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St. John’s College Entrance Essay

Final Draft

1. Explain in detail why you wish to attend St. John’s College; please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your formal education to date.

    What do I really, really, really want? I want to be with a wandering focus, to concentrate on what intrigues me; but when it bores me I want to be free to explore tangents. I want to live deliberately without obligation. I want intellectual stimulation, direction and work, but also the freedom to change directions and alter my work as necessary. I want to observe the world, absorb the world and be the world; to see everything, appreciate everything and bask in the commonality and greatness of all things. I want love. I want freedom. I want the intangible to be made actual. I want respect from all who I know and veneration from no one. I want to get out of the rat race. St. John’s offers a way of life that at first glance seems atypical, but upon further examination becomes necessary for the mind and heart. I have chosen St. John’s after much careful thought and reflection. I cherish an uncluttered existence filled with peaceful hours, unfettered silence, waves of contentment and the pacifying of my desire to learn and think great thoughts..  I want to lose my ego and keep my confidence. I want to see the earth with my eyes and the world with my mind. I want to enjoy luxury without guilt and face minimalism with contentment. I want to live without want, according to my needs...following in the steps of the great thinkers, mentored by them centuries after their demise.
    I want an education that helps me move towards this holistic approach of understanding. When I was younger I saw colleges and universities as places where Einsteins and Descartes brushed elbows as they published new philosophies or split a few atoms before lunch. A world where all time was spent in the amusing or exciting state of productive enquiry. I enjoy so much what others would call ‘work’, learning about those who have contributed to making advancements in humanity, while they hardly realized it. I want to attend St. John’s so that I can learn how I truly wish to learn.
    My formal education has been tied in with high school guidance counselors and relatives demanding to know what would become of me after high school, or even after college. When given the response of a shoulder shrug from an impressionable high school freshman, it was inevitable that words of advice and direction would suddenly erupt. I’d hear tales of ‘where the money is’, what career would ‘be noblest’, or what jobs will lead to ‘the good life.’ For me, the image of post high school education quickly changed from a ‘learning utopia’ to a ‘launch pad’ into the world of capitalism. No longer were great minds enjoying their work in a heightened awareness of productive study, now such potential minds were driven by deadlines, promotions, prestige and the need to compete. This is what my education has directed me towards; post secondary career preparation.
    I see learning brushed aside in the frenzied competition about grades and scores, both of which are standardized, regulated and emphasized. The greatest weakness of my formal education has been its need to adhere to a strict flat and pragmatic curriculum. It seems at every level some faculty member is reporting to another and teachers feel their jobs are in jeopardy if they veer far off the path of the carefully plotted academic schedule set forth by their superiors. I’m not going to claim that teachers don’t have a passion for their work, indeed I’d be inclined to argue the opposite for the majority of instructors I’ve had. However, the standard system of education isn’t conducive to passionate learning and teaching. A teacher can have his/her job in the balance dependent upon what percentage of his/her students know arbitrary facts or equations presented to them on a standardized test. That alone is enough to make a teacher of any subject divert from a particular area of study that is most engaging to both the student and teacher, to one that must be covered due to mandatory tests and set curriculums over which the teacher has no control or discretion.
    I find that this managerial aspect of formal education is political and creates a dry, arid and tepid learning environment that produces little authentic student enthusiasm. Of course, the society doesn’t build schools for its young simply for their enjoyment and enlightenment. It’s there to provide a stable ground so the values of a democracy can function (as well as promote materialism through the economy). Students are reduced to citizens and capitalists. Teachers are reduced to drill sergeants. Learning is reduced to training. What’s the mind to do...stagnate?
    Of course, the great counter-argument to this constitutes the greatest strength of my formal education to date: balance. Thanks to set curricula and mandatory tests I now have a basic knowledge of every subject that a perceptive group of state bureaucrats have decided are important for me to have basic knowledge of . I’ve been exposed to most major branches from which education stems. I know the roots.
    Another strength of my education is its promulgation of rules and regulations  As much as I loathe bureaucracy, it is a big part of a democratic government and large corporate operations. It benefits us all by preventing corruption from unscrupulous individuals prepared to take advantage.  In many ways the education system prepares us to endure such red-tape. We must fill out special forms whenever we have a request and have them sent to the correct administrators. We deal with delays and people who seem to do everything in their power to stop us with no apparent reason behind their actions other than ‘It’s policy’. Reports, requests and dealing with authority is all part of the governmental process that we must live under. While big bureaucratic monoliths don’t make learning easier, they do require one to learn to adhere, comply and understand the running of our nation and capitalistic America.
    While I can appreciate that we must learn to deal with administrative demands, for me it’s now time for higher education. I need an education that prepares and assists me in the development of my abilities to understand, comprehend and function in my world, a level of education that need not deal with basics anymore, but rather, specializations, self-discovery, abstract ideas and interconnections.
    St. John’s philosophy exemplifies the ideal I’ve envisioned for what education ought to be. I don’t want to get caught up with my GPA. I don’t want to be concerned about class rank. I want to focus on learning with others and alone and on my own enlightenment. St. John’s practice of encouraging students to lead the way will encourage me to thrive and grow.
    What I like most about St. John’s College is its philosophy of education in creating an environment where students learning is authentic and undepartmentalized. Connections between subjects and texts are made without restriction. My education, to date, has not to any significant degree satisfied my intellectual curiosity.  It has not engaged me to the depth and extent that I desire. St. John’s approach will help to quench my thirst not only for knowledge, but for understanding. St. John’s, more than any other school, will help me to get what I really, really, really need.

