A Battle for Insight

Topic 5 from Common Application: Personal Topic

Describe a character-defining instance of strength in the face of adversity. (Submitted as supplemental essay to some schools)

“Kai houtos manthano.”* To most, they are meaningless words, incomprehensible and bizarre. But to me, their meaning is legion: secrecy, silence, concealment. They are Greek, and they mean subversive. I am a subversive, of the Greek persuasion, and, having become such, I shall never go back. For three years, I have taken Greek with Mr. King. Our initial pace was astonishing, learning almost every element of Greek grammar in six months. However, this was only the means to an end. We have since translated several books of the Odyssey, and one of the Iliad. We have translated lyric poems by authors such as Sappho, Solon, Alcaeus, and high-minded Xenophanes. We recently finished Plato’s Apology, and are now working through Herodotus; we will do Aristophanes next. All that I say is true, although there are no other Greek students to attest to this. There were three others the first year: one graduated, the other two abandoned the endeavor. The reason was not that they lacked intelligence – they are dedicated in their own arenas. They simply could not conceive of devoting two hours a night for a class that promised no recognition; not even class credit. Greek, taught by Mr. King, has been a tradition in my school for nineteen years. However, a “simplifying mentality” has in recent years come to oppose this, asserting that what is not simple is often not good; Greek was never simple. When Mr. King wanted to reinitiate the Greek program, he anticipated no problems. The former principal happily permitted such things, vehemently defended them in the face of Guidance’s pleas for order. I admit that I spurn the arbitrary guidelines that they dictated we now follow, that favored simplicity at the expense of a child’s education. Nevertheless, we fought arduously to resurrect the former Independent Study program, mysteriously erased from all records. We invited observation on any day, without notice, and attended school board meetings, hoping the Greek issue would finally be addressed. Despite our entreaties, we were denied input when they established a new Independent Study program. It was shortsighted and wrong. What was easily the most demanding class in the school became its only pass/fail, offering minimal credit and no incentive for future students to join. However, we soon ceased our struggle to defy the administration and prove that my right to learn was being denied. It was not. Whether they supported us, they could not stop me from learning Greek, and that was what we had truly endeavored to do. So we forsook their proposal, but settled down, cloistering ourselves in a corner far from roaming eyes, and continuing to explore and enjoy bold, poetic Greek. I am in Greek III now, and try not to complain anymore. I like to think of myself as a subversive, acquiring forbidden wisdom behind closed doors. Truthfully, it seems that I am part of a minority of students who learn purely for learning’s sake. I seek insight, and am driven by an insatiable thirst to know, as if I one day awoke in a desert barren of knowledge. Though I have few companions in my journey out of the desert, I hope that others will soon join me in my subversive acts. Regardless, I will continue, knowing that my success will come, just as my knowledge, by what I alone gather. *Originally in Greek on essay, this means “And so I am learning.”

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