University of Chicago Admission Essay Sample: How Reading Changed My Life

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University of Chicago Application Essay on Personal Growth

"How Reading Changed My Life"

by Sean O'Keefe

One overpowering image appears whenever I remember my middle school years: the Dark Ages in Europe. Was I suffering through isolation, oppression, or misery? Fortunately not, yet I was, as Plato would put it, in the gloom of my cave, bereft of the light of intellectual illumination.

I liken my early childhood, a time of radiant learning, to Greek and Roman antiquity. Whenever a particular topic (like dinosaurs, wildlife, or astronomy) seized my interest, I would read every wisp of related information I could find. In Classical Greek and Roman fashion, I laid the foundations of my future through my love of reading in my childhood. I stopped reading for pleasure, however, when I reached adolescence and became consumed with athletics. Like the Europeans after the fall of the Roman Empire, I vaguely sensed that something great still existed, dormant but waiting to be reborn.

As Dante's The Divine Comedy ignited the Italian Renaissance, J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings rekindled my dormant love of reading and ignited my life's Renaissance. Seeing Peter Jackson's first "LOTR" movie in ninth grade inspired me to tackle the book itself. Immediately, I was swept off into Tolkien's heroic tale. I discovered a story, inspired by the ancient world's greatest legends and myths, with profound relevance to the modern world though its timeless themes of friendship, courage, corruption, good and evil, war and peace, victory and defeat, love and hate, and hope and despair. I was moved by, as C. S. Lewis put it, "Beauties which pierce like swords." I felt like St. Paul when the Lord knocked him off his horse on the road to Damascus. For the first time, I realized that literature helps us discover how we want to live and where we want to go in the future.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the philosophers of the Enlightenment brought about remarkable progress by re-evaluating Europe's previously accepted doctrines and traditions. Reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X incited my Enlightenment. The book demonstrated how personal growth comes from hav- ing honesty, compassion, and a capacity for sincere introspection. Malcolm X's story gave me, for the first time in my life, an open mind. I recognized how everyone, including me, will instinctively clutch onto preconceived beliefs and prejudices. Additionally, Malcolm X's remarkable regard for history taught me that without an understanding of the past, there is no wisdom to guide us in the future.

The future is uncertain. We will face many great challenges in the twenty-first century: achieving peace and stability in the Middle East, defeating the ideology of Islamic Jihadism, and harnessing the energy of globalization to improve the human condition. Difficult choices must be made to meet these challenges, and I want to help make those decisions. My favorite stories have armed me with a love of reading and the sense of history and faith I need to face the future with enthusiasm. That is why I'm so excited to discover what the future will hold.

Sean O'Keefe attends the University of Chicago.

Essay Review

"Beauties which pierce like swords"

Lack of a grandiose topic was no problem for Sean O'Keefe, who penned this essay to describe little more than the fact that he went into intellectual slump in middle school. He compares his life to the course of Western civilization, telling his story with on-target references to Plato, St. Paul, C. S. Lewis, Dante, J. R. R. Tolkien, filmmaker Peter Jackson, and Malcolm X. The essay speaks eloquently about both the breadth of his reading and his mastery of the themes therein.

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