Of Fantasies and Formal Education

A student applying for admission to New York University (NYU) gave a creative answer to the question, “Are there any personal accomplishments or significant experiences you have had that helped to define you as a person?” This is what he wrote:

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 write award-winning operas. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row. I can cook 30-minute brownies in 20 minutes.

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. 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 with the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. The laws of physics do not apply to me.

I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four-course meals using only a blender and a toaster oven.

I breed prize-winning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees in 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.

(Adapted from “But I Have Not Yet Gone to College” in Still More Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks, pp. 116-117).

An impressive kid, eh? And yet, in spite of all his accomplishments (or, should I say, fantasies?), the kid was smart enough to know that he still had things to learn. That’s why he wanted to go to school.

As you think about your future, don’t underestimate the importance of formal education. As Joseph Addison once said, “Education is a companion which no misfortune can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate, no despotism can enslave. At home, a friend; abroad, an introduction; in solitude, a solace; and in society, an ornament. It chastens vice, it guides virtue, it gives at once grace and government to genius. Without it, what is man? A splendid slave, a reasoning savage.”

So stay in school. Pursue higher education. And file this article—just in case you need some ideas when filling out the admission forms. After all, it got at least one kid into NYU!

July 01, 2004 / Fresh Start