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“Made Me What I Am”
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“[This] made me what I am today, who I am today.” Oh Boy.
I taught high school English for many years (like close to 40). The phrase “made me what I am” occurred with more frequency in student essays than one might imagine, or think there would be any use for. Seniors would work on their “college essays” each semester, essays centered mostly around a formative experience they’d had, or a person of influence, or a hardship they’d overcome.
You understand. Maybe you wrote one of these yourself.
I was sympathetic to the challenge a student faced of coming up with a short essay that captured the essence of himself, of being original as well as engaging and introspective. These were horrible pressures.
I, their English instructor, would offer help and direction with these essays. I’d copy (with the writer’s permission) those essays from a previous year or two that were outstanding and distribute these examples in class; we would go over what made these particular essays good, engaging, individual.
I don’t recall the phrase “made me what I am today” in any of my “winning” essays, but then that was my choice, only because I found the phrase so tiresome, inexact, boastful.
The question arose: Who are you, then? Who were you before? What does that mean?
“Coach made me a better athlete.” “Coach made me a compassionate person.” “Coach gave me a sense of fair play.” “Coach taught me the value of believing in someone, in trusting them.”
All of those I would accept.
But “made me what I am?”
I loved teaching high school. Here’s a strange side-note. I went on to teach at the community college, but those students could in no way handle the material that my high school kids could. I have files of lessons that I wouldn’t dare use. It was a community college, I understand, and the high school students who were working on those essays were aiming for the California University System, or some Ivy League college, so there was bound to be a difference.
I just want to defend high school – at least as I knew it in New Jersey and here in California twenty years ago.
We accomplished a great deal in those high school English classes–including those essays.
The topic was never “Who or what made you what you are today?” I think the UC System would understand that the writer of the essay would be a thoughtful and bright person.
I realized, also, that whatever the student was writing about provoked introspection in that student, made them realize the influence an experience or a person or a circumstance had had on them.
There was that terrible onus of trying to stand out. Amazingly, many did.
Okay, I’ll try it. Me? What “made me what I am?” Simple answer: Years. They made me older than I want to be.
(English teacher side note here: I still shudder at using “them” in the singular.)


Ha ha. Years. Lovely essay, so fair and so kind and so honestly true. You brought me back here. Kids love those grand, meaningless declarations: made me what I am. Ha. They’re not even ‘made’ yet.
Anyway, enjoyed it.

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