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Hamilton Alumni Review
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Essays That Worked

Caroline O'Shea

Baltimore, Md.

Writing a college essay is intimidating business. Just coming up with an idea, let alone writing about it, is a challenge. So, I asked for help. Mom said, "Write about how you are like each of your cats!" While I found this idea to beÉwell, cuteÉI worried that all this would say about me is that I like to eat and sleep in patches of sun. Dad said, "Write about your mental struggles after your mother and I got divorced." While this idea was dramatic, and perhaps telling, I decided that it ran the risk of making me appear morose, which I am not, or just plain boring. Various friends told me to "be funny" or to write about a moment in my life that was particularly poignant.

All these ideas for topics were fine. I could easily have written them. But something was bothering me. I've always been told that the purpose of such an essay is to describe yourself to the readers, to tell them something about yourself that nothing else could. None of these topics were ones I felt could adequately explain me to a stranger in several hundred words or fewer. The root of the problem is this -- at this stage in my life, I am not quite sure how to describe myself.

In middle school, or even freshman year in high school, I could have easily described myself to anyone, because I was pretty certain about who I was. I was an Irish-Italian Catholic. I was liberal. I hung out with school-focused, overachiever types. I disliked jocks and people who talked about clothes too much. I laughed at girls who liked teen idols or TV shows that I thought were stupid. I thought my parents were pretty much perfect. My favorite book was Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. I was sure I wanted to be a vet when I grew up. My life was black-and-white, this-or-that, yes-or-no. It was easy.

Some things haven't changed since then, despite how much I seem to have changed. I'm still an Irish-Italian Catholic and a bleeding heart liberal, though my beliefs are no longer based blindly on what those things are supposed to mean. Yes, many of my friends are still the "overachiever types," and I still value their academic intelligence, as well as my own, very much. The difference is that I no longer see "intelligence" as a single entity. I have come to respect a person's ability to make friends, to make beautiful art or music, or to simply be a thoughtful and caring person just as much as I respect the classes they take or the kinds of books they read. Most important though, I have come to see and respect those more meaningful traits in myself.

I'm no longer sure what my favorite book is. When asked, I usually name at least 10, ranging from science fiction to Existentialist philosophy to Southern Gothic novellas. I've come to see my parents as people, not as icons, and have learned from both their good and bad qualities. I have no plan as to what I want to do when I grow up -- only the vague idea that I want to be involved in politics, and maybe try to change the world a little bit while I'm at it.

I've learned that I am also many things that are not so obvious. I am a girl who sits on her back porch at midnight thinking about conflicts between determinism and free will, but I am also a girl who watches Buffy the Vampire Slayer religiously and can quote it word for word. I love my mother's pumpkin pie, talking late at night to friends about things that we'd never reveal during the daylight, and driving with the sunroof open and the stereo turned up.

These things are all a part of me, but not the whole story. In fact, they are all things that other people could rattle off about me -- things they might even suggest that I write an essay about. This essay, however, is uniquely me, just as I intend my life to be.

The past four years have been an experience in the ever-clichéd "self-discovery," and I suspect the next four will be as well. While I feel I know more about myself now than I ever have before, I recognize that there is a lot more there that I don't know. I'm not in a rush, though. I've only lived for 17 years. I have the rest of my life to figure out who I am and what I'm here for -- and when I do, I'll write you an essay.

Here are a few examples of admission essays written by Hamilton's newest students.

Caroline O'Shea
Baltimore, Md.

Matt Coppo
New Canaan, Conn.

Meagan Spooner
Alexandria, Va.

J.P. Maloney
Buffalo, N.Y.

Chase Garbarino
Duxbury, Mass.

Emily Hamlin
Pennington, N.J.

Sarah Stern
Bedford, N.Y.

Alice Dou Wang
West Chester, Pa.

Cupola