Pity the Poor Readers

Within a month or so a great sigh of relief will go up from all the high school seniors who have applied early to college. For some kids that sigh went up yesterday.

These kids will feel wonderfully ‘done,’ having filled out every line on every application, in many cases using the electronic Common App that has made life so much easier in that it allows students to enter only once the information that is then disseminated to all the schools to which they seek admission.

Likely this had been the first time in their lives that they have struggled to give an account of themselves in the dread 500-word essay that most schools require.

As both an old teacher and someone engaged in the writing game over many years, I have been asked to look at many such essays, so I know what effort is involved for the poor kids who have to rummage through a whole mental attic for the memory of that experience, or person, or core belief that has made the difference for them.

I feel for them.

I feel too for the parents who, if they have told their seniors once have told them a thousand times to just sit down and WRITE the darn thing.

And mostly I feel for the people in the nation’s college Admissions Offices, who, after reading these essays all day long at work must then take their hunched shoulders and their strained eyes home and read many more of them at night.

They will be doing this for the next six or eight weeks with the Early Action and Early Decision kids, and again in a few months when the blizzard of Regular Admission applications start arriving.

What a job for all concerned are these college essays!

And yet what a fine exercise it is for young people to be writing them. To have to tell what has moved you, steered you, made you weak in the knees with fear or hope or unbounded joy.

High school seniors may think they will do this only once and can then walk away, in that slam-the-book-shut, cap-the-pen sort of way but it isn’t so. All our lives, in all the best and most memorable conversations we have, we are saying what we believe.

We may not always wish to be saying these things but we are saying them just the same. ‘Who we are’ shouts loud over our heads all the time, as that sage of Concord Ralph Waldo Emerson once remarked.

And so we do well to bring this ‘Who am I?’ question into conscious awareness, at regular intervals even.

I hold in my lap here three college essays I have found in my files and am moved all over again by their opening sentences:

“As I look back over 17 years of family parties and crowded holiday tables…” begins one. Begins another, “Walk through any high school and you will hear some kid shouting this insult:…” Opens a third, “Through a sky blue screen door, we passed from the bright sun of a mid-summer day onto the back porch of my Great-Grandmother’s house….”

The authors of these sentences were all high school seniors mightily sweating the college essay, and yet in the end all three managed to write something simple and heartfelt.

I am so glad I still have copies of them, because they remind me that once you sit to the task, it isn’t that hard at all to speak your truth.

Still, I want to say God bless the kids doing who are trying to do that now.

And also the families who support them.

And MOSTLY the poor professionals who will spend many hours, days and weeks reading what they have written.

 

 

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