Olivia Dembie is an award-winning student and writer at BHSEC, Cleveland-West.
BardVERSE: What’s been your favorite essay you’ve written at Bard? Why?
Olivia: My favorite essay at Bard is the first essay I wrote as a ninth grader. In the poetry unit, I wrote about Langston Hughes and the ways in which his writing mirrors the Blues genre of music. This essay is special to me because I was able to write about something that I am very passionate about — music — in an analytical way. Writing this essay was so enjoyable because it was thrilling to write about a passion and interest of mine for a school assignment, while still learning how to write a paper along the way. I love looking back at it sometimes to see how my writing has changed, but also to see how certain components of my writing style have remained over time. Writing this essay challenged me because I was used to simply answering comprehension prompts at my previous school. But this essay forced me to think critically to prove my argument. I did not realize that I was longing for creative stimulation, and I really put a lot of energy and effort into this paper. This essay also gave me a taste of what the rest of my experience at Bard would be like. The next few years at Bard would not be mindlessly writing answers to empty questions, but would entail challenging, fulfilling, and enjoyable work that would help me understand myself.
BardVERSE: What’s your favorite book you’ve read at Bard and why?
Olivia: One of my favorite books from a class at Bard is The Great Gatsby. Recently, I have begun reading the book again with a newfound appreciation for the novel. The first time I read the book was in the ninth grade, and I sometimes found the decorative language to be frustrating because it was challenging to uncover certain events or plot points. Reading the book a second time allows me to realize that each word is chosen so precisely, each sentence either delicately foreshadows future events, or presents an opportunity for symbolic interpretation through the variety of colors, emblematic objects, or character interactions and dialogue. The Great Gatsby helped me improve my comprehension and analysis skills, and taught me lessons that I now find valuable. The book taught me the danger in idealizing a person or concept. Dreams and ideas of a person or concept can spiral out of control and drive an unreasonable obsession, which can negatively impact many people. Chasing after an obsession with a lack of regard for others or further reasoning can hurt everyone involved. Revisiting this topic after having a better understanding of myself and my values has been very exciting, and I now appreciate the book further.
BardVERSE: What advice do you have for writers at Bard?
Olivia: I would tell other writers at Bard to get comfortable with their first drafts. I would suggest to get comfortable writing first drafts and sharing them for further revision. Writing a first draft has always been one of the hardest parts of writing a paper for me because I have an unreasonably high expectation of what my paper should look and sound like in this beginning stage. Sometimes I would focus so much on making my paper sound like a professional and refined paper that I would lose creativity and motivation because of the pressure I put on myself. It became daunting to start writing a paper, because I would begin writing with the fear that it would not be good according to my expectations. So, my advice to other writers is to just begin writing your first draft and do not stop. Pour all of your ideas out, because that is what this stage of the writing process is all about. You can revise your essay later, just focus on finding your thoughts within that first draft, and organize them later. Embrace the fact that a quality first draft is unlikely. Strive for creative thoughts and try to search for your ideas in your first draft. Next, revise as much as possible. Ask different people to review, proofread, or edit your papers so that you have multiple perspectives on how to improve. There is always room to revise, but try to revise to the point where you can feel proud of your work. That pride in your effort and paper is one of the most rewarding feelings in writing.