top of page

Common App: "When I was Eight Years Old"


Donian Chyong

Admitted: Columbia

Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

When I was eight years old, I built my first spaceship. I made it out of Legos, magical bits of plastic that became whatever I wished. Built by excited fingers, a meaningless jumble morphed into a marvelous, new toy to add to my collection. I made skyscrapers, racecars, and robots all accessible on a small, plastic scale. Straight from Star Wars: Episode IV, the first spaceship I built was a steel-gray battlecruiser bristling with rotating laser guns. I followed the instructions with zealous precision because I did not want to make a single error in the design. These step-by-step picture books showed me exactly what I needed to do to finish my masterpiece. My ship was so cool and so special until I learned my friend had the exact same model. Although the spaceship was still the same steel-gray battlecruiser bristling with rotating laser guns, I built nothing special. Anybody can build a ship from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away because every box of Legos comes with instructions. My life is like these Legos. Some instruction manuals I faced told me I must date a Korean. Others told me I had to become a doctor. A pile of Legos could become anything I wanted, but blindly obeying instructions limited what to build. I thought I was in control of my Legos because my hands could copy grand feats of architecture and engineering, but the instructions dominated what I built. Which is better: a spaceship created from my imagination and from my own initiative as haphazard as the result may be, or the perfect model built just following the instructions? Independence from the instructions means learning from my mistakes and accepting my results. Instead of relying on others’ instructions, I want to be designed chiefly by my dreams and by my goals. Instructions are to instruct, not to command. To establish my own creations, I will learn all I can from the instructions and then set out to act on my own dreams. Instruction manuals are a foundation of education on which to build. Today, my Legos sit quietly in my room. All the instruction manuals for my Lego sets are stored in a large box hidden away in my closet. This box has a sturdy lid with a locked clasp, but whenever I want, I can open it to find instruction. I want my box of instructions to grow ever larger because standing on the shoulders of giants lets me reach higher than any of them. Still, my large box has room for more manuals. The knowledge I find in these booklets grounds, but does not rule, my goals and dreams. If I can dream, I can create. This pile of Legos is mine to build with; my life is not dictated in any manual or booklet. I continue building, always building, for I am the master of my own Legos.

bottom of page