Personal Essay: Moments of Insight and Revelation for Leaving Cert English #625Lab

Write a personal essay in which you reflect on moments of insight and revelation you have experienced (2017).

This is a good attempt at a personal essay showing a lot of promise, but it will need a few tweaks before it can get a H1. The latter half is much more personal - and fits the bill a lot better. Insights and revelations should probably be about yourself, about what you learnt about yourself or you would like to change about yourself as 1) it's meant to be personal, 2) even for the brightest people, it will be quite hard to generate a bona fide insight about the world. On that latter note, try not to bring politics into your essays because most Leaving Cert students don't have a good enough grasp of it to make a sturdy argument, but you do risk an unconscious bias from an examiner who has their own views.  You may also like: Complete Guide to Leaving Cert English (€). 

Experience. Without it, we can’t develop as humans, and everyone’s experiences are different. During my short existence on planet Earth, I have gained a lot of knowledge and insight through these experiences. (It's a redundant sentence, I would get rid of it.) As we all well know, life lessons and revelations don’t appear in rainbows, birthday parties and happiness, but through loss, hardship and disappointment. The loss of people, seeing unimaginable suffering and near-death experiences alarm us and awaken our consciousness. From this suffering, we learn, grow and flourish. In the last few years of my life, I have seen, lost and loved more than my fair share, but hey, that’s life. I travelled, I cried, and I mourned. But through these, enlightenments, my horizons have broadened, and I have become a better person.

Personal Essay: Moments of Insight and Revelation for Leaving Cert English
Photo by Rana Sawalha on Unsplash
Unlike many young people, I have experienced extreme poverty first hand, and yes, I am changed. I travelled to Kolkata, India in March 2016, which is one of the most poverty-stricken cities in the world. Many Galway students get to go each year, but each and every reaction and emotion differs for the individual. With Hope, we travelled to the City of Joy, where along with happiness, I encountered a great deal of despair. As a group, we experienced all aspects of life, in a very short period of time. We were fortunate to be lodging in a hotel in the heart of the city, but outside the front gate, there were people sleeping on the street, in doorways and begging. Our first journey, from the airport to the hotel awoke me. The air in India is different. It’s heavy, dense, and the smell of smoke and petrol lingers in the nostrils. There is a permanent smog hanging over the city, which prevents direct sunlight but locks in the heat. Under bridges, and on the sides of the roads, were houses. Built of sheet metal, billboards and stacked metres high where thousands across the city lived. (Try to avoid sentence fragments at Leaving Cert level.) One strong wind or downpour of rain and the entirety of these homes would come crashing down. There was no running water, no electricity and rats and dirt were the main lodgers of most homes. The culture shock on that journey has resonated with me to this day. Every corner we turned, every bridge we crossed, we saw people running, cows walking aimlessly and children trying to salvage water from wherever they could. The charity works with the street children of Kolkata. By this point, I hadn’t met one child and I was already heartbroken. The hour drive, in hectic traffic, humidity and tears exposed the harsh realities of life for millions of people. It showed just how sheltered and protected we are in the Western world, and how oblivious we have become to the suffering of others. (This paragraph ends on a reflective note, but otherwise, albeit well-written, it doesn't quite fit into the brief of the personal essay. With personal essays, err on the side of describing your own emotions.)

India is a country of the unknown, and Ireland is just a microcosm of capitalism and Western life. (Remind the reader that this is a personal essay by saying "I felt that". Otherwise, it sounds kinda rough!) I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I boarded the Emirates flight in Dublin. Have you been to the dump? I’m sure you have, to dispose of the old fridge or mattress, but would you ever decide to build your home and raise your kids amongst the landfill? In Kolkata, this is the reality for thousands. Just imagine it. Living with pigs, on mounds of rubbish and surrounded by disease. As well as a landfill site, the dumps in Kolkata’s suburbs are housing estates, workplaces and schools we had the opportunity to visit one on our trip. My god, it really was my wake-up call. In the Bhagar Dump, Hope has a school and a creche for the children that live there, in the hope that they will be able to get an education instead of being forced into child labour. For hundreds of parents and grandparents, their livelihood is scavenging through mounds in the landfill site, in search for plastic which they can sell to recycling companies. Can you imagine, getting out of bed everyday to hunt for plastic with pigs and rats in order to earn €1 per bin bag of plastic. This is where my heart broke and shattered into millions of pieces. The extreme poverty of India has driven people to their wits end. Thousands have no choice but to live in this dump, and just exist. This isn’t living, this isn’t life, yet we all sit at home complaining about Netflix or the rain when people on the other side of the world are wondering if their house will still be standing tomorrow and if they will have water. In the creche we visited, were the happiest children I have ever encountered. They had the biggest smiles, the best hugs and the brightest eyes. I got to play with a little girl, who was no older than two, and play with bubbles. And we just laughed. I have never smiled so much when I was so sad. Upon leaving, I really wanted to take her with me. But, she really is getting the best opportunity, which is an education. The have been granted the chance to escape from the vicious circle of poverty in which they are raised.

