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Faced with an unusual application essay, prospective students had the chance to show off their more venturesome sides. Just what could they do with 10 bucks and a big idea?

Illustration by Linda Helton
Applying to college can be an adventure in itself — prepping for the SATs, traveling from one prospective school to the next, figuring out how to make your application stand out in a pile of 10,000. But students applying to Johns Hopkins this year had another adventure to think about: "If you had only $10 (or 11 EUR, or R$25, or Rs 490, etc.) to plan a day's adventure, where would you go, what would you do, and who would you take with you?"

The admissions office crafted this essay question to reach "a dimension that goes beyond transcripts and SAT scores," says John Latting, director of Undergraduate Admissions. "We wanted to hear about family, neighborhood, town, school — and to get the applicant's perspective on those things."

It was a way to convey "the high value we put on creativity and discovery, on membership in a community," Latting continues. The question was also meant to show Hopkins' sense of humor, to "soften some of the hard edges."

It worked. Applicants tackled this question with imagination, introspection, humor, and above all, a spirit of adventure, dreaming up everything from an ideal day spent with friends (or a not-so-ideal night spent with family), to an African journey, to a trip aboard the space shuttle.

So what does the incoming freshman class look like? As the following essays illustrate, the class of 2007 is hard to pin down. They come from all walks of life and from all over the world, and they have all kinds of plans.

One thing they do have in common? For all of them, the adventure is just beginning.
— Catherine Pierre

Sibling Revelry

Michelle Tellock
Hortonville, Wisconsin

Among my autistic brother's numerous doctors' appointments, therapy sessions, and play groups and my debate tournaments, musical practices, and student council meetings, Jason and I don't get to spend a lot of free time together. But every Tuesday we set aside a few hours to go out on the town, just the two of us. Our inexpensive escapades might seem bland and repetitive, but our weekly date for Chinese food in the mall and a movie at the cheap seats gives us both a chance to get away from our hectic, complicated lives and enjoy each other's company.

Following my Tuesday afternoon class, I drive to Sunshine Daycare to meet my brother as he gets off the bus. We check his backpack for any special notes from his teachers and then load his winter gear into the car. En route to Appleton's Fox River Mall, I ask Jason about his day in school, what he had for lunch, and which movie he'd like to see. After about five minutes, we pull into the mall's lot and begin scouring the rows in search of the perfect spot. We make sure to bundle up before leaving the car and running to the warm, glass-walled building.

Jason always throws off his jacket and prances up to the counter of Panda Express, all the while screeching that he wants orange-flavored chicken and fried rice. We hand over our $4.49 plus tax for a two-item combo and a medium Mountain Dew before settling into our traditional food court table. Of course, after 15 minutes of scurried eating, Jason loudly informs the general public of his need to make a trip to the bathroom. People turn and stare naively at the "little disabled boy," but there's no time to explain why he acts that way before hurrying out. We quickly box up our leftovers and find our way through the crowds to the bathroom before escaping outside and into the solitude of our trusty Buick.

I maneuver onto the highway and toward the Valley Value Cinema. We roll in around 6:30 and stand in line with what seems like a thousand other screaming toddlers and their attentive guardians who are eagerly awaiting the evening screening of whichever animated cartoon has recently been released; waiting patiently is hard for a 10-year-old whose ADHD medication is beginning to wear off, but he'd wait forever if it meant a Tuesday night movie. Once we pay our dollar apiece for our tickets, I give Jason $3 to buy a small popcorn and soda before we find our seats in the front-left-center section, in our opinion, the best seats in the theater.

Jason gets extra-excited when other people sit near us and the lights are dimmed; he thinks the previews are mini-movies and that the featured presentation is simply an extra attraction. By the end of the opening credits, chances are the soda cup is empty and the popcorn's been spilt on the floor. It's no matter; getting Jason to sit still for the first hour is a miracle in itself. The true test of a good movie is whether it can hold his attention for the full duration of the film. A show that keeps his focus has a sure spot on the next birthday or Christmas wish list as a form of entertainment bliss, granting others precious time to get chores done.

We exit the theater when the show ends, being careful not to be trampled by a stampede of energetic and sugar-filled children. On the way out, if he behaves, Jason gets to spend the last remaining quarter "playing" an electronic racing game in the arcade. He doesn't have the gross motor skills to keep his character alive for more than a few seconds, but it doesn't matter to him whether or not his score is actually increasing. We sit there for a few minutes tinkering with the steering wheels until someone comes along and wants to play the game, forcing Jason to abandon his seat and giving me an excuse to pull him out of the arcade and back into the dark, cold night.

