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How I Became an "Old Man" This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


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“Sir‚ name and rank‚ sir.”

That was my most frequently used phrase ­during my first month in the United States at the Culver Military Academy. I was a second-class man (junior) but also a new cadet.

As a Chinese student who had never been to America ­before, it was painstaking to memorize the names and ranks of the “old men” (branch-qualified cadets).

“Sir, good morning, uh – uh – First Ser – Ser, uh, ­Sergeant uh – Puc, uh, Puccia, sir.” It took me forever to greet them in the hallway.

Feeling embarrassed, I wrote down the names and ranks of all 47 “old men” in my unit and sat on my bed for hours each day, reading my list and whispering, “Lance Corporal ­Turner, Color Corporal Weber ….”

“Tuck in your shirt! Don’t talk in the hallway! Square your corners when you march!” they would always bark at me.

Waking at 5:30 each morning, I put on my uniform, shined my shoes, swept the floor, and made my bed so there were absolutely no wrinkles. Then I stood outside my room, waiting for inspection. That was the reality of my ­career as a new cadet.

Because of my superior performance, I was the first cadet invited to Boards, the rigorous testing and inspection for a new cadet to become a branch-qualified “old man.”

The most important part of the process was the room preparation, so I needed to thoroughly clean my room and make sure every nook and cranny was spotless. I woke up at 6 a.m. that Saturday and got to work. To eliminate the dust bunnies hiding in the corners, I bought two bottles of Lemon Pledge. I pulled out the drawers of my desk and crawled underneath. Lying on my back, I sprayed and wiped every inch of the desk, including the underside, the drawer slides, and the legs. I did the same to my wardrobe, bed, and lamp; I even polished my room key.

The hardest part of the preparation was the floor. Dragging, pulling, hauling, pushing, I moved everything out of my room and into the hallway. Piles of dust hidden for years lay where my desk, bed, and wardrobe had stood.

After I had swept up the dust and mopped the floor twice, I opened my second bottle of Pledge. On my hands and knees, I polished the floor one section at a time. By the time I had backed into the hallway, my shirt was wet, my knees were numb, and sweat dripped down my cheeks faster than I could wipe it away. But the floor shone, almost too much. I soon realized how smooth, even slippery, my floor was – I had cleaned it with furniture polish.

“Hey, what’s up, Wu?” a friend asked as he stepped into my room. “When are you– aagh!” His feet flew out and
he fell flat on his back. I can hardly remember how many other boys fell. In a while, my room was filled with cadets in socks spinning like ice skaters.

I lay on my back in the hallway outside my room. “One‚ two‚ three … Go!” Jason pushed my feet and I glided into the room, staring up as the ceiling sped by. Wham! My head slammed into the heater.

Back to work, I shined my shoes until I could see my teeth in them. I folded shirts for five hours, kneeling on the floor with a steel straight-edge: “No, it’s still not exactly 8 by 10 inches.” I folded them, unfolded them, folded them again.

I spent 17 hours cleaning my room. I passed Boards.

I keep two empty bottles of Pledge and a steel straight-edge on my desk to remind me of that day. When I face huge academic and emotional pressures, the sight of the bottles keeps me motivated; when I feel contented and ­sated, I turn to the steel straight-edge, which inspires me to seek perfection. I bring this motivation and perfectionism with me as a member of Squadron Staff, supervising 138 cadets, leading my unit to be the best in the regiment, and getting straight A’s.

I keep two empty bottles of Pledge and a steel straight-edge in my room to remind me that I can accomplish great feats. .

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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This article has 14 comments. Post your own!

J8981 said...
Sept. 9, 2012 at 9:24 pm:
This was the best college essay I have ever read. I absolutely loved it. Props to you for writing something this wonderful, and you are totally awesome.
 
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hdryjo said...
Jul. 18, 2011 at 1:48 pm:
that was just wow
 
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MichelleER said...
Sept. 22, 2010 at 8:59 pm:
Best work I've read on the site. Period. This will stand out to college admission readers. You're going to do very well! :) Had voice while telling the reader about your extraordinary discipline and initiative. Way to go!
 
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deJoisey This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
May 22, 2010 at 3:11 pm:
It seems like such a simple story, but it is very well written and flows from one point to another excellently.  
 
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Aelita said...
May 22, 2010 at 2:55 pm:
Ama-zing!  Is this a true story? 
 
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groovacious said...
May 22, 2010 at 8:57 am:
Wow such hard work and determination.
 
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sshfaryal said...
May 22, 2010 at 8:55 am:

Nice. Interesting, I wish it could have gone on longer.

Culver is a beautiful academy. I went there once for a track meet. The whole place is spotless, I guess like your room was, haha.

 
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Heraldo Montoya said...
Apr. 30, 2010 at 2:40 pm:

Frankly, the premise was good, but the middle was fluff.

Your piece was good, but it only talked about your time as a cadet, not your personal traits, what makes you, -you-. I liked it, but it needs a personal touch to it, instead of simply stating things you did as a cadet.

 
sundancer replied...
Jun. 13, 2010 at 12:15 pm :
no, it does have a personal touch! the images given to the reader's mind in this essay yield a very precise image of a man. read it again if you missed it!
 
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writingmaniac98 said...
Nov. 5, 2009 at 12:07 pm:
i loved you piece!!!!!!!
 
Akio-san replied...
Dec. 19, 2009 at 2:46 pm :
wow.............
 
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MisunderstoodBeauty said...
May 23, 2009 at 12:09 am:
wow..
 
NerdInPajamas replied...
Oct. 14, 2009 at 1:59 pm :
you said it, misunderstood. and you rock Wu
 
inkystarlight replied...
Nov. 23, 2009 at 12:34 pm :
wow! You sure put a lot of effort into it.
 
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