"SpongeBob has been a driving force in shaping the person I am today in more ways than I thought," Kalissa writes.
As we grow up, we might forget what we watched on TV but it is hard to forget the impact it had on us. A 21-year-old college graduate, Kalissa Persaud recently reflected on her acceptance into top-tier universities such as the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and the University of Southern California (USC). While getting into even one of these schools—which have admission rates of about 9% and 12%, respectively—is quite an accomplishment, it's her admissions essay that has left everyone utterly impressed.
Over 7.1 million people tuned in when Kalissa read her college admissions essay on TikTok. It was an unexpectedly touching ride that discussed the influence of childhood shows on who we become as adults. "Hearing chuckles and seeing contorted faces when I declare this is inevitable," she admits. "But nonetheless, I say it with the utmost candor and confidence every time. And why shouldn't I? I've devoted 13 years of my life to this sponge."
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Kalissa then recalls her first memories of watching SpongeBob—when she was four years old and would come home from school, begging her grandmother to switch the channel from Bollywood movies to her favorite yellow sea creature. To her grandmother's dismay, she'd then belt out the theme song and perform—moments that, in retrospect, fueled her ambitions to become an actress, a role that requires creativity and imagination.
"It's no secret that the setup of the SpongeBob SquarePants show is bizarre," she reads in her video. "A sea sponge, a starfish, and an octopus (ironically named Squidward) are neighbors; a crab has a whale daughter; and the antagonist of the show is an evil genius zooplankton with a computer wife. One could choose to criticize the ridiculousness of the show or simply indulge in the absurdity of it all. I indulged."
"There were no rules in the episodes. The opportunities were limitless. It showed me that my imagination could run wild and, more importantly, being able to access my imagination was a meaningful skill," she said. "Seeing these zany scenarios planted a seed in my brain at a crucial development stage, which in turn made me a more creative person. Being myself has never been an issue for me, but believing in myself was. Especially in my first year of high school. I was stuck in a rut. I felt mediocre all the time. Whenever I thought of any scenario, my mind made a list of every little thing that could go wrong, even if it was completely irrational."
"I thought back to the first episode of SpongeBob in which a swarm of anchovies came to feast at the Krusty Krab, where SpongeBob is seeking employment as a fry cook. He keeps calm amongst all of the anchovy chaos despite it being his first day, and efficiently serves Krabby Patties. I questioned when I became so doubtful. If SpongeBob could serve a thousand anchovies on his first day, then I could definitely try to gain some lost confidence back," she claimed.
"SpongeBob has been a driving force in shaping the person I am today in more ways than I thought," she added. "SpongeBob may be responsible for my passion for acting. After all, being an actor requires confidence and imagination—two things of mine that were greatly developed through watching SpongeBob. I look forward to further developing these things throughout college and the rest of my life. In the words of Mr. SquarePants himself, 'I'm ready!'" she concluded.
Nearly 9,000 people praised Kalissa's essay's voice and originality in the comments section. @danpovenmire, the co-creator of Phineas and Ferb, commented, "I so wish Steve Hillenberg was still with us. I would have sent him this and he would have been proud."
"This is everything," wrote @paramountplus. "Not me getting emotional over a college essay about SpongeBob," added @vivnh_.
When asked why she chose SpongeBob over more traditional essay topics, Kalissa explained to BuzzFeed that she was applying to schools with theatre programs where she could earn a bachelor's degree in acting, and the character is to blame. "SpongeBob encouraged, and continues to encourage, me to be the best version of myself: to be courageous, imaginative, curious, bold, passionate, and caring (even if to a fault)," the 21-year-old said. "Once I got the idea to write about the show, nothing else I had brainstormed really made sense."
Kalissa's essay ultimately earned her admission to USC, UCLA, Pace University, Fordham University, Purchase College, Binghamton University, Queens College, Hunter College, and Baruch College. Though USC and UCLA were tempting offers, Kalissa shared, "I chose to go to college at a commuter school in NYC because it gave me the flexibility to keep auditioning professionally while still working toward my degree. College is really what you make of it, and in the last 3.5 years, I was able to exercise my audition muscle, make connections within the industry, and even book a commercial." When it comes to future plans, she says, "Post-grad life is uncharted territory for sure, but whatever comes next, 'I'm ready.'"