College Essay: Joe Lou to attend Stanford University


Hailey Spaeth

This year, as they are every year, the senior class was given the task of writing an essay for their common application; many colleges use Common App to determine whether the prospective student gets in. This essay can be a deciding factor on admission to a certain university, so naturally many students spend a lot of time on it. With a generalized prompt, the essay can be a bit of a roadblock in the application process. Here is one of nine essays from Country Day Seniors that The Scroll and the college counseling felt knocked their essay out of the park.


Zhaoyu (Joe) Lou:

What is an education? Is it a GPA? Is it the knowledge we get from classes? If a student scores well, have they received an education?

I discovered my interest in science early on, and the pursuit of happiness (okay, grades) has monopolized most of my time since. As a result, I was more or less socially inept: small talking made no sense in a universe so big, partying was the stuff of myth, and talking about sports a frivolous waste of time. But the advantage of attending a large public school was that there were always others like me. Safe within a group of people who believed the same things I did, I never even considered that I might be missing something.

Perhaps it would have remained this way for the rest of my life, but in my junior year, my family moved from New York to Ohio, from a large public school to a small private one, from the rigorous culture of the Northeast to milder one of the Midwest. Here, in a much smaller school with a less militant attitude towards academics, I found myself the black sheep in a world of skilled socialites.

As it turned out, the art of sociality was precisely that: an art. There were, sadly for me, no equations to friendship, no ways to study for social situations, no laws of camaraderie which the social universe always obeyed. In routine conversation I was constantly, desperately searching for the right thing to say. My brain, so adept at forming answers to math or physics exams, came to a dead stop when confronted with the question “What’s up?” It was frustrating, watching others banter effortlessly while I painfully labored through each awkward line with a monumental internal effort.

I don’t know how much I’ve improved over my short stay in this school. Probably not as much as I’d like. But I have discovered what I have been missing. To truly experience school…Well then the academics, the GPA, they are to the experience as a cell is to a human. The laughs and the tears, the joys and the sorrows, the revelry with friends and collaboration with the same, these are part of what make us human. If academics were all that were necessary, then we could all be replaced with automatons.

So yes, going through school, my grades mattered the most to me. But now, in retrospect, it isn’t that euphoria about an A on a biology final that I will remember. It’s the celebration afterwards, in which my friend and I laughed so hard playing Mario Kart that there were legitimate concerns about suffocation. It isn’t a C on a history test that I will carry with me into the future, it’s the hilarity which ensued afterwards as my friends and I plotted how we could take over the world and make a new one without history tests. It’s the hideous painting which I made when my artistic friend tried to teach me how to paint; her teaching me that while I may not enjoy it, art is an incredible and skillful craft. It’s knowing that now, whenever I look at a piece of artwork, I’ll be looking partially through her eyes, combining my understanding and hers to synthesize a truer one. Maybe she’ll see a little bit with my eyes when she sees Feynman diagrams of matter-antimatter annihilations and associated virtual particles by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle! (Probably a stretch)

And today, if someone asks me “What’s up?” I know exactly what to say:

“Well, an incredibly vast, infinitely complex universe whose workings we’ve just begun to unravel. Voids of a loneliness beyond our imagination, improbable events coming together to reveal the universe’s awe-inspiring splendor, and in the middle of it, the greatest miracle of all…” Wait, they warned me about this. Forget all that.

“Not much, you?”