Personal Statement: Michael Truong (Class of 2017)

Michael is currently attending UCI. 

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

Etch, sketch, etch, sketch.
As my lead pencil breaks the silence of the evening, the graphite outlines it carves into my modest poster paper begin to take shape. They start as mere curves that evolve into cartoony images of Otto von Bismarck and Queen Victoria, who, with their large, Peanuts-like eyes, gaze out into a distance reaching beyond my paper. My work in progress becomes a silly, sophomore-made masterpiece of 19th-century imperialism, featuring kings, queens, and a colored-pencil globe of colonies meant to pay economic dividends to Europe. Tired and satisfied with my work, I stuff my drawing into my folder to prepare for the next school day without a second thought.
Drawing is not just another set of skills that I’ve honed since the third grade; it is also my personality. If one rummages through my English portfolio and pulls out my first English assignment for freshman English, he or she would unearth a self-portrait featuring duller colors and lightly weighted strokes — a metaphor for my uncertainty in finding talent within the violin and the pencil during my freshman year of high school.
But as I grew up, so did my art. Over the years, I drew with firmer curves and outlines than those I could manage at the start of my freshman year. My graphite-outlined characters began to laugh, to drop jaws, to feel afraid, and to express themselves in ways they had not before. Like them, I began to express myself more and more. As I worked to build upon my drawing skills during my underclassman years, so too did my personality build up.
Although my cartoonish finesse persists, staring into the elliptical eyes of the people I have drawn reminds me of how much I have grown; just like my drawings, I have become more confident and certain of who I am. I know that, as a result, my greatest and most meaningful talent lies in the pencil, not just because of the time I took with drawing history posters and scratch-paper cartoons, but also because it reflects my long-lasting personal growth.

 

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

As I peruse the pages of my textbook one evening, I spot a sequence of lines, scores of curves, and several ovals labeled with names of language branches from Germanic to Indo-Iranian. They seem meaningless at first glance, but as I gaze at them more closely, they begin to amaze me. The language families echo various cultures around the world, and the collection of lines and shapes comprise a chunk of the intellectual treasure that AP Human Geography had to offer on the functions of human society.
To me, AP Human Geography was no ordinary class. While most courses I took have yielded a moderate learning experience, the exceptional breadth of Human Geography made it more fruitful. Initially unsure of why people lived as they did, I didn’t just answer questions on the subject as I would have for other courses. I also understood the influences that tapped into human beings as they grew up. While learning about the languages of the world, I went beyond skimming the language tree and flashcards that read “English” or “Afrikaans” and realized that humans forge unique identities based on the cultures they experience, which also serve to help world languages thrive.
The class has also helped me better understand the definition of civilization. Before taking this class, I always thought of a civilization as an organized state like the United States. But what about indigenous hunter-gatherer tribes that lurk about forests and savannahs? I was unsure of their qualification as a civilization at first, but the class helped me understand that civilization didn’t have to be as bureaucratic as America is. In fact, it taught me to see civilization with such a broad scope that I now see tribes and countries as civilizations in their own right.
AP Human Geography not only presented a rich study of humans and the environments around them, also opened my mind to the diversity of culture and language and the subjectivity of civilization. It has made me more receptive to and accepting of new ideas than I thought it would have at first.

 

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

Early in the cloudy April morning, my friend and I walk about the school with red ribbons pinned to our shirts. Like mimes from a parallel universe, we don’t say a word. When I almost speak, she covers her mouth and points at mine while trying not to giggle. My mouth stays shut for the rest of that morning, as I wait for the hour in which I can speak again. And when that hour comes, my classmates exhale in relief, the chatter picking up once more.
About a month earlier, an English teacher rallied me and several others to observe the GLSEN Day of Silence to affirm solidarity with lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender students who felt virtually voiceless. While my school typically welcomed other people regardless of sexual orientation, I noticed that many LGBT students were uncomfortable with expressing it. This saddened me as a person who learned that being straight or gay did not matter in friendships. To help alleviate fears of LGBT-related bullying, I helped BRIDGES, a social activism club, and the school’s gay-straight alliance organize the event, sprinting between classrooms during lunch with palm-sized red and yellow ribbons in hand and working with a geography classmate to invite scores of students via Facebook to experience a wordless morning.
While this Day of Silence lasted only a morning, its benefits on the school reached into the afternoon and beyond. Long after the silence broke, I noticed more LGBT students holding hands during lunch and more teachers discussing the Supreme Court’s deliberations on same-sex marriage.
Thanks to the modest recruitment efforts my friend and I conducted and the greater work of BRIDGES and the school GSA, talking about and indicating sexual orientation has become as normal as catching up with friends on their plans for the weekend. And thanks to our efforts in maximizing visibility for the Day of Silence that year, LGBT students feel more at home at my school, and the school community, including myself, understands that acceptance includes accepting differences in sexual orientation.

 

Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

It’s a breezy March afternoon at school. All seems tranquil, with the natural transition from winter to spring and the back and forth chit-chat that unsuspecting students pass around. But then a goofy, sharp voice punctures the atmosphere, signaling the dawn of another new season.
“Feel the Bern!” I chant as I wade through the ocean of teenagers, trying to get to class. Some return perplexed looks; others seem curious or annoyed. With great fervor, I remind my friends of upcoming primary elections and ask excitedly if their friends and families have registered to vote. When they tell me all of their kin have done so, I grin broadly. At home, while many of my friends are sharing videos of cuddly corgis and photos of weekend getaways and Korean barbecue to their Facebook profiles, I’m posting presidential primary election dates for different U.S. states and tracking the results on the Internet, my eyes lighting up at electoral victories for presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

Although I was too young to vote and felt dismayed at Sanders’s defeat in the Democratic primary, I’ve become politically passionate since the primary elections began. By reading Sanders’ grand scheme towards tuition-free college until my tired eyes sagged at midnight, by alerting other constituents of registration deadlines, and by grappling with my AP US History classmates over the brow-raising concept of a greater federal minimum wage, I understood over the primary season that my vote was not a mundane survey that wasted several minutes of my life, but rather a precious opportunity to think for myself and stand by my political beliefs.
With this pricelessness in mind, I became a youthful political catalyst who wants so much to help those around him cherish the value of the ballot. As I think about the next four years in the great American political ballgame, I look forward to building upon my school-grown passion and encouraging the people around me to vote with the same goofy voice that echoed those high school halls.