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Supplemental Essays: Amherst and Duke

Supplemental Essays: Amherst and Duke
Write for the Future essayists Anton Kliot (left) and Calvin Thompson (right)

Write for the Future essayists Anton Kliot (left) and Calvin Thompson (right)

Amherst Supplemental Essays

By Anton Kliot

Amherst gave applicants the opportunity to respond to a quotation in an essay of not more than 300 words. The instructions stated, “It is not necessary to research, read, or refer to the texts from which these quotations are taken; we are looking for original, personal responses to these short excerpts. Remember that your essay should be personal in nature and not simply an argumentative essay.”

Anton chose the following quote: “Rigorous reasoning is crucial in mathematics, and insight plays an important secondary role these days. In the natural sciences, I would say that the order of these two virtues is reversed. Rigor is, of course, very important. But the most important value is insight—insight into the workings of the world. It may be because there is another guarantor of correctness in the sciences, namely, the empirical evidence from observation and experiments.”

Kannan Jagannathan, Professor of Physics, Amherst College

Sitting in the shade of a tree in Central Park with two close friends, I absentmindedly pick up a fallen leaf and begin crumpling it in my hands. With that, a seed begins to form in my mind. As I look at the tree overhead, I think of the immense amount of solar energy necessary to its growth—yet this leaf could disintegrate into debris with little energy input.

I look up at a crumbling, pre-war building a hundred meters away. Hours, days, months, even, of manual labor and tons of fossil fuels had gone into its construction; yet it would take only time and the persuasion of the elements to break down into dust. This, I realize, is free energy in action. To build things, natural or man-made, to move from chaos towards structure, requires energy. However, it is the tendency of the world–the universe even—to regress towards disorder.

When my professor initially taught the concept of free energy, I was perplexed. I vaguely understood that entropy stood for chaos, and enthalpy for energy, but beyond that I was stumped. What were these values? And why did they determine the spontaneity of reactions? I learned the equations provided, and how to tackle basic problems, but without grasping entropy’s role in the reactions of the world around me I found true understanding of the concept elusive.

The power of insight lives in its ability to grow outside of the normative places where we expect to foster revelations, such as classes and labs. Ultimately, it was that day in the park, as much as any classroom experience, that  bolstered my understanding. My passion for chemistry comes not from solving equations, but from the insight into the workings of the world I have gained, both in and out of the lab.

Duke Supplemental Essays

By Calvin Thompson

1.) Please discuss why you consider Duke a good match for you. Is there something in particular at Duke that attracts you? (Please limit your response to no more than 150 words.)

I love many things, but learning and sports top the list. The moment I stepped onto Duke’s campus, I leaned over to my mother, gasping, and said, “Whoa,” even before beginning my tour. I was stunned to immediately see signs of my loves everywhere. My dreams of tenting in K-Ville for the annual Duke-UNC game almost made my mouth water. As for learning, the cross-disciplinary study options that Duke offers ignite my passions. I have always loved business, and as I have aged, I discovered a deep interest in education. At Duke, I saw the opportunity to combine these two interests in many ways. I would love to initiate lunches with Professor Elizabeth Garcia, whose work focuses on educational motivation, and Mark T. Brown, Director of the Management Communications Center. Exploring commonalities in business and educational spheres would be uplifting, and will engage all of my most profound interests.

2.) Please discuss one of your extracurricular activities that has required a particularly significant time commitment or that has played a meaningful role in your personal development. (Please limit your response to no more than 150 words.)

I struggled academically in middle school. So, in my sophomore year of high school, I started a tutoring program for 6-8th grade African-American and Latino students, who, like me at their age, were experiencing difficulties in school. I noticed at the high school level, I was among a tiny number of students of color taking honors and advanced classes. However, this problem  clearly started earlier. To solve it, I thought about what I wished I had in middle school: privacy and attention. I provided this so my students could receive help without feeling like they were “idiots” compared to their peers. Since beginning the program, I have tutored the same kids for 3 years. All my students have improved their grades and are on track for honors level classes in high school. Watching them work hard and succeed has been the most gratifying experience of my life thus far.

The Courtroom Comeback

The Courtroom Comeback

by Calvin Thompson

10525096_10152156810062413_940766063_nI had always been at home with a podium in my hands, the crowd hanging on my every word. I never feared speaking in front of people until one sobering moment last year. I waltzed into Newton North High School one winter day to deliver the opening statement against my rival high school’s mock trial team, and I choked. The sweat started to collect above my lips; I could almost taste fear. My face was glazed in a salt water sheen. For the life of me, I could not utter one sentence, except  “I’m sorry…I, I can’t do this…I, I uh, need to go.”  Not the best start for my first mock trial season.

My confidence hung around my ankles as I waddled out of the room. For two weeks, I questioned my answers on tests and I missed tackles in football. Even more difficult was facing my mock trial teammates. Failure was nothing new to me on the football field, but it confounded me in the courtroom because performance took on an entirely different form there. In football there is always another teammate on the field. Yet, I had to be almost entirely self-reliant in mock trial, which introduced the concept of team in a new and disorienting way.

