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Help This Sparkler with Her Chemistry Essay!

Help This Sparkler with Her Chemistry Essay!

Essay Prompt: Topic of your choice.

Our Sparkler's Response:

“And lead, praseodymium, and platinum, plutonium…”

You must be kidding me, I thought. These lyrics are impossible to enunciate, let alone memorize.

I had been learning the song since the beginning of my sophomore year, when the Honors Chemistry teacher, Mr. Krone, rewarded our class with a quick break from his lecture. He pulled down the projector screen and clicked up a video titled, “Tom Lehrer’s ‘The Elements Song.’”

Every student gaped in awe as Lehrer trilled off every known periodic element at breakneck speed. After the unbelievably short one minute performance, Mr. Krone grinned dryly at us.

“Memorize and sing this in front of the entire high school at Morning Assembly, and I’ll give you Extra Credit.” No teenager would embark upon such a crazy challenge, he reckoned.

Before bed that Friday night, I sat down at my computer and ‘YouTubed’ the lyrics. With so many foreign-sounding words, the only realistic approach was to rehearse each line systematically. “There’s antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium,” I chanted. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I sang the four word stanza ad nauseam until its construction tasted natural on my tongue.

Speed and pronunciation presented a problem. I struggled to muster the same vocal dexterity as Lehrer. To train my lips, I sang the ditty under my breath when running the next morning. For every footfall, I recited another element. This strict regimen continued for four grinding months.

My patience often wore thin (try saying “manganese and mercury, molybdenum, magnesium” ten times, fast). Carrying through with the memorization required more endurance than winning a cross country race and pulling an all-nighter combined.

Then I was ready. I jogged into Morning Assembly in January shivering, a symptom of the sleet and the nerves. Since it was the first school-wide assembly after the holiday break, no other students made any announcements, leaving me utterly alone. I pulled up my chin and walked into the spotlight of the stage with a confident smile.

“Hi, my name is [redacted], and I am in Honors Chemistry. Mr. Krone promised that if one of his students sang ‘The Elements Song’ by memory, he would give that student Extra Credit. So, here goes.”

I belted out every single element quickly and flawlessly.

Both the audience and I remained silent for a long second. “That’s it,” I shrugged into the microphone. The auditorium exploded into cheers. Many veteran teachers later told me that they had never before seen the entire Senior Class give anyone a standing ovation, let alone an underclassman.

It took a few days before my celebrity wore off. But I will always remember: every time I look at a Periodic Table of Elements, I see not only a familiar and useful tool for Chemistry, but also evidence that wonderfully absurd challenges are conquerable tests of mettle. Or should I say, “metal?”

Our thoughts:

You've got a really fun, extraordinary essay here. It's unique, but it still manages to highlight your dedication and confidence. So good job! Now here a few suggestions...

Specific Tips:

  1. You don't need a comma after "titled."
  2. Extra credit is not, so far as we know, capitalized.
  3. If you're going to put "YouTubed" in quotes, make sure they're double quotes, not single quotes. But you'd probably be better off just saying "looked up the lyrics on YouTube."
  4. "When running" should be "while running."
  5. When you get to the actual recital, you mention sleet. Since this is the first time it comes up, you may want to give it a bit more clarification.
  6. When you say that your celebrity wore off after a few days, what do you mean, exactly? Were you proud for a few days? Did other kids recognize you in the hall and give you high fives? Clarification will add flavor to the essay.
  7. You don't need a comma or quotes before "metal" in the last sentence.

Now, a more general tip:

Actually, you've got a really good thing going here. It highlights your skills and personality in a really subtle way, and that's great. However, you could stand to add one or two more sentences at the end about what the experience taught you. Perhaps something about confidence, courage, or persistence? You spend so much time on the story, which is good, but you might want to build yourself up just a tiny bit more.

Got any tips for this Sparkler?

Topics: Life, College Advisor
Tags: college applications, senior year, essays, advice, college application essays, writing help, colleges

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About the Author
Jennifer Grudziecki

Jennifer Grudziecki is a writer, intern, and soon-to-be college graduate living in New York City. Her life goal is to be a space pirate, and maybe to write a book along the way. Follow her on Twitter @JennyGrudzy or on Tumblr at

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