A “Plethora” Of “Epiphanies” Snuffed

Paul Bass PhotoAbused and overused SAT words bit the dust as writers and other grown-ups helped two dozen high school students polish their college application essays.

The mentoring took place Sunday at Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School. The event was called “College Essay Liftoff Weekend.”

The event was the brainchild of New Haven Idea-Generator-In-Chief Helen Kauder. Refreshments came from Bruegger’s Bagels and the New Haven-born Honest Tea outfit.

Through her organization, called Co-op Center for Creativity, Kauder paired high schoolers (mostly from New Haven public schools) with a group of volunteer Higher One employees, college English majors, and professional writers, like author Katharine Weber (at right in photo) ...

... and author and New York Times religion columnist Mark Oppenheimer, who’s pictured at right in the photo above and at the top of the story, with Hillhouse senior Frank Mitchell.

The event fit into a broader mission: Improving New Haven students’ chances of getting into college. That’s a central goal of New Haven’s school-reform drive, Dolores Garcia-Blocker (pictured), the public schools’ guidance supervisor, told the mentors at a prep session before the tutoring began Sunday. So is involving adults in the lives of New Haven’s schoolchildren, she said—not just parents and teachers, but administrators, custodians, school resource officers, and “people in this room.”

She also told mentors that their relationship with their new mentees could last only as long as Sunday’s session. No email afterwards. No Facebook messages. No re-examining their essays. That’s because the school system didn’t have mentors go through background checks to participate in Sunday’s session; more extensive contact with students requires those checks. (College essay topic, anyone?)

The writing coaches received a training packet to help prepare them for Sunday’s session. Page six included this tip: “Avoid using words that sound like they were plucked out of the thesaurus. The admission officers know you’re a high school senior, and they want to hear your words. (Two example words that are overused in college essay applications: plethora and epiphany.)”

That was an epiphany indeed for this tutor. (Though not one of a plethora, alas.) Who knew that 35 years after those SAT words seemed all the rage, they are still fouling so many college essays?

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry


posted by: SLP on November 7, 2011  8:36am

This sounded like a great event; I hope it was well-attended and even if it wasn’t this time, that the Lift-0ff will become an annual tradition. Thank you, Co-op Center for Creativity!

posted by: Truth Avenger on November 7, 2011  11:08am

Nice to see some of the City’s finest literary talents mentoring tomorrow’s young talents.  I wonder if the student tutored by Mr. Oppenheimer knows that in addition to Mr. Oppenheimer’s bi-monthly “Beliefs” column in the New York Times, he occasionally has a cover story for the New York Times Magazine, or that he is the author of three books, the latest of which is called “Wisenheimer”- a very entertaining memoir about Mr. Oppenheimer’s coming-of-age and history as a world class debate champion… Or that he teaches at Yale, or is co-founder of a New Haven based publishing company, or that he hosts an NPR show on new books and their authors… to name some of his achievements.  One wonders how he has the time to add “mentor"or “coach” to the list of descriptors.
A big thanks to all the tutors/mentors/coaches for giving to the community in this special way.

posted by: RRH on November 7, 2011  7:00pm

Great program — kudos to all taking part.
I do want to note, since we are discussing writing here: there is no such word as “mentee”! The word “mentor” is not like the word “employer” (one who employs). It comes from the character Mentor in Homer’s Odyssey, so there is no equivalent to “employee.”