stupid problem I have (quotation/graduate essay related)

I spent ten hours yesterday working on a fresh draft of my statement of purpose for graduate school. I am applying for an MSW in Social Work in Nonprofit/Social Enterprise Administration. I cranked out something I feel is a powerful and honest reflection of myself, my philosophy and my abilities and potential in the field.

A good page of this winning essay is devoted to one of my favorite quotes: ‘‘Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.’’ I supply a concrete and detailed example of doing just that in a situation (teaching English in Mexico) in which I questioned my own abilities but stuck to the principle of this quote in order to make a productive difference.

The problem is I have always attributed this quote to one of my great social work role models, Eleanor Roosevelt.

This quote, I just discovered, is not from Eleanor. It’s from Teddy.:smack:

I spent most of my paper expounding on social justice for immigrants and lauding the social work program on International Social Welfare. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Teddy Roosevelt was a racist imperialist asshole. His general manner of leadership in this area couldn’t be further from my stated goals and principles.

But the quote. Man I love that quote. It has been my guiding principle of social work from day one.

Do I have to axe it now? Does it matter who said it? Can I use it without sourcing it? Can I quote it without putting a bad taste in the mouths of a social work admissions board? Are there any other quotes similar to it that don’t come with such a controversial messenger?

Damn. Damn. Damn.

I think you are over thinking this. I do think it would be a bad idea not to acknowledge that the quote comes from Teddy Roosevelt now that you know that to be true, but I think you’ve got more anti-Teddy baggage than the average person. Write a short paragraph that acknowledges that you fell in love with this quote when you believed it to have been stated by Eleanor (your hero), and are saddened to discover that it was in fact originated by Teddy–that racist, imperialist, etc. And then leave the bits about teaching English in Mexico alone–unless it all comes across as being a little too “WWERD?”–in which case tone down the hero-worship.

If someone says something useful or profound, you can quote them without associating yourself with anything else they did.

Isaac Newton believed in Astrology :rolleyes:, but we can still admire all his work on Calculus, Gravity and Electromagnetism

I have never really given much thought one way or the other to Teddy Roosevelt, to be honest, other than a general distaste for the whole Panama thing (U.S. intervention in South American affairs really pisses me off.) I’m not all that bothered by my own use of the quote, because I firmly believe that you can find inspiration in just about anyone. My concern wasn’t that I had some personal ethical conflict with appreciating his quote, just that the admissions board might associate me, however subconsciously, with policies and life philosophies I don’t support.

In other words, I’m not worried about what I think. I’m worried what they will think.

Okay, you’re right, I’m overthinking this. In fact, the whole writing process of the graduate admissions essay could pretty much be defined as overthinking. Someone can please just wake me up when it’s over?

Crap. I meant U.S. intervention in Latin American affairs. Panama is in Central America.

I’ve been up since 4am.

No big deal–and no surprise that you are overthinking this. And recall I have no specific expertise in this situation. But to my mind, choosing not to source something because you are afraid of being associated with the speaker of the quote is a bad example to set on the brink of graduate school–smacks of a subtle form of plaigerism, or maybe not–maybe I’m overthinking this.

Also, ignoring the details of Teddy R’s life, he was a President and thus a Great Man. Doesn’t quoting him beat quoting Angelina Jolie or someone in an Adam Sandler movie? Sure, he may not be as good as Eleanor Roosevelt, but if I were you, I’d worry more than too many other people have used the same quote than I would that people in Social Work would disapprove of him for his attitudes towards people from other cultures.

On the other hand, a quote without baggage from Teddy has popped into my head, although I’m not sure it carries the same meaning, and um, the words in italics are key.

According to wikipedia, there is no evidence that John Wesley ever actually said this, although it has become known as Wesley’s Rule. Also, baggage-wise, Wesley is noted for founding the Methodist church–so may not be a favorite with your atheist or New Age-y liberal professor types (not intended as an accurate depiction of all academics).

Oh, I agree it should be sourced. I was delirious when I suggested that option.

Blargh. I never thought of that. Given how strong I believe that element of my essay is, I may have to take that risk. It does come substantially far into the paper, so I’m banking on the fact that reader will already be committed in that case.

I changed ‘‘Eleanor Roosevelt’’ to ‘‘President Roosevelt’’ and it doesn’t even give one pause. No big deal.

My other quote at closing, I think, is pretty safe.

Viktor Frankl: ‘‘What is to give light must endure burning.’’ I doubt too many people know who Viktor Frankl is. He was a trauma psychologist who had the unique experience of viewing a concentration camp from both a personal and academic perspective, and after he survived he went on to create logotherapy.

If you know who he is and find the quote inspiring, there’s a good chance that people with a similar background and goals will as well. One quote is probably fine as long as it’s tied to your essay, but two might be a bit much.

Unfortunately, you might have to be a little more specific about which President Roosevelt you are quoting!

I think you are overthinking this. Even if other applicants have used the same quote, what will matter most will be the way in which you break it down, relate to it, and express yourself. You are a good writer, and clearly driven towards this career/degree, and that comes through in what you’ve written on the boards; I’m sure it comes through in this essay too! I also don’t think having two quotes is too much, as long as they serve as bookends to your overall idea. I actually would prefer that, since it shows a creative side that a simple “this is a quote I like and this is why” essay, which I’m sure they are bound to get many of!

Good luck!

Yes, you need to specify which Roosevelt you are talking about. The tinny tiny chance that someone else will have the same baggage about the imperialistic attitudes of Americans from a century ago, and would hold that against you, is much less than having someone think less of you for not being specific.