One of the authors of this book, Gen turns an ordinary, everyday experience into a powerful essay. He wanted an essay that not only conveyed his accomplishments but that also relayed the special relationship that he had with his family and his father in particular. At Waialua High School, Gen was president of the student body, captain of the debate team and vice chairman of the Hawaii state student council.
Dad’s Pancakes - Harvard University
In spite of the various extracurricular activities I’ve done and interesting people I’ve met, not one event or person has been more meaningful to me than my father’s preparation of breakfast. Every morning I wake up to the sounds of my father cooking breakfast. While lying in bed, I try to guess if the clank of a pan means scrambled eggs or maybe his specialty, banana pancakes. Waking up to nearly 7,000 such mornings, I have grown to admire my father’s dedication, a dedication that never falters even after hours of late-night work.
I readily applied this value of dedication when I was elected Vice-Chairman of the State Student Council. With the tremendous amount of work related to this position, there were numerous occasions when I found myself having to choose between reviewing Board of Education policies and going to the beach with friends. And whenever I felt myself beginning to vacillate, I was always reminded of my father’s unwavering dedication. I knew that the students who elected me depended on my dedication, and like my father’s daily commitment, I would not let them down.
Whenever I hear my father making breakfast I always hope that he is preparing his piece dérésistance, banana pancakes. My father’s pancakes are not generic “Bisquickies," but one-of-a-kind masterpieces. He uses scratch ingredients from hand-sifted flour to homegrown bananas. As I grew older I noticed that I also began to assume the same ambition toward life as my father has toward his pursuit of the perfect pancake.
In my freshman year I took an interest in film making and soon my goal was to own a video camera and recorder. To accomplish this goal I could both wait six months until Christmas and hope Santa could afford a new VCR or I could earn the money and buy it myself. My ambitious yearning took over and for the next three months of summer vacation I held a brush in one hand and a can of latex in the other as the hired painter of my grandmother’s house. Although the work was hard and tiring, by the end of the summer, I was able to earn the money to fulfill my goal. Having learned from my father to strive for success, I have since worked fervently but patiently to attain my goals in life.
After my father has flipped the last pancake, the best part of breakfast has arrived - consumption. As I devour the stack of scrumptious pancakes, I notice that my father has a bright smile across his face; I am not the only one to savor this moment. My father truly enjoys making my breakfast. My father’s joy from even the simplest things has been the model that I have tried to apply to my life every single day.
Failure to heed my father’s lesson was disastrous in my sophomore year when I decided it would be impressive to become a cross country runner. As I was running the three-mile course, I began to realize around the second mile that I did not particularly enjoy running. In fact I hated running. This painful experience reminded me of my father’s overarching aim to enjoy what he is doing. Since then I have chosen to excel in tennis and other activities, not for the prestige or status, but simply because I enjoy them.
My father completes the tradition of preparing breakfast by soaking the dirty pans in the sink. As he does, I think of how fortunate I am. Some people only have one meaningful event in their lives, but I have one every single morning.
Why This Essay Succeeded…
Since this is my (Gen’s) essay I’d like to give you a behind-the-scenes look at how and why I wrote it.
To find an original idea is not always easy. I spent several days just listing topic possibilities. On my list I wrote my father’s name since he was very influential. Under his name I outlined admirable qualities one of which was that he made me breakfast each morning. When I zeroed in on that aspect I realized how much care he put into my favorite—banana pancakes. Although I continued to brainstorm every time I looked at the list this one aspect - banana pancakes - kept drawing my attention.
That’s when I began to write. I am not a naturally good writer. It takes me many, many re-writes to be able to express on paper what is in my mind. I probably wrote this essay more than a dozen times. Each time it got a little better and more focused. When I thought it was just about perfect I shared with two of my favorite English teachers.
When I got back their comments I thought a bottle of red ink had exploded. Most importantly, they had the perspective of a first time reader. I was so close to the story that I didn’t realize there were sections that needed more explanation or transitions that weren’t smooth. This feedback was critical and I went through an additional half dozen re-writes.
It took about a month from the time I started brainstorming to the day I had a finished essay in hand. It really helped to be able to let the essay ferment. There were days that I thought it was perfect, only to re-read it a day later and find all sorts of problems. The best advice I have for writing an admission essay is to give yourself the time you need to discover your own masterpiece.
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