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AN ESSAY THAT WORKED: COMING OUT OF HIS SHELL

Editor's note: Samuel French was accepted into UCLA, SMU and Carnegie Mellon. Here is his essay.

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I didn't speak any Spanish. She spoke a little English. What could possibly go wrong? I was an American high school tourist in the Galapagos Islands. She was a beautiful Ecuadorian seductress working in a snorkel shop. It was like West Side Story, only with less singing and knife-fighting.

I liked her instantly. I liked the way she smiled. I liked her voice. I liked that she was wearing a Nightmare Before Christmas T-shirt that would be considered lame at my school. I liked her mystique. I liked the way that she didn't have a calculator and had to figure out the customer's change in her head. That was hot. I liked that she worked at a snorkel shop. I liked the word "snorkel." I liked it all.

Admittedly, I was out of my element. Usually, when I tried to talk to a pretty girl, I was in America, my home turf. I wondered if on the Galapagos Islands, flirting was any different. The male greater frigatebirds, indigenous to the islands, attract females by puffing out a red pouch on their neck, demonstrating their ultimate masculinity. I realized that if I were to woo her I would need to put my best traits on display. Like the greater frigatebird, I would have to puff out my metaphorical red pouch thingy.

Normally, I would have been too afraid to talk to her, but this summer was different. This was a summer for taking risks. I felt adventurous, invincible - like James Bond. This was the summer I pierced my ear and ate guinea pig. This summer, I couldn't be stopped. Maybe I would make a fool out of myself. Maybe, like Icarus, I would fly too close to the sun. But this was Ecuador, not Greece, and I felt strangely awesome.

My friends tried to dissuade me. "She's too pretty for you." "Are you kidding me?" "You're pathetic." Doubt began to creep in. Staring at her from across the room, I started to second-guess myself. What if she didn't like me? What if I sounded like an idiot? What did I have to offer that the average Ecuadorian teenage male didn't? She probably had a boyfriend who looked like me but was exotic and good at soccer. I almost turned around and walked away. But I stopped. Down the street, at the Charles Darwin Research Center, was a tortoise named Lonesome George. George is lonesome because he is the only known Pinta Island tortoise left alive. George is lonesome because he will never be able to have a mate that he truly belongs with. I glanced at the girl, glanced at my friends, and walked toward her. This one's for you, Lonesome George.

Samuel French is a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University, a 2010 graduate of the Pinellas County Center for the Arts and a former tb-two* staffer.

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