College Essay Organizer Announces Essay Contest Winners

We're happy to announce the winners of College Essay Organizer's first annual essay contest. We received thousands of terrific submissions from college applicants throughout the world, and enjoyed reading through them all. Among the entertaining pieces that did not make our list of winners are the essay about one guy's very lengthy detention history (and how it was never his fault), and the essay detailing why humanity is doomed (a funny story that was ultimately a bit too depressing for our tastes).

We're grateful to all who submitted and wish congratulations to those who let us know about your recent college acceptances!

Our decisions were made as a group, and we learned quickly that such decisions are inherently subjective. Each of us responded to different material, and choosing among the best submissions led to lively debates about the merits of each. We discussed what each essay said about the applicant's character and what that applicant would be capable of later in life - the ultimate measure of any college essay.

So without further ado, here are our three winners.



First Place ($500 prize) - This contest winner chose to remain anonymous:

The acrylics started to blend, the water started to drip, and slowly the whole canvas turned into an unimaginable storm of dark colors seeping through the fabric and dripping off the edges.

This canvas is my life. The blending acrylics are my parents whose addictions brought dysfunction into my family, and the water seeping through the fabric are my hidden tears. Dripping off the edges with the water are my innocence and childhood that had been mere illusions in my life. What remains on this canvas are the permanent stains of divorce, neglect, and addiction.

Eyes shut, no movement, and all I hear is the faint thump of a heartbeat. As I sit next to this strange, fragile body that is nothing more than a bottle of vodka, a handful of pills, and a line of cocaine, I question how I ever called this woman my mother. My trembling hand checks for a pulse on her cold skin. This became my daily routine, coming home from school to find my mother drugged out on her bed.

She was no longer the mother I once knew; her eyes were absent of kindness and she never smiled until the poison filled glass touched her parched lips. Looking into her eyes, all I saw was an old worn canvas, possibly beyond restoration.

At nightfall the other monster, my father, would appear, thus beginning my parental role in which I would clean up after them and make sure they were safely put to bed. Together, these monsters created a storm that no child should have to endure: drugs and fighting that escalated to abuse and resulted in divorce.

Well put together each morning, I would enter school expertly camouflaging my canvas’s smudges and stains. Underneath, these stains were spreading faster and deeper until the whole painting began to shred. Friends began asking why I spent my free periods researching alcoholism and drug addiction, and neighbors gossiped about my mom’s “accident,” where she smashed her wrist through the window, cutting her main artery.

However, on the morning of November 4, 2008, my sister and I finally risked everything and called an interventionist. Forming a circle, my sister, three of my mom’s closest friends, the interventionist and I sat paralyzed, time and lungs frozen. We listened for the crescendo of approaching footsteps. The door opened and my mother’s frail, emaciated body appeared. She screamed and fell to the floor in disbelief, recognizing the intervention. We picked her weak body up off the floor and sat her between my sister and me. I then read my letter. I told her I felt that I was losing my once-adored mother, my role model and that I would no longer be able to maintain contact with her unless she went to rehab that very day. Dead silence filled the room. All I could hear were the drops of tears falling on the hardwood floor until my mother whispered consent of, “Yes. I will.”

Months of rehabilitation, meetings, and workshops were all worth it to be able to look into her sober eyes and see a beautiful new canvas, one on which any artist would be honored to paint. My mother and I have negotiated a new relationship, in which we share the bond of recovery. I attend AA meetings with her and spend Tuesday nights at Alateen – a recovery program for children of alcoholics. Art, along with Alateen, has been my salvation and where I can express myself best.

Although my father’s canvas is still a work in progress, I now have the resources to help me through this next step.

I no longer see the world in dark hues, but as a beautiful ray of colors. I see people not as simple canvases, but as paintings that each have intricate layers. Living now with just my sober mother, I can confidently leave for college knowing that we will both be okay. Although my canvas may not be perfect – the water may continue to drip and the acrylics may continue to blend – the foundation of this canvas has given me an inner strength that will support me throughout my life.



2nd Place ($200 Prize) - This contest winner chose to remain anonymous:

Swerving along the icy roads of New Jersey, my date and I embarked upon a wintry odyssey I have never forgotten. With a whiplashing jerk, she wedged the flivver into the parking space. Our first destination: the early bird special.
Upon entering the restaurant, reels of the 1971 classic Harold and Maude, a film about a teenage boy who develops a friendship with a much older woman, flashed through my mind. How did I find myself seated at this restaurant across from a woman old enough to be my grandmother?

