Summer Allen is the First Runner-Up in CEA’s Bragging Writes college essay contest. She tells a story of swashbuckling intellectual curiosity as she spends one summer racing her father to the finish of Robinson Crusoe. Summer’s submission is the perfect example of how a great essay can come out of a small, personal life event. The humorous tone immediately speaks to her personality, while the story reveals unique, specific information about her intellectual history and family relationships. The vivid telling of this tale makes her seem like someone who would be fun to spend time with, and we’re sure her future classmates at the University of Virginia will be able to confirm this.
Open my copy of Robinson Crusoe carelessly, and a note will flutter out from its hiding place. It’s not a business card, or a receipt (typically my bookmarks of choice); it’s a card from my dad’s stationary. Written near the top in a messy middle schooler’s scrawl are the words “You were wrong! Mwha-ha-ha!” This note marks my victory in the unofficial book race of 2009.
That summer, my dad and I decided to read Robinson Crusoe at the same time. It quickly turned into a competition of who could finish it first. I remember curling up in my chair for hours on end, reading feverishly. During the day while Dad worked, I would surge ahead; after my bedtime, he would catch up. One day, much to my chagrin, I discovered he had passed me by several chapters. I flipped to my bookmark and found a note. It read “You’ll never catch me now!” Intent on finishing first, I read the way my dad would drive me in the go-kart: impossibly fast. Triumphant only began to describe my emotions as I finished the last sentence and wrote my dad a note of my own.
Though elated to finally beat my dad at something, victory is not all I remember. Besides leaving each other notes, we discussed the story together. We’d chat about Crusoe and his parrot, Poll, about Friday and the cannibals (horror upon horrors for a 6th grader!). It was our inside joke, as we discussed the plot while mom and younger sisters had no clue what we were talking about.
Now we keep Robinson Crusoe on the “fancy” bookshelf: the antique wooden one with a glass door and rusty key. As I look back on that summer six years later, a little older, a little wiser, I realize what an ingenious idea it was. Give a girl who reads everything a book, a challenge, and a little time, and she’ll thrive. My parents saw the spark and fueled my passion for learning by providing me with the best kindling available-a classical education, a sense of curiosity, and loads of books. I might not race through adventure novels with my dad now, but that intellectual fire still burns bright. I still love challenging myself, whether it be mentally or physically. I still thirst for knowledge, whether it come from devouring books or exploring the world around me. But the most important lesson I learned that summer remains with me to this day: never read about cannibals right before bed. -Summer Allen, 2015