College Essay: “The Rube Goldberg Project”

It was past midnight on Christmas day and I was holding a gun. I couldn’t concentrate on what I was doing anymore. The clock’s second hand ticked louder and my eyelids grew heavier as my contacts rubbed like sandpaper against my bloodshot eyes.

Finally, out of pure frustration, I pulled the trigger. But nothing happened. I was out of glue. Hot-glue guns were like that. I squinted at the floor, littered with tape, glue droppings, wood, broken blades, and so much other stuff that I could hardly find a place to step let alone find another almost-invisible, clear glue stick. I asked one of my class team members to help. The response was an irritated insult from a weary-eyed creature who once was my friend.

This was but one more chapter in the bitter saga known as “The Rube Goldberg Project.” It was the first time that any of us had tried to build a machine. At first I didn’t think it would be too hard: Just make a contraption of some sort, using as little money as possible, which could move a marble for at least one minute and no more than twenty minutes. Whatever team’s machine came closest to either one minute or twenty minutes received the highest grade. It was a deceptively simple challenge.

We didn’t waste any time getting started. Lani, a senior and veteran of past Goldbergs, warned, “Don’t procrastinate; you’ll never finish.” Armed with those words of wisdom, we rushed to MJ Designs for our supplies the same day that midterms ended. I even bought paint to decorate our project for extra points. We had no idea the misery that awaited us.

We spent many days endlessly fixing our project and snapping at each other. Finally, one night our friendships fell apart. Jen argued with Karen over the phone for leaving our project to attend a church event. As the bickering and yelling got louder, I just wanted to hide in my closet, but for some reason I didn’t let myself collapse into tears. Bending my sore back, I dutifully continued to saw away at a large block of wood. Then, suddenly, the door swung open and Jen ran out of the room, tears streaming down her face. After a long, awkward silence, I explained that it wasn’t Karen’s fault that she was not going to make it back from church in time. We couldn’t let this stop our work. I looked around, picked up the saw, and continued working. Seeing me work, the others started to work too.

I tried to serve as the bond in our group, holding our friendship and our project together. At times, it frustrated me because we buckled so easily, but I was determined that we would succeed and, indeed, we did. We built a “Lost in Space” machine that moved our marble for more than twelve minutes. It involved a staircase, a conveyor belt, and incline planes—a thing of intuitive beauty. Mrs. Killinger, our physics teacher, was so impressed that she awarded us the highest grade in our class.

The grade turned out to be of secondary importance. Mrs. K and our classmates appreciated our hard work, tears, and determination. That’s what made it all worthwhile to us. I realized that sometimes, no matter how hopeless things may seem at the moment, as long as I am willing to hang in there for just a little longer, the hard work usually pays off. Tenacity is a virtue . . . which helps when cleaning glue guns too.

* * * *

Yvonne capitalizes on her lead. What starts out as an ominous tale of suspense, turns into a redeeming comedy of errors. At first, we don’t know whether Yvonne is contemplating suicide or murder, and we expect the worst when she pulls the trigger. It all turns out to something like one of those umbrella rifles that clowns use. We can almost feel a big sense of relief when we realize that this is a fun essay rather than a tragic one.

Tip: Put your best efforts into your lead. You get one chance to draw your readers into your writing. Don’t put them to sleep. Notice too how Yvonne ties everything up at the end by bringing the focus back to the gun—the glue gun. She wraps her essay around the virtues of tenacity (a.k.a. “never give up”). It has a nice symmetrical structure, kind of an A-B-A form with plenty of variety and personal insights along the way. This scene is all too common among high school students scrambling to finish a project, but Yvonne makes it come alive with her lively writing and careful structuring. It’s a good job.