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31 JAN 2021
This essay is part of a collection of personal statements written by Crimson students who were accepted to their top-choice universities in the US and UK. By bringing together nearly 25 of our best students’ essays, we want to provide inspiration for future students with the same aspirations and goals. This series will showcase the wonderful variety in our student’s essay creations — powered by their personal voice and supported by their dedicated Crimson essay mentors. Ready to be inspired? Let’s go…
Sweet Child o’ the 80’s
To this day, when I hear a song from the 1980s, I am instantly transported to childhood happy car journeys, trying to sing in tune with my mother. Our soundtrack reflected my mother’s conviction that an interest in music creates possibilities and positive connections. She and I have grown increasingly close by belting out tunes from 80’s music, and these songs have become a symbol of her empowerment and the empowerment she passes on to me.
At first, I just enjoyed the music but didn’t appreciate its significance. But, as I began to question my mother about the songs, we started to explore the late 20th-century histories of Britain and the US. Pop-culture icons I had known for years took on new meaning. Watching the conclusion of ‘The Breakfast Club’, which features the Simple Minds track, ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’, I was struck by the depiction of young people trying to achieve authenticity through somewhat ludicrous means. This song is now inseparable from my realisation that I need to follow my own path, even though it may be viewed by others as ridiculous or defiant.
Yet, as my mother led me through British musical history, she also opened up to me about her own. She helped me see the need to find balance between the demands of tradition and the norms of modern society through her own example. My mother was a second- generation immigrant growing up in London surrounded by the music of the 70’s. But it was the 80’s music of her teenage years that defined her. The music of artists like Boy George and David Bowie challenged her conventional upbringing and the ideals she had been raised with. My mother’s parents encouraged her to pursue a career, which was progressive for their generation, but their traditional Indian values still restricted her freedom of choice. She was a keen young journalist but was pushed to pursue a career in pharmacy. Boyfriends were not allowed and she was expected to have an arranged marriage.
When she moved to university, musical icons like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper who embodied female empowerment helped her to grasp her newfound independence. Madonna’s ‘Papa don’t Preach’ had a massive impact on my mother because it celebrated the pregnancy of an unmarried woman. It was the antithesis of the rules she had been raised by. Yet, the music also reminded her of home, and listening to the radio with her own mother. Music was a rebellion, packaged in a familiar form. 80’s artists helped her to recognise that she could seek a balance between cultural expectation and emerging possibilities for women, and begin to navigate away from her heritage on her own terms with ‘Take On Me’ by A-ha as her soundtrack. Even in a time of profound change, music was her constant.
My search for authenticity has been different, yet the need for change and balance is one that we share. While I do not want to be constrained by convention, I do not want to lose track of my background. Many around me have said that my choice to move to the US is a rejection of the easier options they have worked to lay before me. Some have even gone so far as to call it a rebellion. But taking inspiration from my mother and, of course, from my beloved 80s artists, I have come to the conclusion that becoming my own woman will require sound judgement, and respect for others, but also creativity, ambition and bravery. The music of the 80’s gives me the courage to be bold, even if it makes others angry, and my mother’s story has shown me how to retain the ideals that are important to me. Just as it did for my mother, music will push me forward while anchoring me to my past.
NEXT WEEK: Read the essay that got Qaqambile M. into the University of Southern Californa!
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