Last Updated: Dec 28, 2020
This is a *real* admission essay student Sarah Montalbano submitted with her application to Cornell University. Check it out!
The Music Teacher
It’s easy to live without extensive knowledge of Disney movies until the moment comes when nothing else will do. The explanation for my shameful deficiency is simple: I was, and still am, an unabashed nerd. As a kid, instead of watching movies, I was smuggling interesting rocks out of the playground in my shoes. If I wasn’t playing with my toy microscope, I was reading voraciously, devouring library books in subjects from astronomy to botany to physics.
After reading about dentistry, I begged my mother, a veterinarian, to save some teeth from extractions so I could soak them in soft drinks for an experiment. I was aghast at the results of Sprite: the tooth was covered in a chalky film that wouldn’t scrape off. I figured my penchant for discovery would be a help more than a hindrance, but my curiosity isolated me from the world. Unbeknownst to me, Mulan was teaching girls to be self-advocating women—and I missed it!
Even as a child, I found solace in violin, and I began teaching two young girls this year. The first lesson I gave challenged me to cross the “nerd/normal” barrier between myself and a child’s mind; none of my childhood adventures could save me. I struggled in vain to teach her to hold a violin’s bow. I persisted until my voice went hoarse, and my fingers cramped. I even adjusted her bow hold myself; when I let go, she slipped back into a tightly clenched fist. The excitement in her eyes faded into frustration. My heart plummeted; I closed my eyes, and silently begged my foggy brain to remember something, anything, that would help me. No scientific formula nor mathematic equation would bridge this gap.
It felt like an eternity passed before I triumphantly recalled one of my favorite movies, Peter Pan, and I asked the girl if she remembered the villain. Her eyes widened, and she exclaimed, “Captain Hook!”
“Great! So now, this finger is going to ‘hook’ around the stick, and Peter Pan is going to balance on his tippy toes so he can keep an eye on Captain Hook, okay?” I said, adjusting her fingers once more and exuberantly praising her when they finally stayed. At the end of the lesson, she was grinning and asking her parents if I could stay longer. My heart beamed.
To avoid a similar fiasco next time, I went home and did what I knew how to do: study. I created a Quizlet deck titled “Disney Princesses, Villains, and Story Arcs,” and hurried to finish it. Every Sunday afternoon, I pack up my ratty National Science Bowl messenger bag with music books, stickers, decks of cards, and dice; I grab my violin, and rush out the door to teach. Their excited shouting is a far cry from our awkward first lesson, and despite my restricted role as “violin teacher,” I teach so much more.
When we get distracted, I’m able to teach them something important about life as well as music. It seems like we’ve discussed everything: why ice cubes crack as they are dropped into water, how sound is produced, and how colds are transmitted. Because of my candy-cane socks and jingle bells on my violin case, one girl is even convinced that I’m one of Santa’s elves, while the other confided her doubts in Santa’s existence.
My students have gradually shaped me into an empathetic, communicative, and dedicated teacher. I devote hours to testing games and researching new techniques, hoping they learn to enjoy music and use it to cope with life’s inevitable disappointments. Their ceaseless questioning inspires me toward greater curiosity. By learning how to cater my explanations toward their unique situations, I’ve improved my ability to communicate with empathy. But perhaps most invaluable is my new ability to debate the best Disney princess (there’s not much debate to be had—obviously Mulan).
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