2017 Summer of Zen Scholarship

Congratulations to the winner and runners-up of the 2017 Summer of Zen Scholarship:

  • Winner: Caroline M. - Virginia 
  • Runner-up: Julia C. - California
  • Runner-up: Dannia T. - Texas
  • Runner-up: Abigail D. - Washington

From a pool of over 1,000 entries from all 50 states, these students' responses to the question "What do you do to avoid academic burnout and stay zen?" stood out.

Caroline's winning entry answered the prompt in a creative, original way. We found her reflections to be incredibly wise, and we loved her clear explanation of how laughter and friendship helps her gain perspective and stay zen. 

"Whoever said laughter is the best medicine really knew something about life. The post-hysterical laughter bellyache has to be one of the best feelings in the world, the temporary abdominal pain a reminder of the momentary stress sliding off your shoulders. When you finally sit up, flushed, sweaty, tears of laughter dried on your face, it's easy to forget about the stressors of the real world. In the moment, sitting with your friends, happiness has been captured, immortalized in your mind. It's best to save that moment, through a quick note, or a picture, to remind you of the fact that you're still kids, that it's okay to take a minute and be immature. Then, when you turn back to the paper smoldering on your laptop screen, you approach it with a smile still stained on your face, reminding you of the hysterics of a little while before. Procrastination still seems attractive, but laughter also somehow focuses you, until you've managed to channel your remaining laughter into inspiration, into words unfolding on the page. The temporary escape has made you "big-picture" the whole matter, and remember that it's just one paper, and ultimately, your friends, your sanity and the power of laughter are more important than the 3000 words escaping your keyboard. You realize that at the end of the day, you probably won't remember what you wrote, but you'll always remember the lightness of rolling on the ground, laughing and crying next to your favorite people in the world." –Caroline M.

For more insight into how to stay zen during the school year, check out the Zen Admissions blog. Later this week, we'll share how we chose the top four essays and what you can do to make your next scholarship application stand out. We'll also be posting a collection of stellar tips from many of your entries, so make sure to check back soon to find out if your tip gets featured.

All three runners-up wrote original, compelling, and absolutely delightful responses. Thanks to everyone who applied for sharing your insightful zen tips.

"Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo! Finally! The twenty-five minute alarm on my smartphone tinkled gently, snapping me out of my focus and allowing me to gratefully close the tab for my history essay. I jammed my earbuds in and cranked up Rihanna’s “S.O.S” (to a safe volume, of course) like I was getting paid to do it.  I snatched up a stray hairbrush and shimmied over to the mirror, lip syncing to the rich, breathy vocals as violently as I could. I arched each eyebrow and wiggled them alternately in rhythm with the hip-hop beat. Look at this girl, I thought as I watched my clowning reflection. Dedicated student AND award-winning dancer. Hey, a little positive self-talk never hurt anyone! “Oh!...oh!” rang out Rihanna in my ears as I swung my hips in a wide, goofy, and badly seductive circle. I whirled around, pointed my hairbrush in an invitation to the invisible and wildly applauding audience, and slid to my knees in the sickest guitar solo of the twenty-first century. The private dance party reached a climax in its last release of pent-up energy in a patchwork of Michael Jackson 180s, bell hops, and arabesques. As the song popped its last note, my embrace with unabashed spontaneity came to a laugh-heaving, restorative close. I giggled and wiped my eyes - gosh, dancing was fun! I sat down, tucked in my chair, opened the tab for history, and readied myself to tackle the world for another twenty-five minutes." - Julia C.

"Sunday night. Mountains of homework, essays, and projects barricade me at my desk, taunting me with imminent deadlines and unhealthy levels of stress. Panic encompasses me. "This will not be how I go down." I abruptly stand up, knocking papers and binders off my desk, sending them flying around the perilous place I call my bedroom. "I need to get away from this." I drag myself downstairs. Turn on the lights, and begin my journey to serenity. I sharply turn to the oven. Preheat to 350 degrees, Mix dry ingredients together in a small mixing bowl. Proceed to mix liquids together and stir until no lumps are in the batter. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Already, I feel myself relaxing, detaching myself from the stress bomb I've created upstairs in my room. "Just a few more steps..." I pour an entire bag of dark chocolate chips in the mixture, marveling over my almost complete cookie sensation. I throw the cookies in the oven for nine minutes, not even thinking about the stress that awaits me upstairs. I'm like a five-year-old ... Staring into an oven waiting for time to pass by quicker. My wait is over. The oven makes the sweet, spine-tingling beeps, signaling that my baking is officially complete. I leap up, swinging the oven door open, retrieving my chocolate-scented hard work. I sit down and enjoy the mouth-watering cookie that rescued me from academic burnout. Baking. My sweet escape." - Dannia T.

"Big-picture + daily goals = control over your academic fate. In the same way yoga provides a calming control over the body, daily planning provides control over your life. Allow me to walk you through my tried and true method for the daily game-plan…
1) Picture where you want to be in your future. For example: Strolling the ivy-strewn walls of Harvard.
2) Identify how your daily schoolwork is going to get you there. 
3) Give your plan a name. For example: Project Harvard
4) Title your daily entry with this, then assign yourself bite-sized goals for the day. It may look like this:
Project Harvard
• Finish French assignment
• Memorize vocab
• Review practice problems
5) When your eyes scan your to-do list, allow yourself to linger on the title. Drool over your goals. You want them more than anything, right? You are no longer slogging through a meaningless worksheet, you are chipping your way into the very walls of Harvard. 
A recent study revealed that marathon runners who visualized the finish line as they ran, not only ran faster but claimed to be less tired than those who didn’t. Not only is “keeping your eyes on the prize” a pithy saying, it is a scientific fact. The secret to finishing well is remembering what your efforts are for. The assurance in the baby-steps fused with a vision of the finish line is an unyielding method for keeping impassioned. Control + passion = an entirely zen, unstoppable scholar." - Abigail D.