Marilyn D.

$1,000 English Scholarship Award Winner

I was in fifth grade when a classmate and I decided to write a book together. By the end of the year, I had a new best friend and twenty clumsy chapters of poorly-edited escapism. We’ve since lost the pages, but not the principle: at an age when we were still restricted to safety scissors, a story was an art form that fit in our nine-year-old hands.

I was (a mess) in middle school when I began writing short fiction. It was all angst and allegory back then, Chicken Soup for the Preteen Shipwreck, characters with names like “Princess Crylenar” and “Gloria Rose.” My teachers were too generous to encourage me: “Send me a copy of your first novel,” they said, and I promised I would. It gave me purpose.

I was fourteen when I started swooning over sentences. A well-placed simile could give me shivers; grammar rules destroyed and rebuilt my universes with thrilling regularity. I edited articles for my school newspaper, keeping cadence with proofreader marks and red pens. I wondered if authors and writers always saw the world like this — ready for revision.

I was eighteen when my doctor gave me medication for depression. I spent three months feeling like a failure before reaching back into the past for poetry, sifting for salvage. What I found was unoriginal, but enough: “Write. Read.” Now I cling to my malfunctions like inspiration, like ammunition.

I’m twenty now, and still unimpressive, and still stretching for the words. What has influenced my decision to pursue English? What hasn’t influenced my decision to pursue English? English has gifted me with my best friend, a beacon, a rhythm, a meaning. It has shown me how to read beauty between the lines of a bad book. Most importantly, it’s given me a way to describe how the world looks on these days when I am sitting in school between Steinbeck and Shakespeare, pen in hand, degree distant on the horizon: infinite.

English will let me be anything. I will let it be everything to me — it’s the least I can do.

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