My (Old) Stanford Application Essay

Dear Reader,

I remember that when I was applying to college all of the essays that I could find online were utter crap. So I went and dug up my own college application essay (circa 2007) to open-source it with the community.

I wasn’t one of those cool kids that hacked out their college application in 24 hours. I believe in working hard for the things I want in life, and the essay I’ve included below is the product of many months of work.

I hope you enjoy it.

Marty

11a: “A picture is worth a thousand words,” as the adage goes. (You’re limited to one page, however.) Sometimes a photo or picture can capture an object that you treasure, a person you admire or a place that you love; sometimes a photograph is simply your record of an experience or moment in your life. Imagine one photo or picture that you have, or would like to have, and tell us why it is meaningful to you.

A picture that is meaningful to me is that of a man riding his bicycle at the crack of dawn in China. He is sixty years old and carries a massive, overflowing pack on a bicycle that must have been built in the 50 s. As he struggles through thick traffic and acrid smog, he appears to be a beast of burden. I watch his raw sinews strain under the sheer weight of his load. As the bike squeaks, I can imagine both groans of anguish and a silent plea unnoticed by the numerous bystanders. He squints as he pedals into the rising sun, leaving behind a long shadow and an image that I will always remember.

This picture made an impression on me because I too am a cyclist. My humble bicycle is also a two-wheeled vehicle in a world of four-wheeled machines. Even though my bicycle is not as old as the one I saw in China, it is still the oldest at Palo Alto High School. The bicycle s rusting steel frame is scratched and the tape on the handlebars has long since peeled off. Every day it bears the weight of a rider, a textbook-laden backpack, and a trip up Page Mill Road. The bike is silent, but I huff enough for the two of us.

I choose to bike knowing that a car could effortlessly cover the ten miles that I travel each day. Every night after work, I arrive home sweating, exhausted, and with aching quadriceps. I do so because I enjoy the challenge of the strenuous exercise and the simple rewards of a refreshing breeze, a relaxation of mind, and the cleansing effects of an occasional rainy day. I feel proud that every mile I travel is a step toward reducing emissions, and at the top of each hill I feel the satisfaction of freedom and healthy activity.

My encounter with the old man brought my experiences into perspective. Even though the bicycles we ride are similar, we regard biking very differently. Clearly, he would never associate biking with pleasure. Unlike me, he is not pedaling by choice. He is probably not concerned with either the environment or exercise. He pedals simply to survive. If I were in his saddle, I would surely pray for divine intervention in the form of a car.

This moment made me realize how privileged my background is. But more importantly, it made me realize how much our backgrounds shape our perceptions. My view of the bicycle has been shaped largely by my upbringing in America. We associate biking with the heroic champion of cancer research, Lance Armstrong. In a country experiencing increasing concern about gas prices and global warming, we see biking as a responsible alternative to driving. However, the same bicycle that represents a means for combating global warming in America is associated with physical labor in China. In America, people will often sport custom outfits and bike for leisure, while in China people ride bicycles because they have no alternatives. It is astonishing that two people can view a common object, such as a bicycle, in completely different contexts.

I cannot help but wonder: If even our perception of a common bicycle can differ so dramatically, then how differently must we perceive more complex issues? This gives me a greater appreciation of the difficulties that must be overcome in getting people to come together to solve larger problems such as pollution, poverty, energy, and peace. I think we can never get underneath someone else s skin and think like that person. But I do believe that if we broaden our backgrounds, we can come much closer. As I deal with others, I will always keep in mind Anais Nin’s observation, We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.

 
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