My feet become colder and colder as I stand silently on the hardwood floor in the corner of my living room, but I cannot make myself move. My parents, engrossed in conversation, do not see 10 year-old me staring at the “Our Country’s Presidents” documentary playing passively in the background. As I tune into the narration playing over archaic reels of film on screen, I begin to learn about the fascinating life of President Truman, kickstarting my passion for American history and politics.
Now fast forward to the present: I was talking with a friend, when Alaska came up. Until this point, I’d never cared about Alaska. A few minutes into discussing this clearly sundered state, I began strategizing to steer the conversation towards something more entertaining when a simple question my friend asked me shattered my preconceived notion of Alaska: “Why does a place as liberal as Alaska vote Republican?” I was immediately intrigued. Not only because the conversation had shifted towards the bitter UFC ring of party politics, but because I’d never thought about Alaska as more than its three electoral votes and vast swathes of snow. Yes, they’d voted Republican once throughout their existence, and they’re the largest state in the country. But the people in Alaska being liberal? Why? I managed to make it through the rest of the conversation, feigning knowledge as if I had a clue regarding what my friend was talking about.
I relegated myself to my bedroom that night, immediately googling “Alaska.” My odyssey through Wikipedia eventually led to a myriad of scholarly essays on everything Alaska – from geography to population density. I read with insatiable fervor, until my eyes became weary and my hunched back made me question my health. I hadn’t completely understood how much I’d learned about Alaska until a few weeks later, by some miracle another friend mentioned the state, and I was able to effortlessly lay down income statistics of Alaska by region, a dozen town names and their various sources of industry, as well as average transport costs the state collectively pays on an annual basis.
The dive I took into everything Alaska hasn’t been my only pursuit that’s led to an epiphany of “wow, maybe-my-stockpile-of-information-and-statistics-has-a-practical-purpose.” In fact, it’s far from the most notable example. That would be a conversation I had at American Legion’s Jersey Boys State (a program centered around civics in America) with Gene Mulroy, president of a Trenton lobbying firm. He’d given a speech alongside a panel of other politicians and lobbyists, and was exchanging pleasantries with students. Seeing as the crowd around him had slimmed, I figured this would be my only opportunity to speak with someone like him. Mulroy had mentioned earlier that he’d once considered running for office, prompting my question, “Which one?” He responded, “Congress ” followed by, “but I never would have won.” Immediately, I asked if he was from the 4th District. Surprised that I could tell, he answered yes, leading to a discussion about political veteran Chris Smith: a 20-term Congressman. Eventually, Mulroy and I began talking about discussing the 1980’s ABSCAM scandal, the upcoming election for NJ General Assembly, etc. with his continual compliments of my bizarre and sophisticated political knowledge resonating with me far more than he could have known.
After I shook hands and left, it hit me again that my reading and research could be a significant asset when the kid who had accompanied me to the seminar blurted out, “Dude, how on earth did you know any of that stuff ?” Having an existential moment, I felt like a bus had hit me, as being provided a platform to speak about everything politics revealed to me that my passion has been far more useful than I ever could have imagined. Further, I never would have even been at Boys State if I had not read a Wikipedia article at 3 AM on Bill Clinton’s childhood that briefly mentioned that he’d attended Arkansas’ Boys State a millennium ago.
Tips for Writing:
Writing a good college essay for your common application is a lot like trying to fall asleep in a car: It’s difficult, it’s inconvenient, it takes a long time, and you’re going to have to go through multiple methods to get it done. At the end of the day, however, if you just keep with it and think hard about what could work, it eventually just happens. Above all else, be sure to write about something that defines you, whether that “something” is dramatic or not. One misconception I think too many people have is that their marquis essay has to be this deep and profound literary work, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Forcing a topic that doesn’t clearly reflect your character or that doesn’t have significance to you is going to result in a bland and superficial product, whether your essay was about being caught in the middle of a civil war or in the middle of an awkward family dinner. So long as you pick a personally significant subject and write from your heart without inhibition, you’re going to end up with a quality base for your essay. Just consult with enough people on grammar, word choice, tone and the like to make sure your essay is the best it can be.