Read this NYU applicant's college essay - Applauding Mediocrity.Read More
I don’t exactly remember when I started to slouch. “Stand up straight!” my parents would constantly remind me. But I could not seem to master it. Everyone’s parents tell them to mind their posture. But since I naturally stoop worse than my 85 year-old Nana, I often heard: “You look like a question mark!” ”
When I was little my dad was the volunteer coach for my peewee soccer team, and he always played me. I knew how lucky I was, not just for this advantage, but also for having a dad who loved me enough to spend his Saturday mornings with screaming children. My dad never pressured me to be the best, he just wanted me to try hard and have fun. He always encouraged me by saying, “When you stand tall and run, you are unstoppable.” Even though my greatest worries at the time tended to center on snacks, off the field I still slouched around like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders.
Now that I am a senior, I am almost always huddled over something. Cooped up at my desk trying to finish my calculus homework, lugging a 40 pound backpack around school, or peering down at my phone sending off that last urgent text message to my varsity soccer co-captains reminding them about an upcoming practice or game.
But when I play sports, I stand tall and feel powerful. This begins the instant I stride onto the field, whether it is for soccer or lacrosse, a practice or a championship game. Something about running and being free allows me to let go of the stress from homework, exams, and labs. Everything I’ve compressed throughout the day is decompressed, and I find myself channeling my energy and focusing on the goal directly ahead.
As my high school soccer career comes to a close, the legacy I will leave from this season as team captain has become very important to me. To rally my team I give pep talks and organize team dinners. To help the girls develop their skills on the field, I lead drills and races to build our stamina. I make sure that everyone feels they had the chance to play their best game. But mostly, I remind them to stand tall and always to put in their best effort.
Sometimes I have moments when I want to throw in the towel like everybody else. For example, at the end of a grueling pre-season workout this year, I shouted, “I’m so tired I’m going to collapse,” and heard the echoes of a dozen younger girls agreeing with me. I immediately saw them slowing down, and realized that as captain, they were taking their lead from me. Remembering my dad’s advice from years before, I immediately shifted my attitude and stood tall, exemplifying the behavior that I hoped the girls would follow.
It sounds so simple, but reminding myself to stand up straight is a constant challenge to be the best version of myself I can be. When I do that on the field, my teammates follow my lead. When I do that in the classroom, my peers listen and respect what I have to say. Standing tall, I am more positive, alive, and confident in my abilities. I love watching the big cats on the Discovery Channel, when they, feel threatened, they arch their backs and rise up to intimidate their predators. I have read studies that claim posture has a direct effect on people’s mood and self-esteem. But I don’t need a study to tell me what I have learned firsthand. Now, whenever I see a friend crouching over a book, or an exhausted teammate slouching on the field, I yell, encouragingly, “Stand up straight!” and then I repeat softly, to myself, “because then you are unstoppable.”
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I was sick of the little red asterisk at the bottom of my page, discernible even from the farthest end of our Harkness table. Scrawled in bleeding marker lay the phrase I had become far too familiar with:
"This coordinating conjunction is not joining independent clauses: no comma here."
I listened for my classmates' footsteps to dissolve into the hallway. Finally, it was silent.
"Mr. Magee, I am at odds with the comma. Why another asterisk?"
"You have two dependent clauses, Charlotte. There's no need to separate them.
"I thought an essential use for the comma is to indicate a significant pause."
"You're right, but that was not a significant pause."
I could feel the passion brewing within me.
"It was to me! I wanted my reader to stop there; that moment meant something to me. Is that not the essence of artistic license?"
Remnants of this conversation lingered in my ear long after I had left the classroom. The storyteller's ability to capture a moment through grammar fascinated me. In recognizing the role of the comma, I suddenly felt apart of something bigger. Punctuation isn't something the reader is meant to notice. A writer's inflection can transform a sea of indistinguishable characters into spells of both pain and pleasure. The navigating hand of punctuation steers me to experience a moment just as it was intended to feel. Sometimes I see parentheses and hear the words whispering to me, as if disclosing information so tender that the fragmented brackets must cradle it. The semicolon winks as it connects two isolated phrases, two incomplete moments. These seemingly innocent dots and dashes had opened my eyes to the power of language.
On a storm-ridden afternoon, I rest my head in Stuart's hands. My usual nerve pain feels prickly as I fidget on the examination table. Stuart can sense my discomfort:
“What’s it feel like today? Pounding or dull?”
My mouth goes dry. His generalized symptoms resonate just as a foreign language does: these words do not belong to me.
“I could tell you in the form of a poem; the way I’ve been able to understand my pain. Central Nervous System is at a cocktail party, and is very nervous,” I say.
The arachnid gang waltzes in uninvited
But – by all means – make yourself at home.
I feel the mingling crowd grow rowdy, shimmying to the music as my wrists throb with numbness. That arrogant spider is fighting with his spouse again
(in my left brachial plexus)
His rude words send her in a tizzy and tensions run high, gnawing at each other until She storms away. Down my left shoulder.
He crawls after her lazily
under my shoulder blade.
lights grow dim, all guests file out
that medicine I took won’t kick out the arguing couple, but it’ll quiet them down
(for a moment)
They grab their coats, walk home in silence
I can tell tonight they’re sleeping in different beds because both hands throb with equally distributed soreness.
The female spider doesn’t get a wink of sleep.
I suppose she’ll be giving her husband a talking-to sometime soon
Because the right hand has begun to tingle
I can feel Stuart’s hands grow tender at my words, which convey what medical language could not. Punctuation was my imaginative agent, the tool that led me to discover a voice: one with artistic purpose, and a useful application. My ability to communicate creatively empowers me to find purpose in the classroom and newsroom alike. This gift of expression was not just a heightened awareness to composition but also a ‘significant pause’ within myself.
"Alright, you've got me," Mr. Magee said. He chuckled softly and threw his hands up, as if to surrender. “You win."
We exited the classroom together and parted ways. Then, from the end of the hallway, he chimed:
"Forget Editor-in-Chief. You should be a lawyer, Klein."