By Elizabeth

“Bring the ace of spades up,” my Grandmother said as we started our first game of solitaire after I got home from school. “Now, put the black eight onto the red nine.” We played solitaire often, working together to reorganize the cards most efficiently. While it was meant to be a single-player game, solitaire was the one thing we did together, moving and dealing the cards in a symphony of order: red to black, red to black. Pulling the pattern out of the random array of cards.

For hours, we sat at our glossy kitchen table, playing game after game. If there were no more moves to make, I would always sneak a card from below a column without my grandma seeing. She always did. I couldn’t understand- What was the big deal of revealing the cards? We might win one out of ten games played. But if we just ‘helped ourselves,’ as I liked to call it, we could win them all. I didn’t understand her adherence to the “Turn Three” rule. Why not just turn the cards one by one? It was too frustrating to see the cards go by, but turn exactly three and not be able to pick them up! After one game we lost, I asked my grandma, “Why do we play this way? There’s a much better way to play.” In response, she quickly explained her adamancy to the rules, what before had made no sense to me.

Her polished fingernails scratched against the cards as she shuffled them and told me. “Solitaire isn’t just a game for one person.” Her deep brown eyes sharply glanced at me, “No.” It wasn’t just a game for one person, but rather for two sides of a person. It was an internal battle, a strengthening of the mind. One playing against oneself. “If one side of you cheats, how would either side get better?”

Red lipsticked lips slightly grinned as my grandma saw me trying to understand, but I didn’t agree with this thought at once. The cards rhythmically slapped down onto the table as my grandmother, small yet stoic, effortlessly moved the cards with frail hands. I watched her. I thought about any other way to understand this idea. I desperately wanted to. Trying to think, I couldn’t imagine another instance where this sense of tranquility, bringing the melody of organization out of a cacophony of random cards, came from such intense competition.

The slow manipulation of life around her precedent made me think back to my grandma, to what she told me, and made me understand. Two years later, pushing myself harder than I ever had before in a field hockey match, I realized how much I had been cheating myself and my team by not putting this effort in before. Four years later, I was helping my parents clean after dinner when I saw the value in not taking the easy way out. Five years later, I found once again the difficult ease in pottery. Lifting the pot off the wheel, I found satisfaction. Looking back, I hadn’t realized that this notion of self-accountability appears in almost every aspect of my life.

Seven columns. Four aces. Fifty-two cards. Laying these down, I’m brought back to playing solitaire with my grandmother. Through time, her inner spirit never crumbled as her body began to deteriorate. Her mind stayed strong and proud. I admired her for that more than she could’ve imagined. Each challenge I face, or will face, in life, I think back to her lesson one inconspicuous afternoon. Never let myself cheat. Always hold myself accountable. Work hard in every competition, especially the ones against myself, as those are the ones that better me the most. I did not understand what my grandmother meant that day. Now, with each day, I do more.

Admissions Committee Comments

Many students want to share about an important person or family member in their life in their college essays. The challenge with this is making sure that the essay is still about the applicant, not just the important person. Elizabeth does a great job of incorporating that important person, her grandmother, while still keeping the focus on herself, what she learned from that specific moment, how that impacted her life. Additionally, although Elizabeth began by focusing on a childhood experience, she brought that back to her day-to-day life and how she incorporates accountability and hard work throughout. Understanding who Elizabeth is and her values, helps us understand who she will be in our campus community. She demonstrates her values of hard work and self-accountability are not limited to just solitaire but incorporated in sports, hobbies, her family life and are sure to shine through in her new communities on a college campus.

“I wanted to use my essay as a way to show the committee my personality and what I value most. Things I list in the essay, like self-accountability, hard work, self-improvement, etc. are the things that are difficult to see in a person through other aspects of the application. I wanted the committee to see how I viewed the world and where that originated.”

Elizabeth, Fairfield, Connecticut