unplanned empathy

This was my essay for Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), responding to the following prompt: “Tell us about the most significant challenge you’ve faced or something important that didn’t go according to plan. How did you manage the situation?” It’s an adaptation of “The Best Mistake,” an autobiographical short story that I wrote during my freshman year. 

My plan for eighth grade would have been perfect, if only Advanced Guitar hadn’t conflicted with Honors Geometry. But it did, so my counselor put me in Percussion, a class comprised of twenty foul-mouthed druggies and burnouts.

I was horrified.

As the only girl in the class, I got to choose my instrument first. The instructor, perhaps sensing my reluctance, suggested marimba—xylophone’s larger, more unwieldy sister. Aided by ten years of piano lessons, I grasped the basics within weeks, but it took our first performance for me to finally fall in love with Percussion.

The feeling of playing in a drumline is difficult to describe. When you play a solo instrument such as piano, it’s just you and the notes. When you play in an orchestra, everything is communal, but still steady and refined.

In a drumline, all the clicks and thumps and crashes you get when you practice alone become one reckless, rolling wave of music. It’s brash. It’s pure. It’s bigger than any one person in the ensemble.

That’s what makes drumline beautiful—the joint effort of a diverse, multifaceted ensemble. Once I got past my puritanical tendencies, I recognized that I wasn’t any better than any of my classmates. Every snare beat was as essential as every marimba melody. I learned how to value differences and, ultimately, how to embrace uncomfortable experiences when things don’t go according to plan.

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