Apply yourself

Teenage Girl Studying At Desk In BedroomMy daughter just finished her college application essays. Those of you with grade-schoolers, beware. You too will find yourself supervising your offspring during this torturous process before you know it.

Despite the wonderful Common Application—one form plus one essay that your child can send to as many schools as she chooses (limited only by how much dough you as parent want to cough up for application fees)—many schools insist that applicants write a separate essay just for them. Or two, or even three. Some schools opt out of the Common App altogether, requiring forms and essays tailored strictly to their overdeveloped sense of importance.

Thus for several weeks our daughter, in addition to coping with an already titanic workload in her senior year of Catholic high school, has been pondering essay questions both penetrating and perplexing. And, as any parent knows, the homework of the child eventually commandeers the attention of the whole household. A case in point: My daughter is currently constructing a 3-D representation of Plato’s cave allegory using Star Wars action figures—but never mind.

The crucible weekend arrived. The essays had to be finished and, for better or worse, sent in. As Regis Philbin used to say, “Is that your final answer?” (Your entire college career, and by extension your entire life, is depending on this, you know.)

I found myself wondering what on earth I would write if I were forced to answer this battery of questions.

What can’t you live without? Along with my family, I can’t imagine what I would do if I couldn’t read. I even read while walking down the sidewalk sometimes. Both of my kids read, too, thank God. At its best, reading is an encounter with another human soul.

What is the difference between intelligence and wisdom? Cite a personal, historical, or fictional example. I once knew a fellow in church circles who was very intelligent but not wise. He created commotion and division around him because although he was a brainiac, he lacked any real feel for what made people tick. The many wise folks I’ve met all have a deep connection to what it means to be human. Like Jesus did.

Tell us about a view of yours that will add to the diversity of our university. How about this one, from a character in a short story by author and farmer Wendell Berry: “We are members of each other. All of us. Everything. The difference ain’t in who is a member and who is not, but in who knows it and who don’t.”

Think of an important event that you experienced for the first time. As you look back on it, do you see it differently now from the way you did when it was first happening? Along with most naïve new parents, when I was pregnant I thought that having a baby might not change my life all that much. My husband and I discovered, of course, that a baby changes everything. The fierce love we feel for both of our children gives us a small glimpse of what God feels for each one of us. This was but one of the completely unexpected and wonderful byproducts of those dreaded hours of labor and delivery.

What didn’t change is that I still believe when your husband is driving you to the hospital to have the baby and your labor is accelerating to the point that you are fearing that said baby might actually be born right there in the car, it is vital to tell your husband to actually pay for parking rather than hunt for a free spot on the streets of Chicago. When he says, “Really?” you just say, “Yes, honey.”

By Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our FaithClaretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2013 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

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Photo: ©istock/Mark Bowen

One Response

  1. Thank you for this insightful post! With two high school children in the house, junior and sophomore, we are headed right for this adventure! I appreciate your approach and am forwarding this to everyone in the family!

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