Last night I left work early and headed to the middle of Brooklyn to volunteer tutoring high school teens on writing their college essays. Finally a chance to tell kids the real reason to go to college: get wasted and hook up.
After I emerged from the subway, I asked some local cops to point me in the direction of where I was headed. One cop that sounded like The Terminator suggested cutting through the Brooklyn college campus. I signed in to get a visitor's pass from a surly cop resembling Janine Garofalo, and grabbed my visitor's badge and headed for the main quad. College is so funny. No matter what campus you are on some things stay the same. Kids smoking outside the 'mess hall'. Guys playing guitar for a group of girls on the grass. Little nerd kids with stacks of books so high they can hardly see their way to the lab. The accents I heard on campus were quite a mix - Russian, Polish, Israeli, Jamaican, Pakistani, etc.
When I arrived at my destination, the small group of tutors and I waited a while before a handful of kids showed up. We were told not to worry about spelling mistakes which made me happy because I can't spell. We were only to focus on the content of what the kids were trying to write. I was lucky enough to work with a young woman for close to 45 minutes who was feeling stumped on her essay. She had attempted several times to start but couldn't begin. I shared with her my experience in writing for television and how I often worked backwards starting with my punchline and then working my way back up to the start. She seemed relieved that this was an option for her and quickly we started to toss around ideas.
Her college application asked to define who she was due to her heritage and her interests. She loved photography and her family's history was an interesting mix of Dominican, Black and Cherokee Indian. Her past was a rich mix of hardship and loss as well as stuggles to achieve. She was the child we all read about that is constantly swimming upstream doing her best to tune out the bad influences. Towards the end of our session we had grown comfortable with one another and yet still struggled to write her first line.
There was a pause and then she turned to me and said, "You know...I don't know how to say this but...if there was one moment in time that I could capture in a photograph...it would be now." Now as not in our tutoring session. Now as in being on the brink of opportunity. Going to college and changing her life. I smiled and congratulated her. She finally had her first sentence.