In the past, no matter the context, a voice was never something I lacked. At eleven, I started my own Betty Crocker empire; baking then biking around the neighborhood using the gift of gab to sell my creations. Then in 8th grade, my history class faced a crisis: students completed less than 50% of the homework. At wits’ end, our teacher demanded to know why. I stood up and told her we felt disrespected. I suggested she encourage, not berate us. Immediately, she changed her teaching style. At graduation, she awarded me an Obama bobblehead as the “student most likely to occupy the White House.”

I was confounded and frustrated and it took two weeks for the sense of failure to begin to fade; only a conversation with my grandmother and the prospect of our next match roused me from my stupor. Grams reminded me that life is, in itself, a hail mary, and that feeling bad for myself and neglecting preparation would not help me score. She lost her house to a flood in 2002, and without hesitation my parents offered her a spot in our home. As a 6 year old, I could not possibly imagine what that would mean for my life, but as a 17 year old, I am beginning to understand. Inspired by her, I relentlessly prepared for my next trial. I incessantly read the witness affidavits about the murder case we were to try, and convened with my teammates to go over the most crucial information. After hours and hours of practicing and reviewing the case, I was ready to rectify my failure. Weeks after my collapse at the podium, I stepped backed into the courtroom prepared, though not overconfident as I had been before.

When called to open our case, I rose, and began to speak, knowing every contour of my address and our team’s case like the back of my hand. The words slid off my tongue effortlessly. I saw my coach in the back of the room pumping his fist in the air–a courtroom touchdown dance. I received the highest individual score of anyone in the whole match. Our team received the highest pointage in school history for a mock trial match.

My failure exposed weaknesses and my success demonstrated the necessity of preparation. I am grateful that Grams was there to witness them both. She passed on July 16, 2013, and while I wish I could ask her a million questions all over again, I will settle for the knowledge she bestowed unto me: rehearse tirelessly and adjust, since failure can strike the unprepared regardless of a strong past.

Calvin Thompson, a 2014 graduate of Brookline High School, will be a freshman at Duke in the fall.

The Answers Always Lead To New Questions

The Answers Always Lead To New Questions

by Justin Sapp

2014-05-30-IMG_0010“Justin, come down for breakfast.”

I hated my brother’s impersonation of Mom’s morning screech. He seemed to think he was the third parent. Moreover, I’ve never even liked breakfast and, no matter how fast I rushed downstairs, my baby sister would get the first plate.

Yet I loved my morning routine once I pushed my brother’s voice out of my mind, and a series of questions easily awakened me to the excitement of the day: Why am I never hungry in the morning? Why doesn’t my esophagus function early? Why could I barely pull myself out of bed with arms and legs that didn’t listen to me? Why did my date of birth determine my familial role? What made my parents behave differently towards each one of us? What goes on in the human brain to trigger parental preferences?

I am a student with a passion for finding answers tied to mysteries of the brain and body. Raising questions is never enough and merely ignites my journey to explore the complexity of different organs and tasks they fulfill. I am consumed with studying the breakdown of cells and organelles performing different functions. A simple question asked about breakfast or birth order stirs my curiosity in the factory we all have inside. As I learn different reasons for my biological processes, the explanations draw me in like a yo-yo–always wanting to come back to learn more.

The search for answers is challenging. In AP Biology this semester, I was assigned to take on what seemed like an easy question in a lab: How do temperatures impact cellular respiration? I recorded a lot of data during my lab period, but none of it made sense and my lab partners gave up at the end of the period. However I spent that night combing over books tied to the question and the ways we recorded data from the experiments. I was the first person at school the next day to get into the labs, waiting for the security guard to open the doors. “A little too early today!” he said.

After several experiments before class, I discovered how cold temperatures hinder the rate of cell respiration. From labs to my life, so many other questions send me on the mission to discover. I had signed up for the chemistry and psychology clubs as a freshman. Why did I not go initially? This answer was simple: None of my friends would go and I didn’t want to go alone. Again: Why? I would discover that the answer was entangled in a question that had been with me since elementary school and was becoming more pressing: How does the guy who was the short and scrawny kid prevent friends from manhandling him? I laughed off the friendly punches for years. By freshman year, I was tired of it. What could end it? I heard wrestling would make me “brawlic.” I tried wrestling for a year and fell in love with a new set of questions it raised: What was wrestling’s impact on my body? The soreness in my muscles was worse than breakfast calls. I raced to science journals online and books to learn how chemical irritants were interacting with my pain receptors.

I became more confident to stand up for myself and to join clubs without friends. During sophomore year, I gave up wrestling to devote more time for activities related to my interests in science, joining the psychology and chemistry clubs.

I now spring out of bed every morning ready for experiments in chemistry club meetings at 7:10. My mom has stopped making breakfast for me, yet there are still many questions stirring my mornings, making me feel like a yo-yo, always coming back for new discoveries. Except unlike a yo-yo, progress comes with entanglement, especially when I am wrapped up in a biological question.

Justin Sapp will be a freshman at Duke University in the Fall and is a member of the Class of 2014 at Oak Park and River Forest High School in Oak Park, Illinois