Princeton University

Prompt: Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.

Essay:

Once you spend hours on YouTube watching comedy routines, all the comedians begin to blend together in a bland puree. Enter Trevor Noah—South African comedian, host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central, and man who has absolutely no clue who I am. Noah’s particular style of comedy attracted me as he drew upon his various life experiences and promulgated the humor within them. In his memoir Born a Crime, Noah discusses the horrors of Apartheid in South Africa and its impact on his life as a developing child. Despite covering a dark subject, Noah pumps his memoir full of light-hearted jokes. He presents laughter as a key component while narrating life events. For example, in a thrilling, nerve-wracking scene, Noah and his mother flee from men looking to harm them because of their ethnic backgrounds, only to finish this escape by staring at each other and bursting into laughter. In this sole incident from Noah’s life, I learned the rationale behind his strange tendency to laugh at his misfortunes. Laughter is a coping mechanism.

While I may never be a Xhosa running away from violent Zulu men, the principles of Noah’s life translated into my own. Faced with the daunting task of caring for my bedridden mother after surgery, the thought of our household, without her cheery presence, began to stress me out. However, thinking about Noah’s ability to lessen his burdens by finding the humor in everyday obstacles, I opted to laugh at my increased responsibilities. The kid who occasionally forgets to eat dinner, simply because he’s not hungry, was now supposed to prepare three meals daily, conduct all the household chores, and still find time to read about complete strangers’ lives on the internet? The power of comedy dispelled the concerning fog of stress, allowing me to competently fulfill my duties. 

Luckily, the impact of lightening the mood was twofold. Seeing my mother for the first time after her surgery, I beamed at her with a smile. My mother, typically worried for my well-being, felt a calming presence pass over her. A simple smile lifted her anxiety, reassuring her that we could conquer this situation.

No predicament seemed immune to Noah’s remedy. Kick off the year with a solid C on an English essay? Pick up the paper and break into a smile—congratulations, at least you passed! That girl I always wanted to go to prom with rejects my promposal? Roll up the poster and stroll away laughing—I always have next year. Suffer from a long-term injury that prevents me from playing soccer for the next year?  Limp off the field chuckling with the athletic trainer—good riddance to that fragile bone.  

In everyday life, we are confronted with inevitable setbacks, testing our ability to overcome these changes. Trevor Noah showed me the importance of humor in adapting to unfamiliar situations. If Noah suffered through Apartheid and could still laugh about his ordeals, I can certainly cast a smile at whatever life throws at me. Although probably indicating a dry sense of humor, my ability to make myself laugh serves as a tool to hammer life’s largest problems into minuscule, manageable inconveniences. And, I’ll gladly snack on these bite-sized obstacles. 

 

Tips for Writing: 

  • Start early. Everyone says this, but it’s for a good reason. No one writes a perfect first draft, and it will take you multiple drafts to get to an essay you’re satisfied with. Starting early gives you enough time for adequate revision. Also, you do not want the stress of writing essays right before deadlines.
  • What is a trait unique to you? College admissions officers read through thousands of essays, you want them to remember yours. Even if you’re writing about someone common (mom, dad, etc.), write about a unique way he or she influenced you.
  • Make sure the essay shows something about you. When talking about someone else’s influence on them, people often make the entire essay about that person. But, the person who influenced you isn’t applying to college, you are! An admissions officer wants to see what this essay shows about you.
  • Although not as important as his or her impact on you, the person you choose can lend insight into your personality. Make sure you choose someone who shares your values and characteristics you find important.
  • A common mistake is choosing a person to write about without thinking about his or her influence on you. Before writing, first make a list of the strengths of your candidacy to this college. Then, find someone who steered you towards one or more of these strengths.