Where Am I Wearing College Essays

Shanti KumarBronx
Essay Written for Princeton University

I wonder if Princeton should be poorer.

A New York Times article geared towards helping Americans slice their end-of-year charitable pie quoted Peter Singer, a Princeton Professor of Bioethics, saying that, “The marginal difference my dollar can make to an organization that already has a large endowment is not as great as one given to an organization that helps people who have almost nothing.” The article went on to explain how Singer donates absolutely nothing to Princeton and has talked other alumni into giving less. In fact, he questioned the morality of donating to any institution, church, or cultural activity that did not directly serve the desperately poor, particularly those in “faraway places.” Singer is calling for the newly added words of “Princeton in the service of all nations” to be put into action -- and I would like to help.

I sat at the breakfast table in my pajamas wondering how many of Princeton’s donors read that article. If these alumni take this professor’s words to heart, Princeton may see a decline in their annual donations’ yield -- unless Princeton decides to channel its money towards the causes that the school’s leadership implied when they expanded Princeton’s service to all nations. Prof. Singer condones and even promotes this shift in assets, making him a unique and different voice in a multibillion-dollar institution.

‘Different’ is what I have searched for my whole life. In particular, a different way of thinking. I never understood why I was the only one whose hand shot up in history class when the teacher asked a broad question about Africa, but when she asked us to name the 15th century Queen of Spain, hands waved around me like tree branches twisting furiously in the wind. This blindness to everything non-Western continued outside of the classroom. No one ever talked about the things outside of their occidental bubble – the bubble of the comfortable, warm, well-fed Occident. It wasn’t even a bubble; it was an opaque, porcelain snow globe. On the bus ride to school my friends lamented that the city might take away our free student Metrocards, blind to the fact that other kids didn’t have schools to walk to. Were we selfish to demand our Metrocards? No. Were we unaware of our relative global status? Incomprehensibly yes.

It is my belief that a different way of thinking is budding at Princeton. I want to breathe it, taste it, engulf it, make it my own, and use it for the purpose of spreading it. How can we privileged people hope to aid the formation of global solutions if our thinking is limited to the 1136-by-640-pixel screens of our smart phones? If our thinking is not global in scope, our dreams and solutions will remain capped.

I have a cousin and a dream.

In this dream, my cousin and I are sisters across the sea, she in the waves of heat over northern India and I on the banks of the Hudson River. She is sharp, cheeky, and much better at cooking than I am. When we were young, she found great joy in getting her slender brown fingers caught in the knots of my chestnut curls, never knowing how much I envied the glossy black shawl that cascaded from her scalp to her shoulders.

In this dream, she has a life and a name.

In reality, she died when she was six months old, a half a world away, about a year before I was born.

To this day, no one has told me her name.

My cousin died of a digestive tract abnormality, a birth defect that would have been easily diagnosed and treated with surgery had she been born in midtown Manhattan like I was. In the throes of dusty hospitals equipped with obsolete instruments, however, her defect was overlooked and she died a slow death of starvation. If I had known her, I would have promised her one thing: to do everything in my power to bring health, justice, and empowerment to the marginalized people of the developing world.

I believe that global inequality is rooted in the ideas that are taught in schools and portrayed by the media in everything from talk shows to textbooks. Most people are afraid to peek through the cracks in their snow globe and see what exists beyond their merry blizzard. I will not be the doctor who saves the next dying child, nor will I be the engineer who maximizes solar energy harvesting with cheap materials, but I can be the writer who makes the voices of the underrepresented heard. I want to unfurl the idea that change emerges from empowered people who can demand their rights, and that it is augmented by people who believe that accidents of geography should not impede these rights. I dream that my life’s work and writing may stimulate and chronicle the development of a more just and equal world.

In terms of this cause, one of the best uses of Princeton’s money is the international Bridge Year Program. According to Singer, “The only way to justify giving something to educational institutions that are relatively well off is if they produce people and knowledge that will help solve the world’s problems.” This is one manifestation of Princeton’s role in the service of all nations that is worth every cent. These cents won’t be going towards towering turrets and terrific tennis players, but rather towards increments of global consciousness.

Value lies in how money is used, not the power that it fosters while lying in accounts. Could more of this money be used to expand the global consciousness of Princeton’s student body, which in effect will change the mindset of some of the world’s most powerful future leaders? If you agree that the use of Princeton’s endowment could change to unlock the potential of its service to the world, please take a fiscal chance and accept me to Princeton University.

(Ms. Kumar will be attending Cornell.)

It seems that Hugh Gallagher wrote this for a national writing contest, and that an Urban Legend has since arisen that he wrote it as an actual application essay.

18 June 1998, update. Hugh Gallagher emailed me(!), and said: "I was happy to see my college essay on your site (by the the way, I did send it to colleges)". So that's that Urban Legend laid to rest, then? He also said "... and my first novel, Teeth, was published by Pocket Books this Spring. ... It's a coming of age tale about a guy with really messed up teeth, who goes travelling around the world instead of fixing his mouth." If it's told with anything like the style and wit of what follows, it should be great!


I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row.

I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.

Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I'm bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.

I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don't perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured New Jersey with a traveling centrifugal-force demonstration. I bat 400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.

I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations for the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me.

I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four course meals using only a mouli and a toaster oven. I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis.

But I have not yet gone to college.

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