How can a divided country learn to work together?

What happens when a gay international Latina has to work with a welder from Appalachia? What follows is an admission essay that will challenge your preconceived stereotypes.

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We got in his pickup truck and went to get lunch. He has blue eyes, and a scruffy
beard that blurs a smile that is quicker to draw on its right corner: trained
asymmetry that tells you that he knows much more than he is letting you in on. He’ll swear he is just a welder though. “God created welders so that engineers would have someone to look up to.” Everyone cracks up when he breaks his go-to joke because they all know that that is ridiculous, and that a B.S is worth more than a B.A, which is worth more than a welder certificate. B.S is right. And despite his twisted hierarchy, his little joke is true — for the past year that I’ve been living in Virginia’s coal country, I’ve been that engineer, looking up to that welder. So if I had to explain that world in an image, it would be the image of a good ole boy, chewing tobacco, wearing square toed cowboy boots, teaching a gay young woman engineer how to TIG weld.

He parked outside our favorite local joint: “Annette’s Dairy Barn.” He took his first date here 30 years ago. With burger in hand, he asked me what was on my mind. He can tell. I had been having trouble communicating with some of my co-workers, and it was getting to me. He told me that I can be “real mean” and when I asked him to explain what he meant he gave me an example. When I’m working on something (drilling, welding, grinding, cutting…) and he comes to help me, I abrasively tell him that I’ve got it. Although I recognize this reaction — my mom does this too — it is just occurring to me that this is the reaction of a person who has not been allowed to materialize her ideas and is defensive.

This newfound explanation gives me some fuel, and I’m ready to back my position with my educated feminism. I explain to him that the reason I come across as aggressive is because too many times, men have stepped in to “help” because they assume they are better qualified to do what I’m doing. I explain that I find myself hiding while I work so that I have a chance to give life to my idea before someone takes it from my hands, in the hope that once it takes a physical form, it will stand on its own and who it came from won’t matter.

I’m on a verbal roll, so I tell him that every time I walk into a room with him and they assume he is the engineer, I feel angry, and that I hate when investors turn to him for validation of what I’m saying. I stop myself from saying “you are just a
welder! I’m the engineer!” I tell him that I am tired of having to prove the worth of my work, and my rightful place on the engineering team. When I’m done talking, he tells me that he understands. I skeptically listen as he says that he too feels the constant need to prove his worth, and legitimize his place in the engineering team, because he is just a welder. His lack of a college degree, his southern drawl and his mastery of a craft rather than a science, puts him in a similar position to the one I am in — one in which he constantly has to prove himself.

I’ve been using education and knowledge to empower myself, because this is what I’ve been taught to do. I see my peers doing the same. The LGBT community, women, racial minorities, any minority has been using education and knowledge to empower themselves, because that is the only tool that once you have it, can’t be taken away.

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Questions

Rate this essay from 1–5 with 5 being the highest rating. What rating did you give it and why?

How would you describe the tone of this essay?

Does this essay have good hook?

Is she smart? Defend your answer.

Should people whose first language is not English be given extra credit for writing a well-crafted essay? Why or why not?

Was there anything about this essay that surprised you and if so how the writer use this approach to tell her story?

When is the last time you changed your mind about how you viewed a person who is fundamentally different than you are?

Who do you feel you have to prove yourself to? Why?

Should we limit the number of people from other countries who come to the US for an education?

Would you admit this writer to a highly selective graduate program?

Would you like to talk with her and if so what would you want to talk about?

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I would like to thank Andrea for giving me permission to post her essay here. I have known her for a number of years and her love of learning and her willingness to question herself and to look at the way se negotiates the world has taught me to approach people and issues with a healthy skepticism that looks both without and within.

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