The Farthest Best Scholarship was awarded to who had the best essay, got admitted to the farthest college away from home, and had a high GPA. The instructions were to submit what was, in your opinion, the best college essay you used during the college submissions process.
The Emerson Honors Program prompt was this:
Wallace Bacon, a recipient of an honorary doctorate from Emerson College in 1975, wrote that the liberal arts, or humanities, “are concerned with the question of what makes life worth living. And that question concerns not simply oneself but others. The humanities must help us learn who we are; they must help us learn the otherness of others.” In this light, describe an encounter with someone or something different—an “other” which revealed to you your sense of self and your relation to humanity. This encounter may involve a person, place, culture, or text (book, speech, film, play, etc.).
Here is my submission (for both the aforementioned scholarship, and the Emerson Honors Program which I was admitted).
The rain drops had collected on the window beside us, and the sun was setting. Everything was out of focus except for those little droplets, sitting there, waiting for something to happen. Waiting. That is really a tragic flaw for most people: they wait. They perform everything they must in their daily routine, every day and sit there, expecting something to happen without really initiating anything themselves.
I took a drink of my coffee. Its warmth had already evaporated into the air. My coffee was cold. Meanwhile, I observed the people around us and thought what a funny world we live in. Then a man caught my eye. He was strong, I could see the muscles in his jaw line; he had the look of a sage. He stood, leaning against a giant boulder coated with dirt, the tallest rock in the whole town, taller than any building around, reading a book. My eyes could not bear to rip away from such a wonderful sight. My friend leaned over, and whispered into my ear, “His name is Sisyphus.”
It is possible that I am just making this up, but when I read everything seems so real. I am not talking about a Greek myth alone here, I am talking about Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus. The entirety of the story expands on the concept of existentialism. It paradoxically hypothesizes that if a person accepts life as absurd and has no meaning aside from what one applies to it, then life will be worth living. Yes, the idea is daunting to say the least.
The first time I met Sisyphus, I realized what a miserable life he had—not even a life, an eternity. An infinite amount of time spent rolling a rock up a hill only to watch it roll back down again, repeating the tedious process. Then it hit me: my life is the equivalent. Much like Sisyphus, I live for nothing. My entire life revolves around ceaseless repetition. Everyone has a rock to push up a hill. Those who have jobs must go to their allotted time period only to get paid, and then repeat the process. The agonizing struggle to wake up on time, work until your feet become sore, only to come home and go back to sleep. At the end of every semester, I dump out the remaining papers in my binder, which only ends up in some teacher’s recycling bin. However, much like Sisyphus, a person also has a momentary break.
Finally, the rock rolls back down the hill; these breaks are also known as weekends and days off. Yet, it is in this moment that Sisyphus has his hour of consciousness. He “makes fate a human matter, which must be settled among men.” It is in this moment of observing Sisyphus, that my jaw drops. It gapes open, clanking to the floor, bones cracking. This, this is what it means to live deliberately. Through all of this absurdity, it is possible. It is in this moment of walking back down to his rock and positioning himself to do it all over again—resetting that annoyingly loud alarm clock, going back to school, to work, to insignificant labor and homework in retrospect—that Sisyphus surmounts his destiny. I can surmount my destiny. Amidst all of life’s chaos, all of life’s absurdity, I must apply meaning to it with the full awareness of knowing it is all pointless. It is my choice, my free will. It is my will, and my name is Sisyphus.
Kelsey Hamlin is finishing up her last year at the UW. Though her time is typically spent telling others' stories, here's a chance to get a peek at hers.