I help Jason into the back seat as he yawns and his eyes glaze over. By the time we get back on the highway, he falls asleep while holding onto his Chinese takeout box. After driving the exactly 22 minutes back home, I carry him into the house, placing the sleeping boy on the couch and the leftovers in the fridge. Ten years from now, neither Jason nor I will remember what kind of spicy chicken we had for dinner or which pathetically cheesy movie we saw. Hopefully we will remember the fun we had on Tuesdays and the escape our excursions offered us from the "real world." At Panda Express and the local cinema, Jason and I are able to push aside thoughts and worries of the disabilities that normally define him; for a few precious hours every week he's just a normal little boy having fun with his big sister.

Getting to Know You

Carey Polis
Bethesda, Maryland

I can still taste the wild raspberries. The clay rocks along the brook made excellent red and orange face paint. I came back to the cabin with a stained face from the rocks and a stained pink hip pack from the raspberry juice that leaked through the bag.

I haven't been back to summer camp in over seven years. I don't remember much about my sleep-away camp experience except for our hike along a small portion of the Appalachian Trail. There wasn't anything particularly poignant about the afternoon except for the feeling it gave off. It was one of those days that just worked.

I could imagine hiking the Appalachian Trail again, on one of those idyllic spring days when it is comfortable to wear shorts or pants. The birds would be chirping . . . The brook would be babbling heavily right after a rainstorm . . . The raspberry bushes would be abundant . . .

Hiking in the woods is an ideal catalyst for bonding. There must be something about being isolated, with little else to do besides talking and enjoying the scenery, that makes it so perfect. I couldn't hike with just anyone. A hike should be a time to get to know someone better. People typically hike with friends, but I already know them. I would go hiking with that kid that everyone always wanted to know better but never did. The kid that was intriguing, not because of some defining attribute, but because he just was. The kid who sat behind you in math class, made cynical comments, and had an air of mystery about him. The kid who, despite not being part of the in-crowd, still resonated "coolness." I would hike with the Will Huntings of the world.

We would talk about life and death, good and evil, free will and predestination. We would eat our $10 worth of hiking food: trail mix, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and granola bars. We would eat raspberries and paint our faces. We would go home not knowing if we would ever spend a day together again, but always remembering that we did.

Unchained Melodies

Alexander Mackay-Smith Kempson
Wilton, Connecticut

I pick up Megan from her father's house. "Hey, Dan," she says, and hands me a Diet Coke, keeping one for herself. Her small hands are folded on her lap, rubbing at each other as she laughs. We discuss the essay Mrs. Gregory assigned on morality and Melville's Billy Budd as we drive to the library.

"I'm not sure whether I believe Captain Vere was completely correct in all his actions," says Megan, taking a sip from her soda. "But I can tell you that I enjoyed Britten's opera much more than the original short story."

We arrive and find a half-empty parking lot, and so find a great space directly in front of the white brick building. Megan has brought a hero sandwich that we split, eating on the benches outside of the library.

We go to the Audio Listening section, and get two copies of the libretto to Dvorak's opera Rusalka. We sit for two and a half hours, soaking in the glories of Renée Fleming and Ben Heppner. When Fleming begins the ethereal and incredibly difficult "Song to the Moon," in Czech, Megan looks at me and smiles giddily, her favorite aria floating through our ears. Each blissful moment opens our hearts as we sit, enraptured by the music and wrapped in easy chairs and headphones.

*   *   *

We meet the others at Starbucks. Not to get coffee, of course, but because it is the commercial and cultural center of town. Alisa and I drive everyone from there to Katy's house in our two old metallic station wagons.

Mrs. Canary greets us in fuzzy green slippers and an old blue sweatshirt that contrast greatly with her grand front hall. She offers us food. We stumble over Katy's older brother, visiting from college, on our way to their living room. We sit, nursing our sodas.

"Dan, I want to sing," says Katy. We recorded a CD together last summer. I walk over to the piano and turn on the light hanging over the music. Her thick Broadway Favorites opens with a thump, and we start singing. Soon everyone joins in — you could say we are somewhat the music geeks of the school. We're all in the small select choir at school, and on a free day, we go to someone's house and listen to music — music that we're creating. Megan and Jason sing from Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables — the musicals we grew up with. Alisa and Katy belt "Don't Tell Mama" from Cabaret together, each trying to top the other as they go. We convince Chris, the least likely to beg for stardom, to sing a sweet little rendition of The Sound of Music's "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" with Marissa.

