A few weeks ago, I was talking to a very bright woman who used to work in admissions at Centre College. Part of her job was reading admissions essays from applicants to assess if they would be a good fit for the incoming class. She told me the best essay she ever read was about a kid cleaning out the frozen yogurt machine at his summer job.
A day later, I came across a very interesting statistic from Pew Research Center. Their researchers had found that just 35 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds had summer jobs in 2017. Compare that to 58 percent in 1978.
At once, I thought of all of the great personal statements that would never be written because teens were spending their summers bingeing on Netflix instead of clocking into work. And then it made me think of how sweet a summer job really can be.
I got my first job at age 15 after Dr. Gene Kaprowy marched his daughter into Medicine Rock Café and asked to speak to the manager. The request produced a leggy blonde named Loralyn, who asked if she could help him.
“This is my daughter,” my dad said. “You should hire her. She’s a hard worker.”
Mortified, I stood there like a deer in headlights, only able to process that my dad was suddenly, inexplicably speaking in short, declarative sentences.
“Give her your resume,” he said to me.
I shakily handed over a nearly-blank piece of paper, the contents of which were my GPA and the phone numbers of a few moms for whom I had babysat.
Loralyn looked down at the paper, appearing to inspect it carefully. Then she looked at me and squinted.
“Can you hustle?” she said.
That’s how my career as a busgirl began.
For the next five years, inside that log cabin-style restaurant in the middle of the prairies, I grew up. I worked New Year’s Eves, Sunday brunches, on busy Thursdays when snowmobilers would pile into the lounge and order cheese toast and fried mushrooms. I learned how to talk to customers despite being painfully shy. I learned how to be helpful to the waiters. I learned I was fascinated by what happened in the kitchen. I learned about China Town and Little Italy from Loralyn, who took me under her wing and brought me almost everywhere she went.
Along the way, I met Stephanie Dayton, Carrie Houston and Stefan Regnier, three lifelong friends whom I still visit whenever I get back to Winnipeg. Stephanie, Carrie and I went to our first nightclubs together, saw each other through heartbreaks, watched every episode of Sex and the City. Stefan taught me what being a foodie really means and, later, in my 20s, hired me to be his server at his famous Perogy Kitchen.
Whether I was at the restaurant or with my restaurant friends, I learned what it felt like to have an identity that was different from the one I had constructed (or had been constructed for me) at school. No longer was I a study nerd or the girl who Greg Kendall wouldn’t dance with because she’d painted her face orange in keeping with her Halloween costume as a scarecrow. Instead, I was just busgirl extraordinaire who could carry a two-top up two flights of stairs and not get out of breath.
To think there is an entire generation out there in which nearly two thirds of its members aren’t experiencing any of this makes me kind of sad. And to think that part of the reason why they’re not is because parents are too protective/indulgent or that college entrance has become so competitive that summer vacation is better spent on academic camp or internships.
I do take heart in the fact, though, that an admissions officer at, arguably, the most prestigious college in Kentucky liked a personal statement about a summer job best. And that, if I get really lucky, someone will read this and write another one.