Model Essay on an Influential Person

An Essay by Catherine for Option #3 of The Common Application

jurvetson / Flickr
More Model Essays: an ethical dilemma | an important issue | an influential person | a fictional character | diversity | the open topic | a supplemental essay

The model essay below comes from Catherine in response to question #3 on The Common Application: "Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence." Catherine applied to just one college where she was accepted through an early decision program. Below is the essay, and on page two you can find a critique of Catherine's essay.

Diamond in the Rough

Do you know a place where you can find history, thread, embroidery floss, school supplies, lampshades, Tupperware or any other random knick-knack? I do. It's a place unlike any other, or it used to be. Buckingham Variety store, more commonly known as Buckingham's, was such a place. Yet this story begins at another store where I first encountered the woman who would help shape who I am today.

I have lived in the hamlet of Oyster Bay my entire life; everything was familiar and nothing was special. The town held little excitement until a unique store came out of nowhere, a sparkling gem, alien to a town that never changes. The gleam from the gem was not the light dancing upon its precious contents of amber and crystal, but from its owner, Claire. Her curly black hair artfully intertwined with slim streaks of grey tumbled softly down her shoulders, and her deep brown eyes shone with the reflection of her wares, and all of her features were balanced perfectly against her dark olive skin.

The extravagant jewelry she sold and her striking Greek beauty were the sparkling lure which enticed me through the door, but her bright smile was the catalyst for the most meaningful friendship of my life.

Unfortunately Claire's generosity, discounts, and lack of customers caused the closure of her store.

I was heartbroken at the thought of how little I would see Claire. Thankfully, Claire did not delay in moving on.

Buckingham's, one of the town's relic stores, became Claire's new home, and I wanted to move in too. I applied to work there the summer after eight grade, and it became my first real job. At this point in my life, responsibility meant cleaning my room and doing homework; was I ready to take on more? My mind raced and my hands shook, but the prospect of working with Claire and earning money for myself left no room for doubt in my mind. I was ecstatic I had found a job, and I knew for sure I was going to have fun.

There are too many experiences to list that occurred in that one little store, from interesting customers to Claire's little boy and girl who lived beneath the forest of merchandise. Her children were viewed as destructive by most, but I discovered the fault in that assumption. They were the most creative and passionate children I had ever encountered, and they made everything come alive (though they did occasionally break things in their imaginative rampage). Each memory from that store holds significant value to me.

Yes, I learned how to deal with money, run a cash register, do inventory, and so on, but that was cake compared to dealing with people.

I always tried to keep a smile on my face and a gentle tone in my voice, no matter how rude the customer. I had never known the ugliness that the world could throw at me, whether it be a wandering drunk, a flip-flop obsessed man, or a woman with a tongue of ice. Claire helped me learn how to manage all of these different characters, as well as help them. A friendly hello or acknowledgement of remembrance was priceless for some of the customers, and just knowing I had made their day a little brighter, mine was too.

People skills can only be gained through experience, and Claire gave me that chance, so it was only fair that she should get a chance at a better life as well. I knew that she was overqualified for the position of a store manager, so when a new opportunity opened up for her, I had to watch her go.

When I was alone, tears streamed down my face. I was selfish; I didn't want her to leave. Buckingham's wouldn't, no couldn't, be the same without her. Inner turmoil boiled inside me. I wanted her to stay, but I knew that she deserved more.

I was happy for her; she had found a job that she wanted, one where she could make a difference. Both the emotions of joy and sadness that overcame me were the result of her effect on my life. I am who I am because of her. She was the reason I took a chance that I would have never taken if she had not existed. Inside those walls is where I grew. I got a second family, my heart was broken by my first real crush, I saved up to buy my very own electric Parker guitar, my imagination was expanded, I learned trust and respect, my confidence blossomed, and I was no longer invisible.

The spark Claire had created left with her. Buckingham's is still there, but its life is hanging by a thread. Yet Claire's influence on my life is something no one can take from me. Those memories are my precious gems, more valuable than any diamond or sapphire.

Read the discussion of Catherine's essay

More Essay Essentials: Common Application Tips | 9 Essay Style Tips | 5 Tips for a Winning Essay | 10 Bad Essay Topics

Here I'll discuss the strengths and weakness of "Diamond in the Rough," the model essay by Catherine.

The Topic

There is nothing profound about Catherine's topic -- she writes about a job in a local store. This is not an essay about saving gorillas from poachers, traveling the globe in a balloon, or winning an international volleyball championship.

Quite the opposite, the first sentence of Catherine's essay places us in the mundane world of Tupperware and lampshades.

The essay's modest focus, however, has a major advantage over some seemingly more impressive topics. Specifically, Catherine comes across as a real and sincere person. She has chosen to write about the type of experience that many of us have had. In her case, however, she met someone special and influential in the process.

I frequently meet students who feel that they have nothing to write about for their essay. Catherine shows that a seemingly commonplace focus can work for an admissions essay. Remember the primary purpose of the essay -- the admissions officers want to learn more about you. They want to know what you value, what your personality is like, and how you will fit into the campus community.

Catherine's choice of topic shows that she can find rewards in everyday experiences.

She came to value strange customers and rambunctious kids, and she learned to deal with difficult situations and manage the daily operations of a store. We can project from these experiences to college -- Does Catherine sound like someone who will work hard in college, manage her time well, get along with her roommate, and confront challenges?


The Tone

Some readers may view Catherine's tone as a little too effusive. Her fondness for Claire is unmistakable, and at times the essay is even doting. That said, the tone also seems sincere. Catherine comes across as someone who truly values other people, and the essay is pleasingly devoid of any kind of ego or self-promotion. Some essays on influential people inadvertently suggest that the author, not the influential person, deserves all the credit for the author's accomplishments. Catherine's essay gives credit where it is due -- with a woman who took a chance on an inexperienced eighth-grader.

Many of the other model essays featured on employ irony and wit to convey their message. Catherine's essay is not trying to show off her cleverness. But here again, the straight-forwardness and sincerity of the essay help construct a positive image of Catherine. A young woman who is capable of the type of meaningful friendship portrayed in the essay is someone who will make a welcome addition to a campus community.

The Writing

Catherine's essay has some wonderful details in it. The "flip-flop obsessed man," the Parker guitar, and the description of Claire's beauty all stand out.

At the same time, Catherine's essay is a bit overwritten. Given the time demands on admissions officers, an ideal essay would be a little shorter than the 830 words we encounter here. Catherine goes on a little more than she needs to when she describes Claire's physical features. Also, Catherine's decision to write about both Buckingham's and the original store where she met Claire adds both length and complexity to the narrative.

A professional editor could easily find material to cut and passages to tighten up in Catherine's essay. Such editing would also make the essay lose something. As is, Catherine's essay is clearly her own, and some of its excesses are also its charms.

Final Thoughts

Working in a variety store may seem like an unpromising focus for an essay, but by the time we finish reading Catherine's essay we can't help feeling like she is a warm-hearted, loyal, hard-working and responsible woman.

The general topic certainly isn't profound and the writing isn't without flaws, but the essay has succeeded in its most important task. We gain a strong sense of who Catherine is, and she seems like a woman who would contribute to our campus community in meaningful ways.