The Elevator Essay – by Brighten Kaufman

Ron & Brighten Kaufman on her 18th Birthday

Ron & Brighten Kaufman on her 18th Birthday

Brighten Kaufman, College Application Essay, October 27, 2013

Each year, students applying to colleges in the United States are required to answer a common essay question. I believe Brighten’s essay is uncommon – and played a role in her admission to Wesleyan University. Well done, Brighten!

Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

Imagine standing amongst total strangers in a tightly packed space where people rarely speak. Few know what the others are going to do next, yet everyone is here for the same purpose. The atmosphere is always a little tense, whether you’re on your own or with a group. It’s like being in limbo, a transient moment that’s not yet here, nor there. And, if you live in a city, as I do, it’s an everyday occurrence.

We live on the 31st floor, and I fell in love with elevators when I was young. Each time my dad and I were alone in an elevator together, we marched around in circles impersonating zoo animals, singing fantastical songs, and giggling with glee. The moment the doors opened for someone else we’d stop, stand up straight and pretend to be perfectly ‘normal’. Our mood, however, was contagious and we’d often smile with, and then speak to, whoever stepped inside.

I love how elevators offer snippets of insight – or imagination – into other people’s lives; how they dress, how they smell, what they carry, where they look, and what they say or do not say to others. It fascinates me how random groups of people fit so intimately into a tiny space, spend a few moments together, and then go right back to their lives, strangers as before, or newly connected. Each person can remain isolated in his or her own world or, with just a word, can connect instantly with everyone else.

One of my first memories is when I got trapped in an elevator alone. Little me, full of childish zest and enthusiasm, bolted past my mom and into the elevator, ignoring her warning to wait. The elevator doors closed swiftly behind me and a very frightened Brighten was trapped inside. I began to wail, thinking I would never see my parents again. The elevator moved downwards and someone on a lower floor stepped in. The kind stranger asked if I was lost, and I remembered nodding ‘yes’, since I was too scared to speak. We reached the lobby and the stranger stayed with me until my mom arrived. We didn’t wait long before my mother scooped me up and assured me that I was not lost forever.

Although shaken, I felt and understood that compassion and care for others can be precious. Recently, I was in a crowded elevator that stopped between the floors. Instead of panic, we instinctively reached out to each other, steadying an elderly couple and comforting two small children. I attended to the toddlers, seeing in their eyes the same fear that I once felt. It was my turn to be the kind stranger, and happily I extended the care I received years ago.

I like the mixture of people that appears in elevators, especially in a multi-ethnic city like Singapore, or at my school, where we have so many ways of perceiving and being. With an American Jewish father, a Singaporean Muslim mother and a Australian Christian stepmom, I am attracted to, comfortable with, and feel at home in diversity. In fact, I feel uncomfortable when an overbearing viewpoint undermines the possibility of others.

This summer, I attended my cousin’s Bat Mitzvah in Seattle, and then celebrated Eid al-Fitr with my aunt and uncle in Boston. I have spent as many Friday evenings at Shabbat and in mosques for Islamic holy days as I have spent days decorating Christmas trees and singing carols with my step-cousins.

As I have come to appreciate the eclectic background that created me, I have also come to appreciate diverse people, times and places. I believe college will be like an elevator, where people share extraordinary moments together en route to somewhere else. I look forward to the journey and am excited to learn what makes us unique, what we have in common, and how we can be valuable to each other.