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Common App: "Oftentimes, the Most Ordinary Things..."


Jae Kim

Admitted: Cornell

Oftentimes, the most ordinary things in our lives are what ultimately shape and define the paths we walk.

For me, it was a corner in our living room filled with only the necessities: a grand piano to tune my violin, a table to rest my case and music, and a tall mirror to check my positioning and stance. Though bare and lackluster, this corner has seen me through hours of violin practice nearly every single day for as long as I can remember. It has been an indispensable part of my routine and—what I realized only a few years back—an indisputable part of who I am.

I woke up one morning to an excruciating pain in my right leg and found a visibly bold, scarlet red streak running from my big toe to my knee. After rushing to the ER, I was told that it was a serious bacterial infection stemming from a minor wound, one that could potentially require an amputation if left untreated. To keep the wound clean and speed recovery, I was placed, in effect, under “house arrest.”

Ironically, it was not the threat of amputation that concerned me but the fact that the end of the marking period was fast approaching and I would be forced to miss key lectures. For other subjects, I could read the textbooks and supplement with further research, but I was particularly distressed about the current electrochemistry unit. Chemistry was never my forte; as such, a thick electron cloud of negative thoughts would descend upon my head each time I attempted to understand the material.

After hours of reading, analyzing, and not understanding, I finally reached an impasse in my chemistry studies. I closed my book and, almost instinctively, hobbled over to the corner. I ceremoniously unpacked my violin, shoulder rest, and bow. Closing my eyes, I ran my fingers along the familiar ivory keys, gently pressing with my right hand while tuning the strings with my left. When each note vibrated in melodious unison, I reflexively lifted the wooden body, gracefully cradling the perfectly molded rest between my neck and shoulder.

From memory, I played my favorite Bach piece: the Adagio from his G Minor Sonata. As soon as I began to drag the bow along the string, an all too familiar combination of melodic vibrations captivated and mesmerized my senses. I felt both alive and non-existent, ethereal harmonies coursing through my body and away, taking along with them the stress, frustration, and pain. Accentuating in crescendo, articulating through staccatos, and deepening in allargando, I became lost in my own world of music—a world in which I was both master and slave, builder and destroyer, performer and audience. With each stroke of my bow, my perspective broadened, offering clarity and motivation. By the end, I felt renewed and inspired.

When I returned my chemistry studies, the impact of the practice session lingered on. I had become more genuinely curious, less discouraged when I still didn’t understand, and wholly determined to learn and master the subject matter. Practicing in the corner had become an unlikely impetus for a desire to comprehend chemistry, a desire that eventually evolved into a passion. And from this experience, I gained two valuable things: one, an intended major that I want to pursue in college, and two, a realization about the power of my corner—to captivate, challenge, and inspire.

This corner has, since then, become much more than just a physical space for me to practice the violin. It represents an avenue for me to escape, explore, process, and gain inspiration as I live my life. So it doesn’t really matter what obstacles I face or even where I am; as long as I have a small corner to myself, there is always a whole world waiting to help guide me through.

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