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"A Movie Kind of Life"

The writing contest entry that did not win.

Like the rest of book, the information on the book is all true. Yes, my grandmother and Jimmy actually said those things. I figured I would share the entry to the writing contest which I did not win.

I had originally written this for a creative writing class I took at UPenn where the assignment was to rewrite your college application essay. Not only did I think it was an interesting assignment, I really enjoyed it because unlike the other students in the class, I was writing from the perspective of a 28 year old who was taking the class for free on his employee tuition benefit. It was submitted to a contest under the "personal essay" category. Read the entry below:


To the Admissions Office at the University of Pennsylvania,

With every personal essay, job interview, or prompt from my mother to tell a distant relative what I do for a living—basically any situation where the value of humility vanishes—my mind immediately goes to the “rehabilitated” monologue from The Shawshank Redemption. 

If we are anything alike, I could stop here and be completely understood. Or if we were friends, sitting at a diner on a Sunday morning, I would continue to expand on my thought, and share with you my own version of Morgan Freeman's iconic speech, where he quits giving the parole board the "right" answer and gives his real answer.

And what I would say to you at the diner, after setting the scene, would sound this:

A personal essay? I'm not really sure what that is. I know what you think it is. To me, it's just a made up idea. A CYA exercise so administrators like you can dress up and go to work every morning, and feel important.

What you are really asking is—why do I deserve to go to Penn more than the next person?

Well, to tell you the truth . . . I don't.

My first steady job was at a restaurant. I never worked in a restaurant before. My mom knew the chef, and now I was working 30 hours a week making what felt like a fortune to a 16-year-old. I thought about working there after high school, but instead chose to follow the crowd to college.

The teacher of the 10th grade chemistry class I had to retake as a senior told me she doesn’t fail seniors. She turned my 30% grade into a B, and I went to Temple University because I liked to root for their basketball team when I was a kid.

When I got to Temple, the only academic promise I made to myself was that I wasn't going to miss class. I was usually sleeping or crosswording my way through it . . . but I was there.

Sophomore year I saw a flyer for an internship at the Holocaust Museum in New York, and the way I connected my Armenian heritage to the Holocaust made me one of the two non-Jewish interns out of twenty-four. I realized I must have laid it on really thick when an instructor approached me tenderly and sympathetically, asking if I would be willing to share my experience as an Armenian descendant—as if it was an ongoing life struggle.

The next summer a much more qualified friend told me about a job at Penn working with high school kids. Somehow I spun my Holocaust museum experience into a fit for the summer camp, and I got the job. My friend didn’t. She didn't prepare for the interview at all, which is why . . . but I still felt kind of bad about it.

After college, I found a job at a local radio station doing promotions because the department head went to Temple and LOVED to hire Temple people. In my interview, all he wanted to talk about was my internship at NFL films—a gig I landed because my high school football coach had a sister that worked there.

At the radio station, when I wasn't out doing promotions, I was doing mindless day-to-day tasks around the station. This included data entry of listeners’ surveys, which on a resume reads “assisted in conducting market research.” A former coworker of mine from the summer camp was doing research in the psychiatry department at Penn, and landed me an interview. On paper, I was definitely under-qualified for this job, and found out later being the only male applicant to an all female department was a deciding factor.

So here I am, a full time employee for Penn, and I find out I can take classes for free. There are a couple of classes that look interesting, so I think, why not? And to top it off, I find out that there is a much lower requirement to gain enrollment to your school as a employee of the University. High rate of acceptance to take free classes at an Ivy League institution? Figured I’d take a shot. What do I have to lose? Feeling rejected? Psssh. Rejection is my second cousin, baby.

The fact of the matter is . . . I do not fit the UPenn mold of not fitting the mold. I don't have the ambition to cure the world of horrendous diseases. I don't worry about plastic bottles, have no interest in robots, and the social injustices of the world will not keep me up tonight.

I procrastinate, get drunk when I don’t mean to, and have a hard time trusting people that use big words in conversation. I bet entire paychecks on football games and obliterate my grandmother in scrabble. And worst of all, I sometimes vote Republican.

So if you’re looking to maximize the utility of the Penn enrollment process for the good of the University, the United States, and the rest of the world, you should probably look elsewhere.

So go head and stamp your form, because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a damn.

And that’s the real answer. My life is a story of coincidence and mediocrity.

I am not special. Realizing how replaceable I am was one of the most important discoveries of my life. It gave me the power to turn any mountain into a mole hill.

At the Holocaust museum, I was lucky enough to get the chance to ask survivors how they managed to make it through. What I was really asking was “why did you live and the next person died?” To my surprise, they all pretty much said the same thing. A little old lady with a number tattooed on her wrist summed it up into one concise statement: “Good luck and common sense.”

I figure if that’s enough to beat Hitler, then it’s enough to get my ass into some local school. Since I have been blessed with a tremendous amount of good luck so far—and a GPA in my basket-weaving undergraduate career that is just a smidge above the employee application requirement—I am in a position where my acceptance is all but a guarantee. All I need is the common sense, and cowardice, to give the right answer during this part of the application formality.


Eddie Doyle

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