2. Respond to both parts: (a) Describe your reading habits and your experience with books. (b) Choose some book that has been important in shaping your thoughts and discuss a single aspect of it (not the book as a whole) that is particularly significant to you.

    I read eclectically and sporadically. I can go weeks with mere newspapers. Then there are weekends that I’ll read five books in forty eight hours. I rarely check books out of the library. Rather, I borrow them indefinitely from friends, or purchase them on impulse at the book store that I so often frequent.
 Since I’ve entered high school I find myself to be a fan of non-fiction works. I’m particularly engrossed by cleverly written essays and works by witty individuals in the scientific, philosophical and religious realms. I enjoy authors who can get across ideas in an intriguing fashion that reveals lots about both them and even more about their subjects.
    I am flexible, though.. There is nothing quite like a well-written book of fiction that uses metaphors and symbolic characters to get across profound abstractions in an indirect, yet concrete and compelling way. One of my favorite pieces of fiction is The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. The book has several layers of meaning and varying metaphoric symbols. What I enjoyed most, however, was the main character, Howard Roark, an individual who came alive for me and who I venerate for his convictions. Ayn Rand created the character of Roark as a non-conformist working in the field of architecture. Roark created buildings that were designed to be lived in and were the epitome of utilitarian offices and homes with a unique visual beauty about them that was seen, by the more traditional community of architects as ugly, egotistical and merely different for the sake of being different. Roark knew better. His designs were perfectly built for the clients who ordered them and their lives would be easier within them.
    What separates Roark from all other non-conformist characters in stories is that he feels no desire to explain his work to anyone. He is an individualist who doesn’t want to ’belong’ to the ‘good boy’ collective. He incarnates Rands objectivist philosophy. He is not swayed from his position by anyone and he is never venerated for his work. He doesn’t feel the need to take credit for what he has done, the satisfaction of doing it and knowing, in his own mind, that he did it was enough. Most certainly he will never try to convince anyone that his work is either better or worse. He creates and waits complacently for others to share in his genius.
    When thinking of similar non-conformists in history Socrates stands out in my mind. As portrayed in The Apology, he was an uncompromising individualist in his principles and absolutely refused to buckle to others or change his beliefs at all, without exception, just like Roark. Roark was never put in the position of choosing death or principles like Socrates was only fame and/or acceptance if he‘d compromise. At his trial Socrates said, “...a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong.” I can’t say I agree completely to the letter with Socrates but both these men had priorities and lived for themselves, not for their images or expediency, and I respect that immensely.

