Best of: Reflective Letters

Letter from Megan Haase, West Bloomfield, MI

Dear Miami University Composition Faculty:

Word: a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence” (Oxford English Dictionary). As a growing writer, I have come to learn the importance of this definition. While words may seem like merely components of a sentence, they mean far more. A word can be put into several different sentences, put in different places within a sentence, used in conjunction with a variety of adjectives and adverbs, but most importantly, it can mean something different every time it is used. This is a critical concept for me as a developing writer. Words give me a way to express feelings and put them down on paper. They help me remember thoughts, convey ideas, and display the beauty of a single moment. Once, I listened to a speaker at an awards ceremony for a poetry contest I entered. With a hobbling walk complemented by an unsteady cane and a touch of age that made his face crinkle like worn leather, he approached the podium. I expected him to speak like he walked; however, I was quite surprised by his unwavering speech, and one thing he said in particular stood out. He explained that the difference between speaking and writing was that he could say something profound, and we would all walk out 20 minuets later trying to recall—but failing to—his exact words. Better yet, he could write something profound, and his exact ideas would be encased in written words forever. I think that this idea best sums up my passion for writing: the ability to have a lasting impact on someone.

The piece I chose for my persuasive research essay is an editorial that I wrote entitled “Electoral College: Majority can lose.” In my sophomore year, I chose to take a renowned, rigorous journalism class, which was a prerequisite to Advanced Journalism or Newsprint—my school newspaper. This class taught me to write with unbiased voice and poise, something that was quite new to me as a writer. Yet, I had always considered myself a talented writer; I used descriptive detail and I could convey thoughts accurately on paper. Nevertheless, journalism taught me a new writing style and helped me build my repertoire of composition skills. Journalism enforced the importance of clarity and conciseness, and it showed me how far a single word could go. That is why I chose this piece to share with you. This editorial was one the first opinionated journalistic pieces I wrote. Here, I drew from 13 sources for information and clearly expressed my ideas through my writing. Furthermore, the facts and statistics I researched were used to back up my opinions, not create them like they had in the past. For this reason, there are very few direct quotes in the text. Additionally, this piece meant a lot to me not only as a writer but also as a student as I have found a passion for public policy and government.

Next, I share my essay, “A Novel Perception: Zusak’s Nazi Germany,” as my analysis of a text. Many have a favorite teacher or mentor that they can trust and look up to. That is where this paper was born. Ms. Claudia Taniguchi, my favorite high school teacher, knew exactly the right thing to say and the right word to put where. In a desperate attempt to take another one of her classes after my freshman year introductory English course, I took her World Cultures in Literature class—a subject I had no knowledge about and even less of an interest in.

Nonetheless, I learned to love the characters, the rich history, and the diverse culture encased in each book. One of our assignments was to write a critique of the book Memoirs of a Geisha. As a result of my journalistic background and succinct writing style, I did not perform as well as I hoped. While I loved the characters and even the plot, I had difficulty interjecting my own opinions. Thus, as the time for a final paper whirled around the corner, I decided to write another literary critique, this time with the intent to have my voice heard. I read through all of her comments on my previous paper and asked her for a sample of a well-written critique. In my new piece, I ventured away from the formal, straight-to-the-point writing style that I learned the previous year and instilled in myself yet a new writer’s voice. I believe that this piece was one of my most important works as it gave me confidence and showed me what it meant to be a flexible, versatile writer.

Finally, for my writer’s choice I would like to contribute a piece of poetry that I wrote as a senior called “Lady Liberty is not for me.” This past year, I took a one-semester poetry class to develop my skills in various writing genres. I had written poetry before, but there was never rhyme or reason to my words. The stanzas were just sentences, fragments of thoughts, and remnants of nonsense dreams. Little did I know that with some guidance and fine-tuning I would turn out to be a pretty good poet—good enough to be published in the Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans 2015. Poetry was another way for me to express ideas, but unlike journalism and literary analysis, it showed me how to convey them in an abstract manner with hidden innuendos and even puns. This is all comes from a “stiff” journalistic writer who would not know satire if it slapped her in the face. This specific piece of poetry—a dramatic monologue— was based on an exercise explored in class where the persona (the speaker of the poem) would be another person. The setting of this poem ties into my love for government and its rich history. I attempted to be empathic toward those who were new to America in the early 1900s and were living in the nightmare of the New York tenements. “Lady Liberty is not for me” won third place in the 15 to 19- year-old age group in a creative writing contest. Additionally, I was asked to share this poem at my school’s fine arts assembly for the student body, faculty, and parents.

