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I think the most tragic part of my childhood originated from my sheer inability to find anything engraved with my name. I never had a CHAFFEE license plate on my hand-me-down red Schwinn. No one ever gave me a key chain or coffee mug with the beautiful loops of those double Fs and Es. Alas, I was destined to search through the names; longingly staring at the space between CHAD and CHARLOTTE hoping one day a miracle would occur. Fortunately, this is one of the few negative aspects of a name like “Chaffee Duckers.”
My name has always been an integral part of my identity. Sure, it sounds a bit like my parents created it from a bag of Scrabble tiles, but it comes from a long-lost ancestor, Comfort Chaffee. Now it’s all mine. In my opinion, a name can make or break a person. The ability to embody a name depends on the individual. My greatest goal in life is to be the kind of unique person deserving of a name so utterly random and absurd.
I began my journey in preschool. Nothing about me screamed normal. I was not prim, proper, and poised. I preferred sneaking away from my preschool classroom, barefoot, in the purple velvet dress I wore every single day to resting obediently during nap time.
I grew up in a family akin to a modified Brady Bunch. Stepsisters, half sisters, stepbrothers, and stepparents joined my previously miniscule household. But in a family of plain names like Chris, Bill, John, Liz, Katherine, and Mark, I was still the only Chaffee.
I was a bit of a reverse black sheep in my family. My name helped me carve an identity separate from my myriad of siblings. Instead of enriching my brain with Grand Theft Auto, I preferred begging my parents to take me to the bookstore. While my parents mandated homework time for my brothers, they never questioned my work ethic or wiretapped my assignment notebook. The thing that set me apart from the herd was that I was self-disciplined enough to take control of my own life. From the very beginning I never depended on my parents’ help or motivation to finish my schoolwork. Putting school first came naturally to me, much to the distaste and confusion of my siblings. My work ethic became known as the patented “Chaffee Method.”
As I got older, I began to embody my name more and more. I didn’t want to be that girl with the weird name in the back of the class eating her hair, so I learned how to project my ideas in both written and spoken forms. I was often picked to lead classroom discussions and my complete disregard for making a fool of myself bolstered that skill. The manner in which I operate academically is perfectly described as Chaffee-esque; including but not limited to elaborate study songs, complex pneumonic devices, study forts, and the occasional John C. Calhoun costume.
I take pride in the confusion on a person’s face when they first read my name. Seeing someone struggle over those two unfamiliar syllables fills me with glee. I feel as though I am adding a new word to their vocabulary. So on my last day as a page in the U.S. Senate, I prepared myself for the anticipated awkward stumbling as Senator Harry Reid thanked me by name in his closing address. But the stumble never came. I felt very humbled by his perfect pronunciation. Perhaps Chaffee is actually catching on!
Chaffee’s essay is strong because it follows a clear narrative, all enabled by her rather unusual name. While not everyone has a name as unique as “Chaffee,” and are therefore unable to use this approach, writing an essay about an experience or aspect of one’s life that is singular to oneself is a smart approach for any college essay. She shapes her development from preschool to high school in the lens of her name, demonstrating the importance that it has played throughout her life.
Chaffee’s initial anecdote immediately grips the reader; many people have shared the experience of looking for engraved merchandise, and the fact that she can find none bearing her name sets the stage for the rest of the essay. Chaffee quickly qualifies her discontent with her name, stating that this anecdote “is one of the few negative aspects of a name like ‘Chaffee Duckers.’” Unfortunately this qualification is a bit misplaced since she immediately returns to tell a story of her upbringing while failing to address any of the positive aspects of her name until paragraphs later. This is a bit of hedging that isn’t entirely necessary in the limited space allowed by most personal statements.
Yet, the essay works quite well. Chaffee spends a great deal of time elaborating on how she was different from both her family and others with examples of her transgressions in preschool and her penchant for schoolwork and education as opposed to procrastination or video games like Grand Theft Auto. Chaffee toots her own horn just a little bit when describing the merits of her work ethic, but it is still fairly endearing overall, and there is no shame in sharing a desire for learning. Chaffee states in the conclusion of her essay that she now takes “pride in the confusion on a person’s face,” as they try to read her name, demonstrating how she has now accepted and come to appreciate the fact that she does not share a name with the average Mary, Dick, or Jane.
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