Take a writing lesson from President Obama. Newly sworn in, he ended his inauguration speech with these paragraphs:
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people: “Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive … that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”
America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations. (Complete text is posted here.)
Using words to unite the lessons of the past with the present and future is the very task of the writer. Parade Magazine published Barack Obama’s letter to his daughters, in which he ties his past to his family’s present and his daughters’ future by describing the reasons he ran for the presidency:
Dear Malia and Sasha,
I know that you’ve both had a lot of fun these last two years on the campaign trail, going to picnics and parades and state fairs, eating all sorts of junk food your mother and I probably shouldn’t have let you have. But I also know that it hasn’t always been easy for you and Mom, and that as excited as you both are about that new puppy, it doesn’t make up for all the time we’ve been apart. I know how much I’ve missed these past two years, and today I want to tell you a little more about why I decided to take our family on this journey.
After this introduction, Obama writes about changing his outlook after his daughters were born, changing it from big plans for himself to focusing on what he could do to ensure that his daughters had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment. “In the end, girls,” he writes, “that’s why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation.” Then he lists what he wants: for every child to go to schools worthy of their potential, to push the boundaries of discovery they will live to see new technologies and inventions that will improve life, for them to understand the great privilege of living in our country, and for them to know, as his grandmother helped him to see, that our country is great because it can always be made better. He wants his daughters to take up the work of righting wrongs.
What would you write to your children, born or future, about an important event in your life? Even if what you have to write about is something no one would want to experience, there is another side, one of triumph over difficulties, hurt, and danger.
If you sit down to write today, you’ll make discoveries in attempting to offer your best advice. And what you write will be on topic for one of your application essays–who or what influenced you, what is important to you, how you learned from a mistake or failure, what you hope to do with your education, or what success has taught you.
Think of a time in your life when you were moving homes, changing jobs, losing a partner, being given an award, facing illness or making an important life decision. What would you say as a parent to your own children about facing, celebrating or surviving the situation? An open letter to your children or future children is a powerful tool for helping you organize experience in a meaningful way.
Concentrate on specifics from your experience–picnics, state fairs and junk food or auditorium doors and winter coats. If you think about heartfelt advice you want to give, you will find yourself making meaning from your experience and ultimately creating a powerful essay.