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Wheaton Application Essay: Legos

posted Jan 8, 2013, 6:32 PM by Jack Bandy   [ updated Jan 25, 2013, 10:21 AM ]

Prompt: What was your favorite childhood game? What does that say about who you are now?

Instructions? No thanks. I wasn’t about to let some unimaginative, underpaid Lego employee tell me how to build my spaceship.

An empty, white table: the perfect platform for creating my masterpiece. Except for that little smudge there... ah. Much better.

No need to be anxious now, just take it two blocks at a time. Oh, but who am I kidding? I dump out the hundreds of pieces and my mind races to work, swiftly clicking and connecting. The laser guns needed improvement from their representation on the box, as did the cockpit. Let’s tilt the body back a little bit, since it’s taking off. That looks better. Connect the cockpit, strap on the guns, see what the captain thinks... too high? Let’s fix that. Disconnect. Connect. Still? Disconnect. Disconnect. Connect. Click, and... wow.

Now that’s a spaceship.

It wasn’t my first construction project, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Sometimes I still get out the delicately organized fishing box which houses all of my Legos. From top to bottom: yellow, blue, green, red, gray, other; from left to right: one-by-anythings, two-by-fours, two-by-sixes, the thin ones, the long ones, the misfits. But even the most useful pieces are all worthless on their own, which is why I have always felt obligated to combine them.

About one decade after my Lego obsession, I find myself anxiously looking at another pile of parts. This time, they’re more complicated than Lego pieces: a small two-stroke engine, some chains, a carburetor, mounting fixtures, way too many bolts, and a stripped-down bicycle. I know the process will be long and frustrating, I know the parts won’t assemble themselves, I know the final product will be worth it, and I know the instructions are still worthless.

I’m still a builder.

For me, it only feels natural to bring together a structure from individual parts. But it’s more than just stacking bricks to make a bigger brick. I realized early on in life that whatever I built was indeed worth more than the sum of its parts. When I build, I’m not just adding parts together, I’m creating a new, intricate, useful product. But my education generally has embraced deconstruction: understanding the parts, not the whole. Science and math especially demonstrate this “methodological reductionism”, breaking everything down into more understandable pieces. This deconstruction is certainly useful, but I find more value in construction. What good does it do to understand the parts of something if we can’t make anything of them?

If building is merely a physical activity, someone must have forgotten to tell me. I see everything in my life as a construction project: my page of notes in class, a problem set for calculus, a new explanation for my idea. To me, it’s all the same: using a sparse body of pieces to create something organized, useful, and original. So when I think of myself today in relation to my favorite childhood games, I see myself as the same builder I was as a kid.

I remember the simple structures I created as a kid: the basic (but undoubtedly awesome) forts I designed, the makeshift shelters I built in our forrest, and of course the awesome Lego spaceships. Then I think of the more complicated things I’ve built in recent years: a furnished room in our attic, some iPhone applications, and my homemade motor-bike. My entire life I’ve just been learning how to become a better builder, and since I can’t help but think I’ll be building my entire life, I want to continue mastering my trade.

Even if that means cracking open the instructions sometimes.