“When I Was 6, I Lost My Brother”

I recently came across an article extolling the virtues of gripping opening sentences in college essays. Draw in the readers from the very start, was the reasoning of the Stanford admissions team responsible for the article, or they will lose interest too soon and your college essay, possibly along with your bright future, will be relegated to the dust heap of history.

College essays are very much on my mind these days. If only I could write them myself. But alas, every day from now until December 1, I am facing the much harder task of having to somehow prod, bribe, and strongarm our oldest son into cranking them out. Frankly, I’d be happy with any opening sentence whatsoever.

Which is why I was pleased as punch when son number 2, a sophomore in high school, proudly showed me his essay draft for English class. It started with:

“When I was 6, I lost my brother.”

Powerful stuff, right? You’re not going to put that one down, are you? And when it then continues with “He only left to go to camp for a week, but it felt much longer than that” you’re not going to be very angry about the deception, but rather applaud the author for his cleverness.

Or perhaps you only do that when you’re his mother. Who happens to be a writer.

When you’re his English teacher, you threaten him with an F if he doesn’t take out the first line. You tell him it’s way too shocking and that this is “not how we write essays in this class.”

I suppose this English teacher has never spoken to a member of Stanford University admissions. Instead, she seems to have a unique knack for sucking the enthusiasm right out of her pupils, forcing them to turn out tired writing and playing it safe.

“Lost” son #1 in green on the left, and essay-writing son #2 in red on the right, then 6 years old.

“Dear Stanford admissions: I once had an English teacher who bored me to death. Therefore, this essay will be very brief. Thank you. The end.”


  1. Oh that ticks me off Sine. You can tell that teacher that in an inbox of 100 incoming messages a day, I held on to the alert message for this post for days until I had an opportunity to read it, 100% because of that headline.

    • Thank you so much Kristi, that about made my day! I’ll have to share with my son, he’ll be thrilled. I just hope he doesn’t lose that spark because of one bad teacher.

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