From the beginning of my senior year, I commuted to a neighboring high school to take Advanced Placement courses that my own school did not offer. I was willing to do whatever was necessary to get into college, so the hour commute on my loud, uncomfortable motorcycle was worth it to me.

One chilly November morning, it started to rain. I saw a sheen come up on the road—that thin layer of oil and dirt that coats the surface for a brief time before the water washes it away. As I approached a hairpin turn near the bottom of a steep hill, an odd feeling swept over me. My mind had just calculated my speed, the approach of the curve, and the slippery coating on the road.

I wasn’t going to make it.

The next few moments were a blur. My motorcycle flew out from underneath me. There was silence for a few moments, then muffled crashing sounds and disorientation as my body bounced all over the road. Finally, everything was still. Seconds later, the pain hit. The last thing I remember was someone plunging a needle into my arm.

When I awoke, both of my arms were in casts. Everything from eating to going to the bathroom became a monumental task. It was college application season and I was doing my best to complete my Stanford paperwork. Unable to write, I was forced to dictate and edit my essay on my tape recorder. The last question on what seemed like an endless bevy of forms asked, “Are there any unusual circumstances, background data, or other information regarding your application about which we ought to be aware?”

I figured breaking both arms qualified, so I wrote a few paragraphs about my injury. For days, all my father heard from my bedroom was tap, pause, tap, pause, like some medieval funeral dirge, as I typed up my application. That was in February.


In late March, a thick packet appeared in our family's mailbox. The first piece of paper read, “It is with great pleasure that I inform you of your admission to Stanford's Class of 1983...” I couldn’t believe it. Being a nerd had finally paid off. I sent in my hundred-dollar deposit, let my arms heal, and made my first trek to Palo Alto for a preview trip in May.

When I arrived at the admissions office, I checked in for my appointment with a man named Dave Velasquez, who was to show me around campus. “You're Steven Kaufman?” the receptionist asked in a voice whose meaning I could not quite interpret. She waived me to a chair, quickly dialed a number on her phone, and said under her breath, “He's here!” I heard a second phone ring, then a third, as if the call were jumping from cubicle to cubicle.

A few minutes later, a crowd of people began advancing toward me. I stood up, a little nervous, as they formed a semicircle around me. A man stepped forward and held out his hand. “I'm Dave,” he said. As I reached for his hand to shake it, he suddenly pulled it back.

Baffled, I turned my head to the side. “Is…is everything okay?” I asked, worried that they might have changed their mind about admitting me to the university.

Dave glanced at the others in the group before answering. “Well, we were all working late, trying to finalize the admissions before the deadline. We were on our hundredth pot of coffee when I read this application about a kid who broke both his arms, but still managed to get his application in to us on time. I couldn’t believe it! In all my years of being an admissions counselor, I had never heard of anything like this. We figured that if you could get through that, you could get through Stanford. I want shake your hand and say congratulations, but I want to make sure you’re all healed up. You’ve got a very exciting four years ahead of you!”

This isn’t a story about college admissions and I’m not recommending that you break both of your arms in order to gain favor with university personnel. Rather, it’s a reminder that no matter what the garbage may be in our path, we have two simple choices: let it stop us or clear it out of the way and keep moving on.

As an eighteen-year-old with thick glasses and squirrely hair, I wanted to go to college and I wasn’t going to let a couple of casts get in my way. There was no flag waving or theatrics; just a quiet resolve that said, “This is what I want and it’s really important to me.” And I made it happen, broken bones and all.

That’s what happens when you toss the trash.


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