I chose these three pieces for a very specific purpose: they portray who I am as a writer.

While they are from three separate years, I believe they illustrate the three most important milestones in my writing thus far: clarity, voice, and creativity. I feel very fortunate for the opportunity to share my work with you, and I truly hope you enjoy the journey you will take through my development as a writer. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Regards,

Miami University Student, Class of 2019

Letter from Cora Harter, Lexington, KY

Dear Miami Composition Teachers,

Throughout the past two years, I have grown immensely as a writer. In the beginning of high school, I used to wrestle my thoughts with a pencil and paper. Being a social person, I could talk about almost any​thing with anyone, but when it came to writing about it, I was painfully shy. This personal struggle peaked my sophomore year when I attempted to change my fate. I reluctantly signed up for a creative writing course with the hope to cure my chronic writer's block, but immediately I sensed I was out of place. In the midst of unique individuals whose writing was deep and engaging, I felt like the most uninteresting person in the world. I even had this problem with academic writing; unless I was given detailed instructions for the outline of an assignment, I was unable to successfully get my thoughts across. Unfortunately this class did not help my inner obstacle. I continued to struggle with the task of writing through high school until the beginning of my senior year. My approached all changed as I experienced my dual-credit English class. I had matured intellectually since sophomore year, and it reflected into my writing. I forced myself through many trial and errors until the feeling became a little more natural. Believe it or not, I eventually started developing an appreciation for writing. With that being said, I see this portfolio as an opportunity to showcase my progress as a writer. I know I still have vast room to grow and I am excited to face new challenges that will only shape me into a better author and student.

My first piece of writing is my persuasive research essay. The topic I chose really engaged me as I was currently in a science fiction class learning about artificial intelligence when told of the assignment. I streamlined the broad topic of AI into researching its potential future effects on society. My audience at first was nonspecific, but as I wrote it my intentions changed and became directed towards my generation. This became important because I believe we are the ones that could ultimately change the role AI plays in our current lives.

Secondly, my analysis of a text regards the infamous super bowl commercials. Particularly I selected this pool of options because of the amount of exposure they receive. Millions of Americans anticipate these advertisements all year. Companies spend millions of dollars on just seconds of airtime. I found this interesting because of the crucial choices companies make in order to create a lasting impression. Specifically, I was excited to take apart the potential “hidden agendas” some advertisements might have. I chose Coca-Cola for their visually stunning commercial and for the fact that they are a widely respected corporation. My audience was intended to just be my professor and classmates but I ended up sharing this piece and my thoughts to others close to me as well.

Lastly, for my own choice, I selected a personal narrative that reflects on an eye-opening experience I had this past year. Although it wasn’t completely life changing, I feel like it did have a part in shaping how I respond to certain situations. It has to do with stalking and minor sexual harassment. The most important thing I took from this experience was the motivation to assist in the prevention of similar yet more drastic cases of sexual harassment. My audience while writing this became millennials, because in our community an environment exists where there is normality behind the occurrences of sexual harassment and rape.

Overall, I hope you enjoy reading my writing and getting to know one of your eager Miami University students.

Letter from Kathryn Eroskey, Liberty Township, OH

To the Miami University Composition Faculty:

Growing up, I was always taught to control my words. My elementary school report cards were littered with the phrases “social butterfly” and “very talkative,” which, in all honesty, were just euphemisms for “tell your kid to shut up.” I quickly learned to not speak unless spoken to and to keep my opinions to myself. When I entered middle school, I became very passionate about band class. Unfortunately, being a member of the band was not something my peers found as interesting as I did. Soon, being passionate translated to being “annoying,” and once again I found myself moderating my words to fit in with the world around me.

My freshman year, I was placed in an Honors English course. Our first assignment was to write about our passion, and I immediately went to work writing about music. While my classmates groaned and struggled finding a topic to write about, I was excited to have an outlet to talk about my favorite thing in the world. After years of biting my tongue, I could finally let my words flow. Soon, writing became an essential part of my daily life. I kept a daily journal, and joined the Spoken Word Club at my school, where I learned that it is necessary to talk about what makes you happy, even if some people choose not to listen.

