The prompt was daunting: In not more than 500 words, please describe below how your interests and achievements, both academic and extra-curricular, demonstrate a capacity for leadership, commitment to using your knowledge to serve your community and to applying your talents to improve the lives of others.I was 22, and I had never really tried to articulate how my curiosity about foreign languages, Latin American literature, and film could demonstrate “a capacity for leadership,” or the ability to “serve my community.” But I gave it a go.
I had not been home for a year, my eyes were glued to the car window, and I saw everything differently.
Though the terrain between the Oakland airport and my home is relatively flat, that day the socio-economic inequality was as clear to me as the diverse topography of Rio de Janeiro.
Footage of Oscar Grant’s killing was impossible to avoid in Oakland.
The cell phone recordings of Oscar Grant’s death were also the first reel of raw film images that I had ever seen to depict the end of an actual person’s life.
I had already walked for graduation the June before and the future was oddly wide open, and incredibly empty to me.
Like many students who are “good at school,” I thought that a graduate program seemed like a reasonable idea, especially because 2008 was a year during which jobs for recent graduates were extremely hard to come by.Both of these experiences, of arriving in Brazil and returning to Oakland, are powerful instances of where academic or literary knowledge solidifies through the experience of real events.I want to know more about issues of urban Latin America because they are directly related to urban American issues.It is my dream to inspire others to see education as an opportunity to travel, to experience difference, and to return home with critical points of view, and the desire to create positive change.During my 25-minute interview with the Gates committee in February, I was completely stunned by a question that one of the British members posed as a research question.I caught glimpses of newspaper headlines with phrases like “gang violence” and “high homicide rate.” I heard rap songs on the radio that referred to the infamous “O-town of the West,” or the area code “510.” Those were always funny references to my hometown, but they were words and sayings; they never felt like realities to me as I grew up.To my great surprise, these newspaper articles, statistics, and song lyrics only became real to me when I left Oakland and America to spend my junior year abroad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and then return home.To put it simply, there were houses with fences and window guards, and houses with large driveways and beautifully landscaped gardens.Through subtle markers and contexts, the issues and conflicts that had surprised and scared me in Rio were suddenly applicable to the scenery and media of my hometown.I had seen , a movie in which a white man brutally commits racist and fatal hate crimes, but those were fictional images.Most of the films that I studied regarding Latin America were also made of fictional images.