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When Kids Tell Their Stories

When kids tell their stories, good things happen.

When kids write about their dreams and their challenges, when we learn about their families and their friends, when we sit next to them as they, with just a sharpened pencil and piece of blank white paper, try to make sense of their complicated lives, we see them as individuals, as younger versions of ourselves, trying to figure out how they will exist in the world.

It doesn’t matter who they are or where they come from, when they tell their stories, we can’t help but follow along and hope for good endings.

On Saturday, more than 30 volunteers helped Tacoma high school seniors write their personal essays for college applications. The students came from all Tacoma high schools. The volunteers were teachers, staff and students from our local colleges. Volunteers from Tacoma Community College, Pierce College, University of Washington Tacoma, University of Puget Sound and Evergreen State College descended on the downtown public library with a common goal: to help our Tacoma kids tell their stories, with clarity and precision and power, and get into college.

We heard stories about drumming with the Lincoln High School drum line, climbing the steep Stadium Bowl steps, and blowing glass and playing football at Wilson High School. We watched as students wrote of being left alone at age seven, selling tickets on the streets of Barcelona at age 14, and learning Korean through a Google search. We listened as a young man tried to articulate to a room full of strangers why he was searching for a college major, a job, a direction that would make him feel the real inner happiness he felt when he helped young children.

The Great Tacoma Personal Statement Day, organized by write@253, Graduate Tacoma, and education advocate Wendy Holcomb, was a success, any way you look at it. In our end-of-the-day surveys, all students said it was useful. All volunteers said they wanted to do it again.

We hope the stories we heard on Saturday help these students get into college. But the stories did more than that — they connected us and helped us begin to understand and trust each other.