By Ashley Wu
Describe a time when someone’s words had a strong impact on you.
Throughout the year, my ninth grade English teacher, Mr. M, encouraged the shy girl in the front row of his classroom to speak her mind. He knew that she could and he knew that she should.
That girl was me. I cherished our class discussions. Every day, he picked apart a text and guided the class to see a deeper truth. Mr. M’s English class was consistently refreshing and stimulating.
I always had a response to his open-ended questions, but I rarely raised my hand. My copy of the class book stayed shut and my blue ink annotations perched like flightless roosters in the margins, wishing to soar. Insights cowered behind the flimsy covers. My lips moved without sound, mouthing answers to no one but myself.
I was afraid of embarrassment. I couldn’t bear the thought of my answers eliciting snickers around the classroom. I was afraid of dominating the conversation. I thought people did not want to hear me. I needed to know that someone cared.
“You have much to say and much worth hearing,” Mr. M wrote to me at the end of the school year. The line struck me like a bullet and ripped a hole in the walls of my fear. “You have much to say and much worth hearing.” His words surged through my heart, my brain, my throat.
Armed with his reassurance, I vowed to throw my hand in the air and contribute my thoughts. Mr. M’s words cradled me, nurtured me, protected me.
Months later, his words are still a waterfall of encouragement and support. His words wash over me and remind me that I have a voice. That I can use my voice. So I raise my Zoom hand. I unmute. And I speak, for I have much to say and much worth hearing.
I used to be painstakingly shy. Now, I’m an avid participant in all my classes. This summer application essay question prompted me to think about why I began speaking up. I traced back my steps as a student and immediately knew that Mr. M’s words were my catalyst.
Ashley Wu is a teenager in New York. She is a daughter, a sister, a friend, a student and a zebra. Only four of those things are true. Outside of Zoom classes, you might find her taking photos, making movies, playing the flute, dancing her heart out or pretending she lives in one of the books she’s reading.