When I was in the sixth grade I aspired to marry rich and live off the earnings of my substantially older husband. I wanted life on a silver platter; a beach house in Malibu, a penthouse in New York, butlers that opened my doors and maids that fluffed my pillows. I wanted to be able to travel the world, to Milan, to Tokyo, to Dubai, all at the drop of a dime. I wanted to take all and give nothing.
Looking back on it now I do not know where this marvelous idea came from, and I also don’t know where to it disappeared. Oddly, I can only hypothesize that my childhood aspiration of luxury started to fade when I began to throw myself into the process of what was real to me at the time—my sport, swimming. Swimming provided me the venue in which I was first able to establish substantive goals and learn how to achieve them. Even though my swimming career has brought countless gold medals, it is not my victories that I cherish most after fourteen years in the sport; it is the growth that each and every one of the five thousand one hundred ten days in the water has afforded me.
Much of my personal growth came in my junior year of high school. Having moved at an accelerated rate through the ranks of swimming since age eight, I never truly encountered failure in my pursuit of winning. It was in the fall of that year that my trend of progress ceased; I simply was not moving forward in the direction of my goals. I watched while my ends slipped away into a distant fog as younger and faster girls swam past me. I hit a wall and the only thing I could think to do was to claw desperately at the vestiges of my former self—the part of myself defined by swimming and winning. I worked harder and got worse. I was failing. As I fought without any success to regain my footing in the identity that was quickly crumbling beneath me, I came to the harsh realization that it was time to let that swimmer, whom I had clung to so dearly, fall away.
It took nearly two years to redefine my sense of self. Though I have never truly gotten back on the track of progress that I rode prior to my junior year, I can say that I value incredibly the experience of failure I experienced at such a young age. In that failure I learned that my worth lies beyond my ability to swim fast. Besides being a swimmer I am a daughter and a sister, I am a friend and a teammate, and I am student. And not only am I these other things, but I am good at being these things. Learning that my identity is broader than the width of the pool has allowed me to pursue swimming with greater passion now than ever before. Seeing more value in the means than in the ends, I have been able to enjoy and learn from each day and every challenge. Three years ago, I recommitted myself, my true self, to swimming and have since proudly represented Auburn University in the pool.
However, now, as I approach the end of my swimming career, I stand at a crossroads where I must decide what cause to commit myself to next. Having pledged myself to a relatively selfish act for so long, I am at last ready to devote myself to a greater good—to maximize the capabilities of my growth obtained through swimming, think beyond just helping myself, and tap into the potential of the other layers of my identity.
It has been only just recently that I happened upon a new passion worthy enough of my future commitment. This passion seized my interest last spring when I was taking a course in political ecology—an elective in my major of anthropology. The course opened my eyes to the tenuous relationship that we humans have with the single entity that supports our existence—the environment—and made me better understand the profound importance of the growing movement towards sustainability. Still maintaining my interest in anthropology and believing in its significance as a subject, I hope in my coming honors thesis, and later in my graduate studies, to meld my new interest in sustainability with my background in anthropology.
I believe anthropology to be central to the study of sustainability; it is human action that has exploited our environment and it is human action that will allow us to restore harmony with it. If given the opportunity to study at Oxford, I intend to pursue two separate masters degrees over the course of two years: one in Social Anthropology and one in Environmental Change and Management. Though Oxford does not offer graduate study specific to sustainability, I believe that these two programs taken separately would combine to produce a more comprehensive understanding of the subject that has consumed my interest. I hope that in completing my studies at Oxford I would have the necessary knowledge and skills to pursue the question of how we as humans can begin to embed the paradigm of sustainability into our world’s remarkable cultures while also preserving their integrity.
Swimming taught me the importance of the process. As I direct my focus to new goals, I wish to apply this lesson and place myself in the best learning environment. I firmly believe that Oxford will provide a social and educational atmosphere that will foster the growth of my young ambitions and will, with every class and encounter, encourage their achievement. No longer do I wish to take from others, take from the Earth, and live for myself as I did as a sixth grader; I want to capitalize on all that I have to offer. An Oxford education can help me realize my new dreams.
Last Updated: January 15, 2014