This essay was accompanied by a photograph of a saddle shoe taken by the applicant during a trip to Poland.
I wore saddle shoes five days a week for nine years of my life. I started Kindergarten with the clunky leather ones that were most common and did not think much about them. By the third grade I had grown to hate my uniform and, like all my friends, tried to find the lightest, most un-saddle-shoe-like saddle shoe. I wore what I could find, plastic blue and white imitations, until the sixth grade. Then it became popular to wear the old style, clunky, black heavy, hard leather again. In the eighth grade my classmates and I signed our good-byes on our shoes, and I wore my saddle shoes home from the last day of grammar school with a heavy heart. Now I wear those saddle shoes as a fashion statement, but they serve more as a gentle reminder of old school friends the years have left behind.
The shoe in this picture is not mine. When I took this shot, however, it certainly felt like it belonged to me. During the spring of my sophomore year, I spent a week in Poland visiting concentration camps followed by a week of sight-seeing in Israel. I was accompanied by seven-thousand Jewish students, Rabbis, teachers, and Holocaust survivors from all over the world. Together we made up “The March of the Living,” an annual program run by the Bureau of Jewish Education in which students from around the world meet in Poland and Israel to witness Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israeli Independence Day.
On my final day in Poland I entered the gates of Majdonek concentration camp, only a few hours away from the village where my grandparents had lived. I took this picture there, at the back of an old barrack that has been converted into a museum. I thought of my family then, my heritage and beliefs. I realized that for nine years a shoe had identified who I was, and now I was barefoot. I was only what my past had made me, and over fifty years ago another girl had a similar definition. This tie came not just because of our shoes, but because of our religion and our love for it.
Years ago a girl wore that saddle shoe to school. She marveled at its heavy weight and saw her friends walking in matching pairs. Unfortunately, looking at the bright white leather amid the faded brown of loafers, heels, and lace-ups, I knew that girl’s fate all too well. They had taken those shoes from her. They had taken her. And I was thankful to have my own pair waiting in my closet across the world; thankful for my family, their love, and our tradition.
The applicant begins with an engaging opening line (“I wore saddle shoes five days a week for nine years of my life.) and maintains suspense throughout the introduction. She uses vivid details (“plastic blue and white imitations,” “clunky, black heavy, hard leather”) to describe the shoes, concurrently relating some personal tidbits of information.
She keeps the reader’s attention by not giving away the context of her essay until the second paragraph: “During the spring of my sophomore year, I spent a week in Poland visiting concentration camps followed by a week of sight-seeing in Israel.” Instead of a general exposition about the Holocaust, this writer quickly personalizes the issue: “On my final day in Poland I entered the gates of Majdonek concentration camp, only a few hours away from the village where my grandparents had lived.” She displays a mature nature and ability to empathize with a victim at the camp through the bond of a shoe that she photographs. The reader is taken on a vivid journey and learns a lot about this applicant. The ending is emotional and powerful, creating a lasting impression in the reader’s mind: “They had taken those shoes from her. They had taken her. And I was thankful to have my own pair waiting in my closet across the world; thankful for my family, their love, and our tradition.”