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Influence of Book – College Application Essay Sample – UNEDITED

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“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.” (Thoreau)

One evening, during Christmas vacation of my freshman year in college, when a formidable storm outside called for an evening of hot tea and heavy reading, I picked up a book that had been sitting on my desk for several weeks. On the cover, it read “Selections of the Essays: Montaigne.” On the inside, only a few circled page numbers evidenced that the book had ever been used.

I was supposed to have read Montaigne that past quarter for Honors Humanities Core, but had, instead, done no more than to skim key pages highlighted in lecture-enough to earn myself a decent grade in the course.

That was how I approached school then-with the goal of getting the highest possible grade with the least possible effort. Grades have always been, after all, very important to me. Having been unsure as to what I wanted to do in life, I figured that getting good grades would insure that once I decided on what I wanted, that that opportunity would still lie open for me. Such, then, was how I justified my attitude towards studying; it served the very practical goal of rendering myself “marketable.”

This approach to academics is not original. My parents taught me that the only way I would get anywhere in life (in the States) was through education. United States immigrants, arriving in 1975 as refugees from Vietnam, our family was forced to leave all our belongings behind. We had to make a fresh start in a foreign country. My father’s only asset was his mind-he had a college education. The first five years we were here, he worked at a sewage plant while studying on his own for the country’s engineering exam. After passing the exam, he got a job as a civil engineer at the City of Anaheim. Six years later, he was promoted to a position above that of his own boss, then,-that of Water Engineering Manager. All along, what he taught my four siblings and I was that the best thing we could do for ourselves was to study hard. Education (along with hard work), he always said, serve as the key to succeeding and to earning people’s respect in this country (which he did). I still believe him, but I have since learned that such practical ends are not the sole purpose of education.

I opened the book that evening, curious as to what I might have missed in my efforts to minimize the quarter’s workload, and found more. I found myself in the middle of Montaigne’s essay “On the Education of Children.” Emerson once wrote that “within books, the good reader finds confidences, or asides, hidden from all else and unmistakably meant for his ear. The profoundest thought or passion sleeps as if in a mind until it is discovered by an equal mind and heart.” Such was my encounter with philosophy that evening. Montaigne’s words did not claim some vacant chair inside my mind, as if at an auction, hoping to win its bid for my attention. They pounced on me, rather, drilled deep into my core, and dragged out gems I had long buried. “The first lessons in which we should steep [a student’s] mind,” I read, “must be those that regulate his behavior and his sense, that will teach him to know himself and to die well and to live well.” Montaigne’s words did not so much teach me anything new, as they reminded me of beliefs I had once held, of ideas I had previously known, but forgotten or discarded as childish and impractical.

That book, read numerous times since, served as a catalyst for both my personal and academic growth. Montaigne inspired me to stress the attainment of wisdom over the acquisition of knowledge. I used to study enough to gather the “facts” of a theory, my essays having been not much more than reports on those facts, perhaps, frosted over with a bit of commentary. I tasted ideas, chewed on them for as long as it took to take my tests, and then spit them out. They did not change me but for a brief grin at a pleasant idea or a wrinkling of the nose at a bitter one. I told myself that it would be a waste of time to try and fully absorb any of the material I was studying, much less form an opinion on it. I made a mistake, then, that I had promised myself years before never to make. I became so worried about preparing a living, that I forgot to make a life for myself. For while my grades were thriving, my mind was stagnating. I did not grow; I did not change.

I changed my major, then, from Social Science to Philosophy, so that I might “study myself more than any other subject,” to make, as Montaigne said, “that. . . my metaphysics; that . . my physics.” I wanted to learn not just for the grade, nor even for knowledge, itself-not just to impress strangers at a cocktail party or friends over coffee by being able to toss out names of ancient philosophers, or current celebrities, and their theories. I wanted, instead, to savor what was in the world-to take from books and people their views, to sample them, digest them, to make some my own, to reject others, and to store some away for further consideration. I wanted to become something more-someone better-for what I had studied, or for whom I had met.

Looking back on these past years as a philosophy major, I am only a little embarrassed at not being able to recall the name of an certain author, or the term for a specific idea. By the time I graduate, I may actually have forgotten the majority of those “facts” learned throughout my college career. This, however, does not concern me too much. To succeed externally, to mechanically be able to repeat information, is one thing, but to be able to say that you have created something internally, that you have made something more of yourself, means so much more. As Matthew Arnold wrote, “Life is not a having and a getting, but a being and becoming.” To be able to color my thoughts with others’ ideas, and yet, blend them into a pattern that is mine alone: that, to me, is the ultimate end of education.

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