College Essays

University of Chicago Supplemental

Prompt (University of Chicago Supplemental) 

“Where have all the flowers gone?” – Pete Seeger. Pick a question from a song title or lyric and give it your best answer. – Inspired by Ryan Murphy, AB’21


“Annie, are you okay?”—Smooth Criminal by Michael Jackson

Everyone around town recognizes my Boy Scout troop as the most “hardcore” troop. We take pride in working exceedingly hard to get our advancements and merit badges signed off. Our prestige as the hardcore troop has come chiefly from the doings of one of our leaders, Mr. Hart. Mr. Hart is a no-nonsense man who prides himself on doing things the “right way.” He has been a leader in the troop for almost 50 years, an Eagle Scout, and an EMT. Because of his credentials, he took a solemn vow to make us flawless in our administration of CPR, and so my bizarre relationship with Resusci Annie was born.

At a meeting on Thursday night, Mr. Hart enlisted me in getting a cumbersome plastic box from the back of his truck. After a long-winded oration to some scouts on the history and methodology of CPR, Mr. Hart unlatched the box and revealed Resusci Annie. I first noticed that the dummy was easily twenty years old, and its face, hair, and clothing had not aged well due to misuse. I then stared into its cold visage. Its waxy, pale skin and closed, lifeless eyes made my blood curdle. Its uncanny features reminded me of what I had seen at the few funerals I had attended: the face of death. I tried to ignore the face during the first lesson, knowing that I would be practicing on it very soon.

After the meeting, I vowed to learn why this lifeless face was the thing we were supposed to save. I shockingly discovered that the CPR dummy’s face was from an actual person. Resusci Annie was once known as L’Inconnue de la Seine or “The Unknown Woman of the Seine”—a woman who drowned herself in France in the 1880s, whose death mask became famous for its beauty and serene expression. This eerie image was a popular wall decoration in Europe and eventually made it to the United States. Late in the 1950s, soon after the conception of CPR, the mask was spotted by an American physician who chose it to be the face of his new invention: the CPR mannequin.

My findings humanized Annie to the point where I could begin practicing CPR on it. Every Thursday night for a month and a half would be filled with practicing, testing, and failing. Mr. Hart demanded perfection from all his scouts, especially in something he considered essential. Repeating the tests took its toll on me. Each time would lead to being corrected in the most minuscule way. It took nearly five tests to be deemed worthy of passing, and relief rushed over me. However, I never got over the fact that I was doing CPR on a woman who had died of suicide almost 150 years ago.

This entire story leads back to one question: Is Annie okay? The ethics of distributing the death mask of L’Inconnue de la Seine have long been disputed. Is it morally permissible to share her face with the world? Furthermore, is it acceptable to use her as the literal face of the CPR mannequin and make money from it without consent? There were different standards in 19th-century France, but why should we continue to use her likeness when surrounded by so much moral uncertainty? Would it not be easy to manufacture dummies with an anonymous appearance or to use the face of a person who consented? Ultimately, Annie is not okay. The lifeless eyes that frightened me tell a story that should be respected—not defiled by the company that still makes money from the use of her likeness. Resusci Annie should remain a CPR mannequin; L’Inconnue de la Seine should remain “The Unknown Woman of the Seine.”

Tips for Writing

Something I wish I knew before starting a creative supplemental essay was how long it was going to take to find an idea that I actually liked and was able to write. The essay below was my third attempt and the result of an exuberant amount of brainstorming. Some ideas seem perfect in your head, but, when you actually start writing, it is hard or impossible to get your ideas across in a succinct way. My advice would be to not be married to one idea. Let yourself be open to new ideas even if you are halfway through your current essay. Sometimes your best idea comes after a few tries, but when you finally start writing that essay, you know it was worth it.

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