We are thrilled to announce that Kelly Porter’s essay, “En Español, Por Favor,” is the First Place winner of CEA’s Bragging Writes college essay contest. Her thoughtful approach to the Common App’s fifth prompt, about the transition from childhood to adulthood, stood out from the pack. Kelly’s essay caught our attention from the first line, which reveals a personal fact that begs further explanation. Over the course of the essay, she constructs two parallel narratives that ultimately intertwine her love for learning Spanish and her method of coping with her mother’s illness. She fills the essay with vivid details that reveal her to be a keen observer, and the story and structure showcase the thoughtfulness of someone who can find unexpected moments of interface between her academic and personal lives. This is exactly the kind of person you’d want on a college campus, don’t you think? Two Ivy League schools– Brown and the University of Pennsylvania– certainly did.
My favorite word in the Spanish language is el pollo. I like the way the double “l” rolls off my tongue and how my lips purse to pronounce the “p”. A rightful assumption is that el pollo is some beautiful word, a word signifying hope or love, or that at the very least, it epitomizes some circumstance in my life in a meaningful way. In reality, it translates to “the chicken”.
I started learning Spanish in the seventh grade. Because it was a trimester course, we only learned the basics, but mastering numbers and colors didn’t hold my interest. Sure, I could count to ten and describe the color of the sky, but I couldn’t hold a conversation. When I got to eighth grade, however, Spanish occupied my thoughts, especially when I realized how good I was at it.
As I continued into high school, my Spanish skills flourished. I began to think in Spanish, palabras (words) swirling inside my head, interchanging with English. I found myself complaining about English and its lacklusterness and difficulty in comparison to Spanish (English’s lack of an usted form, for example). My friends spoke French, but that didn’t stop me from replying to their questions in Spanish. Foreign words, unknown to me and not necessarily Spanish, stumbled out of my mouth with a Spanish accent. To the bewilderment of my friends, I write out lists of Spanish verbs for fun. Simply put, Spanish consumed my life.
However, in the spring of my freshman year, it wasn’t Spanish exhausting my brain; instead, it was the brain abscess pressing on my mom’s. Spending my evenings in the hospital, I watched as the abscess paralyzed the left fingers she had intertwined with mine, weaken the legs she had ran marathons with, and constrained my shopping partner to a hospital bed. For a month, I was sullen, the world whisking around me, while I ached with pain of the possibility of losing my mother.
I used my love of Spanish to ease the pain. The phrase, el pollo es mi comida favorita, a skipping track, prevented me from thinking about the situation, while conjugating verbs into different tenses restrained the shakiness of my voice and the tears forming in my eyes. Whereas before counting to ten bored me, I now counted to 100 to coax my fingers from trembling. Sitting beside my ailing mother, I struggled for the right words in English, but knew them all in Spanish. Spanish was my savior. While a surgeon cured my mother, Spanish fixed me.
Sitting in my seventh grade classroom, I would have never thought that something so basic as numbers could stave off the misery of my situation, nor could I ever have guessed that Spanish would become my holy grail. But, like my mom’s brain abscess, one cannot foresee the impact any one thing has upon their life. Through the years, Spanish has become my best friend, calming me when my blood pressure starts to rise and assuring me that everything will be alright.
While I matured into una mujer (woman) in that hospital room, I learned that salvation negates translation and that esperanza (hope) can be found in the strangest of words. -Kelly Porter, 2015