Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Admissions Essay That Got Me Into UPenn

You have just completed your 300-page autobiography. Please submit page 217.

            Yet another one of my most memorable experiences from secondary school is an incident which my secondary three class have fondly come to term “The Cockroach Bottle”. It all began with a biology experiment involving the dissection of cockroaches. We “oohhed” and “aaahed” as Miss Phuan deftly clipped back the cockroaches’ wings with drawing pins, calmly exposing the mysteries of its insides. We applauded loudly as she named even the most minute parts of its anatomy. But she was most disappointed when we all coyly declined her offer to decapitate the next specimen. As a result, we had a number of the pests left over, which my friends Jarrod and Jacques collected and stowed away in a jam jar.
            I next saw the bottle several days later. Inside, the cockroaches had breathed their last, but their final slumber was cruelly disturbed when Jarrod began to shake the bottle. He shook it very, very hard. Several days, and many hard shakes later, the bottle had already passed through the hands of every member of the class. Inside, a soggy white paste, not unlike mayonnaise, was splattered around the sides of the glass, and it was still possible to recognise a head, and several pairs of extremities. It was indeed a most ghastly sight, and not a few remarks were made about the appropriateness of using a jam jar.
            One week later, Jacques decided to open the jar. In ten seconds flat, the class was empty. Like the survivors of a war, we gathered along the corridor outside, still reeling from this massive assault on our olfactory organs. Even at the end of lunch, when Miss Phuan came for her biology lesson, we were all still hanging around the corridor, and absolutely refused to return. With ingenuity which would have done credit to any scientist in a crisis, she decided to move that lesson outdoors. However, I hardly heard a word she said that day. For me, the true lesson in biology had already been firmly imprinted in my memory – I had seen first hand the rate of diffusion of molecules in the air, and the speed was incredible. I had also learned that though it takes the molecule of an unpleasant odour an infinitesimally small amount of time to fill a classroom, it takes at least a week for these same particles to exit through the open window. Fortunately for us, that was the last lesson in our classroom for the day, and our teachers were not forced to make any more unscheduled changes to the timetable. But for the next few days, the air was filled with a surprisingly strong smell of cologne.
On hindsight, it was really fortunate that Jacques had had the presence of mind to close the bottle before he joined in the general retreat. Had he dropped the bottle, the consequences would have been unthinkable. Whatever the case, this little seemingly insignificant event has left an indelible mark in my mind. It showed me the lighter side to science; more importantly, it showed me that one should think before one opens a bottle full of decomposed cockroaches.

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