Essays That Worked – TZHS Edition
Read and annotate the following essays written by former TZ students and published in TONES. For each,
consider what makes the essay work, and what an admissions officer might learn about the writer from his/her
essay. Then answer the questions which follow.
by Nina Ngai (FIT)
I am a librarian.
Before accusations and stereotypes are made from this statement—please, allow me to explain.
I do not wear “Reading is fun!” pins over sweaters; nor do I own any beaded eyeglasses holders.
I am a cool librarian.
Actually, to be more exact, I am a library page. Being a page denotes generally the same status as it did in
medieval times: I am a flunky.
A servant—basically, the lowest man on the totem pole.
I just barely make it on the totem pole.
However, instead of my “master” being a glamorous knight, I follow the biddings of a stuffy, pompous
widow that always reeks of dead flowers, in other words—the quintessential librarian.
I enjoy my days as a page, stacking books, helping frazzled wives find the perfect dessert recipe for her
new in-laws (found in the 641.8 section) or locating the ideal tour book of New York for hikers (in the 917.47
section, of course).
Unfortunately, not long after my commencement as a page, I learned that I also held a second title at the
library—this one much more dreadful—Assistant Story-time and Crafts Director.
This news did not sit very well with me.
I am the youngest in my family, both the immediate and extended. It is a rarity for me to be with people
younger than myself. After one fiasco involving an adventurous seven-year-old locked in a closet, parents stopped
calling me to babysit (though I did learn to pick locks).
With this lovely story-time and crafts job, I discovered the many joys of children, like how their fingers
always feel sticky (even after you wash them), and if you give them an ounce of juice, they’ll pretend to be
Superman and jump off shelves.
But most importantly, the job taught me that, at the end of the day, it’s okay if I had to sing, “If you’re
happy and you know it, clap your hands” or if I burned myself multiple times with the hot glue gun—as long as I
made a kid happy.
It’s all worth it for that one little boy who mumbles, “Thank you, Miss Nina” before he leaves, or that little
girl who hugs me around my knees when I fix her pumpkin mask.
So, I now stand before the world with pride to say, yes, I did memorize the Dewey Decimal Classification
system and yes, I did just alphabetize your note cards, because—I am a librarian!
by Melissa Potocki (SUNY Oneonta/SUNY Geneseo)
It’s all about the nose. You see, every Potocki has the same nose, straight down the middle with a little
slope up at the end. Add in the fact that our nostrils get increasingly larger the harder we laugh and you’ve got a
Potocki. To be honest, I used to hate the fact that I was the same as the rest of my family. I wanted to be different.
It’s all about being unique in my world, and having the same nose as fifty plus people was no where near unique.
Whenever I met people at family functions, I cringed when they said, “Look at her nose! She’s a Potocki alright.” It
was more than agitating to hear this. It’s here that my usually optimistic nature took a vacation.
I often expressed my dislike of the ‘Potocki’ nose to my relatives and even threatened to get a nose job. Since I
was only in my early teens, they all just laughed at me. I didn’t understand why they were all content with being
similar or even what was so special about our boring nose! I was too stubborn to see the value and meaning that
was behind our noses.
It wasn’t until this past December that I came to terms with my common nose. After eleven years, there
was finally a new addition to the Potocki family. My older cousin Jeanine had a baby girl named Molly. As I first
held Molly, an enormous smile crossed my face. I looked up at the few family members surrounding me and said
proudly, “Look at her nose! She’s a Potocki alright.” The single phrase that once brought me substantial annoyance
was now causing an immense amount of joy.
Seeing Molly made me proud to be a Potocki. I finally saw that it’s our noses that tie us all together and make
us one. Our stubbornness rides along down the middle as our optimism slopes up at the end. And there in our ever-
expanding nostrils is the joy that grows with each new nose added to the family.
I Fall Down Hills
by Kristen DeYoung (Bucknell)
I fall down hills. The sight of a certain hill at Van Cortland Park petrifies me. When I must leap over a
fallen tree, however small it may be, my heart skips more than a few beats. Practicing hurdles during track sends
me into a frenzy.
Since the beginning of my high school running career, I have been well aware that I am one of the less
coordinated runners on the track and cross-country teams. During cross country or track practice, after someone
trips or falls, it is common to hear a teammate call out, “Hey! You pulled a Kristen!” I am infamous around the
team for tripping over air, running into walls, falling up stairs, tumbling over logs, and plummeting down hills. It
gets exceedingly embarrassing at times, especially at meets when I am surrounded by people who are not
accustomed to my clumsy ways.
