Here it is: the product of countless weeks of reflection, rephrasing, and revisions… My Common App essay. I picked the “place that makes you content” prompt and chose to write about Disneyland. Since my chosen topic essentially represents childhood, I went to great lengths to ensure that it didn’t sound too juvenile or naive even though I wanted to capitalize on its nostalgic value for me. Sure, it’s a bit cheesy, but that’s who I am! I decided to commit to writing about Disneyland because I thought it would be a good way to convey my personality and avoid regurgitating my resume.I was happy with the way it turned out, but even happier that it actually worked.
Disclaimer: This essay is sappy but earnest, realistic yet naive, and very much sentimental.
Wait, there’s no Matterhorn here? No Mr. Toad? No Alice? I thought, walking through Florida’s Fantasyland in distress. Since I was born in southern California, I grew up going to Disneyland and felt strangely slighted while visiting the larger, younger, more robust version in Orlando. As soon as I arrived at Disney World, I knew it wasn’t the same. The castle was too big, “it’s a small world” was too small, and everything was in the wrong spot. Of course we all had a blast, but I felt deep down that it could never compare to Disneyland. I realize this is an uncommon sentiment because most believe that bigger is better, but my justifications are highly personal and I’ve come to tout my unpopular opinion with pride.
Going to Disneyland is like time traveling: to this day, the slightest nuances thrust me back in time, such as the potent scent of grease and rubber in old rides like “Peter Pan’s Flight,” or the immediately recognizable voice inflections of the pre-recorded monorail narrator. I’m not making a starry-eyed claim that Disneyland is perfect; I know very well that it’s not actually made of happiness and pixie dust. Although everything is vastly overpriced, rides frequently break down, and the entire scene can seem eerily enthusiastic, something reels me back in each time.
I’ll admit, I have a severe addiction to nostalgia, but it’s more than that. Occasionally, I experience these bouts of nagging discouragement. Worries about my ever-mysterious future always pass or fade, but I often need to seek shelter from the torrent of my own doubts. When I go to Disneyland, I’m miraculously granted a child’s outlook. All of a sudden, I see possibilities instead of hindrances. I’m filled with this wonderful feeling of potential, and I actually look forward to the future instead of fearing it. I’ve found other ways to strengthen my confidence since I can’t hop on a plane every time I’m feeling down, but Disneyland never fails to help me view both myself and the world in a better light.
To an outsider, it might seem like I’ve become a little bit too attached to the park. For example, Disney announced a dramatic revamping of my favorite ride five years ago and I felt my precious grip on nostalgia slackening. In a fit of rage, I sent an emotionally charged email protesting the insertion of modern Disney characters into “it’s a small world” because I thought they’d ruin the original intent of the attraction. Later, I received a very courteous reply thanking me for my comments and insisting that the additions would only enhance the “celebration of children and the youthful spirit everywhere,” yet I still resented the impending renovation. To my surprise, Disney didn’t err. Upon seeing the characters deftly incorporated in the whimsical style of Mary Blair, the original designer, my anger gave way to relief, and even delight. In a similar discovery, when I (in a moment of shining geek-dom) read the Disneyland Encyclopedia cover to cover, I encountered multiple accounts of retired attraction relics that can be found throughout the park with a discerning eye. These little pieces of the past embody my preference for gradual transformation over instantaneous overhaul. By finding creative ways to seamlessly weave the past and present together, Disney has taught me how to stop dreading (and even embrace) change, for it’s undoubtedly inevitable and often for the better.
When I visit, I seek more than the cheap thrills found at typical amusement parks. Though some may scoff at my borderline fanatic obsession, I see it differently. In addition to helping me overcome an aversion to change, Disneyland provides me with a tantalizing escape and a set of child’s eyes with which to view the world. I may not make the trip very often, but when I do, I relish every second of it.