Common App college essay

October 20, 2011
By , Los Altos Hills, CA
In the spring five years ago my family and I went to the first Maker Faire because the Mythbusters were having a meet and greet there. I chatted with my favorite Mythbuster, Grant, for a minute or two, but, just feet away, I met someone who would have a far greater impact on my life. Gever Tulley was running a booth to promote his summer camp, and his booth impressed my parents enough that they tried to convince me to go to his camp, Tinkering School, that summer. Like many stubborn eleven-year-olds I was reluctant to try something new, away from my parents, for a whole week. Though I was easily convinced when I learned that campers got to go home with pocket knives.

A couple months later I nervously set my bag down on my bunk and followed Gever down to the workshop. Propellers made out of soda cans were flying around the room and toothbrush robots scudded across the workbench. Power drills and soldering irons populated the table while the big tools like chop saws and drill presses sat outside. Never having seen most of these tools much less used them was very intimidating so Gever gave me a quick soldering tutorial by helping me make a flashlight. Then he introduced everyone to our first project, row-carts. We were to make carts powered by a rowing motion out of the available two by fours, some plywood, a couple of bike wheels, and a freewheeling cassette. My team talked about the design and decided on some dimensions in no more than half and hour and got to work building. I had never used the chop saw or even so much as driven a screw so I was afraid of making a mistake and compromising our whole project. Furthermore, I didn’t trust myself to be safe in using these tools and was afraid that I would make a dumb mistake and hurt myself, or worse, someone else. Since the project required me to step outside of my comfort zone which I really didn’t want to do, I basically delegated myself to human clamp. I was happy to sit on a piece of wood that need to be cut with a jigsaw or be the counter pressure for a hole that needed to be drilled. I made it through the whole project this way without ever having to try anything new. The row-carts ended up working great so while we tinkered with them we moved on to a new project, a sail boat made out of one sheet of plywood and one sheet of foam. Since I was still afraid of making a mistake I played with the row-carts with some other campers while everybody else worked on the boat. I had a pretty bad crash going down a hill and claimed the “first injury” title. After getting my scraped knee cleaned up I went back down to the workshop.

Gever asks me if I’m okay and then says, “In paragliding whenever someone crashes we analyze what happened to find out why they crashed and what they can do differently next time to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again”. This immediately makes me angry because he wants me to take responsibility for the crash. Then I realize that this is Gever’s whole idea behind tinkering. I realize that it doesn’t matter that I crashed, all I got was a scraped knee, but that I should learn something from the crash. I realize that I shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes because if I don’t try anything new I’ll never learn anything, like how to use a chop saw or a drill press. So we went on building the boat, except this time I actually contributed in a meaningful way. No longer afraid of messing up, I helped cut the plywood sides, caulk the hull, and build the deck. When we sailed it in the bay two days later I was filled with pride, accomplishment, and empowerment in a way I had never felt before. I had built a boat.





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