It started with Eloise. It started with Madeline and Amelia and Ferdinand. It started with Imogene and her antlers, Harold and his crayon, and Alexander and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. It started with Max and his totally messed up imagination and badass pajamas.
Soon it became Ramona. It became Fudge, and Nancy, and a big, friendly giant. It became a gang of babysitters. It became Charlotte and Wilbur and that disgusting rat Templeton, who I hated but also kind of loved.
Then of course it was Harry. It was Holden and Huck and I’m sure many others who would help tremendously with alliteration right about now if I could think of them. It was Jane and Emma and Elizabeth. It was Earnest and Dorian and a woman of tremendous importance to me, if to no one else.
And then it was you.
The other day a friend asked me what I was reading. I sort of laughed and told her I was reading college applications, had she heard of them? We joked that I’d recommend one but she wouldn’t be able to find it in her local library, and if I was reading works by any famous authors, I was way ahead of the times, like one of those Justin Bieber fans back when he was making YouTube videos in front of a Simpsons poster in his basement. We had a good laugh. But as we parted ways I began to realize that this is no joke: for a large part of each year, you are the protagonists of my literary adventures. You are my Amelia Bedelias, my Nancy Drews, and my Dorian Grays (well, OK, maybe not that last one). You’ve joined quite an impressive roster; these characters have completely shaped the person I’ve become. They’ve forever been my guides, advising me on how to treat my family and friends, how to face change, and how to react when I accidentally sit on a bee and the matadors think I’m more aggressive than I really am… oh, wait.
Anyway, after this conversation I began to read applications differently. I began to think of each applicant as a guide, the main character in the story of his or her life. I’ve found that the way I react is often similar to how I do when I read my favorite books. I’m more enthralled when the story clearly took time and thought, when each sentence shows voice and moves me forward. I’m more excited when each paragraph brings something new, a character trait I hadn’t known before or didn’t quite expect. I build images of the characters in my head. Some of them holler and joke and sass. Others whisper and muse and reflect. But all of them are very important to me, in the moment of getting to know them, just like all the protagonists of my past have been. That’s why I’m so creepy when you come to campus and I already know your name… you haven’t forgotten Elizabeth Bennet or Wilbur the pig, so why should I forget you?