“A Beak, Be Jolly”

Personal Statement

Abhik Basu Jolly…Abhik B. Jolly…A—When I repeat a word over and over again, it detaches from its meaning—especially if the word is unusual. Like “kangaroo.” Or like “fork.” When I say fork over and over again, I start wondering, why is this called a “phorque?”Abhik B. Jolly…A beak B. Jolly…Abhik B. jolly…A beak be jolly…My name—unique as far as google knows (check for yourself)—is a signifier, a referential sound, which refers to me. My first name, Abhik, is Sanskrit for fearless. The origins of my surname, Jolly, are curious even to other Indians. As a middle name, my mother lent me her maiden name, Basu, a high-caste clan name, known more commonly in its anglicized form, Bose (as in Bose Sound Systems or the scientist Satyendra Nath Bose).Sadly, I was hard pressed to appreciate the singular nature of my name while growing up on Long Island where Luke was considered to fringe the norm. Kids can be mean, but it was more personal insecurity than external abuse that troubled me. In ninth grade, I dreaded the first day of school. Sure enough, each teacher managed to mispronounce my name in an entirely unique way. I winced and corrected them while the class giggled behind me. (The only real tripping point is the silent h. With this knowledge, the pronunciation, at least to me, seems intuitive enough.)Come tenth grade, I stopped bothering to correct them, thus renouncing authority over my own interpretation. To the world, I was a shape-shifting mush. I was whoever anyone else wanted me to be. To my parents, I was an excellent student. To my friends, I was a faux-rebellious ne’er-do-well. To my tenth grade health teacher, Ms. Kosiba, I was the bookish “Abink Jolly.” (It’s a mystery to me how she slipped an n in there, but I didn’t correct her.)In his canonical essay “The Death of the Author,” critical theorist Roland Barthes states that “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author.” This dictum, a postmodern slogan, renders any work of art an organization of signs and symbols open to interpretation.In some ways, I appreciate this openness to interpretation. I feel that it lends the world color. Admittedly, it gave me the critical license to find a subtext of Jean-Paul Sartre’s phenomenology in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, centuries before it was philosophized. And moreover, if I considered the author’s opinion ultimate, I could not have opened Borges’ five-page story “Emma Zunz” into a fourteen-page critical essay, employing the thought of Derrida and Freud among others. And I certainly would not have won my school’s award for Best English Student last year for my creative critical essay writing in addition to my help and encouragement of others to “free their minds.” Yes, in many ways, I exploit and relish in my freedom to interpret.However, I do believe that there is something to be said for the author’s opinion of his text, which is, after all, his text. Of course, I dearly value the ability to think creatively, but many things about my person are no longer up for interpretation.Entering the John Dewey Academy, I realized that I could not be satisfied with myself without a solid core of honesty, integrity, and self-respect. Over the last two years, becoming a leader in the JDA community both inside and outside of the classroom, I have solidified into an upright human being, and, more importantly, I am proud of who I am. Never again will I compromise my own values for what I think others want from me, and never again will I sulk in the corner while a teacher mispronounces my name. My life is my text, and by being true to myself, I alone, as the author, have the final word on its interpretation.

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