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Ode to a Dictionary (with acknowledgment to Pablo Neruda): College Admission Essay Sample

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Ode to a Dictionary (with acknowledgment to Pablo Neruda)

You were a gift of language, given to me by my father eight years ago. My dad was traveling to Oxford that year to attend a lecture and asked if I wanted a present. Book-lover that I was, I had always thought Oxford was most famous for its Press, so I requested an English Dictionary. So, upon my father’s return from England, I received you – my first pocket dictionary.

You and I soon became close companions: as you would faithfully wait by my bedside table, allowing me to pry apart your pages to extract information, I would dutifully jot definitions into a notebook or even into the marginal perimeter of the novel itself. Lovingly, I marked new vocabulary with gentle blue dots to avoid overly tainting your pages.

Over the years, your paper has matured to a shade of papyrus. I confess that during this time I have not always been kind to you: a conspicuous greasy stain remains where my thumb has drawn its course along the side of your pages. Years of mistreatment have caused your spine to tear away from your jacket and I’ve tried to repair the injury, but now I must open you carefully, as though your secrets might be lost.

Dictionary, I’ve often lamented your dull precision. You pin utterly sublime words onto a slide, torturing confessions out of them until their iridescent glow is reduced to literal definitions. Months of abandon have been common: once I found a mite crawling across your dusty lines like a ghostly index finger.

It’s true that you have been used and abused, loved and neglected. I’ve tried replacing you with your online counterpart, but my eyes strain from the pixilated monitor and the plastic mouse feels strangely lifeless. You, on the other hand, nestle comfortably between my fingers. Peeling apart your delicate pages, I discover mysterious and exotic words burrowed in your core.

Dictionary, you are not an anachronistic grave. Pablo Neruda once described you as a ‘guard and keeper, hidden fire, droves of rubies.’ Your words are preserved, as fossilized ants in amber; channeled through a pen, their mysteries unlock and spread like leaves on the living tree of language. Pronouncing them, I savor your words in my mouth. Like precious stones, your words rest on my lips, or else I let them slash my tongue with their brilliant facets. When I close your covers, the most powerful instruments of human design rest in the palm of my hand. Perfect strangers with nothing in common, aside from their first letters and their tantalizing potential, are sealed between the closed kiss of your pages.

I look at you and wonder whether all the vocabulary I’ll need for my ambitious journey is contained between your covers. By the time I board the plane for university you’ll almost be a decade old, but I know, without a doubt, that you’ll be coming with me, snuggly tucked in the pocket of my carry-on luggage.

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