One of my most humbling and scarring moments in cross-country occurred during a practice when I
toppled down a pint-size hill in Van Cortland Park. The course is a roller coaster of dusty hills, both steep and
mild, and is lined with wooden planks every couple of feet. While atop one hill with a miniscule descent, I tripped
over a wooden plank. I took a nose-dive, rolling down the hill and scuffing up my knees in the process. This may
not sound that distressing, but when you are surrounded by ten fanatical teammates, as well as countless other
runners, it is very painful, both physically and emotionally. I finished the rest of the run bleeding from both knees
and was forced to endure the ridicule of my peers, which mortified me to no end.
I was a nervous wreck for the next several meets in which we competed at Van Cortland, for fear that I
would have to endure the same humiliation all over again. My blood curdled each time I had to approach that
dauntingly monstrous hill again. Fortunately, I was careful enough during my races that I did not fall down the hill
Ironically, my clumsiness has never impeded my racing abilities. Luckily, I have never fallen during a
race. This fact is what has helped me come to terms with my lack of coordination. Now when I trip, fall, or run
into a wall, I am able to laugh it off with my teammates. In the past, I would have been mentally preoccupied for
hours with embarrassment over a klutzy moment, but now I just shake it off, often leading my teammates in their
mockery. I have even been known to take bows after several of these incidents, including an occasion when I fell
off the bleachers during a school pep rally.
My running foibles have provided my teammates with many giggles. The Tappan Zee High School cross-
country and track teams will recount tall tales of my harebrained stunts for years to come. I can only hope that my
teammates at Bucknell will also embrace my quirky inability to stay upright.
The Nathan’s Hot Dog
by Kate Steinberg (Johns Hopkins)
Essay Question: "If you could plan a day’s adventure – starting from your home and spending only around $10 (or
€8, ¥1,068, etc.) – where would you go, what would you do, and whom would you take with you?
I have always had several idiosyncrasies in relation to food. At an early age, I earned the nickname of
“mush mouse” due to my refusal to eat anything that did not contain cheese in it. According to reliable sources in
my family, I would ignore the directions on the string cheese and bite it determinedly rather than gracefully peel off
strips of mozzarella. I suspect this obsessive love of cheese ended when I was about three; my older sister stuck a
piece of macaroni and cheese up my nose to “see what would happen.” However, my mother still uses the
nickname, often pleading with me to wake up for school by begging me, “pleeeeeeaaaaaaasssseee, mush mouse.”
Another strange habit, this one most likely acquired from my mother, is a tendency to eat at odd times. As
soon as I could crawl out of my crib, I would sneak into the kitchen at all hours of the night and eat any sweets left
out on the counter. This prompted my father to adapt the song, “K-K-K-Katy,” and he would often tuck me in
singing “K-K-K-Katy, Beautiful Lady, Knocking on the K-K-K-Kitchen Door,” knowing that soon after he left, I
would have found my way to the nearest chocolate chip cookie.
These eccentricities, however, pale in comparison to the strange rituals that accompany my consumption of
a Nathan’s hot dog. To some, an adventure is a day of hang gliding, a tour of Europe, or a climb up Mt. Everest. To
me, an adventure is a Nathan’s hot dog.
I have my hot dogs with ketchup and sauerkraut; no other way is acceptable. I never take two bites of hot
dog in a row, using french fries as a buffer so that each bite tastes like new. I refuse to get more than one hot dog in
a sitting as I believe I enjoy the hot dog more if I know there is a limited quantity to consume.
I often like to read a book while I eat, which presented some logistical problems in my early relationship
with Nathan’s, as one would need three arms in order to hold a hot dog and a book at the same time. My solution
was to put my book down, folded to the current page, right before I take a bite of my hot dog, and then pick the
book up as soon as the hot dog has been put down. It has become a game to see how fast I can snatch my book back
up. I am sure that I elicit many strange stares as I play this game with fervor, believing that I can always improve
and find a faster way to juggle between book and hot dog.
