Life in Chess

A Personal Statement Essay written for College Applications


College Student: Lizzie Murno was accepted to Wellesley College and will be attending next year.

Elizabeth Murno, Student Submission

There are 69,352,859,712,417 possible variations after just five moves. Each time you move a piece, you enter an unknown world — a board combination likely never before played. But if just 64 squares and 32 pieces in a timed game can lead to endless, incalculable possibilities, then the many ways one’s life can progress are incomprehensible. Every move I make has unimaginable consequences, and once I let go of a piece, I can’t take it back. 

I envision my life as various moves in the game of chess. Each action I take carries me into unforeseeable territory, just as each chess opening will lead to an entirely distinct game. My favorite opening is the Wayward Queen Attack. To play it, you must first move the King’s pawn up two. Though pawns are seen as insignificant pieces, they are a prerequisite to a triumphant game. Debate is my King’s pawn. It’s given me my voice and a platform to advocate for myself. The debate community has taught me who I am, not who I should be. It has empowered me to express every part of myself. It taught me my passions and gave me the skills to articulate them. I learned how to be an advocate, how to be a researcher, how to write, how to speak; debate wasn’t just a club I did in high school, it was the opening for the rest of my life. 

After moving the King’s Pawn, the Queen is transferred to the center of the chessboard, on H5. Putting one’s Queen in the middle so early is dangerous, as it becomes open to attacks from all directions. I moved my Queen when I came out as queer. Instead of hiding my best piece behind a row of Pawns, I revealed to the world my authentic self. The power the Queen holds on a chessboard is the same power I felt when I came out. Coming out can close or open doors, strengthen or weaken relationships, just as the Queen can win or lose you the game. Despite my feelings of vulnerability, I was situated in the middle of the board with all eyes on me: dangerous and powerful. 

A supplement to this opening is the Scholar’s Mate — moving the Bishop to the center on the opposite side of the Queen, on C4. Poetry is my bishop; it is my complement to self-expression. It’s a place to discuss anything I want, acting as a journal full of thoughts written in a style unique to me. It is a stage to understand myself and the things I have experienced. My freshman year, I wrote and performed a slam poem about misogyny. Poetry bewitched me, teaching me how to express myself creatively without sacrificing the importance of the issues about which I write. Poetics offers a space to share memories of my late father, and my struggles with queerness, anxiety, and other insecurities. Me. 

With the Bishop on C4 and the Queen on H5, my opponent’s King is targeted. It’s a risky game, but if played correctly, you can win in just four moves: checkmate. This works because their King can’t take your Queen with your Bishop’s protection. Each piece relies on the others. Without poetry, I would have no outlet to express my struggles with gender and sexuality, and I wouldn’t even have that voice to channel without debate. This combination of passions and identities made me the person I am today. 

I am eager to find my new favorite chess opening, the next chapter of my education, as I move forward to discover the person I will become. Most importantly, I intend to take what I have learned and continue to uncover even more as I apply it to the 69,352,859,712,417 unique situations that end up being my life.