3. Select some experience from which you have derived exceptional benefit and describe it, explaining its value to you.

    Unusual jobs and experiences appeal to me, yet in many ways I am not as typical a teen as some might think. To finance my newly acquired T-Bird, pay for gas and, especially, for my car insurance I had gotten a job as a marionette manipulation artist at a local puppet theater. After the first few paychecks I realized my job wasn’t going to foot the bill, so...I had a decision to make, quit the job I so loved or work a second job...or create a job for myself. I chose the latter.
    Since I can type 130 words per minute I decided I’d attempt to put that skill to use by creating a website that slow-typing individuals could use to submit picture files of hand-written papers and I would convert them to electronic text format based on a per-page fee. So I spent a few sleepless nights building a website, promoting it and beginning the business. It was slow going to begin with. Orders came in on occasion, but then one day I received an order that would change the course of my life for the next six months to a year. A customer had submitted a hand-written paper in Mandarin. There was no way I could type in any language other than English and have it be worth my while, but it got me to thinking about a new business I could start: A translation company.
    In January of 2000 I began working. I spent a couple weeks of sleepless nights building a website, promoting the business and lining up independently contracted translators. The new business idea was simple. I’d find individuals who could translate languages and put them in a database on my computer. Then I’d advertise on my company website the service of translating a large number of languages. At the peak my business could handle over 250 different language translations. When an order came in I would receive several documents with instructions on what language to translate it to. Then I would simply locate in my database available translators and send it out to the appropriate one. Upon delivery of the translated document to the client I would receive payment and give a percentage of the sale to the translator who did the work.
    This business thrived for several months. I made a substantial income without doing much work at all other than forwarding documents and processing payments. The income paid for my car, gas, as well as any new toys I felt I needed (and I even had some left over for savings). Finally, however, translation software came along. I began to lose business to software packages sold by various companies that allowed my former clients to do their own, almost perfect, grammatically correct, translations using software which they only had to pay a one time fee for and could use as many times as they needed. In the summer of 2000 my company was not getting enough business to justify keeping the website up and I unfortunately had to close it. Although it was a short-lived life of only six months, this business was far from a failure.
    This experience changed my perceptions about things. It has made me realize that I do not necessarily need to depend on others for money; whenever I need cash all I need is a clever idea, perseverance and a little luck. It’s changed my outlook on my college aspirations as well. I don’t feel the need to go after a career-oriented major or field of study because I already have the experience, confidence and “know-how” to make a living. With the knowledge I gained through this experience I feel completely assured that wherever I am I can always at least “get by” and I never have to feel “tied-down” to any one job or career because of fiscal issues. I’m freed of a burden. This self-realization has allowed me to pursue college with an attitude focusing on an education for me, not for my career.

4. If you wish, provide the Admissions Committee with any additional information that you think is relevant to our consideration of your application. You may wish to discuss your health or family situation, your special talents or hobbies, your religious life, your accomplishments, or your post-college plans.

    My name is Michael W. Hills the first. I’ve grown up in a not so big town just outside of everywhere, across from what I’m told is the “second most-climbed mountain in the world“. In this cul-de-sac of the universe I’ve managed to develop some talents, hobbies, mannerisms and some not-so-ordinary abilities that I’d like to brag about for a moment.
    I have an ability that few humans possess. It’s an inborn talent, not something that can be easily learned: Chin-balancing, I’ve been able to do it for as long as I can remember. I’m sure you’ve seen this on television, at the circus or at any other venue where people with freakishly odd talents congregate. I can balance almost anything on my chin. So far I’ve done such things as ladders, kayaks, chairs, flags, a large array of musical instruments and desks: Who knows what the future holds for my chin?
    Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “What a useless ability.” Well, allow me to expand upon the subject. One day, in the spring of ‘99, I was walking around a local amusement park with a friend. We were talking and, in passing, I mentioned my ability to chin balance. She didn’t know what I was talking about. There I was, talking to a good friend of mine of at least three years, and she’d never witnessed this unique talent I possess. I was shocked and determined to show off immediately. So I scoured the grounds, found a folding chair, and proceeded to balance it upon my face. My friend was thoroughly impressed as was the park manager who happened to be walking by at the moment. The manager happened to be heading the entertainment department and offered me a job on the spot. I spent the rest of the summer doing stage shows with some other very talented individuals, I enjoyed it immensely.
    After the season at Whalom Park ended I was hired by an associate I met through the entertainment job. For the past two years I’ve been performing marionette shows at the largest marionette theater in New England, Drawbridge Puppet Theater. I learned the trade over a few months and have since become a dedicated artist of puppetry.
    I took up the guitar in 9th grade. Formal lessons were in the weekly schedule for a little over a year, then I had enough under my belt to learn on my own. I joined a band, played shows around the region for two years. We cut an album and had some fun. I eventually left the band because they were going in a musical direction that I wasn’t following. I wanted to explore the acoustic guitar more than the electric. That wasn’t in the band’s game plan, so I left. They’re still thriving and playing as loud as ever. Through the years I’ve also developed the ability to play the drums, piano, harmonica and trumpet.
 Now, there are so many other things I could talk about, but I wouldn't want to bore. So I’ll just sum it all up. I can drive like an Indy racer,  swim like an Olympian and speak like a scientist. I’ve read War and Peace, run a mile in under four and a half minutes, and once baked a two tier pastry. I banish away peoples stress with my classical guitar pieces, save old ladies from the perils of street-crossing, assist stray dogs, and maintain excellent dental hygiene. I promote world peace during my free afternoons and always turn off the lights when I leave the room. I eat dessert first, my tires are rotated every three thousand miles and I once held my breath for six and a half minutes. I love great books and intend to read the entire Western Canon.

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