A interpret an aphorism from the list below, and then, b

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Personal Narrative Essay—Focusing on an Aphorism
The following essay assignment expects you to: a. interpret an aphorism from the list below, and then, b. tell a story that uses an episode(s) or observation(s) from your life to reveal the meaning of the


The aphorisms you may choose from include:

  1. The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain about themselves, but wiser people so full of doubt. (Bertrand Russell)

  2. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion was once eccentric. (Bertrand Russell)

  3. For everything you have missed, you have gained something else; and for everything you gain, you lose something. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

  4. Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes. Always. (Mahatma Gandhi)

  5. Nothing is more significant of men’s character than what they find laughable. (Johann Wolfgang Goethe)

  6. Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you. (Aldous Huxley)

  7. Imagination is more important than knowledge. (Albert Einstein)

  8. Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT’S relativity. (Albert Einstein)

  9. Every man I meet is in some way my superior. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

  10. Millions long for immortality but do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon. (Susan Ertz)

  11. The only competition worthy of a wise man is with himself. (Washington Allston)

  12. That man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest. (Henry David Thoreau)

  13. There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. (Henry David Thoreau)

  14. There’s no underestimating the intelligence of the American public. (H.L. Mencken)

  15. Every man in the architect of his own fortune. (Seneca)

  16. The injury of prodigality leads to this, that he who will not economize will have to agonize. (Confucius)

This essay may exclusively narrate a personal experience; it may move from your observations of life to a specific personal experience(s); it may focus on an in depth explanation of what the statement means, using your own stories of personal experiences to back up your interpretation; in, short, you have great flexibility in this assignment, both in your approach and the tone you choose to create. The key tasks are these: are you focusing on a legitimate interpretation of the aphorism and are you relating a story or stories that reveal how the aphorism can apply to your life or to how you see life unfolding.

This essay should not be fewer than 500 words in length and not more than 700; this demands that you control the quality of what you wish to include. You will lose points if it does not abide by these parameters.

Student Writer: ________________________

Grading Rubric

How well do you interpret a legitimate meaning of the aphorism? (20 points)


How well do you relate a story or stories that demonstrate the meaning of the aphorism? (60 points)


How strong is your writing “voice” in the essay? (10 points)


How sound are the mechanics, grammar, and usage in the essay? (10 points)


TOTAL: ________/100 points

A good [story], in my view, does not offer solutions. Good stories deal with our moral struggles, our uncertainties, our dreams, our blunders, our contradictions, our endless quest for understanding. Good stories do not resolve the mysteries of the human spirit but rather describe and expand upon those mysteries. (Tim O’Brien)

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