Opening the Door

Topic of your choice – common application.

When I was eleven, I lived in a trailer park full of kids. I preferred reading and writing to playing with them, so pretty often, when they knocked on the door, I would pretend I was doing chores. Then I would resume reading Harry Potter and writing my dinosaur adventure story in peace.A lot has changed since then. I’m no longer homeschooled, my family is no longer on food stamps, and I read Dostoevsky as well as J. K. Rowling. I’ve gained and lost a Southern accent; I’ve experienced the savagery of public middle school and also sampled rural-style homeschooling where a day herding cows counted as Home Ec. I’ve met the other half of my family, Sicilians who speak no English, and I too quickly concluded I was nothing like them. Over the course of a secondary school career in a New England Catholic boarding school, I’ve watched every high school stereotype I know be systematically disproved. Cheerleaders and jocks aren’t always shallow and mean; nerds aren’t always unsung heroes; class elections don’t have to be popularity contests. Peer pressure just as often favors the right choices.I have witnessed and experienced, at boarding school, the paradoxes of the human condition. I’ve learned that priests can be simultaneously raunchy and funny and kind, that teens don’t have to be too cool to go to church, and that I can be both intellectual and religious, because, after all, my teachers are. I’ve met teachers and houseparents who were less mature than the students in their charge, and have suffered the frustration of being at their mercy; I’ve met teachers and houseparents whom I respect and love so much that merely seeing them around campus can cheer me up. I have developed a love of Latin and Greek so inexhaustible that I’m tempted to major in the Classics rather than something “useful,” just so that I can stay with Virgil and Homer a bit longer. I’ve learned that leadership skills are more than just a college counseling cliché, and that I am willing to fight for leadership positions in order to make sure things are done right. In the course of two years I’ve gone from being too shy to write anything serious for the school newspaper to being its editor. My freshman year I vowed I would never want to be a prefect; now, I am one, and can think of no higher honor. I’ve learned, too, that I am not completely allergic to sports, and that being commended on my performance in cross country is just as sweet a triumph as watching a veteran teacher doff an imaginary cap to an essay I’ve written. I am proud of all these realizations and accomplishments—but mostly because they stand as proof of what I am most proud of. For me, the past six years are marked foremost by a single fundamental switch of my priorities: Now, when people knock on my dorm door, I always let them in, even if I’m in the middle of a really good story. I still read, although I do it when everyone else is asleep and then drink coffee to compensate. I still write, on my vacations—since the dinosaur story, I’ve produced three more novel-length stories—but I know better than to try to write lengthily while I’m at school. When I do write at school, it’s usually to make someone laugh or feel better.I’ve learned, quite simply, that I prefer people to books. I know that I would rather fail a test for which I need to study than leave a friend in distress, because I love them and they have done the same for me when I needed them. I’ve learned that the only thing better than reading a good book is talking to someone who loves that book, and the only way to improve a great movie is to watch it with a group of friends on Saturday night in the dorm, sharing a bag of popcorn and a food delivery. I’ve learned that I care about cross country because I care about my teammates, and I have learned more by walking in the back of the pack to cheer up the freshmen who can’t run very well than I ever would if I kept up with my equals in speed. I’ve learned that the best thing about away meets is the bus ride home, where we sing, argue about Star Wars, recite Monty Python, confide secrets to our best friends after everyone else is sleeping, and on no account do homework or listen to iPods. I’ve learned that I do have something in common with my Sicilian relatives: My favorite time of day is dinner, when I sit with the eclectic group of people that I have come to call my friends, and we manage to find things to laugh about even when there isn’t much left to say. Friends, I have learned, are worth more than all the laurels and distractions life can offer. It has been my great privilege to have friendships in high school—not just friendships of Aristotle’s “utility” or “pleasure,” but truly ennobling friendships that have changed me for the better. What is to others a truism, is to me a late and unexpected discovery for which I am more grateful every day. I know, now, that I am at my best and happiest in the company of others.

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