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Choice Words From the Pros

July 21, 2002|T. J. Simers; Joe Mathews; Lorenza Munoz; Dana Calvo

This essay question was administered to 10 Times staffers. For 25 minutes, they wrote their answers in blue books with No. 2 pencils. Then, in keeping with the American Red Cross tradition after any donation of blood, they were given cookies.

Question: A student saw an aquatic insect drying out on a rock. Saddened by the prospect of the insect's death, the student nevertheless watched the process and to her surprise observed the emergence of a brilliantly colored dragonfly. She noted the following in her journal: "a change that at first appears to lead to destruction may instead lead to unexpected and dramatic results."

Assignment: Think of a change that at first appeared to be for the worse but that led to unexpected and dramatic results. Write an essay in which you discuss that change. You may draw your example from literature, the arts, science, history, current events or your personal experience or observation.

Excerpts from a few of the essays:

There is nothing worse than going into a Major League Baseball season without a relief pitcher. The Dodgers chose to do that in 2002 and all the sportswriters began criticizing them, predicting when they would be eliminated and telling fans to stay home.

The Dodgers, however, are much smarter than sportswriters. That's a proven fact. In fact, most everyone in the world is smarter than your basic sportswriter.

The Dodgers took their worst pitcher from 2001 and decided to make him their No. 1 relief pitcher. The sportswriters said that was stupid and even some of the Dodger players agreed. It's a well-known fact most everyone in the world is smarter than your basic Dodger player.

The first game of the season the Dodgers' worst player took the mound. The fans booed, the sportswriters went and got another hot dog and some of the Dodger players sitting on the bench covered their eyes.

The worst player on the team then saved the game for the Dodgers, striking out all three Giants he faced.

--T. J. Simers


Dear Son,

Remember the ruckus 25 years ago when the College Board up and changed the SAT?

Of course you don't. You weren't born until 2009. The first-day stories were kind and respectful. But it wasn't a week later that the rest of the country declared war on Princeton, N.J. The members of the College Board were all detained on Army bases. (There had been a loosening of the civil liberty laws then. President Tiger Woods restored habeas corpus a few years later after the water war with China.)

They eventually let the board members out of jail but they never worked in education again.

What was the trouble? The board not only added an essay--which upset American kids who had stopped learning essay-writing in about 1983--but also removed the analogy section. Until 2002, analogies forged the foundation of American arts and letters. The entire society made decisions about how to allocate resources on the basis of analogies. Students who could decode them went on to good colleges, built fruitful careers and shopped at Restoration Hardware. Everyone else ate at McDonald's if they weren't already flipping the burgers there.

When they dropped the analogies, chaos ensued. How could they even evaluate the essay? Intellectuals also pointed out that this was just penmanship. Yale couldn't fill its 2003 class. But eventually things settled down. The country started to consider other values in meting out opportunities. Clarity of thought. Succinct expression. Some folks even evaluated others on honesty and integrity. (Before changes in the SAT, people who seemed honest couldn't even get job interviews in the accounting, telecommunications and energy industries.)

Everyone loved the SAT. That feeling lasted almost 20 years.

Unfortunately in 2019, the College Board added a new section. It's the one that will give you the most trouble when you take the test next Sunday.


Good luck, son.


Dear Old Dad

--Joe Mathews


This was my chance to swim in the big leagues. I would swim with champions and hopefully make my way to the Olympics. I called my mother on the pay phone. I could barely speak I was so excited. I didn't care that I had won or that I had nearly broken a junior national record. "That is wonderful, my baby," she told me. "Come home soon."

I practically danced over to my coach, giddy with the experiences and my dreams.

And then he broke the news that shattered me--you can't go to the U.S. Nationals because you are not a U.S. citizen. When I left Indianapolis, I came home and huddled with my parents. That night we decided to explore the possibility of my swimming for Mexico, the country where I was born.

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