Poorly Done "Social Issue" Essay

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I hate contact paper. You know, the paper with flowery designs on one side and impossibly sticky glue on the other; the kind that pastes to the shelves in the cabinets. You'd understand my dislike—no, extreme hatred—if you've ever had to paper thirty-five shelves, twenty-eight drawers, ten boxes, and a partridge in a pear tree. Not only is it four days of back-breaking work, it is pure torture trying to make the paper cooperate. Perhaps a quick lesson on how I paper shelves would be enlightening:

(1) First, I figure out the amount of contact paper I need. Although the paper manufacturer thoughtfully placed measured intervals on the back of the paper, the carpenter "conveniently" created the shelves somewhat unevenly, measuring sixteen-point-two inches by twenty-point-three inches. Of course, now those nifty lines on the back of the contact paper have no use due to the "artistic liberty" of a carpenter who would not recognize a ruler if shown one. So what am I to do? Thinking rationally, I derive a simple equation to compute the exact quantity required. All I need to know is, oh, basic calculus.

(2) Next, I separate the paper from the backing. This is where I undergo vigorous exercise. The enterprise that produces this paper leaves a minuscule half-millimeter of space in which to jam my fingernail, in my torturous effort to separate them holding the paper between my legs, with one hand firmly gasping the actual contact paper, the other hand grabbing the backing, and by jumping up and down (in the same manner as squeezing into jeans after the holiday season), I should be able to finish that process in, oh say, ten minutes. (My record is nine minutes and forty-four seconds.)

(3) Now that the papers are finally separated, I reluctantly perform the most tedious part. This part appears to be relatively simple: I put the paper, sticky side down, on the shelf. Unfortunately, life is just not that considerate. This paper has crazy glue on the back. If it gets caught on a table top, to itself, to the door, to your hair, or to your brother, it's going to stay there. Trust me (my brother wouldn't speak to me for a week since the paper is waterproof). As for the paper on the shelf, I need to put it down exactly where I want it to be; a slight miscalculation of the eye creates a wrinkle that is permanent.

So much for enlightenment. What's my point? Well, contact paper is similar to my way of relating to people (ah-hah!). Note the similarities:

(1) First, like figuring out the amount of contact paper, I have to find the group of people I am most like. Usually, everyone is kind enough to present me with a brief overview of his or her life (a.k.a., facade) that seems perfect and evenly made. I, however, do not fit in with these "flawless" people. I have that extra three-quarter inches on my hips . . . and in my personality. I'm a little offbeat and a bit eccentric; belonging to the "norm" is calculus to me.

(2) Trying to get to know people away from the cliques that formed in middle school is vigorous exercise. These people are attached like glue to their childhood ideas, and they refuse to let go of their prehistoric rituals. In my adolescent effort to gain acceptance, I undergo various physical transformations. Hence, the squeezing myself into the too-tight jeans.

(3) Even though I think I have finally found that circle of friends, I often come upon the discovery that I have a million other obstacles to hurdle. And in the case of humans, one mistake might become an everlasting wrinkle in our relationship.
Looking back, the search for my niche has not been that horrible. Even though I have not been able to find the precise clique in which to belong, I have met a variety of people. This diversity of personalities have helped broaden my horizons and experiences. Though I have found it difficult at times, the end result of a cultured and multifaceted background has been well worth the obstacles. After all, it's the social bumps and bruises that create a distinct, mature character; social pressures have humanized me much the same way geological pressure turns coal into diamonds. So it's not surprising that I have discovered that contact paper isn't that bad—when used for the right purpose. In a recent meeting of the March of Dimes Chain Reaction Youth Council, we made grief boxes. Grief boxes are for mothers whose babies are stillborn or die during birth. The council makes the boxes and the hospital puts in the baby's birth certificate, death certificate, and a baby blanket. We made the grief parcels by taking regular shoe boxes and covering the box and lid with pretty contact paper. Then we glued white flannel around the inside, and added lace around the top with a ribbon bow. Very touching and thoughtful. For once, I was not upset about all the tedious work created by the contact paper. I was really glad that I would be able to make a grieving mother's day a little brighter. Maybe I don't hate contact paper. Maybe I just thought I did.

Comments

This essay's biggest problem is that most of it does not even concern a Social Issues topic. Though the thematic device the student has chosen (contact paper) shows some promise, she spends too much time discussing the banalities of papering shelves and does so in an overly negative tone ("All I need to know is, oh, basic calculus.").

Starting with such an overtly negative statement ("I hate contact paper.") is dangerous, because it can put off the reader. The applicant reinforces the negative interpretation by making the mistake of addressing the reader outright ("You know…"). Overly conversational language ("Of course," "oh say"), included even within an explicit thesis ("What's my point? Well, contact paper is similar to my way of relating to people (ah-hah!)."), is a detrimental element, particularly when followed by a demand ("Note the similarities:"). The student even resorts to clichéd language ("…broaden my horizons…").

The extreme length of the conclusion makes it cumbersome to read. Though the end is not bad, it cannot make up for the damage that has been done earlier—especially since most admissions officers probably have not even read this far.