Like all my other quirks, my love of hot dogs has gained the attention of my family. My grandmother is a
doting Jewish woman who delights in cooking her children and grandchildren mass quantities of their favorite
foods. Her ability to do this was greatly enhanced by the invention of the microwave and she has been enamored
with hers since 1960. When I visit her in Florida, she pulls from her freezer a package of 20 hot dogs that I suspect
has been there since before my birth. She defrosts the hot dogs for at least two minutes longer than needed, in order
to make good use of her microwave. She then throws at least five of the hot dogs in an industrial sized boiling pot. I
never have the heart to tell her that I like my hot dogs grilled, not boiled. Like a hawk, she will sit over me and wait
for my approval of the meal while “tsk”ing that I have chosen ketchup over mustard yet again. Her hot dogs are
rubbery, stale-tasting, and devoid of sauerkraut, but I can’t help appreciating her efforts, and this somehow helps
me get the hot dogs down.
Ironically, the one person who seems to completely understand my love for Nathan’s hot dogs is my
father, a vegetarian. On the occasions when he accompanies me to Nathan’s, he always gets fries before selecting a
main course from one of the other offerings of the mall food court. Sometimes, as I drape sauerkraut over my hot
dog he says with a nostalgic lilt to his voice, “I always liked my hot dogs with sauerkraut too when I was younger.”
Like his mother, however, he does not understand my affinity for ketchup.
To me, Nathan’s hot dogs are not merely 100% beef. They are woven through with the various, and often
strange, memories of my family. My unusual rituals are a reflection of my family’s eccentricities, as well as my
own. With one bite, I may see my grandmother slaving over her stove, in an effort to please me, or my father, who
always asks why I only ever get one hot dog if I like them so much. I may feel a phantom pain in my nose from my
sister’s attempts to explore my nasal canal, or my mother’s early morning voice echoing in my ear. The memories
are not always predictable, but what I can expect is that the meal will not be boring. To me at least, a Nathan’s hot
dog meal is infinitely more valuable than the five dollars and forty cents I pay every time I get one.
by Carrie Lynn (Yale)
Solarphobia; n. 1) Obsessive paranoia of the sun, 2) condition characterized by going to great lengths to
avoid sun exposure while simultaneously humiliating offspring; please see: my mother.
My mother is afraid of the sun. Over the years, her dermatologist’s vigilance has denied our family the
pleasure of certain activities that my suburbanite friends loved; namely, those that had to do with the sun (because
evidently, “The sun is evil.”) Not only did we never go to the beach, but I also spent my elementary school years
dreading field days and family picnics, for as sure as grass is green, my mom would be present in full sun-
prevention regalia. While outfitted from head to toe in shapeless, Solumbra sun protection fabric, she attracted
undeniable attention. Her hats were an object of particular magnetism. These large, floppy, sombreros quickly
became synonymous with her presence, a detail my young friends never let me forget. I always knew well in
advance when my mom was around; her arrival was often betrayed by high-pitched giggles and delighted cries of
“Look at that!” It was not long before I felt ashamed and asked her to not attend outdoor events.
Of course, in her infinite wisdom, she didn’t listen to me. My mother still came to support me in the camp
shows, socialize with the other parents at parties, and cheer for me at track meets, all while decked out in beige SPF
30 safari suits. Attempting a different way to rectify the situation, I tried asking her if maybe she didn’t have to
wear her entire collection of Solumbra gear when she was “around people I knew,” but she laughed off my
beseeching. She seemed completely unfazed by what I had to say to her, and more importantly, entirely dismissive
of the perceptions of others.
The concept of not caring about what others thought was, to me, unheard of. However, I began to pay
attention to the nonchalant way my mother acted about her wardrobe, even amidst rude stares and relentless teasing
from adult peers. Realizing that she continually emerged unscathed from the minefield that is female scrutiny, I
admired my mom for her well-established senses of self and security. Her confidence demonstrated to my
emotionally fragile, thirteen year-old self that it is okay to be unique; only I must be happy with who I am.
Looking at her, I recognize traits in my mother that I strive to emulate. As a woman, she is stunningly
beautiful yet markedly humble. Professionally, I see her determination, compassion, and intellect shine through her
every endeavor, whether her current attempt at entrepreneurship or careful attendance of patients in her medical
practice. People are instantly drawn to my mother by her magnetic and engaging personality, and friends find her
open-minded yet steadfast in her morals. True to her perseverant spirit, my mother still clings on to her beloved
Solumbra hat to traverse the thirty feet from car to mall. Head high, I walk proudly beside her.
