The Yale 250 I did submit

A few months ago, I shared one essay I wrote to fulfill the YLS application requirement known as the 250-word essay, or 250 for short. As a reminder, here’s a brief description of that requirement, cribbed from the aforementioned post, in which it had been cribbed – in turn – from the application itself:

Write an essay of not more than 250 words about a subject of your choice. The Admissions Committee looks to the 250-word essay to evaluate an applicant’s writing, reasoning, and editing skills. The subject is not limited; the choice of topic itself may be informative to the readers.

As you might have gathered from the title of that post – The Yale 250 I didn’t submit – I did not submit that essay. As you may have deduced from the fact that I was accepted to Yale, I did submit a different one. The purpose of this post – as indicated in the title – is to share the essay I did submit.

But first, a preface in two parts. (If you just came to read the essay, you are obviously welcome to scroll down.)

Part one addresses the following question: Why did I decide to share this essay in particular? There are two answers – let’s call them Part One-A and Part One-B.

1.A: A number of my dear readers (this could mean you!) made the deductions described above and – being the curious sort of folk – asked me to share the essay I did submit. As has been noted elsewhere, I spend a lot of my time and concern on the people and what they want and how I can give it to them.

1.B: The most helpful step I took while writing my own 250 was searching online for examples of the essay – successful and not. While I knew the essay is intended to be open-ended, I did not really know it; to be honest, I didn’t feel comfortable writing on a random topic until I could assure myself that everyone does exactly the same thing. This post adds to that corpus one more essay that did not get someone rejected. I hope it helps.

Part two addresses the following question: How did I come to write this essay in particular?

Part two of this preface has a preface of its own, addressed to the Dean of Admissions (the odds are overwhelmingly against this meaning you!): If for some reason you disapprove of what is about to take place – either the process I used, the description thereof, or my posting of the essay itself – you know where to find me. Also, sorry!

With that out of the way, part two: I didn’t feel like writing a brand-new essay if it could be avoided – after all, I had already written one for this purpose, about Claire’s – but I had a bit of a dilemma in that my personal statement touched largely on environmental issues, not unlike 90%+ of the papers I wrote at Penn. The challenge, then, was excerpting from an essay about something other than the environment.

So I turned to the final paper I wrote for ‘ENVS 652: God, Gold & Green: Themes and Classics in American Environmental Thought’. The topic of the paper was environmentalism and science fiction, but I was fortunately able to extract enough non-environmental content to cobble together 250 words on the latter subject. While ENVS 652 provided the written source material for what is to follow, the ideas presented below are drawn from ‘STSC 110: Science and Literature’. The words, structure, and specific examples are my own:

Religion and mythology once helped man understand the known world: the Greeks looked to Zeus to explain lightning bolts, and to Helios to drive his chariot across the morning sky.

While religion and mythology continue to play important roles in today’s world, the scientific revolution has introduced a radically new perspective, one with no place for the supernatural. ‘Traditional’ mythology has been superseded by a new mythology, one more responsive to the needs and dreams of scientific, technological civilization: science fiction.

To define science fiction by its bug-eyed monsters, flying saucers, and time machines threatens to overlook the important role this genre can play in the modern conception of man’s place in the universe. Croatian-Canadian Darko Suvin instead defined science fiction as the literature of ‘cognitive estrangement’. ‘Estrangement’ is established by the proposition of a radically novel agent, location, time, and/or set of rules, and is not unique to science fiction. ‘Cognition’ refers to an emphasis on logical consistency, and imposes a limit on how strange and alien an alternate world can be.

Grounding estrangement in cognitive reality, and thereby adhering to the limitations of what is considered scientifically possible, allows an author of science fiction to devise worlds of imagination while also forcing him to confront reality. This, in turn, encourages his readers to reflect on the world they know: who they are, where they come from, and most importantly, where they are going.

HAL 9000, Hari Seldon, C-3PO: these, then, number among the gods of the modern age.


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