Essays About Work and Class That Caught a College’s Eye: Rob Henderson
Each year, to urge them on, we put out an open call for application essays about these subjects and publish the best essays that we can find. This year, we chose seven with the help of Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former dean of freshmen at Stanford whose new book, “How to Raise an Adult,” is coming out next month.
Red Bluff, Calif.
Red Bluff High School
For years, I’ve reflected on what qualities enable people to overcome adversity. I believe my journey exemplifies that one answer is a synthesis of initiative and resilience. From foster care, to a broken home, to military service, to two tours of duty in the Middle East, initiative and resilience have steered me to where I am today.
I was born into poverty to an immigrant mother. When I was 2, my mother’s drug addiction caused me to be placed into the Los Angeles County foster care system. I lived in seven different homes over the next five years. Some homes had more than 10 foster children living in them. The families were of many ethnic backgrounds; I was compelled to develop social skills to receive care from distracted foster parents. I was a curious boy and enjoyed interacting with the people around me.
At age 7, I was adopted by a married couple and their daughter. I enjoyed calling my new parents “mom” and “dad” and saying “I have a sister.” As a boy who hadn’t had a family, it made me happy to finally be a part of one.
Two years later, my parents revealed they were ending their marriage. This was crushing. I observed as my parents argued and noticed they often mentioned my adoption. I found a sanctuary to escape: the school library. There I read Encyclopedia Brown and other favorites. My adoptive mother was granted custody of me; consequently my adoptive father severed ties with me because he knew it would hurt my mother. I was heartbroken and curious why a dispute with my mother resulted in my father not speaking to me. I asked adult relatives and they’d skirt the question. There was one adult who was truthful.
She was a coworker of my mother’s named Shelly. She related that when adults are hurt, they can behave irresponsibly. I was grateful for her honesty and we became close. My mother soon entered a relationship with her. As a young boy, I was puzzled that my mother could now be in a relationship with Shelly. My mother explained that in our society young gay people are often socialized into believing they’re heterosexual and then, as adults, embrace their attraction to the same sex. This blew my 9-year-old mind and intensified my interest in the complexities of human behavior. My mother and her partner Shelly raised me into adolescence.
Shelly was shot when I was 14. I was terrified that she wouldn’t survive; I felt great affection for her. I was rejected by other parental figures, yet Shelly chose to help care for me. She survived after extensive surgery and received an insurance settlement which she and my mother used to buy a home. One year later, our home was foreclosed. I’d developed enough resilience to overcome the ordeal and I decided to take initiative.
After graduating high school, I decided to join the military during the Iraq surge in 2007. I understood the risks, and the structured image the Air Force evoked, combined with my desire to serve my country, gave me good reason to enlist.
While military life was demanding, my efforts paid off. A unification of resilience and initiative in an ordered environment has led me to success. I’ve accomplished much over the last seven years because the Air Force provides an organized setting that contrasts with the chaos of my upbringing. I developed leadership and collaboration skills by serving abroad alongside people of all backgrounds, from the Middle East to Europe. Moreover, I achieved fluency in another language, learned more about the human experience and gained awareness of my own potential.
My aim is to become a psychologist and further explore the themes of resilience and initiative to assist people who’ve endured traumatic situations. My trials as a youth along with my military service have inspired me to help others overcome adversity.