Mr. M | Duke University Undergraduate Application Essay

Mr. M—with his bird-eye view, long-winded conversations that often dipped into digression, and signature loose Hawaiian shirts for all seasons—wasn’t your run-of-the-mill teacher.

Every other week, we took the subway somewhere: the crimson-soaked stores of Chinatown, the historic Ellis Island, even a swanky party where we dressed for festivity. He bought us momentos before we left each place, like hand-sewn fans and pristine snow globes. Back in the classroom, he displayed artworks and discussed the artists’ styles, until I knew by heart that Edgar Degas had a knack for depicting dance and I tried painting bright outstretched flowers like Georgia O’Keefe’s.

What I clung to the most were the TIME for Kids magazines. Emblazoned on the glossy covers of the issues were headlines in glaring white: WOMEN ON THE FRONT LINES OF COMBAT. EARTHQUAKE DESTROYS HAITI. OBAMACARE WILL CHANGE HEALTHCARE. As I digested one news story after another, questions darted out of my mouth.

“Why aren’t women allowed to fight like men?”

“Why do earthquakes happen?”

“Why does that family in the photo need Obamacare?”

Mr. M stood beside me, answering my tilting tower of inquiries and asking, “What do you think about this event?” Slowly, I realized that the…

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