Michela Herbert

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Fear creates meaning for me. What gave rise to this revelation was noticing that my relationships with people were not as fulfilling as they could be. I was friends with nearly everyone yet felt deeply connected to very few. I was well-liked but I couldn’t shake the thought that many people in my life only saw the smiling, happy girl that I presented to the world. I felt like I had a wall around my heart that stopped me from fully opening up, one that I had built after my father’s death out of fear I would lose someone else close to me. However, I would be required to tear that wall down in order to create the deep, honest relationships I desired. One day I did, quite unconsciously, after meeting Badger, the most unlikely of people to inspire such a profound change.

I was sitting alone on a busy beach in Hawaii when a scruffy, deeply-tanned man approached me. He introduced himself as Badger and invited me to sit with him and his friends. I had just finished journaling about my need to expand my world, which had started to feel too small, too safe, and too comfortable. The very process of writing required me to reflect on who I was and really examine my place in the world. While his invitation came at an opportune moment, accepting it was quite scary because I was about to sit with total strangers—men with knuckle tattoos, eyepatches and missing teeth. However, the deep smile lines around Badger’s eyes allowed me to look past his rough appearance. I spent the entire afternoon getting to know them, and within no time at all, my fear subsided. These were real people with wild dreams, deep regrets, and first loves; human experiences we all shared. I learned about their travels. We discussed one man’s estranged daughter. We spent a lot of time delving deep into Winnie the Pooh conspiracy theories, earning me the nickname “Winnie”. I sang songs with them (we all loved Kimya Dawson, a folk punk singer heavily featured in the Juno soundtrack) and one boy excitedly shared with me his recipe for his famous cornbread. Finally, we talked about my father’s death and how it has shaped me. Though these men started as strangers, by the end of the afternoon they knew more about me than almost anyone in my high school class. I discovered then just how meaningful deep human connections are to me. Since that day, I have continued to pursue deeper conversations with those around me.

Last summer, my mother and I travelled to Cusco, an ancient Peruvian city. We were hopelessly lost, trying to find an open-air market that a fellow traveller had recommended. My mother pointed to a tiny woman with a baby bundled on her back and encouraged me to ask her for directions in Spanish. I was hesitant to approach her but I finally tapped her on the shoulder and asked her for help. A small gesture perhaps, but I was terrified. I hadn’t used my Spanish outside of class and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to communicate or that I would somehow offend her. Instead, she walked us across the city to the market, a twenty-minute trip, far out of her way. She did this while carrying her baby and groceries. Her generosity astonished me and my fear suddenly seemed rather silly. If she would take so much time for total strangers, I should be able to handle a simple conversation. While we did not understand each other perfectly, I was inspired and moved by her gift to us. What struck me most about this interaction was what it represented, a newfound confidence in the beauty of human connections and the corresponding faith I put in humanity.