Oberlin Blogs

That's Wormwood!

January 4, 2011

Patrick Doherty ’11

I've been wanting to do this for a while, but since I've been at home for break, I've had the opportunity to dig through the computer in my house and find my common app essay (among other things). Ruby, Eli, Chris, and Tess have all posted either their common app essay or their "Why Oberlin?" essay, so I thought I would join in the party and do the same.

When I first reread this essay, I was simultaneously amused and appalled. I was amused by how little my writing style has changed, yet appalled at how...unrefined my writing was four years ago. It's nice to know that I have improved, though. I'd be worried if I discovered that I had failed to improve my writing in the last four years.

My goal with this essay was to showcase my unconventional approach to a rather typical assignment in a class. I wanted to show that I could think outside the box and come up with creative alternatives to what was typically expected. The advice I received senior year (and that I still live by) was that my essays should showcase my personality. Rather than be boxed in by one of the common app's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad essay prompts (bonus points to anyone who just caught my reference to this book), I opted to pick the prompt that allowed me to write on a topic of my choice. Thinking outside the box? Check! Avoiding writing a clichéd essay similar to that of many other applicants? Check!


The most important thing about your essay is to BE YOURSELF. Also, use spell check and PROOFREAD. Spell check doesn't catch everything. You don't want to end up writing your entire essay about Julie Taymor's production of The Loin King* That's just bad news bears.

So, here it is! Enjoy my snarky footnotes that I have added as commentary:

"That's wormwood!"

"Don't forget that your Hamlet presentations start next Thursday," my English teacher, Mr. Cautero, reminded us one Thursday morning as the bell was ringing. I dreaded every aspect of this assignment. We had to memorize 15 lines from Shakespeare's famous tragedy, Hamlet, and recite them in front of the entire class. I never expected this seemingly mundane assignment to become one of the most amusing and memorable experiences of my high school career.1

During lunch that afternoon, I brainstormed ideas for a scene to perform with my friends. Some of them chose the typical monologues that are commonly performed.2 My friend Dani and I, however, decided to do something different. After about 15 minutes, we chose the play within the play, which Hamlet often refers to as "The Mousetrap." As we read through our lines, we found them confusing and difficult to understand.3 All of a sudden,4 an idea struck me. The characters' names are "Player King" and "Player Queen," and I decided that instead of being "players" we should do the scene as "playas." "Playas" are gangsters, and rappers, among other things.5 Dani and I decided that we would rap our scene for the whole class. We practiced our lines for a week, created props and costumes, and were fully prepared on the day of the presentation.

Our presentation was scheduled for the following Friday. Up to that point, none of the students had done anything creative with his or her presentation. They all had stood up in front of the class and recited their 15 lines in a monotone. As our presentation grew closer, Dani and I become increasingly excited. We had leaked our ingenious plan to a few of our friends. For the most part, however, we kept our whole act a secret. As we walked up to the front of the classroom with our props, Mr. Cautero gave us a strange look. "We'd doing a...modern...interpretation of our scene," explained Dani. "Very modern," I added. Composing myself, I recited the three-line prologue without error. We then proceeded to put on our baseball caps and construction-paper crowns. As we started our beat, the class began to laugh. I began to rap my lines, and soon we had the whole class laughing for the duration of our presentation. As we concluded with the line "That's wormwood!" our peers cheered for us. We even made Mr. Cautero laugh. The presentation, although nerve-wracking, was one of the most entertaining moments of our English class.6 Our fellow students thought the presentation was a riot, and Mr. Cautero himself seemed to be impressed with our gusto and with the fact that we had our lines flawlessly memorized.

Overall, the whole experience was rewarding. By putting our lines in a modern context, we were able to decipher their meaning and communicate their message effectively.7 Not only were we able to complete our assignment successfully, but we were also able to do it in a way that no one could forget. We entertained the class, our teacher, and ourselves, and we were able to thoroughly enjoy ourselves. I can't remember the last time that I had that much fun in an English class while doing an assignment. After all, everyone assumes that Advanced Placement classes are boring and allow little creativity.8 I think that Dani and I were able to disprove that theory quite effectively.

Well there you have it! Bonus points to anyone who can catch the grammatical mishaps throughout the essay. I found several.

It's not perfect. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's terrible. It did, however, get the job done.

Quote time!

"Full thirty times hath Phoebus' cart gone round
Neptune's salt wash and Tellus' orbed ground,
And thirty dozen moons with borrow'd sheen
About the world have times twelve thirties been,
Since love our hearts and Hymen did our hands
Unite commutual in most sacred bands." - Hamlet, Act II, scene iii


*This actually happened. The admissions office still talks about it. Also, welcome to my handy-dandy footnotes! My friend Ellen taught me how to do this and I'm quite proud. To get back to where you were reading, just hit your browser's back button.

1. To this day, I agree with this statement.

2. I was ready to kill someone if I heard "To be or not to be..." again. Seriously.

3. This is me attempting to sound humble. I was pretty arrogant in high school.

4. Worst transition ever. I am embarrassed that I used it.

5. Was this sentence really necessary? Also, could I sound any more white while writing it? Fail.

6. This was my polite way of pointing out that my English class was insanely boring.

7. I totally learned a lesson from this project. Uh huh. Totally. Can't you tell, person reading my application?! I made it as freaking obvious as I could, apparently.

8. In retrospect, AP classes did very little to prepare me for college. That, and they stifled creative opportunities for learning, despite this example. However, I'm pretty sure my AP classes and test scores helped me to get into Oberlin, so I should probably be grateful. Oh, well.

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