Monday, August 13, 2007

Student's Essay

Last spring, several students in my high-school composition course voluntarily entered a large nationwide essay-contest which received over 10,000 entries. One of my students has received the prestigious distinction of honorable mention — an award bestowed upon fewer than .07% of the entries. That student's essay is reproduced below, without the title (A clever one!) so as to protect the student's identity:

Have you ever battled for your life alongside a Musketeer? Have you ever watched in agony as your best friend was executed on the guillotine? Have you ever fallen in love with a handsome sea captain only to have him arrested and sentenced to prison for twenty years?

I have. I have visited exotic places, crossed swords with masters, almost drowned trying to escape from a sinking ship, and traveled as far as my imagination could possibly take me.

A cynic might say, “That’s impossible. You weren’t alive then, and you can’t travel back in time.”

But I have traveled back in time and to imaginary places, too. I have met my ancestors, trailed murderers with Sherlock Holmes, and raced for my life from hungry, genetically created velociraptors – all through paper pages bound in cardboard.

I was five years old when my mother taught me to read. At the moment when I looked at the black marks on the page and they transformed into words, I entered into a world full of fabulous places and colorful people. I have traveled to Troy with Odysseus, to England with Hercule Poirot, and to France during the Reign of Terror with Sydney Carton. Every time I open a book, I use my imagination and passion for reading to transport myself into the story.

When I was young, my mother read to me constantly and, in that way, kindled my passion for books. She read each book out loud to me, progressing by several chapters a day. Each time we finished a cliff-hanger chapter, I begged her to read just a tiny bit more. Little did I know that Mom, to ensure my attention the next day, intentionally stopped at those cliff-hanger endings. In those early years, as I listened to my mother’s lilting voice, I spun webs with Charlotte, battled the White Witch with Peter and Aslan, and played with dolls in a log cabin alongside Laura and Mary.

By the time I turned eight, I was reading all day long on my own. As a result I grew impatient about waiting for Mom to finish the next chapter in our read-aloud books. Eventually I became so frustrated with her stopping after each chapter and forcing me to wait for the next day that I begged to take the book so as to finish the story myself.

Since the time I discovered that books are a doorway to another world, I have hungered for new stories. Clearly the best place for all readers is the library. Whenever I visit there, I carry with me a giant tote bag to hold all the books I want to take home. And my family has two library cards as we occasionally go over the fifty-book limit.

Even my home illustrates my passion for books. The basement contains wall-to-wall bookshelves crowded with colorful characters from Dr. Dolittle to Dr. Frankenstein. When my father occasionally works late, a special treat in our house consists of a “reading dinner,” when my mother, brother, and I each choose books and eat alongside Jekyll and Hyde, Edmund Hillary, or Bilbo Baggins.

Because I love to read so much, fourteen-hour car trips for family vacations are no problem as I welcome the chance to visit with Atticus Finch and Jonas the Giver. The hours fly by as I read and converse with the Invisible Man and Maniac Magee.

All my life I have loved reading, not only because books have entertained me but also because they have transformed me. As a sixteen-year-old preparing for life, I am so thankful for a passion affecting every area of my life. Books have improved me in many ways: everything from acquiring a better vocabulary as I prepare for SATs to empathizing with the agony experienced by African-Americans as they endured prejudice and segregation, from learning about the dangers of scientific creativity without conscience to glimpsing how the settlers struggled to build their homes and lives as the West was won.

I am addicted to exploring the written word and can never get enough. At one point, my mother – who homeschools me – was forced to curtail my reading habits because books were interfering with my schoolwork. By forbidding me from reading until I finished my homework, however, my mother unwittingly forced me to broaden my reading horizons. At breakfast I reviewed the nutrition facts of milk and mused over the ingredients of Cheerios. While I brushed my teeth, I pondered the deep facts posted on the label of the toothpaste tube. Seeking solitude in the bathroom, I sneaked a book in with me and read until my mother realized I had disappeared for half-an-hour and I was ordered to, “Put the book down, Grace.”

Everybody from my church and soccer team joke about Grace, the bookworm, because I read in every spare minute of my time. Yet, through all the good-natured ribbing of friends and family, I have never lost my love for reading. I am addicted to books. That craving has shaped my life. When I have children, I will do my utmost to instill in them the same love of reading that my mother developed in me.

I will read to my children constantly and leave them hanging at the end of chapters during our read-aloud time. I will haunt used book stores and yard sales and library sales to make sure my home is wallpapered with wonderful reading material. And I will make sure I check the bathroom every thirty minutes during school hours. I hope to transfer this same joy of reading to my own sons and daughters because it has been such a gift to me.

And now, if you will excuse me, I must hurry away, for I hear the call of Ivanhoe. I know he will need me in his anxious search to rescue Rebecca, and I must prepare for a long journey.
—Submitted by G.R.
Congratulations on a job well done, G.R.! And in a few short weeks, we'll be back in class for another year of writing contests, regular writing-assignments, and timed essays.

Would that every student I teach love reading as much as G.R. does!


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posted by Always On Watch @ 8/13/2007 07:03:00 AM