How NOT to Write about an Inspirational Person
As I have driven past numerous flags at half-mast in respect for Nelson Mandela, I have thought about all the “heroes” and motivational people my students have written about in their college application essays. As their writing coach and editor, I must carefully guide the students into not getting caught up in the person they’re writing about, but in how that person has made an impact on them.
As I see all these flags flying at half-mast, I understand this designation was not done for Mandela the man, but for all he stood for. He was imprisoned for life—finally being released after 27 years—for standing up for basic freedoms many of us take for granted. And when he was released, rather than being vengeful, he took positive steps in building his vision of a freer South Africa. He changed a nation and inspired much of the world.
Students writing an essay featuring Nelson Mandela, for instance, should NOT be trying to persuade the college admissions officers about his worth as an inspirational person. They should be writing about HOW Mandela has inspired them. In other words, focus on the inspiration and not on the man. In this way, the admissions officers can see how the applicant thinks. After all, who is applying: the prospective student or Nelson Mandela?
Let me know if this makes sense. It’s one of the biggest problems I see in students’ essays.
So as I drive past all these flags as half-mast, I see the symbols of our nation and state paying respect for all Mandela stood for. They are the best of American ideals, and they are spreading.