My Freckles, My Self
by Jessica Cahill (Fordham)
I hate global warming.
It is disastrous for the environment and the well-being of humans and animals alike. More importantly, it
wreaks havoc on my skin. Yes, I'm talking about sun damage, freckles if you will. Those minute, yet glaring, brown
dots that seem to stare me right in the eye when I peer into the mirror.
That is the embodiment of my past feelings for those endearing little spots on my face. If the eight- year-
old version of me found out that I now refer to them as “endearing,” she probably would have kicked me in the
shin. But she would have had reason to, you see, because those freckles were an unwanted and dominating part of
my physical appearance for what felt like an eternity.
While features such as my elevated height, or the fact that I had not yet grown into my ears or nose
attributed to my pre-adolescent awkwardness, I blamed the freckles. Hardly anybody had them, and if they did, they
didn’t want them either. The dots qualified me for nicknames such as “spot” or “freckle-face” on all sports teams
that I played on. I do mean all. Soccer, tennis, basketball, softball, lacrosse, swimming, you name it. Without fail, a
brilliant teammate, coach, or spectator would spy them lurking under my cap and BAM, branded. When inevitable
moments of boredom ensued with friends, atop the list of things-we-can-do-to-not-be-so-bored was 1. Try to
connect the freckles on Jess's face, or if the perpetual boredom did not relent, 2. Count them.
The dawn of adolescence introduced a new dilemma. It turned out that having freckles was not conducive
to covering up blemishes with a girl’s best friend: makeup. If you put some on one spot, there was a conspicuous
lack of freckles there, which immediately called for “evening out” – a term coined by my sister. The actual result
was a pseudo mask, which concealed all freckles, an idea I embraced at the time.
I may seem to possess an alarming amount of self-loathing at this point, but let me assure you that it was
short-lived and it “built character,” according to that ancient and borderline sadistic moral. But before I could
comprehend this realization, I confined myself to the comfortable boundaries of my mask. I remained there until I
looked at a picture and saw what I actually looked like. I was horrified to see that I didn’t resemble myself and
shocked that I had seen my method of concealment as a solution. There was a glimpse of my true self peeking out
through my eyes and smile, but my essence was veiled by a synthetic sheath (which didn’t even match my skin tone
anyway). My small epiphany was not marked by an immediate or drastic transformation, but gradually my use of
makeup waned, along with my insecurity. I couldn’t tell you exactly when or why this happened, but I eventually
started to like my freckles. I was fortunate enough to realize in later and more pivotal times that individuality often
decreased as one’s thirst for acceptance grew. I did not frown upon conformity, but rather resolved to preserve my
After my revelation, my freckles seemed to get smaller, and lighter, and then became a welcomed staple of
myself. Now they join some of my other idiosyncrasies, like my outtie bellybutton (shh!!), in fostering my self-
confidence. It is this confidence that gives me the assurance to write an entire essay about what a beast of an
adolescent I was. And the hope that it doesn’t hurt my chances of getting in to the college of my choice.
by Dennis Yanga (Cornell)
Little brothers: who needs them? They are loud, annoying and they break your things. They ruin projects
that you've been meticulously working on for weeks. Worst of all, they get all the attention. Your parents always
tell you to play with them, no matter how boring or weird they are. Even more frustrating is that whenever they do
something wrong, it ends up being your fault for not supervising them. My little brother Erwin is no exception. In
fact, my brother has to be the most annoying brother in the world. The only difference is that he is autistic.
I used to hate my brother. I didn't understand what it meant to be autistic. All I knew was that my brother
could not speak English or any other language. Both of my parents gave him extra special attention that neither I
nor my sister received. I was angry that he was not “normal” like everyone else's little brother. We could not take
him to places “normal” children went. Vacations were rare because it was impossible to take him onto a plane, and
getting him to go in a car when he didn’t want to was just as complicated. He would sit on the ground with his head
tucked underneath his arms, resisting every time we tried to carry him. And when we were able to bring him to
places like restaurants, he would have tantrums and make scenes. People would stare at us like we were freaks. I
pretended not to be related to my brother when this happened.
My brother was not very playful either. Autistic children often act aloof. My brother would act as if I didn't
exist whenever I felt like playing with him. If I tried talking to him, he would look away, avoiding all eye contact.
When I tried to give him a hug, he would hide his head in his arms. His facial expressions were so cold and
unresponsive that I used to think that he had no soul.
