Common Application Essay
Sometimes, I bring my Klavierbuchlein; other times, I bring the hymnal I received from my parents. In the winter, I bring an extra sweater. More important than what I bring is what I leave behind. As I ascend step by step up the passageway that many others walk by without a second glance, I cross through rays of light that appear to have been scattered by a kaleidoscope. At the summit of my climb, my feelings of anxiety, frustration, and uncertainty are vanquished as I enter the organ loft -a place where I feel impervious to the outside world and perfectly content.
I’ve played piano for as long as I can remember on the well-loved Kreutzer upright that sits in my living room. My church congregation has always been an integral part of my life as well. When offered a church organist position in ninth grade the word “organist” immediately conjured up the image of some reclusive, frumpily dressed, senior citizen swaying back and forth filling a cathedral, but it seemed like an intriguing use of my musical ability. It didn’t take long to realize the offer was serendipity. While I do have some sartorial sense, I soon understood why organists are often hermits, as I too succumbed to endless hours in the organ loft. There is no other place that I can become as immersed in my music or feel as content. Despite the deep connection that I’ve always had with music and my faith, I had never before felt the serenity and purpose that I feel when playing the opening cadence of the Gloria or the Agnus Dei.
The organ loft is a place where I’m both master and servant. I play hymns in the style that I choose, and get to improvise during communion and other quiet times. I register each manual -sometimes a mellifluous Gemshorn, and other times a triumphant sounding hautbois. Despite these liberties, I have a responsibility to the congregation, to the priest, and to God. Some hymns are intimidating to sing, and therefore must be accompanied with the utmost of care. The priest’s chant tone needs to segue into the Mass parts, so I play a soft cue like a pitch pipe. The most difficult commitment, though, is the one I make to God as I sit down on the bench and unlock the organ. Am I glorifying God and being the best Christian I can be? Am I helping other people in their crusade to find faith? Will God forgive my wrong notes?
Entering church and climbing to the organ loft is my redeeming catharsis. I play for weddings, and my belief in love and harmony is restored. I provide music for funerals, and I am reminded of just how insignificant my struggles are. Music and faith are the most important tenets of my life, and the organ loft is the intersection of my two guiding disciplines. I glance down at the congregation and see how my faith and my talents are impacting others, and I know they’re not the only ones being helped.
As I settle myself on the organ bench, I often reach for the gold-embossed maroon hymnal that was my favorite Christmas gift in 2012. I pause and read the elegant cursive inscription from my father: “May your devotion to God and the organ continue to grow throughout your life. We’re so proud of you.” There are a lot of things that I wish I could have had the time to learn from my father, but the enduring lesson my Dad passed on is the importance of believing- not only in God, but also in myself. The organ loft is faith and music incarnate. When I play organ, I feel like I’m pleasing God, and continuing to make my Dad proud as well -it makes sense, as the organ loft is that much closer to Heaven.
Princeton Supplement Essay
Using a favorite quotation from an essay or book you have read in the last three years as a starting point, tell us about an event or experience that helped you define one of your values or changed how you approach the world. Please write the quotation, title and author at the beginning of your essay.
The bookshelf in my room holds about twenty books that have had the greatest impact on me over the past few years. Toni Morrison’s Beloved forever changed my views of slavery and motherhood; Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter made me pause and think about religious hypocrisy. However, the book that has resonated with me the most deeply is Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. Bach’s novella isn’t one that is typically found on school reading lists, but it has inspired me more than any of the “significant” books I’ve read. The novella speaks of defying boundaries, of integrity, and of chasing one’s dreams, and it is a work I have repeatedly encouraged friends and family members to read. Last winter when I was applying for the Telluride Association Summer Program I even wrote the required critical analysis on the book. I have a list of my favorite quotes from the book and I visit them frequently. One of the most powerful is: “Don’t believe what your eyes are showing you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way.”
When I received my acceptance to the Telluride Association Summer Program last April, I was ecstatic. Not only was I proud to have made it through such a rigorous selection process, but I was also very excited about the seminar I was assigned to. I expected “Race and the Limits of Law in America” to be an eye-opening experience for me for several reasons. First of all, although I am African-American, I had never really questioned in depth what that meant to my identity. I am one of only a few African-American students at my school, and there isn’t a close-knit “black community” in my area. I’d never had an opportunity to have candid and thoughtful discussion about my African-American experience.