The doorbell rings, set off against the flowing melodies and echoing harmonies filling the circular room. I hop up from the piano, racing at least three others to the door. Cracking the door open, I see the guy from Tom E Toes, Jack, holding a large cheese pizza. In my wallet lies a solitary $10 bill, which Jack obliging takes quickly. I promise to tip him in school on Monday.

"See you in Calculus," he says as he turns to his car.

Katy, Alisa, Marissa, Megan, Chris, Jason, and I split the pizza. I call the last piece, and fend off subsequent stares by claiming the physical fatigue set off by playing the piano for hours.

*   *   *

We pile into our two cars again, driving along Belden Hill Road towards Merwin Meadows Park. Though the glowing clock in the dashboard shines 9:30, the roads are barren, indicative of a town that always sleeps. Surveying the vacant fields sloping down to Merwin Meadows Pond, I decide to drive out onto the grass. Alisa follows suit, her headlights illuminating the inhabitants of my car as we jump out. Marissa turns up the volume on the radio in Alisa's car, laughing as she relates a story to Jason. The seven of us dance to the music in the light of the full moon, reflected off the water, singing when we know the words, dancing until curfews confront our senses, and then drift away.

*   *   *

Ten dollars is not a lot of money, and a day is only a day. When you have little time and little money to spend, sometimes the best solution is to forgo extravagance and just experience what you love. My greatest passion is opera. I love the elegance in a musical line, the way a melodic turn in a phrase can express joy or sudden sadness. I love how a singer's interpretation can determine the enjoyment of an evening. I love the palpable connection live theater creates between performers and audience, the kinetic energy swing between them.

Mostly, though, I love to listen to opera because I love to sing it. I am a performer, and have been since I was young. Music is a way for me to fully express emotion. Some think classical music — especially opera — is stilted and unreal; but when I feel the same overpowering emotions while walking down the street, I too want to open my mouth and sing.

Mind Games: K vs. D

Tian Jiang
Acton, Massachusetts

(Two acrimonious individuals are having a heated, yet silent, argument.)

Kreitevity: That's the worst idea ever! Don't use it.

Discipline: Why not? The assignment asks applicants to plan a day with $10. Tian could spend a day in the library. He would be allotted $2 for breakfast, $3 for lunch, and $5 for dinner. It would be a fruitful day for him to . . .

K: Boring. Who in a right mind would want to read about someone spending a day in the library?

D: I would.

K: Obviously, but I'm talking about someone that is sane. Look, admission officers around the world are reading 30 or 40 essays a day; the last thing they need is a mundane piece about sitting in silence. We need something that is eye-catching and memorable. Tian should spend a day exploring the surface of Mars. What a challenge!

D: Don't be different for the sake of originality. Our idea must be practical and have depth. Refreshing as it may be, sending a human to Mars is currently impossible. He should spend a day volunteering at the Boston Food Pantry. The only money he'd need is $8 for a round-trip ticket on the commuter rail.

K: I like your idea, but it lacks something. What's the word I'm looking for . . . creativity.

D: Well, your idea lacks discipline.

K: Fine, if modern technology doesn't allow Tian to travel to Mars, how about having him go to the next best place, the International Space Station?

D: I guess that might be a feasible option. But it shouldn't be merely for recreational reasons; he would have to perform meaningful tasks in space.

K: Now we are getting somewhere. The food on the station is probably free, so how is he going to spend the $10?

D: Tian could take with him a bottle of water and 10 ounces of cooking oil. That shouldn't cost more than $3. We could set up an experiment exploring the effects of zero gravity on density. He could observe how water and oil mix in space — specifically, the spatial distribution of the oil-drop clusters and the surface tension of the oil drops.

K: That idea is good but a little dry, so to speak. Maybe after that experiment, he could make a painting of the Earth. That way he would never forget the experience. Some papers and crayons shouldn't cost more than $4.

D: This sounds crazy, but I always wonder how astronauts brush their teeth. It must get pretty messy with all the bubbles and rinsing. A 0.75-ounce tube of toothpaste and a traveler's toothbrush could be covered by $2.50.

K: The last two quarters should be thrown into space as his eternal legacy to the cosmos.

