Duke University Admission Essay on Racial or Cultural Differences

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Duke University Application Essay on Racial or Cultural Differences

Essay by Matthew Wells McConnell

I've been raised in a somewhat sheltered environment, mostly surrounded by wealthy, white kids. Often, I pondered whether or not I was materialistic or blatantly ignorant of my good fortune much like many of my peers. Transferring from a rather small, Catholic school in Rock Hill, I noticed the different mannerisms—spoiled nature and flaunting of wealth—that a majority of the students possessed and I thought little of it because I was so young and na?ve. As I started to mature, a fear sparked within me like the strike of a matchstick, fear that I was being unduly influenced and would develop the characteristics of some of my more sheltered and spoiled classmates. That is not who I wanted to become.

A couple of years ago, a black student named James came to my school, and we quickly became acquaintances. He has wielded such a positive impact on my life as no other single person could have done. Born in Queens, New York, he was the only child in his family, including his extended family, who was not born in Africa. He went to a boarding school in Nigeria, where his dad went through schooling, and moved to Charlotte with his dad, stepmom, and brother.

Before I met James, I had never experienced such a tight bond and strong friendship with a person of African descent. As our relationship blossomed, I was hit head on by a different world. For example, the first time I ventured over to his house, it affected me and altered the way I perceive certain things every day. As I stepped out of my car, I noticed the paint chipped away on the fa?ade of his house and the metal bars in front of his windows. The furniture in his house was torn and antique-looking; some masked in tape in order to hold it together. My nostrils filled with the smell of home cooking as I entered a kitchen and dining room that could barely fit a family of four. James introduced me to his dad, who greeted me with a strong handshake and a thick Nigerian accent. His poverty-stricken family didn't enjoy all the luxuries that most of my friends and I enjoyed; yet, they were content with the little they had and not once did I ever hear James complain of his misfortune. He would always and still does call me for rides because his family can't afford to buy him a car. One spring, James went to the beach with my family and me. As we were running to shake off the restlessness of the long car ride, James turned towards the beach and stopped. He stared as the spectacle in awe and told me he had never seen the beach before.

I asked James about the discrimination he faces every day, and he shared with me numerous situations that opened my eyes to what he, and many other African Americans, go through each day. I invited him into my life and conversed with him about my white southern background and my Scottish descent. One day, James thanked me for caring enough to befriend him and make an effort to understand his situation and where he is coming from. Thus, our worlds collided by integrating in a spirit of harmony and trust. Barriers were broken. James bestowed upon me a gift that no other friend I had was capable of giving. He taught me to be thankful and grateful for my parents' hard work and for what they have given me. He showed me various ways to look at things from other perspectives and not conform to the common racial stereotypes. Most importantly, he indirectly showed me how I could become a better person by crossing different boundaries and getting to know people who aren't like me, and experiencing new situations. I hope to continue to use this wonderful gift at Duke and in my life after college. I will be forever thankful for the contributions James has made, and this gift will never be forgotten.

Mathew Wells McConnell attends Duke University.

Essay Review

a friendship bridges the racial divide

Author Matt McConnell is a white teenager whose life has been enriched by a black friend who comes from a more modest socioeconomic background. Matt's sincere desire to learn about his friend comes through, and his eye for detail (as in "chipped paint" and "firm handshake") make for an interesting story. A weak essay on cultural difference might show garden-variety sympathy, or even a more genuine empathy. A strong one, like Matt's, shows an author beginning to see the world through another person's eyes.

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