The TASP website advertises the program as “designed to bring together young people from around the world who share a passion for learning.” That is certainly true. I met incredibly intelligent, accomplished teenagers from across the United States, as well as far flung countries like Nepal and Macedonia. The TASP alums I had encountered gushed about their experiences, and I arrived expecting to leave with similar sentiments. Instead I left frustrated and disappointed with my seminar. As formal class discussions began, I realized it was not going to be the forum of open mindedness I had envisioned.
Although I know I stand out in my homogenous school and community, I’ve been fortunate to seldom feel the sting of overt racism. I do realize however that racism is a polarizing issue in America, and that it severely impacts many people my age. The majority of my fellow TASPers felt overwhelmingly wronged by society for one reason or another. They viewed racism as hopeless, and asserted that it will always exist. But as we read the transcripts of Supreme Court decisions, and delved into works that explored the African-American experience, entities as far ranging as Christianity, the US Government, and Pop Culture were cited as instruments of oppression. It was alarming that the majority were so intent on commiserating, that they completely closed their minds to alternative opinions, or brainstorming possible solutions. When I would suggest that perhaps not everything is a tool of subjugation, I was called foolish, naive, and even dumb on one occasion. Dissenting viewpoints were unwelcome, marginalized, and suppressed.
I don’t believe that by ignoring racism it will cease to exist, but I choose not to live my life feeling victimized. I refuse to concede that America’s social injustices are unfixable. I feel that an optimistic approach to a solution will always achieve an end, while a pessimistic approach will only impede progress. Many of my fellow TASPers may have known more than I did about the nuances of racial theory, but I feel that the main reason I was an outlier was my refusal to view any situation as hopeless. I just kept repeating to myself, “Don’t believe what your eyes are showing you. All they show is limitation.”
When I returned home from TASP, one of the first things I did was reread Jonathan Livingston Seagull. The themes rang truer than ever, and once again the words served as a source of reassurance and inspiration as I reflected upon my summer experience.
Prior to TASP I had never given it much thought, but I assimilated my positive outlook from my African-American role model, my father. He never made a big deal about being black. Certainly he had experienced racism, but he didn’t let it define him, or me. I developed a heightened respect for my father during TASP, and I was inspired to start a dialogue with him about racism, and his experiences and views. Unfortunately, I will never be able to have that conversation since my Dad died shortly after I returned home.
Thankfully my father had already instilled in me morals, faith, and above all optimism, which will continue to guide me even in his absence… “find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way.” The stark contrast between the convictions of the majority of TASPers and the ideals my father shared with me, have steeled my resolve to see infinite possibilities instead of limitations. Like my father, I want my children to live free of negative expectations about society; I want to be part of the vanguard that moves towards making racism a tragedy of the past, rather than merely bemoaning its existence.
Standardized Test Scores:
- SAT Composite: 2290
- Critical reading: 760
- Math: 770
- Writing: 760
- Subject Tests:
Math 2: 730
- World history: 750
AP Test Scores:
- Calculus AB: 5
- Chemistry: 4
- Physics C: Mechanics: 4
- Computer Science A: 4
- Environmental Science: 5
- Music Theory: 5
- Subscore: Music Oral Subscore: 5
- Subscore: Music Non-Aural Subscore: 4
- Physics B: 5
- Statistics: 4
- United States History: 5
- English Literature and Composition: 5
- World History: 5
School Record and Class Ranking:
- Cumulative Rank: Not provided/unranked
- Cumulative GPA:
- National AP Scholar 2015
- AP Scholar with Distinction 2015
- National AP Scholar 2014
- AP Scholar with Distinction 2014
Extracurriculars and Student Demographics:
- Church Organist, 4 Years
- NY All-State choir, 3 years
- TASP Cornell 2014 participant
- Select Choir/National Honor Society/Jazz Ensemble president
- Nationally ranked pianist