It is a college application cliché: the dreaded “What critical moments have shaped who you are?” prompt, and here I sit, another victim of this extracurricular assignment. Alas, as with everything else in high school, it is necessary to get the deed done. Determination and a strong work ethic like this have always been important parts of my scholastic approach and they have carried me through many rough times – times where I even doubted the validity or worth of an assignment. Yes, in the end, I have been able to overcome these self-doubts and finish whatever was asked of me, often with this little reminder: What could matter more than the grade?
It is just that philosophy that has gotten me so successfully through high school – doing what is required of me, anything for the “A” – because school, after all, is a place where young minds should be molded into efficient machines of sociological productivity, leaving no room for art or philosophy. Indeed, school has given me a strong sense of direction and a defined set of beliefs, and although there have been several instances where I have affirmed this myself, I feel that I am lucky to have had one major chance to prove my convictions and assert my beliefs in the arrogant face of adversity.
It begins rather hazily. I remember lying prostrate in my bed, the red glare of the digital alarm bright in the corner of my room, the monochromatic yellow of the street lamp casting lattice-squares on my wall. (To tell the truth, this really could have been just about any night. The beauty of insomnia is that after a while it’s not about “not sleeping,” but about surviving consciousness. I brush my teeth, remove my shirt, step into the ring, and pull up the covers, using radio and warmth and television and the gust of the fan in my window to beat back the beasts and behemoths of original thought that threaten to crowd out the cells of F=Ma and the like in my head.)
But I digress. The point is that it was an average night. It was sometime after 2:00 AM (the sprinklers had come on) when the pallid luminescence around my bed was replaced with a bright white light, a low pulsating vibration, and haunting Hollywood B-movie music – altogether a very sci-fi experience.
Now it gets unusual. Honestly, once I realized that it was an alien abduction, I was only thinking two things: I’m gonna be strapped to a cold metal table and experimented on and I’m only in my underwear. Thankfully, there were no tables and no apparent interest in the physical workings of humans, but I was in my boxers as I was lead to a large indoor swimming pool. Considering they were not from Earth, these aliens had an excellent grasp of interior decoration. The pool was embedded with baby blue tiles, the walkway in white marble, and scattered about the water were several inflated lounge chairs in a variety of pastel shades – quite a soothing environment.
Not knowing what else to do, I dove in. We swam around for a while, hung out, ate some chips, drank some soda… It didn’t take me long to pick up their language (basically English, but replace the consonants with beeps and clicks, change the syntactical structure, and eliminate most of the adverbs and adjectives), and once I had, I managed to have a nice theological discussion with them.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and I while grudgingly admit that I precipitated the argument that led to my untimely dismissal; I believe this argument is that very testament of character you have asked me to demonstrate. I shall continue.
At some point the conversation managed to shift away from the benign and non-controversial topic of religion to education, and I began to assert my beliefs. For some reason, my new companions found it unfathomable that I could think the way I do. Personally, I couldn’t believe that they would refute my observations. Everyone knows that going to school is not about the enhancement of the mind and the development of critical thinking skills, or even (God forbid!) the refinement of useless rhetoric like wit and irony.
And then I defined my twelve years of attendance: School, simply, is about getting an “A.” All essays are five paragraphs, math is an achievement of memorization, and the arts offered at school are only there for unmotivated kids who don’t care whether they become a valedictorian with 13 or more AP classes.
Theirs was a harsh reaction.
Now surely you can understand why I called them naïve and thoughtless when they offered me knowledge beyond my wildest capacity and granted me three wishes if I could agree to live my life for the enhancement of others. The gall of these creatures, offering useless knowledge when they couldn’t even grasp a concept as simplistic as school. When would helping humanity or commanding the secrets of the cosmos help me in AP U.S. History? Knowledge has no merit in the scholastic fields of high school achievement! Of course I turned down both offers, and that’s just the way it is with me: What’s right is right!
Anyway, I was transported back to my room, the digital alarm showing only eight minutes having elapsed.
And there you have it. I’ve gone on with my life; still determined, still pumping that standardized work ethic. I feel that the conviction I showed on that cosmopolitan-indoor pool- alien spacecraft more than adequately demonstrates what an intelligent and levelheaded person I am and how well I face challenges set before me. I’m aware that to some it may seem a paltry excuse for a life-defining moment. It’s no principal’s award, or sports trophy – I didn’t even meet a little kid while working as a counselor at a summer camp from whom I learned as much as I taught. Yet, when it comes down to the wire (and completing this application requirement), refusing to accept “knowledge” from those wayward miscreants was one of the most courageous and self-affirming actions I have ever taken.