How did we, as a nation become so complacent of stuff that is so rare for others? The anger and frustration that I have experienced due to my trip has revealed the egotistic and selfish lifestyle that capitalism has forced on us. (Forced? An insight rarely involves finding somebody or something to blame. A fresher, more honest and more engaging way to frame this would be to say that you realised that you had been egotistic and selfish before you broadened your horizons and learnt more about other cultures and settings. Plus, on a logical level this makes very little sense. The author informed us that Kolkata is a rather difficult place to live in. Is it capitalist? If yes, then it's irrelevant that Ireland is also capitalist. If no, it's not obvious that capitalism is an unadulterated menace. And most importantly, the author didn't actually tell us anything about Kolkata's economic/political strategy, therefore it makes no sense to bring any sophisticated -isms into this. Especially, given that this is a personal essay. Of course it can be done well, but it's hard. See the photo below for what that may look like!) We are now all materialistic psychos who just want the latest iPhone or a MacBook. How did this happen? Upon returning from the City of Joy, I realised that as a nation, we have become more insular than ever before. (Insular in relation to what? You need to be more particular to be able to call this an insight.) It is worse now because we actually know what’s going on but choose to ignore it. Ignorance is a disease. The moment I discovered this was a few days after I came home from India. I failed my driving test. My dad was so cross with me it was scary, I have never seen a man scream so loud. And in those moments when he was giving out about paying for a new test is when my anger struck. I realised how money obsessed and self-centred we had become. I couldn’t understand why he was so cross at something so irrelevant, when there are millions worldwide who are dying of hunger and starvation. As moments of revelation go, this was a big one. I now know that I want to spend my life devoted to helping others, and that is the great revelation of them all. (That's much more like an insight.)

As we move through life, the ups and downs can have a huge impact on our willingness to carry on. But it isn’t about the struggle. It’s about the coping, how we deal with the situation and what we learn from it. Revelation is a beautiful gift that teaches us things we would never have figured out otherwise. “I have a dream” too, one in which the world is equal, and we become more helpful and thoughtful in our endeavours.

Write a personal essay in which you reflect on moments of insight and revelation you have experienced (2017)
Photo by Hyman's World

Another essay on this same question. It is very clear, well-structured and easy to read. Dealing with rejection, learning from others, reflecting on experiences are always good starting points for a personal essay. However, 760 words is too short - and we really need some more elaborate insight at the end. I usually have to tell people to be clearer and to simplify, but to the author of the essay below, I would recommend that they add some complexity.

It is certainly through moments of hardship and disappointment that we grow and flourish. Although I am well aware that I am quite privileged in my life, this past year has tested and challenged me, but it has also taught me lessons which I needed to learn in order to become the person I am today.

From a young age, my mother and my violin teacher had a path set for me, they had planned for me to spend my life as a musician. Although I loved music and loved the idea of having a career in music, the thoughts of practicing hours upon hours everyday never appealed to me. From the age of thirteen I was expected to practice three or four hours, something I never accomplished. I always did the bare minimum when it came to practising. As my mother had planned, I attended my auditions for two music colleges. I put my all into both auditions, but that wasn’t enough. I received letters of rejections from both colleges the following week. 

Numerous emotions were rushing through my head when I received these letters, first disappointment and anger. I thought about all the parties I had missed due to practising and attending competitions throughout my teenage years and wondered, was it all for nothing? However, several days after receiving these letters, I started to feel a sense of relief. I had never properly thought about what a career in music would mean to me, I hadn’t realised until then then that the path I was being pushed down wasn’t the right path for me. Getting rejected from the music colleges are what forced me to rethink my future and to discover what I really wanted to do. I think I always knew at the back of my mind that I would like to be a primary school teacher, but it wasn’t until this moment that I decided that is what I was going to study.

Furthermore, my time in hospital certainly taught me about the privileges of my life. During my short stay in hospital, I attended the hospital school for several days in which I met some remarkable young people. Teenagers who were unfortunate enough to have some serious health problems, however, remained to be positive and cheerful. One boy I spoke to was a fifth year student. He had spent the previous three months in hospital and was expecting to spend Christmas day in there too. As I sat there gloomily, I questioned how he hadn’t gone insane sitting in his hospital ward every day. He told me, with a smile, that the hospital we were in was his favourite hospital, he told me how in a previous hospital he attended, there was no school to attend. He told me how he was used to spending several months per year in hospital. I could not understand his positivity. While I sat beside him, feeling miserable and missing home, and with no interest in attending the hospital school, he was so eager to learn. I still think about that boy today. He taught me to appreciate my life, my health, my education, my home, my family and my friends. 

The final moment of insight and revelation I have experienced which stands out in my mind is based on Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t worry, be happy”. In the heat of July last year, I attended a music festival with my friends, an unforgettable experience. Thousands of people, young and old gathered, sitting in the grass with the sun beaming in their faces or up near the stages dancing to the music. No one seemed to have a care in the world. Not one person seemed down or stressed. People with an age gap of several generations chatted and danced together. Even the employees selling food and drink were cheerful. It was an atmosphere I had never once experienced. So, what caused that contagious happiness? The good weather, the music? I am not sure. However, the day taught me that despite the worries we may have in life, we need to let loose sometimes. As McFerrin sang ‘In every life we have some troubles, when you worry you make it double’. We must learn to forget about our problems at time and simply enjoy ourselves, otherwise what is the point?

Throughout our lives, we all experience many moments which transform us, it is these moments which make is who we are today.

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