It was early May, and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom as the sun shimmered between the passing clouds. Except for a mandatory essay assignment about one of the sights, it was a perfect day for a visit to the nation’s capital. What I had not anticipated was a sleek, black memorial that angled out from the side of a hill. Gazing at the stark granite and the infinite list of names, I could not imagine choosing another sight to write about. So much emotion existed there. I simply had to transcribe those intangible feelings onto paper.
I wasn’t very surprised to be included as one of the finalists in the “Best D.C. Essay Contest.” I was, however, shocked to win first place in the eighth-grade division. The essay was then passed along to the President of the local VFW post, which was sponsoring a Memorial Day essay contest. Here, too, I won in the eighth-grade division. The awards were purely worldly items: a year’s supply of Coca-Cola, a $25 check, and the chance to ride on a float in the City of Greensburg parade.
At the end of the parade, a ceremony followed. I stood up, walked over to the podium, and began:
“A young child rubs off the name of a grandfather seen only in photographs…”
I looked up and saw all the eyes on me. The nervous feelings that traveled with me from my seat to the podium were now long gone. The words I had written flowed easily from my mouth. I wanted everyone, even those who had never seen the Memorial, to feel the same sentiments that I had felt. I don’t remember people clapping after I finished reading my essay. Maybe they were too moved to make a motion; maybe I was too moved to hear them.
As my family and I were walking back to our car, the VFW President stopped me. He told me that he had served in Vietnam and that some of his friends’ names appeared on that wall. He was one of the contest judges, and he had found it difficult to complete reading my composition from behind his tears. He had to give it to his wife to finish. When he concluded his story I replied, “Thank you,” but I was completely dumbfounded as to what to say. The idea that he was moved by my simplistic writing made me realize that I was a writer! I had reached into someone’s internal self, touched it, and left a mark.
Reading my essay to everyone was one of the most memorable moments in my life. That day I realized something very valuable about the power of the written word—if you place the right words in the right order, you can change people’s lives! Despite my many remarks to adults that I was going to be an engineer or scientist, I knew deep down that I really wanted to continue writing. To remain satisfied, I would have to publish my writings. What good is a powerful statement if it isn’t heard or read? The answer was clear: I would become a journalist.
Sometimes I wonder where my road to the future would be leading me if that man had never approached me after my oration that day. I never would have known that someone had listened and cried because of my words. “Memories in Granite” would have been pushed into a manila folder and never have been thought of. The only time I would have even remembered the essay would have been while sipping my refreshing—and free—Coca-Cola.
Now, every time I imagine myself covering a plane crash or writing an article about some new political scandal, I think of that little essay and the lives it affected. I visualize the personal satisfaction of seeing my name in the by-line of the story thousands all over the region are reading. I can only imagine touching people’s souls, the way I did that one day Memorial Day.
This student is clearly a good writer. He establishes setting and context without doing so explicitly. By stating, “What I had not anticipated was a sleek, black memorial that angled out from the side of a hill. Gazing at the stark granite and the infinite list of names, I could not imagine choosing another sight to write about,” he allows the reader to infer that he has come face-to-face with a war memorial, a moving tribute he has chosen as the topic of his contest essay.
The second paragraph opens with a sentence that seems to indicate the student may be a bit conceited. However, he quickly follows it with a statement that relates his humble nature: “I was, however, shocked to win first place in the eighth-grade division.” The fourth paragraph succeeds in creating a vivid sense of the situation in the reader’s mind.
The applicant notes the power of the event through the statement: “He was one of the contest judges, and he had found it difficult to complete reading my composition from behind his tears. He had to give it to his wife to finish.” Focusing on how the man’s response to his essay moved the student to realize his passion for and ability in writing evinces a mature young man focused on a clear goal (“Despite my many remarks to adults that I was going to be an engineer or scientist, I knew deep down that I really wanted to continue writing.”). This is the big accomplishment—self-realization. What makes this applicant special is that he has followed up on his interest in writing, thinking about the ways in which he will use his skill in the future: “Now, every time I imagine myself covering a plane crash or writing an article about some new political scandal, I think of that little essay and the lives it affected.”