When I was younger, I used to blow out the candles on my birthday cake wishing not for material gifts, but
for my brother to get better. And when I went to church with my mom and Erwin, I would pray that he would learn
how to speak. It became increasingly difficult to believe in things like prayers and miracles after years of no
There were many instances where Erwin irritated me. He caused me to do what any other child would do. I
told my mother on him. To my dismay, I would never get the satisfaction I desired. My mother would tell me, “He
didn't know any better.” Sometimes I wished that my brother would die. Careful what you wish for.
In the summer of 2005, my thirteen-year-old brother had a seizure. I remembered seeing him convulsing
with his eyes rolled behind his head. It lasted for three of the slowest minutes I have ever experienced in my life.
How I regretted my terrible wish. I was sorry that I had been embarrassed of my own brother. I felt horrible
for ever wanting to abandon him during all the times he made a scene. I wanted my brother to know that I was
never angry at him. I wanted him to know that I didn’t care anymore about being embarrassed, and that I would run
around naked in a crowded mall with countless numbers of people watching if it meant saving my brother’s life.
But most of all, I wanted him to forgive me for being a jerk to him his entire life.
With all the faith remaining inside of me, I made one last earnest wish. I wished my brother would not die
that day. And someone heard me.
When we arrived home from the hospital later that night, my brother was very tired. I instinctively kept a
close eye on him even though it wasn’t necessary. I didn’t care about anything else. All I cared about was my
brother. As he fell asleep, I watched him, monitoring his chest rise and fall, making sure he was still alive. For the
first time in my life, I felt like a parent, even though I was only fifteen. I didn't want to come close to losing him
I used to think I didn’t need my brother, but not anymore. My brother may not be able to speak, but I know
he needs me too.
Seventeen Years of Movement
by Caroline Iosso (Vassar)
I am 17 years of movement. I am a yellow canoe on the Missinaibi River, a white pick up truck bounding down a
dirt road in El Salvador. I’m the tube in London, a coach bus full of teenagers in Spain. I am a red car on a family
road trip to Florida, to Chautauqua, to Cape Cod. I’m a van with six girls and six hammers in New Orleans, a van
full of costumes, props, and eager actors in Texas. I am travel.
I am 17 years of passion. I am fifteen Shakespeare plays, three canoe trips, two literary magazines, four concerts,
thousands of spontaneous dances. I am uproarious laughter with my girlfriends, I am debates with classmates over
details of the Civil War, I am the tingle in my muscles during downward dog. I’m a thoughtful contemplation, sand
between my toes, and discussions of spirituality with my best friend. I am salsa music and the two sweaty hands
clasped as we dance. I am poetry, mountains painted with orange trees, a campfire surrounded by tired and hungry
13 year-olds. I am an artsy foreign film, homemade raspberry jam, and the tremble in my voice during Antigonus’
last speech. I am a night singing at a local hangout, a night with a beautiful boy’s head in my lap, eyes on the stars.
I am the bond between 18 gringos, between 10 fabulously insane girls, between a mother and a daughter, two
brothers and a sister. I am love.
I am 17 years of dreams. I am new people, new ideas, new visions. I am the perfect one with whom to fall in love, a
trip to Greece in my twenties, a class in anthropology. I’m flushed cheeks upon entering a painting class, I’m a
giant mountain made of Kit-Kats. I am a day where all I have to do is read, I am a pair of cow girl boots, a beach in
my backyard. I’m a road trip through South America, I am a night where I finish my work by four a.m., awake and
satisfied. I am a professional dancer, director, singer, activist, actress, professor, historian. I am someone’s muse
and I am the answer to all the world’s problems. I am ambition.
I am 17 years of anticipation. I am the feeling of wanting and waiting. I am the excitement of starting over, the
refreshment of new and interesting friends, the fulfillment of knowledge. I’m the sound of shoes crunching on
leaves during a college tour, the weight of a thick course catalog in my hands. I am the desire for adventure, for the
smell of coffee brewing in my dorm room, the scratch of a professor’s chalk as she discusses indigenous rituals of
African tribes. I am all of this and I am ready.
1. Which essay(s) did you like best? Why?
2. What would an admissions officer say about your favorite essay? In other words, what qualities would he
note in the writer of that particular essay?
3. What elements of voice and style did you notice in the essays? Use specific examples.