D: I don't think so! These coins could be used for a probability test — zero-gravity Bernoulli trials. Instead of being flipped, they would be spun vertically. Tian could observe which sides face him when the air resistance eventually stops the coins. The "edge case" (an edge facing him) would alternatively belong to head and tail. The trials should be repeated numerous times. It would be interesting to see whether the occurrence rate of each side of a coin facing him would be statistically equal.

K: What a crazy plan! I love it.

D: Not so fast. Who is Tian going to take with him?

K: Who else but us?

A Thousand Pennies

Matthew Diamond
Livingston, New Jersey

One thousand copper men
each bearing the same face (equal
in worth but not in age) marched
toward unknown fate in shaky palms,
or dropped, thin pancake pebbles lost
and found.

         The sound (metal against metal,
the clinking can). The savior. The changing
of hands. The green grease smeared on the
streets like a beautiful paste, flowing faintly.

     It weighs on my mind, the dying spirits in
tattered rags. They walk the streets. Their eyes
are dark and hold nothing but the night.
Shadows in mirrors.

               (the weight of presence)
I will catch them
as they fall
with a blanket of emerald paper
          (thin pancake pebbles
                    lost and found)

Irin-ajo si ilu Nigeria!

Alexandra Enitan Obé
Hempstead, New York

What would I do if I had only $10? To me, that question is actually asking, "What wouldn't you do if you had only $10?" I do know that I wouldn't spend that money in the United States. I would take this opportunity to tour Nigeria and act as a quasi-cicerone for my friend from Hong Kong, Jessica. I have always been captivated by Asian culture, and she has always enjoyed learning about Nigerian culture (especially if it means trying on my Nigerian outfits). This adventure would be the perfect opportunity for her to have a first-hand visit about the country and for me to share my heritage with her. I will just describe a hypothetical adventure, where Jessica and I already happen to be in Nigeria together with only the $10 (or 1,272.5 Naira) between us.

We are probably famished and in need of some fortifying food to give us the energy that we will need before we set off "Irin-ajo si ilu Nigeria" (touring Nigeria). I know just the place to take her: my Uncle Kazim's house for a free, authentic Nigerian dish. It gives me the chance to not only show Jessica around a suburban village but also visit some family members. We won't spend any of our precious money on a cab or motorbus since walking is always free! By walking, I can get some exercise while leading Jessica by the lush, sloping hillsides, through the spacious, level fields, and along the meandering dirt roads. Not long after our nature hike, once we arrive at my Uncle's cozy flat, we voraciously eat our spicy lunch of Joloof rice and inhale plates of Dodo (fried plantains). Since pepper and Jessica's tongue do not mingle well, my Auntie probably gives us some sugary, fried pastries, or "Puff-puff," and some milk for dessert . . . there goes my short-lived stint of uber-healthiness.

After Jessica recovers from her first Nigerian meal, I decide that I must spend some money: among all the traditionally garbed women, Jessica and I stand out like American sore thumbs in our sandblasted, low-riding jeans and salient "I Love NY" T-shirts. I take Jessica to one of the local shops, where a sewing mistress takes our measurements and sews us two stunning (but simple and less expensive) danshiki, or long dresses. I grudgingly part with 500 Naira. I can appreciate the anguish my mother feels when she and I go to the mall. However, the outfits are worth the price since Jessica and I look like cross-cultural twins in our matching ensembles.

When the job is complete, we are less conspicuous, and boldly set off to conquer the untamed expanses of . . . the Nigerian marketplace. I warn Jessica that this expedition is not for the easily swayed. She is about to get a hands-on lesson in "Bargaining 101." With over 700 Naira to spare, finding some nice trinkets for the both of us should be an easy task, but the outing could get intense. She says, "I know, Obˇ. I've seen that resolute look in your eye when you know what you want and you've decided that you are going to get it." That insightful comment is one of the many reasons that Jessica and I are an unlikely duo: We are able to understand and complement the differences in each other. Although she outwardly appears boisterous and gregarious by nature and I appear quiet and reserved in contrast, our inner personalities, bashful and vivacious respectively, are reflections of the other's outward appearance. Together, these differences make us very similar.

As we meander amongst the immeasurable rows of Nigerian goods, I discern a pair of sparkling hair clips lying amidst some knickknacks. Adjacent to those items is a small, collapsible hand fan — perfect for Jessica, who needs deliverance from the stupefying heat. And so begins my haggling match with the vendor. Because I am a veteran to this ancient sport, the price is quickly agreed upon (another 42 Naira), and Jessica and I move on, newly adorned with our most fashionable accessories.

