College Sample Essay
Yale University: Accepted
My parents kept their memories in the manila envelope up in my mother's closet: black and white photos of a Thai restaurant worker courting a Malaysian nurse in England. I never saw much of those photos. Instead, I heard older memories: the story of a young girl admiring herself in the mirror while boarding a ship to Borneo, tripping on a smelly fish pail and ruining her new dress... the capers of a young boy a few hundred miles away who won a math competition and used the valuable prize quill pen as a makeshift dart.... I used to pride myself in recognizing that my parents were once children — I didn't perceive them as godlike creatures. I understood that they had human weaknesses and strengths. But while they were distinct personalities, they were never fully human, never more than Ma-Ma and Ba-Ba. It wasn't until my father fell out of love with my mother that I learned to see my parents as truly human.
This process took six years. During that time I became my mother's best friend. Yet while I was perceptive enough to recognize that she was in pain, I made the mistake of thinking that I understood her pain, and so I encouraged her to share her feelings. But even revealing and painful talk, if heard long enough, can turn into monotonous and annoying prattle. I had a friend who worked at the Flushing Amerasia Bank. He once told me that counting the thousands of crisp new bills initially gave him an incredible rush. After only two weeks at the job, he said that money was just government-certified green paper — it could give paper cuts just as easily as any other paper could. If I could dare compare my mother's feelings with green bills, I would say that her confiding pleas, even her tears, soon lost their novelty. I developed an indifference to her that was insensitive, and at the very least, disrespectful.
One afternoon I had gotten home late from track practice and my mother had been worried. I knew she would be following at my heels for a good three hours berating me, and I wouldn't be able to get any homework done. For an hour she trailed behind me, saying things I had heard before as I went from room to room gathering books and papers — then suddenly, she stepped out in front of me, forcing me to pay attention to her. I looked directly at her face, composing myself, expecting her voice to rise and my father's name to come up. But instead she pointed out the window. "Look at that."
My eyes followed her finger to the empty street seven stories below.
"Look at that. Look how he used to watch me, always seeing that I got across the street, making a fool of himself fussing over me. Standing there, watching me cross the street. Look at that! Look how he used to love me."
And seven stories below with the street lamps on, I could see it. I could see her in her British nurse's cap and him in his red waiter's vest, a younger version of Ba-Ba with an older Ba-Ba's face glued on.
"Look how he used to love me."
I could see her blushing as strangers watched him watching her safely cross the street, and him, with one hand jammed in his left pocket and the other doing a school boy's wave, standing with a stupid grin on his face. I looked back at my mother, her eyes open wide to keep the tears back. I was crying. I was crying so silently that I almost wasn't crying at all.
Until that afternoon, I had been framing my own early youth in my memory like poster shops frame those nostalgic black and white photos of children on hayrides. But the memory of that day will never fade into the fuzziness of nostalgic recollection. That was the day Li-Ting Cheung and Keong Tan came to life as lovers. I was humbled, for I have loved before but I have never been in love, and I was pained, for I could not truly share my mother's sorrow. I received that pain, finding that I had an unlimited capacity to feel for, if not with, my mother. That day brought out something in me, something that had always been there, but had never been expressed before. While my parents had become human outside of my family, I had become human inside of my family. We stood there not longer than five minutes before my tears died away — she, stronger than she had ever been, and I, never more her daughter than I was then.
While this essay is not directly about the writer, the way she writes about her parents' relationship reveals volumes about her: keen insight, sensitivity, and the ability to address her own flaws and learn from them. By honestly admitting her own limitations — her impatience with her mother and inability to fully comprehend her mother's pain — the writer becomes human to the reader. The admissions committee does not expect an incoming freshman to know everything about life; students go to college to learn, after all, and this writer's demonstrated capacity for meaningful self-evaluation here is a good indication that she will use such an opportunity well.
Just as importantly, the essay is, in short, enjoyable to read. Full of unique, vivid imagery, compelling dialogue, engaging similes, and beautifully crafted sentences, this essay captivates the reader's interest from the first sentence. By the end of the essay, one has grown attached to the characters that figure into the narrative, and is thus keenly aware of what is at stake in the various conflicts between them.