Common Application Essay
Entering my kindergarten classroom, I shuffled around my blueberry shaped classmates as some began throwing their winter layers into cubbies. Admittedly, my torso was equally bulbous – covered with the threats and extortions of my mother: a heavy jacket, gloves, and a hat. But, below the waist I wore only a pair of frigid khaki shorts. As I walked proudly to my seat, my teacher quickly approached me. Bug-eyed, in what I assumed was intense admiration, she asked “Stephen, aren’t you the tiniest bit cold?”.
“No,” I replied, smiling. “I don’t get cold.”
For as long as I can remember, those words were my battle cry. Everyday, I endured questions from playground supervisors, taunts from my classmates, and concerned looks from parents. But, everyday I stood my ground, refusing pants on principle. I would never wear pants. I would never conform. I would never ever be cold.
Ten years later, on a non-descript winter morning, I woke up shivering. Moving mechanically to my khaki drawer, I felt my legs cringe at the prospect of another “pantsless” walk to school. My boundless heat had left with elementary school, but my identity hadn’t. I was fifteen now, often miserable, but unable to do what felt like a betrayal of the past nine years of my life. Pausing to open my khaki drawer, I noticed a pair of jeans neatly folded on top. Looking out my frost lined windows, I clenched my jaw and decided. Gingerly, as if afraid of some microbial contagion, I picked up the jeans.
Putting on pants was not a moment of gleaming insight, but the beginning of an understanding. I realize now that every day I’d stubbornly worn shorts under the banner of “being myself,” I had not been preserving who I was, but who I had once been. By spurning pants, I had chained myself to who my past wanted me to be: a slave to the errant belief that by changing who we are, we betray who we once were.
When I slipped on the jeans, I ended one lifelong tradition and began another: acceptance of the concept that who I am is not a static goal but a moving target. Who we are is not ever to be achieved but always to be chased.
I was always taught to be myself, and as a pantsless blueberry, I took this to mean that I could not let others define me. But, now, as a larger, better-clothed blueberry, I realize the preconceptions we hold of ourselves, the traditions we create, and the dogma we overlook, cage us more effectively than any regime. Though I was unaware at the time, putting on those pants changed my life. I put aside years of tradition in beginning the struggle to question my own assumptions, look at myself critically, and live the changes that I find. For, when it comes to deciding “who I am,” it is not my friends, family, nor even my past self, but I who wears the pants.
Harvard Supplement Essay
Projecting a glob of what I had once assumed was toothpaste into the bathroom sink, I quickly realized mandarin was a bit more confusing than I had assumed. Glancing around the sink, suddenly, none of the characters seemed familiar. What was the character for tooth? Was it ten strokes or eleven? And why were there so many tubes in this bathroom?
My host dad’s voice drifts lazily from the kitchen “Do you need any help? “
Oh, he would. Trying to make me ask him. Forcing me to admit that I can’t differentiate the character for “Tooth” and “fungal” cream. So smug in his fluency.
Grabbing a tube that looks promising, I slip out of the bathroom, and into my room. The pages of my chinese dictionary, previously crisp, are flattened, crumpled as I frantically flip to the character for “tooth”.
My host father begins to hum. I keep searching.
It’s useless, the character –牙or was it 壓 ? Is nowhere to be found. It is just me. A tube of what may or may not be fungal cream and my host Dad.
“Ask him” a small, treacherous, voice in my head pleads. “It’s your first night (in Taiwan), just ask him”
Grudgingly, I pick up the tube and head towards the kitchen.
When I first started with languages, I struggled. Suddenly dependent upon others, I resisted. Questions became duels, between unsuspecting native speakers, and my blunt determination to not need them. When approached with a problem, I scoured every Chinese learning chat board, flipped frantically through every Spanish-English dictionary, and obsessed over the indexes of my chinese textbook looking for the answer. I stood alone, painfully aware that asking a native speaker a question felt more like admitting I was an inferior, than admitting I needed help.
For 18 years, I’ve held independence on a pedestal. Self-sufficiency, more than anything, was to be constantly strived for. So, wary of anything that would depend me on others, I looked at questions with suspicion. They were crutches. A symbol of not only being helpless, but acting helpless. Compliance with the dis-truth that we are unable to find our own answers.
Sadly, languages were unaware of my views on self-reliance. They demanded questions. No amount of concentration could help me name exotic fruit, just as no amount of brow crinkling could correct my pronunciation. Instead, I was forced to seek out people. To need people. And so I’ve changed.
It was not immediate, the change. No moment of clarity. Instead, it was hard lost.
I thought of questions as crutches and perhaps they are. But I’ve realized it is not the crutch that makes cripple, but the cripple who needs the crutch. Languages in that sense we are all crippled. No man can be an island. We need people. It has been my struggle to embrace this.
On my last day in Taiwan, I sat at my dining room table, looking over my chinese textbook, waiting for my host (little) brother to finish breakfast. Skimming the pages, I notice a word I don’t remember. My dad’s whistling, floats slowly from the kitchen.
I raise my voice. “Dad, Can I ask you a question?”
Standardized Test Scores:
- SAT Composite-2340
- Writing – 740
- Reading – 800
- Math – 800
- Total 36
- Writing – 36
- Reading – 36
- Math – 36
- Science -36
- SAT Subject Tests
- Chinese – 800
- World History – 800
School Record and Class Ranking:
- GPA Overall: 3.89
- Freshman Year GPA: 3.56
- Following Three Years GPA: 3.99
Advanced Placement Scores:
- AP Calculus – 5
- AP Spanish – 5
- AP American History – 5
- AP World History – 5
- AP Literature – 5
- USIP Essay State Winner (Missouri)
- National Merit Scholar
Extracurriculars and Volunteer Experience:
- Captain of the debate team
- Co-president of student volunteer core (oversaw 10 volunteer groups)
- Student Council President (Sophomore – Junior)
- Volunteered 10 hours a week at after school program for at risk youth