When I became a senior, I took an Advanced Composition class, a course that was avoided by most students because of the daunting final projecta twelve page research paper. Luckily, our teacher helped us throughout the year by teaching us how to correctly format papers, how to organize ideas in a cohesive manner, and how to articulate our thoughts into coherent words and sentences. This was incredibly helpful when it came time to sit down and plan my marathon of an essay. The topic I chose to write about was the underfunded nature of music education. This is a topic that I hold very close to my heart, as I have experienced it first hand. While most people enjoy the presence of a marching band during a halftime show, or live background music during a school event, they rarely ever see the process that it takes to make these things happen. Because music and band have become such an integral part of my life, I strive to bring awareness for schools that cannot afford a thriving band program. Throughout my paper, I develop an argument that urges educators, government workers, and students to get involved with their school boards and raise awareness this growing problem. I provide staggering statistics and recent data to support my ideas explain why current solutions might not be working. I am very proud with the amount of work I put into this paper, and I look forward to sharing it with you.

The literary analysis I have included in my portfolio is a comparison between “The Cask of Amontillado,” a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, and “Dolan’s Cadillac” by Stephen King. Though written during different time periods, the two stories share very common storylines. Through my essay I describe the overarching themes and make connections between the two classics. Both stories use multiple literary devices to convey feelings of anger, hatred, and revenge. I enjoyed reading both of these pieces, and think I it is important to take a deeper look behind the romanticized veil both authors place on retaliation.

The third piece I have chosen to include is a personal narrative about my experience at a prestigious music school. This was a very impactful moment in my life, and I enjoyed writing about it because I was forced to pay attention to my emotions. It was difficult for me to put my raw feelings on a page that I knew my teacher would read, I felt so vulnerable. However, I became a better writer because of it. I have learned that if I were never vulnerable with my writing, I could never grow. Becoming better at anything means you will have to step outside of your comfort zone, which is exactly what I did when I went to Eastman School of Music, and when I wrote the narrative.

I am excited to share all three of my pieces with the staff at Miami University. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to look back on pieces that I have written and seen my growth as a student, and I look forward to growing more at Miami. Thank you for taking the time to consider my portfolio for this program, I hope you enjoy reading my pieces as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Love and Honor,

Miami University Student, Class of 2021


Notes from the Directors

Possibly more than any other part of your portfolio, your reflective letter functions as a persuasive piece that sets the tone for the entirety of your work. It is the first piece the readers of your portfolio see and therefore is important to make a good first impression.

Highly rated reflective letters include an explanation of the context (audience and purpose), the rhetorical decisions you made, and the composing processes of each essay. One of the purposes of the portfolio assessment process is to show how well you are able to write for a variety of situations—to various audiences using a variety of genres. The reflective letter ultimately gives you a chance to persuade reviewers that your portfolio is worth reading and explains why you chose these pieces of writing out of all the work you have done up to this point.

Megan Haase’s reflective letter grabs the reader’s attention immediately through her description of how important words are, and not only words, but written words. This foregrounds her reflective letter, as she connects her inclusion of each piece of writing to her central theme, showing how she has grown as a writer across time. Her attention to the process and purpose of her writing allows her audience to gain insight into her composing process and ability to use words with intention and focus.

Cora Harter’s letter discusses her evolving relationship with writing that has developed from a struggle to an appreciation. After offering the reader glimpses into her life and writing, Harter then introduces each piece, explaining to the the reader why and how that piece is important to her. This contextualizes the writing for her readers and creates the image of a writer behind the text.

In Kathryn Eroskey’s reflective letter, she makes clear the relationship between music and writing in her life, and how music has served as a source of inspiration for her writing. Eroskey’s letter offers readers a preview of the other sections of the portfolio that are almost all united by the theme of music. This letter allows readers to get to know the author and understand the rhetorical choices she makes in the rest of the portfolio.

In all three cases, the insight offered in the reflective letters of these writers helps the reader to understand the pieces they are about to read more deeply, offering “behind the scenes” information to contextualize and more fully appreciate the writing included in the portfolios. Reflective letters can take on a variety of tones and can set the reader up for understanding the body of the portfolio more fully. In addition, by thinking through the process of drafting, revising, and making rhetorical choices in your work, you can reinforce and more clearly understand your own processes and growth as a writer.