Hey. I posted this up before but then went back and did a lot of editing thanks to some readers critiques. I'm posting it again because I really want to make sure it conveys it's message well since it is the "big" Princeton Essay. Any help would be great! Plus I'm about a 1000 characters over the limit so I need help trimming down.
Using a favorite quotation from an essay or book you have read in the last three years as a starting point, tell us about an event or experience that helped you define one of your values or changed how you approach the world. Please write the quotation at the beginning of your essay."We enter the world as purely physical beings; and leave it the same way. In between, through our lifetimes, we labour pridefully to establish identities, selves distinct from our bodies. Not what we are but who we are. This is the crux of our humanity." -Joyce Carol Oates After Amnesia
"Six days at Palmetto Boys State will change the rest of your life." These words fell dead before a crowd of nine hundred cynical and tired teenage guys. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and I was already waiting for these six days to be over. My first impressions were not exactly good ones. The day had been a rush of pressed bodies in small rooms, shaking hands with strangers, and stark, barren dorms. So now, I was sitting here, tired and hungry listening to an array of boring speeches from different people. I started to get a hang of what was going on. This camp was some sort of leadership/government camp where we were supposed to run for office while building confidence and teaching us to be future leaders. They divided us into "cities" of about 40 guys and these would be our family for the next week. Honestly, I knew none of this beforehand and had been told to go by my guidance counselor because it "looked good for college." After the speeches, we eventually went to our rooms and we all attempted conversation with each other but it was awkward since we were strangers. Eventually, we went to bed and fell asleep on our cots. As I laid there I was thinking, what have I got myself into.
Over the next few days, I realized that on top of the government and leadership lessons, the camp was also about learning your cities chants and yelling them as loudly as possible at the others cities in "battle". Now, normally, I would have thought this was incredibly dumb, and at first I did. I am normally loud when I have to be, and I have never been that person who is totally caught up in the moment cheering. However, here I was on the front line yelling at the top of my lungs at the other cities. Now, most would think this distracted from the "real" intention of Boys State but instead it actually reinforced it. Being one of the leaders in my city in chanting had given me the confidence to run for and win offices at the city and county level. To run for these offices we had to give speeches. There was a certain amount of comfort in speaking to strangers because I knew that if I embarrassed myself, I would never see these people again. It was this comfort that gave me the confidence to stand in front of my peers and give a coherent, effective speech. Now, I am much more confident in any speech or performance I have to give.
By Wednesday, the fourth day, the whole dynamic that had been established in the beginning had completely changed. The awkward conversations had changed into outgoing chats between all of us as if we had always known each other. Everyone poured themselves into the chant battles; the mark of a good citizen became the absence of a voice. I was surprised most by myself that I had poured myself entirely into this week. No one from my school would have recognized me because I could already tell this week had changed my identity. I no longer associated myself with someone willing to let others take the lead; I was now striving to be at the front and had established myself as a leader in my city. People had always associated me purely with my grades, but here I was everything but that. I was truly myself.
Friday was when I realized just how much talent everyone there possessed. Everyone acted so casual and were athletic, so no one really thought much about academic abilities. However, in one conversation, I learned that all the guys I was talking to were team captains, top of their class, or possessed incredible abilities. One boy who was the epitome of the stereotypical skateboarder got an 800 on his Math SAT. Another could memorize complicated symphonies and play them back on the piano. I was blown away and humbled to be in the presence of so many incredible people.
That night was an awards banquet and they were announcing the winner of the Samsung American Legion Scholarship. I had entered into the contest, but so did over a hundred other boys so I just zoned out when they were going to announce the winner. Then they said the winner was from Rock Hill and I thought what a strange coincidence. Then they started listing the winner's qualifications such as valedictorian and cross country team captain. At this point, my new friend punched me in the arm and said, "That could be you!" Then they said, "The winner is Daniel Austin Abel!" It took a minute to sink in but my city erupted in cheers and congratulations as I stood and walked to the stage. It was incredible, not only winning but also having so many people be that happy for me because even though we were strangers, they genuinely cared about me. After everything, we went back to our cities and we all talked as a group for two hours. Our senior counselor had just lost his best friend that week and through a combination of talking about lost loved ones and memories of the week, all forty of us supposedly mature young men, ended up balling our eyes out for two hours. We all exposed secrets and hidden feelings and surprisingly I was the first to talk, not about myself but instead to console our counselor. Of all the things that happened all week, this surprised me a considerate amount because I was never the first to talk, certainly not to deliver a heart-felt speech to comfort someone else. I fell asleep that night thinking how incredible that week had been.
"Six days will change the rest of your life." These words were greeted with an uproar of cheers and applause. It was such a change from before because these words had proven to be true. It had changed my life not because it made me a new person, but because it helped me find the self that had always been there. Not what I was, but who I was. I discovered that I really could be a leader, even in non-academic things. I found out that I could strike up random conversation with strangers and be an outgoing person rather than a borderline introvert. I realized there are people out there how really care about your successes rather than becoming bitter. Perhaps most importantly, I learned to value this identity that had been hidden inside of me for so long. And so, as we left the auditorium for the last time, there were no chant battles or yelling because every city felt as our city did; that we just wanted to spend these last few precious minutes with our new friends and lifetime brothers, the brothers that had helped me find my identity, the brothers of Keowee.