University of Kansas Admission Essay Sample: A Lesson from Katie

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College Application Essay on Family and Relationships

"A Lesson from Katie" by Claire Wyatt

I was never really upset about it. I never resented my parents for it. I didn't ever feel unlucky because of it. My sister had Down Syndrome, and that was that. Sure, I found it a little odd that while most of my friends' big sisters secretly applied lipstick on the walk to school, mine collected worms, which she would make into jewelry. But except for the occasionally painful quarrel (one of which left a bite mark on my right shoulder) my sister and I got along. The only problem was, after a while it became difficult for me to think of Katie as my sister, a person whose flesh and blood were identical to mine. There were just too many things that separated us, and soon I became the older sister, the leader and decision maker. In grade school, I noticed that the gap between us was growing larger. I outgrew monkey bars, but Katie didn't. I stopped climbing trees, but Katie wouldn't. I learned to write poetry, but Katie couldn't. I stopped roller-skating and began diving; I stopped trick-or-treating and began dieting. I'm not sure if Katie ever understood why, and to be honest, I'm not sure if I understood either. By high school the gap between us had gotten huge, and I remember feeling more like Katie's parent than her sister. But then, one strange and snowy night, something beautiful happened.

It was the winter of my junior year. The sky was black and empty, and its breath ached inside warm lungs. Life, it seemed, had either burrowed itself underground for warmth or had gone south for the winter like my Uncle Sherman, who can't stand the cold. The trees were bare and lonely, and every once in a while they would point to a dimly lit, second-story window where my silhouette lay motionless on a bed. I was in one of those moods, those strange moods, where the world suddenly appears to be under water. Its sights and sounds majestically blur together, like some sort of half-dream. I felt uneasy and unfamiliar with myself and with everything around me. It's one of those states that comes occasionally in adolescence probably because of hormones, anxiety, and greasy foods all reacting with each other inside of our bodies. All I could do was lie on my bed. After I had counted something like three hundred of the tiny little dots on my ceiling, my sister entered my room. "What now, Katie?" I barked at her in my head, unable to make words come out of my mouth. I was anticipating her to begin her nightly ritual of describing, in exact detail, the events of her day: the food she's eaten, the friends she's talked to, the boys she might marry. But I stayed silent. I glanced in her direction to see if she was still there, and she was. She approached the foot of my bed and gently adjusted my feet to make room for herself. She sat down and stared at me for what must have been a long time. And then, as if she was aware of my inability to form words at that moment, she began to talk to me in sign language. (She had been learning it at school as part of some enrichment program.) I remembered only a few gestures that I had learned in elementary school, so she began teaching me. "School." "Mom." "Boy." "Bathroom." "Stupid." "Sister." "I love you." All of a sudden I realized that for the first time in nearly a decade, Katie was the older sister again. For the first time since we were kids, she was teaching me. And just like that, the gap disappeared. Just like that, we were sisters again. My emotionally masochistic fog quickly lifted and the world seemed clear to me again—clear but not perfect; not perfect, but adequate. I realized then what I should have known all along: that my sister and I, despite significant differences, will always be sisters; that she's taught me much more than I have ever given her credit for. And I'll always be grateful to her for the night when she taught me to say, "Sister, I love you," in the only language that I could comprehend.

Claire Wyatt attends the University of Kansas.

Essay Review

a sister with down syndrome

Though its title includes her sister's name, author Claire Wyatt's essay is really about her perception of her sister and how it changes. She uses the first paragraph to describe the evolving relationship in exceptionally concrete terms. The two sisters have become somewhat distant, at least in Claire's mind, until an interesting and slightly mysterious moment when their roles reverse. The last six lines are noteworthy both for what they reveal, and for what they leave for the reader to deduce.

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