‘I Am a Geek,’

A high school senior shares her college entrance essay.

We received the following submission from a high school senior. It’s the entrance application essay she is submitting to Belmont Abbey College in Charlotte, N.C., and others.

I am an old movie-watching, jazz- and opera-listening, literature-loving, poetry-writing, churchgoing geek. Now, before you snicker and toss this application aside, keep in mind that geeks are people, too, and we deserve just as much respect as any other overused stereotype.

As a wise man once wrote, “Some are born geeks, some achieve geekiness, and some have geekiness thrust upon ’em” (well, something like that).

I can be counted among those in the last category.

The “thrust” I experienced was certainly not traditional. I did not become a geek overnight or step into a telephone booth and emerge a split second later with frizzy hair, baggy clothes, thickly-rimmed glasses and a pocket protector. My transformation was slow and discreet, yet it was as potent as any, and it changed the course of my life forever.

During the summer of 2003, I was 12 years old and one of the most popular girls in my grade. Like any other self-respecting popular girl, I came with the complete package: a select group of mean, backstabbing friends, a select group of mean, backstabbing enemies and an encyclopedic knowledge of all things “cool.”

That knowledge was the gauge, the preteen standard of reason and worth against which everyone was measured. If you were able to demonstrate expertise in the fields of pop culture, fashion and cruel and unusual peer torture, you were in.

If not, you would inevitably face endless humiliation that ceased only when another victim failed the test more miserably than you. Unlike my “friends,” I was never intentionally mean, but naïve and weak. I often witnessed what was done to others, but fear and an overriding concern for appearances kept me looking the other way.

Now it was nearly the beginning of middle school, and I saw before me another year in the popular crowd.

God saw something different. Two weeks before the first day of school, disaster struck, and before I knew it, I was in the emergency room. Admittance to the hospital followed, and it was there that I was diagnosed with von Willebrand’s disease, a form of hemophilia. The next six months of my life were spent in and out of the offices of numerous doctors and specialists.

My condition was so poor that the dreams I had of attending middle school were quickly abandoned, and I found myself begging my mother to home school me. No lessons could take place, however, until my health showed improvement.

In addition to the exhaustion I felt from anemia, I was also experiencing horrible side effects from my treatments. I developed, among other things, hypoglycemia and a sleeping problem, which caused me to become virtually nocturnal. I was now forced to occupy half-delirious late-night hours with something entertaining. Of course, I immediately resorted to that marvelous time-zapper, the television.

Every night I would sit in front of the TV and flip through the channels, my eyes glazed over in a drug and boredom-induced coma. No matter how many times Proactiv and Magic Bullet ads flickered before me, I continued to surf, refusing to believe that TV programmers could have so little sympathy for insomniacs.

After several nights spent in this fashion, I finally saw something that caught my eye. It was an old black-and-white musical on the classic movie channel that I vaguely remembered watching with my grandfather several years before. Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney were singing and dancing on the screen, and for one brief moment I felt happier than I had been in a long time.

However, the smile creeping across my face was soon replaced with a look of horror. Into my mind popped an image of my friends glaring down their noses at me in disgust. I changed the channel quickly, fearing how they would react if they saw me watching something so “uncool.” Then, my heart sank. Who was I kidding? My “friends” hadn’t come to see me once since I became ill. They didn’t care that I had a serious disease, that I was severely anemic or that I hadn’t seen another girl my age in weeks.

In short, they didn’t care about me.

Yet something about this revelation brought me more relief than pain. I had fallen out of the popular crowd irrevocably, but at least I no longer had to live up to the flawed and superficial standards of a handful of “’tweens.” I was free to be my own person, without having to succumb to what others wanted.

The thought was new and refreshing. I changed the channel back to the old movie, a slight smile returning to my face. My transformation had begun.

That night, I watched the musical with the triumph of freedom. The dance numbers were dazzlingly choreographed, the songs beautifully sung and the dialogue clever. Who knew that an old movie could be such fun?

The next day, I told my family all about what I had seen, speaking with an energy and enthusiasm that had been buried away since the disease attacked. My grandfather, an avid film buff with a movie library larger than the National Archives, quickly heard of my new interest and brought several musicals to me that he thought I might enjoy. Before long I was singing songs like “I Got Rhythm,” “Just in Time” and “Get Happy” in the shower.

The singing was what I liked best about the musicals I watched. Hearing Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby swing an old jazz tune with a big band blasting in back of them gave me an indescribable thrill. Even though I had never sung in front of anyone in my life, something — I’m still not sure what — caused me to take a class in cabaret singing at a local arts center.

It was about six months after my diagnosis that I stood pale and weak in front of a group of girls and one teacher and sang “Over the Rainbow” a cappella, shaking from head to toe.

I choked nervously on the first feeble notes as I stared at the grains in the hardwood floor below me and wished I had never signed up for the course. Yet I continued to sing, my confidence improving with every syllable.

Eventually, I raised my eyes high enough to look at those in the audience, and when I found smiling faces staring back at me, the last words of the song resounded confidently throughout the room. Following close behind was the sound of applause, which flooded my heart with a new and peculiar feeling.

I returned to my seat in the audience, my legs still twitching with the remnants of anxiety and my heart still warm with the prospect of a new interest.

It was then that I started asking myself questions that I had never asked before. Why had my disease caused so many unexpected events? Could it be that God had intended all of this from the beginning? God. It was a name I rarely used. I went to Mass and confession like any other Catholic, but never before had I felt the depth and impact of God’s influence so strongly.

Was he responsible for the tearing apart and subsequent reconstruction of my life? No other explanation could account for the strange things that were happening to me.

Yet things were about to get even stranger.

Once I was well enough to begin my home-schooled studies, my mother compiled a reading list for me that consisted entirely of British classics — novels, plays, and poems. Another interest was born. Jane Austen, Lord Byron and Emily Brontë became close friends whose worlds I could escape to for hours. I was so enamored of the authors I studied that I was sure a career in British literature was in my future.

To this day, I continue to enjoy classic musicals, in addition to many other film genres from the 1930s through the 1960s, and have even usurped my grandfather as resident film historian.

My tastes in music still consist largely of jazz, Broadway and easy listening styles, but now include opera and French and Italian pop as well.

My singing career has taken me from the stage to the recording studio, and along the way I have made lasting friendships that are blessedly free of pretense, back-stabbing, or relentless pop culture references.

British authors and, most recently, American, French and Russian authors, continue to inspire my tastes in reading, my career plans, and my love of writing. Most importantly, my faith has developed tremendously and is now the driving force in my life. No longer am I afraid to stand up for what I believe in or to stand against things that I think are unjust or wrong.

Yes, I’m a geek. But, hopefully, I am an influential geek, a unique geek, my own geek, if you will. Recently, I told a friend that I was writing a college admissions essay on all of my geeky characteristics. She looked at me with a puzzled expression and said, “What are you talking about? You’re not a geek!” I responded, “Amanda, I eat dinner off a plate with a picture of Cary Grant on it. I spent a weekend making a Nathaniel Hawthorne-themed shadowbox just because it was fun. I thought Anna Karenina wasn’t long enough, for crying out loud!”

“Okay, okay!” she laughed, “I guess you are a geek.”

A few seconds passed in silence, and she said, “But you really don’t look like one.”

To that I replied, “Well, not even Lois Lane could recognize the fact that Clark Kent was really Superman.”