It all began my Freshman Year of high school, when I decided to take piano lessons. Hariette, my assigned piano teacher, a woman five times my age with tangled, wild gray hair, oversized spectacles, and a 1960s hippie floral dress, introduced herself to me. Soon, my piano lessons flowed into stories of Hariette’s life as a Broadway opera singer, interspersed with enchanting tales rich with family history. I listened with rapt attention to her nostalgic recollections of performances by Rachmaninoff and Marion Anderson. In return, I introduced the world of the iPod and digital music to Hariette. When my piano lessons were interrupted by winter break, I realized Hariette was still on my mind. I decided I would call her for a date.

To be honest, sitting in the restaurant with Hariette felt slightly bizarre; imagine what my friends would think! But it was not bizarre since it was not a “date” in the general sense of the word, but a lovely afternoon with someone I admired and thoroughly enjoyed. There was a great difference in age, but, hey, the most interesting bonds can be made with the most unlikely people.

Keys in the ignition, Hariette floored the accelerator. We were off again. My heart and stomach lurched into my mouth as she weaved the car in and out of lanes on the highway. Hariette rattled, “I was married twice…with a few men in between, ha-ha!” SCREECH! went the tires.

Our second destination: The Montclair Museum of Art. What I find most interesting about art is how each individual artist interprets the world, thus creating a myriad of unique works. Yet, I was most astonished by Hariette’s own interpretation of the exhibit that day, (although voiced a bit too loudly to the chagrin of the other museum attendees!) To me, Hariette was the most enjoyable art class I have ever taken. Personally, I would love to critique art or film one day, and I attribute part of my enthusiasm to Hariette’s fascinating, idiosyncratic views. Hariette fuels my belief that diverse friendships bring unique perspectives and richness into one’s life.

As she pulled her car into my driveway, Hariette thanked me for a wonderful afternoon, but it was I who should have thanked her, for Hariette evolved from a piano teacher into one of my dearest friends. She opened my mind to the realization that no matter where you are on the winding road of life, it is never too late to find friendship, even in the most unlikely places. Sometimes you have to break convention and take an eighty-year old woman on a date to understand this, and as Hariette peeled off down the road, smashing into our neighbor’s garbage can, I realized the meaning of the word friendship.



Third Place ($100 prize) - A Tingle On The Skin by Tai Wei Guo:

I was fourteen and I was in the hospital (tumor, surgery, fine now). I wept my share of tears, kept my share of faith. I wasn’t traumatized; I wasn’t in horrific pain. Actually, I was lying comfortably on an inclined bed with twenty buttons that performed all manners of amusing things. Facing me was an HDTV with cable access and a DVD player, and there was a computer in the corner and—get this: if I wanted, I could just press a button to call the nurse and ask that she cart in a Wii and a collection of games. She would even set everything up for me and hand me the remote. It was a teenager’s paradise. It was not enough.

I was fourteen and I knew just a little of what it was like to be old. I wanted to stretch. No. I wanted to scream. At the top of my lungs. I wanted to punch the sofa until my hands hurt and my voice gave way. Part of it might be frustration but I just wanted to check if I still remembered movement: the air slicing across skin, the rhythmic pounding of heart in chest and feet on ground, the chaotic incomprehensible sound of wind against your ears and voices you pass by too quickly to hear. I missed running. I hadn’t really run since I decided I was too mature to be acting like a child. Actually, I didn’t even have to run. I just had to be outside. I had to breathe air, real air, not this stale mixture of gases. I found myself migrating more and more to the sofa by the window, so I could shiver in sunlight and watch ships drift down the river to empty into the ocean. I wondered why the hospital would tempt their patients with sea breeze that almost floats up the nostrils and tickles the brain, sea breeze that almost tingles on the skin and seeps into the soul.

In fourteen years, I had never been lonelier no matter how much traffic and sympathy passed through the doors. But once, my cousin visited me. He did not bother to ask after my condition. He cracked jokes and I laughed until I was soundless clutching the teddy bear he brought against my abdomen to keep its quivering from aggravating the incision. It was a hopeless cause, it hurt like hell, it was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Then I was free. I picked up tennis despite my mother’s nattering about being careful and my conspicuous lack of talent at the sport. I did miss running. But I didn’t want to seize the day. I didn’t feel like bungee jumping because life is short. I felt like sitting in a park talking with my friends, soft breeze on my skin, because life is long and there’s time yet to enjoy the spring.


There you have it - the top three. Tomorrow, we'll update you with the four essays we've selected for honorable mention. Stay tuned!

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