Below are three samples of successful opening paragraphs on which you can model your personal statement.
The study of classical guitar never bores me, although most of the work is highly technical. I practice memorization, scales, and finger exercises to build a collection of techniques for playing a piece of music. At times, the work becomes tedious, and the knowledge seems useless to a certain extent. But finally, when I’m well versed in the technological aspects of the piece, after I’ve memorized the notes, accents, tempos, and fingerings, I just play the music. I enjoy the music: The combination of technology and art, the bridge between the outside world and myself.
While my co-workers stared at the amazing sight of thousands of blacklegged kittiwakes exploding off the cliff face, I closed my eyes and listened. I had been working in Prince William Sound, Alaska, for a number of months and had noticed that when a colony of sea birds was flushed by a predator, they made a particular descending warble vocalization. If fact, in the hectic life of a kittiwake colony with up to 16,000 birds coming and going, this distinct call seemed to be the trigger for the only coordinated activity in which I ever saw them participate. Later that afternoon, I practiced making the “flush call” until the researchers with me were sick of it, then climbed onto the colony and did my best imitation. The thunder of the entire colony lifting off, as other birds picked up the call, cemented my long-held intention: I want to work with sound. My purpose for undertaking doctoral work in acoustics and animal behavior is twofold. First, my professional goal is to contribute to the existing research on biological systems, which use sound. Second, my personal goal is to convey in-depth understanding and love of these systems to the students I teach.
My grandmother was the first political activist I knew. Her form of rebellion was not hunger strikes at the Capitol; rather, she used song to voice her protests. Trained as an opera singer in the Ukraine, she sang songs of protest against the Communist regime. She had no higher education, but she understood the dangers posed by the governments of Lenin and Stalin. She remembered the changes, both positive and negative, brought about by the Bolshevik Revolution, and she sang the “underground” protest songs written by artists who would later disappear. My clearest memories of my grandmother are of her singing in her kitchen in San Antonio, seventy years after the revolution began. She sang in Russian, in Yiddish, and in Ukrainian, and she explained the songs to me—their hidden political meanings and the dangers they had once posed for her.