I’ve taken on a few difficult writing assignments in my day. Military awards, an awkward article about my experience speed dating, my Father’s eulogy – stuff that really is not easy to explain in words. Still, the most difficult writing assignment I’ve ever taken on is my personal statement for applying to veterinary school. How do you write about something you’ve wanted since you were five years old? How do you not start off, Ever since I was in kindergarten I’ve wanted to be a veterinarian…
How do you convey the passion without the cliche? I don’t know many veterinarians who decided on a moment of inspired passion to just go be an animal doctor; but I am sure those inspired DVM hopefuls have rocket-fire personal statements. Most veterinarians have spent their entire academic careers working towards that goal, some, like me, working towards it in a roundabout way. But you can’t start an essay with, “I’ve wanted to be a veterinarian my entire life” without sounding like you’re from Lamesville, USA.
Not saying that I know everything about writing a personal statement, I just know this worked for me. I ran it thorough the gauntlet of my own personal copy editors who smoothed rough edges and polished my lazy grammar. No one changed an ounce of content. It’s all me. And I think that’s why I feel like such a success. I earned my acceptance because of who I am and what I’ve done. I was able to successfully convey that in my personal statement and had some huge supporters in the reference department, but I don’t want to be a total egomaniac and post the awesome things other people had to say about me…as I think Gandhi humbly said, “One must keep oneself real, afterall.”
That wasn’t a real quote.
This is my real statement:
I walked briskly towards the pencil sharpener, trying to hide the guilt radiating from my face. I was blushing, trembling and afraid to make eye contact with Mr. Weis, my fourth grade science teacher. I never liked getting into trouble. Yet, here I was, on the fast track to juvenile delinquency. I sharpened my pencil and considered my options: I could make a run for it, learn to survive as a 9-year-old on the streets of my suburban neighborhood, eventually turning to a life of crime, or, I could turn myself in and pray for mercy. In the end, I didn’t have a decision to make; I was caught red-handed.
“Erin, why do you have a hamster in your pocket?” Mr. Weis asked, looking as stern as possible asking a child such a ridiculous question.
I looked down, giggling nervously and feigning surprise at the sight of Muffin, her cheeks full of sunflower seeds and pocket lint. Holding her closely to my chest, I explained, “I can’t leave Muffin at home all day, now that Mom makes her stay in her cage all alone so she doesn’t have any more babies! Plus, she really likes science, Mr. Weis.” With an understanding nod, Mr. Weis allowed Muffin to audit his class about earthworms, and, at the end of that school year, he awarded me Brownie, the class guinea pig, for excellence in science and dedication to caring for animals.
I have always had a special love for animals, caring for them and solving the puzzle behind their wordless symptoms. Animals need compassionate people to tend to them and educate their owners on proper care. I knew to be a veterinarian; I would need something special to set me apart from other applicants. In 2002, I was awarded a once in a lifetime opportunity: an appointment to the United States Coast Guard Academy. It was a challenge I could not refuse; four years of demanding academics, mandated athletics, rigorous military training and timeless rituals designed to test my resolve, integrity and intestinal fortitude.
During my time at the Academy, I hoisted sails, climbed rigging and navigated by the stars on Coast Guard Cutter Barque Eagle, I rowed for the varsity crew team, spun flags for the drum and bugle corps, led the St. Francis de Sales Society in community service activities and played for the women’s rugby team. I mentored, tutored and led an underground poetry society. I didn’t follow the Academy curriculum blindly; I took on extra research projects, language classes and paved a way for cadets to take a personal growth and development sabbatical by drafting a proposal to spend a year working at an orphanage in Mexico. I was the first cadet to do such a thing. I succeeded.
I graduated in 2007, receiving my Bachelor of Science in marine environmental sciences and commissioning as an ensign in the U.S. Coast Guard. But, after shaking the hand of the President of the United States and walking across the stage, I realized I had received something much more precious than the paper in my hand: an unrivaled growing experience.
And grow I did. Since graduating in 2007, I served five years in the Coast Guard, qualifying in many positions including deck watch officer, intelligence officer and public affairs officer. Although I enjoyed the unique challenges, travel and adventure, I knew I would be pursuing a career in veterinary science as soon as my commitment was fulfilled.
With honorable discharge in hand, I traded in my combat boots for scrubs and a stethoscope and enrolled in the Bel-Rea Institute of Veterinary Technology. Not once have I doubted my decision or my natural aptitude for the field of veterinary medicine. Each quarter at Bel-Rea I am on the dean’s list for highest academic honors. I’m a teaching assistant, providing tutoring in medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, microbiology and laboratory animal science. I have gleaned clinical experience vital to my success in volunteering at the Denver Dumb Friend’s League and my job as an exam room assistant for Park Hill Veterinary Medical Center. Every day, my passion to proceed with a career as a doctor of veterinary medicine is renewed.
When I was five, I made a list of everything I wanted to be as an adult: a veterinarian, a marine biologist, an airplane pilot and a dinosaur. Thankfully, it did not take me long to abandon my ambition to be triceratops, and I turned my attention to other pursuits. Becoming a doctor of veterinary medicine takes courage, confidence and resolve; it is a profession reserved for the strong of will. We DVM hopefuls were the children teachers caught “smuggling” our pet hamster into grade school. We stay up all night feeding a hailstorm’s sole surviving baby robin with an eyedropper, even though we’re told it won’t survive. The next morning, we victoriously rush the little bird to a wild bird rescue center. We demand a dignified and peaceful euthanasia for our beloved mutts and hold their soft, heavy heads in our laps as they take their last breath. We are the kids who were diagnosed with ringworm three years in a row before our mothers explicitly forbade us from tending to the “sick kitties” in the neighborhood. As adults, we ignore that rule when we find litters of homeless kittens, as, by now, we’re probably immune to ringworm anyway.
My dream to be a veterinarian has never diminished. I haven’t taken a conventional path, but that’s how I am. I challenge myself. I’ve never picked an easy route or a common experience. I take risks and strive for great things.