
Hadyn Phillips ’21
Hadyn wrote about experiencing anorexia and learning to appreciate her own body. She will attend the University of Southern California.
I became fascinated with the ballerina aesthetic. It’s a style that requires a particular physique: thin and lean, not muscular or bulky. When I began ballet, I was aware of what I was supposed to look like, but as puberty hit, my body shifted away from what I and my teachers wanted to see. I pushed myself, changing how I looked. Nevertheless, my physique was out of my control, so my Japanese teachers’ demands turned from advice and caution to prescriptions for death. In just a few months, I was 36 pounds lighter and began a four-month inpatient hospitalization for anorexia.
During recovery, I refused to eat out of fear of regressing. My sister crawled into my bed and began crying, begging me to get better. That was when I forced myself to try — I couldn’t leave my sister alone.
I had to eat 5,000 calories daily, I had to attend counseling, and I had to stop ballet. I decided that, at NMH, I would focus on volleyball, a sport that prioritizes strength and health. At first, I was hesitant, unable to stray from ballet’s strict demands, but I began to understand the value of strength — how our muscles steady our spines, how our feet anchor our bodies in powerful, defensive positions. Working with the school trainer, I became stronger every day. I stopped punching at my legs and stomach when I got into the shower; instead, I smile at my developing quads.
Jason Smith ’21
Jason recalled his interaction with Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, a journalist, activist, and professor at Temple University who spoke at an NMH Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in 2020. Jason will attend Colorado College.
“From the river to the sea.” My jaw dropped to the floor when I saw the YouTube video of Dr. Hill closing a UN address with the same six words that Hamas uses to call for the extermination of Israelis. My initial anger and disappointment in NMH’s decision to invite Hill onto our campus were tremendous. How could they? But as the day went on, I questioned why I was actually upset. I didn’t know if Dr. Hill was anti-Semitic. I didn’t know if he was a hateful person. My outrage began to recede and I started to look forward to the opportunity to listen and push back. Many of my fellow Jewish Student Association members were up in arms; some decided to boycott the event. I pleaded with them not to close themselves off from an opportunity to directly raise their objections to Dr. Hill himself.
His speech didn’t address our concerns, but his response to our question during the Q&A did. We found out that our assumptions had been wrong. He recognized that without Israel, Jews could be susceptible to genocide, but at the same time, he respectfully opposed theocratic government as a model.
Too many of us today are quick to anger, and judge, even if we don’t fully understand what it is we’re angry about. That’s why listening to others who think differently than you is so crucial. When you don’t listen to what someone else has to say, you’re depriving yourself of the opportunity to learn from them.
Janice Cho ’21
Janice responded to a college-essay prompt about untranslatable words and their layers of meaning. She will attend the University of Chicago.
The Korean word 귀찮아 (pronounced gwi-chan-ah) is the most relatable word to ever exist. It defines the feeling that dooms New Year’s resolutions, piles dirty dishes in the sink, and whips up every excuse imaginable to not go to the gym. It’s not quite “lazy.” Not quite “tiresome” or “annoying.” Just … 귀찮아. Though a proper translation of 귀찮아 has yet to form outside of the Korean language, the feeling is universal.
Yet 귀찮아 is also dangerous. It’s the seed of a much greater problem. Skipping the gym once in a while is not a threat to humanity, but the 귀찮아 that steers us clear of the gym is the same 귀찮아 that avoids difficult situations. It can keep someone from speaking up in an uncomfortable conversation because it’s too 귀찮아 to deal with the ensuing awkward silence or response. It shuts eyes, closes mouths, turns away ears, and keeps hands in pockets.
The danger stems from the fact that the comfortable choice in a 귀찮아 situation is seductively easy: don’t go to the gym, don’t call that person out, don’t ask further questions. It takes far less effort to stay in our comfort zone of passivity, silence, and conformity. Newton’s first law states that an object at rest will stay at rest until acted upon by an external force. However, if there’s anything that history has proven, it’s that the forerunners of progress and rewriters of history are seldom the ones who stay at rest. They become the external force that pushes the boundaries of the status quo.
Photos by Glenn Minshall and courtesy of Yudai, Zari, Eva, Hadyn, and Janice