Admission Essays :
Gabriel D. Carroll
For this essay, Stanford asked applicants to include a photo of something
important to them and write about it. Gabriel’s photo was of paper.
Paperboy - Stanford University
At an age when my friends’ floors were strewn with toys, dirty clothes or
video-game cartridges, mine was smothered in paper of all sorts—books,
magazines, reams of white and college-ruled, paper bags, paper airplanes.
This pattern has survived, and it is representative of the way I live. The
house of my life is built on a foundation of paper.
Certainly this element is crucial in all our lives. From money to facial tissues
to news to playing cards, paper is a vital organ of the body politic. And I, as
a student, laden with schoolwork (and college application forms), should
naturally expect to be particularly prone. But, for me, paper goes even beyond
this role. Virtually all of my favorite activities are paper-based. I compose
music, poetry and prose. I do mathematics, with massive scratch work
as a by-product. I solve cryptic crosswords. Last year, I was involved in CX
debate, which may be cynically but not inaccurately said to consist essentially
of reading prepared pieces of paper in a strategically determined order.
To me, paper is the natural medium for connecting the mind—whether
in its imaginative, mechanical, or emotive capacity—with the physical
world. Small wonder, then, that I fi nd I express myself more effectively in
writing than in speech, or that, on my habitual multiple-hour walks, I often
carry blank paper and pens to jot down any arbitrary thoughts that might
seem worthy of retention.
Even beyond this, my intimate relationship with paper extends to some unorthodox
functions. I have developed a rudimentary silent communication
system with friends, involving holding up sheets of various colors. When
it comes to cleaning up spills, I far prefer the use of paper towels over
sponges. At the age of 13, I caused myself some jaw trouble through excessive
use of paper as a substitute for chewing gum, though I have largely
overcome that habit. In prescribing the role of paper, I can be picky—college-
ruled, never wide-ruled, because more words fi t on the former—but I
can also be flexible—using napkins to scribble visual aids during meal time
But as significant as what I chose for this photograph is what I did not
choose. Fancier objects would have been inappropriate, because ostentatious
materialism is meaningless to me. Sure, a few of the habits I have
acquired require more expensive materials—programming is difficult to
do and impossible to do usefully in the absence of a computer; likewise
for chess without a board or pieces—but, for the most part, my interests
require little more than scribbling equipment. I am a believer in resourcefulness.
Do as much as you can with the facilities at your disposal, I say.
Hence, armed with paper and pens, I can (in theory) keep myself entertained
all day. In the mathematical world, greater value is attached to a
proof of a diffi cult theorem if it uses only the most elementary techniques;
perhaps my inheritance of this esthetic is reflected in my preference for
building a life from the simple tools of paper and pens. I spurn more
elaborate equipment. Why use a calculator when you can do computations
in your head? Reading information from computer screens bothers me;
I prefer to print things out, or simply to use books. I would rather simply
proofread my own writing than rely on automated spell-checkers. And my
dependence on paper embodies not only resourcefulness but thrift. I rarely
buy new clothes. I use public transit (or walk), which appears especially
frugal in light of today’s gasoline prices. Paper, being plentiful and inexpensive,
fi ts into this scheme. Recently, I took this trait to a new height:
whereas I previously sent paper to the recycle bin after depleting one side,
I now make a conscious effort to use both sides of every sheet, thus saving
on future purchases.
Paper is the staple of my existence (no pun intended). From when I was 6
and spent my days fi lling pads with fantastical designs for houses, zoos and
factories, to the present, when I surround myself with sheets bearing drafts
of essays on one side and systems of equations on the other, my life has
been ruled by this ruled substance—simple, utile and ubiquitous.
Why This Essay Succeeded
Part of the magic of Gabriel’s essay is his ability to fi nd the one common
thread that binds his world. Recognizing the importance of paper
probably took Gabriel longer than it took to write the actual essay. But
paper is the perfect metaphor for who he is.
Gabriel adeptly conveys why paper is so important. He works in his
interests from composing music to debating to communicating with
friends. He is also able to describe his values of resourcefulness and
thrift. His essay is not just about the things he does but also what he
believes. By the end of his essay we have a clear mental image of the
kind of person Gabriel is and we fully believe that given a pad of paper
and pens he could keep himself occupied all day.
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