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I had a dream last night that my most revered mentors came together to weave their unique threads into the fabric that ultimately became my Common Application essay.
Kurt Vonnegut, my favorite novelist, was in charge of the introduction to this reverie:
“Call him Benjamin. His parents did, or nearly did. His mom initially called him Buddha Boy because of his great chubbiness as a baby. Ben — Buddha — if he had been called John, he would have been a Ben still. But that is neither here nor there.
“When I was a younger man — three presidents ago, two wars ago, 250,000 cigarettes ago…
“When I was a much younger man, I came across this young individual named Ben. I was on a plane to Germany to revisit Dresden. He was on his way to visit his terminally ill grandmother. I couldn’t help but stare as he wrote a poem about her during the entire journey. He metaphorically compared her to a beautiful star that was burning out.
“I felt a great sense of happiness. There is nothing better than art: to create something, to look at it, and to know that you have just made a contribution to the world. Ben did this as he wrote guitar songs, published poetry and short stories, and presented his works in front of his community.”
Then, Richard Dawkins took over. As an English evolutionary biologist, he was sure to write from a different perspective than Vonnegut:
“I first met Benjamin on a sabbatical from Oxford. We were wearing identical Darwin shirts, except for their colours. I thought in my head, ‘Finally, our youth is becoming interested in evolutionary biology.’ To my dismay, however, Benjamin informed me that this was not the case.
“‘Almost everyone,’ he said, ‘is either unacquainted with or just apathetic to the field.’ Fortunately, Benjamin has a passion (as do I) to make an impact on those around him. This desire most likely explains his aspiration to become a university professor. When I visited his American high school, I read his influential school newspaper articles, attended his lecture on why the study of natural selection is important to the field of medicine, and observed him talking to his friends about evolutionary biology during cross-country practice. In fact, he was showing them an article about the newly found fossil Darwinius masillae.”
My grandfather was obviously included in this dream. After all, he has always taken me on memorable vacations, and he was the last person I talked to before I went to bed:
“Of course Ben was sitting in the window seat. He would have it no other way! I am surprised to this day that his nose was not permanently damaged from the countless hours he sat with it pressed against the circular Plexiglas. The passengers surrounding us were absolutely perplexed as to how I could possibly answer, let alone listen to, every question that came my way. I would be halfway through explaining the aerodynamics of the plane we were on when Ben would interrupt me and ask ‘Why is the sky blue?’ or ‘Why is each cloud different?’ or ‘How much higher do we have to go to reach outer space?’
“Ben’s life has always been backboned by his curiosity about the natural world. Ever since he was a little child, he loved going to the Franklin Institute or grabbing a science book from my bookshelf. The sense of awe he gets when staring in the face of complexity gives him motivation to seek answers.”
Finally, what better way is there to end an essay than to have Benjamin Franklin, my American hero, write the conclusion?
“The first degree of folly is not to open thine eyes; the second is not to open thy book; the third is not to spread knowledge to the entirety of thy community. Benjamin, alas! He is of the same great name and never contributes to said follies!
“I in Philadelphia and Benjamin in Toms River do not rob ourselves of true learning: the ability to practice what we acquire. Yes, we both love our books, but we go beyond the paper. The founding of the Library Company of Philadelphia is what makes education worthwhile to me. Dear Benjamin undoubtedly concurs, as he regularly donates his time to the Ocean County Library and other community establishments. We don’t confine ourselves to the western side of the Atlantic, either. I in France and he in Israel have done work abroad. What pleasure he had working with displaced Ethiopian refugees in absorption centers and planting trees in the desert!
“His evolution from artistic articulation to scientific quest was not a sudden transformation. Rather, it was a slow accumulation and maturation of previously established inquisitive impulses. You can always find young Benjamin with a pencil in his hand, or a microscope before his eyes, with a determination propagated by his countenance.”
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