As the day wears on, we decide that we are in need of a rest. Seeing as we are two very fortunate young ladies, we arrive at a movie theater and pause underneath the marquee. I purchase our tickets for a hefty 300 Naira and we eagerly hurry in to catch the show. But before we enter the theater, we have to equip ourselves with confectionary delights — i.e. Fanta and popcorn. (I must say adieu to 200 Naira. How quickly the money goes.) After giggling through half of a melodramatic Nigerian movie that was lacking in subtitles (we decide to translate the movie into English ourselves and are periodically shushed by annoyed movie-goers), we hysterically stumble our way out of the building and onto the paved sidewalk.

A short distance up the block is an open stand labeled "Fine Toys." We simultaneously see the booth and rush to the street corner. My mind is racing from the excitement of this newfound glory, but also from the prices: 150 Naira for an Ayo set (a wooden game of stones known as "Mancala" in the United States)? 100 for a Ludo set? As Jessica keeps rummaging through piles of toys, I obstinately clutch my remaining 200 Naira — we had become so close — and struggle to let go of the bills when it is time to pay. Jessica, brandishing her new Ayo game, has to drag me away from the table.

As the fiery sun casts its last fierce rays of light onto this fascinating land, Jessica and I enjoy our fifth game of Ayo (we've both won twice and now compete for the tiebreaker) in the tranquil twilight glow. Since this is the end of my hypothetical situation, we have managed to make our way to Muratala airport and await the arriving planes of our respective parents, who are on their way to bring us back to our respective homes. They will be amazed to hear about our daring day spent sans adults. We are both content — I got to show my good friend the land that is part of my heritage, and she in turn was able to share in something that means so much to me. While we wait and recount the day's excitement, we do so together, content to have done it all with a friend. [Ed. Note: The remaining 40 Naira and 50 Kobo (cents) were given to Jessica as a memento of the journey, since I mercifully let her win the last match.]

Perchance to Dream

Andrea Balda
Guayaquil, Ecuador

If I had 10 unspent dollars in my wallet (which is most rare), I would probably spend them in trying to improve the condition of my sleep-deprived life. Now, I'm not talking about buying anything. I am talking about paying my brothers and sisters! I'd seriously pay them if they would just let me sleep. You see, when you're the first of eight, sleep stops being a normal necessary part of your everyday life; it becomes a task.

Let me give you an example of what a normal day at the Balda house is like, if you sleep in my room: Imanol enters the room several times after midnight to inform me about the monster in his bedroom. Not satisfied with this, the little munchkin creeps into MY bed and kicks me, pushes me, and squashes me into the mattress. (Hey, 8-year-olds are heavy, too!)
Fortunately, at some time near dawn, he goes and wakes my mother up. My sister Maité — an early, early riser — shares the room with me. She has always been incapable of making no noise. Thumping, singing, or some other kinds of racket announces her arrival. She's the kind of person who whispers when you tell her to stop talking. Silence and Maité have never fit in the same sentence. Imanol enters the room various times (again) between 6 and 7 to ask if he can go to Alfredito's house, only to get always the same answer: "Sweetie, go bother your mother. Why are you even asking me?" Mateo, a future talented pianist (who unfortunately discovered this at an early age), starts practicing piano at 6:00 in the morning. My other brothers and sisters who are trying to watch Recess and Pepper Ann in the same room turn up the volume, Mateo plays louder, the volume is raised, and so on. If Arantxa and I–aki, two other poor sleepless souls, wake up, you can be sure your "sleeping" time is over. I'm normally too tired to even walk and ask all these rare freaks of nature who need no sleep to PLEASE, PLEEEEEASE lower their voices, the piano, the TV, etc. But that's just me, because then Arantxa and Iñaki come out and start closing pianos, turning TVs off, and shushing everyone. I'll just tell you that as soon as they go away, pianos are reopened, TVs are turned on again, and people just keep talking. This would be quite enough, but then again these people are never satisfied. Gianna, Mateo's crazy Russian piano teacher, comes for piano lessons (yeah, you guessed it!) at 8 something. By 9:00, I just give up. My workaholic ballet teacher likes having rehearsals at the wee hours of the morning (read l0:00), so I figure, what's the use anyway?

I've let you in on a little secret. Fun at the Balda house never stops. These kids are like the Energizer Bunny — they just keep going and going. I just hope $10 is enough. . . . Maybe it's enough for sleeping pills. I can just mix them up with their dinner or something, what do you think?

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