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Princeton Application Essay

A narrative application essay I wrote for Princeton University

The prompt for this essay was, "Using a quote from a favorite book as a leaping off point, describe a significant event in your life and how it affected your values."


“Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.”
-- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

To be humbled – to have our greatest strengths and most fundamental assumptions questioned – is one of the greatest gifts that we can receive. That may sound exorbitantly noble, and I certainly did not always feel that way, but Mr. Sagan has a point. If modern science is a “voyage into the unknown,” then life, outside the empirical world, could conservatively be described as a quagmire into utter ignorance, with the promise of an education in humility being, perhaps, the only absolute. My first taste of this supplementary tutorship was the Princeton University Moot Court competition.

I was first coerced into competing during my sophomore year. The debate team worked collectively and fervently, exploring the nuances of the Supreme Court precedent and the minutest details of the arguments. I, in all honesty, did little of that. I was unmotivated and conceited, overconfident in my oratorical talent and dismissive of preparation. And when it came time for the competition, my ego suffered no injury. I walked into my top sixteen round, Top Attorney gavel in hand, brimming with pride. “Who could possibly top me now?” I thought. I soon met who: Mr. Luchi Mmegwa, a captain of the Princeton Mock Trial team, president of the Princeton class of 2014, and, so far as I am concerned, future Supreme Court Chief Justice. Serving as the judge that round, he eradicated my arguments, oratorically tearing them to tatters. That tiny room in McCosh became his personal abattoir, and I one of his cattle, driven to my inevitable slaughter.

In retrospect, it was not quite that dramatic, but it seemed it at the time. Needless to say, we lost. My school went home without a trophy, and I without an ego. However, I surprised many, most of all myself, when instead of retreating home to weep and wallow, I instead could not wait for my next voyage. In my junior year, when PMC again reared its head, I worked twice as hard as I previously had, preparing for hours upon hours. I won another Top Attorney award, with unprecedented “perfect attorney” scores, and advanced to the top eight teams. Then, in the hottest, stuffiest room in all of East Pyne, surrounded by my schoolmates, my partner and I once again did battle with Mr. Mmegwa. And once again, we lost. We lost, but he complimented us, saying that ours was the best round of debate he had yet seen.

Heading into my senior year, I was elected captain of debate team, and I spearheaded our efforts for the Fall PMC competition. I gave my handcrafted team pointers on argument, presentation, and logistics. I researched each case independently and ran the team workshops, tempering my steel for the battle ahead. I strode through the Fitzrandolph gates in October ready to finally conquer my old foe. He, however, was not there. Eventually, I led my teammates to three of eleven Top Attorney gavels, in addition to second and third place overall. I personally took my third gavel, and first trophy. Certainly I had tasted success, and certainly I ought to be proud. Some part of me, though, was disappointed. Mr. Mmegwa had not been there; my great adversary had skirted my blade, and my victory felt somewhat hollow.

My campaigns against Luchi Mmegwa had been voyages into the unknown, journeys of constructive humiliation. He brought me to my lowest point, and in doing so, opened me to the greatest change. I am painfully aware that I may not fit all the Princetonian requirements; I make no claims to the contrary. I can, however, promise, with every ounce of humility I possess, that I would make Princeton proud to have accepted me. Mr. Sagan rightfully said that many people would rather have stayed home than explore. I opt to voyage on. I can think of no better place for me to continue my quagmire into ignorance, my voyage into the unknown, than at Princeton.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © Copyright 2012, 2013 by Alex Holzman aka alexh

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