I’m trying to write an application to an academic program, but am totally unsure about how honest I can be in a “statement of purpose.” Whenever I do something like this, I get the sense that I’m in competition for these spots with a lot of the same people that made me feel uncomfortable during my undergraduate degree. No matter how certain I am in my skill set, the depth of my analysis or my interdisciplinary background, it feels a bit hopeless to be compared to people from privileged families with a long list of bake sales and voluntourist adventures to their names. I also struggle to explain the incredible impact of my experiences in social movements and the community sector without relying on hokey (and untrue) hyperbole about “empowerment” “inspiration” and “saving the world.” A draft to share while I manage the writers’ block:
“I know, however, that I am not asking to continue university studies with the same wonder or naive sense of purpose with which I walked in to my undergraduate degree. While my commitment to social and economic justice has remained unchanged, my perspective on how that social change takes place has become substantially more nuanced and admittedly more jaded over the last few years. Models of community organizing in which I found depth and meaning in the first years of my degree—direct, confrontational, laden with urgency and tension—now appear less romantic and more self-indulgent than they used to. I have often felt that those activists committed to these more revolutionary approaches seemed to derive an inexplicable smugness from their lack of efficacy—as though rooting one’s actions in philosophical purity was enough to compensate for work devoid of long-term impact. At the same time, I remain wary of and ultimately exasperated by most formal political channels, unconvinced that any cause succeeding in a system founded on principles of inequality, exploitation and disposability can be much of a success at all. Perhaps the only reassurance I’ve consistently found in what is by all accounts a bleak situation has been in the enormous creative output of my generation, and in the boundless energy of my peers to improve the world around them.”
And there you have it — a glimmer of hope, folks.