The following Graduation Writing Proficiency Examination essays were written by HSU students during a regularly scheduled GWPE. Except for the elimination of cross-outs, the essays are reproduced here exactly as written. Insofar as possible, the essays were chosen to represent the entire range of possible scores. (No essay received a score of One on Essay Topic I.) The majors represented by the authors of these essays are, in alphabetical order, Art, Biology, Business Administration, Environmental Resources Engineering, Fisheries, Geography, Geology, Industrial Arts, and Resource Planning and Interpretation.
Personal-Experience Essay Prompt
You have 45 minutes to write on the following topic.
A distinguished essayist once wrote: "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested."
Write an essay in which you:
- Describe a book that has strongly affected you.
- Explain how your reading of this book changed your outlook.
- Tell why you think this book had such a profound effect on you.
Sample Essay Score: Six
During my third year of college I became acutely aware of the Womens Rights Issue. I made an attempt to re-examine many of the cultural norms that I had previously accepted as just being "the natural order of things." One of the paths I took to expand my awareness of the female psyche involved women's literature. That is why I spent one weekend of my life in bed--crying, laughing, feeling sometimes confused, and often, incredibly angry and distraught. On that rainy Humboldt Friday night I had decided to read "The Women's Room."
The author, Marilyn Fridey, describes the lives of several women from the 1950's to present. These women are nothing out of the ordinary. They either go to college and then get married, or they get married without bothering about the pretense of college--after all, they know that college is only a way to find more economically promising husbands. Myra, the main character whose life is traced throughout the book vaguely wonders why she is not content cooking pot roast, scraping shit from the baby's diapers, and picking up her husband's dry cleaning. Her only solace is the neighborhood of women who share concerns over coffee in the afternoons.
They wonder why Katherine, a Catholic woman who has 9 children and an alcoholic husband, committed suicide. "She had a normal life, they thought, she just should have talked her husband into using birth control." As for the rest of the women, including Myra, their lives, fears, disappointments and yearnings, were much more subtle, yet equally suicidal in their quiet desperation.
Many years down the road, Myra's life finally changes. Her husband has "made it", the kids have grown, and life is easy economically. Myra has a nervous breakdown. Once recovered, she divorces, and becomes a graduate student at Yale. Though painful and difficult, it is here that she comes to terms with herself, realizes her potential, and learns to live with herself--not necessarily happily--but at least honestly.
After I finished the story of Myras world that Sunday evening, I woke up in the middle of the night sobbing uncontrollably from a terrible nightmare. Though I couldn't remember the dream, I came to a profound realization. Myra's life was my mothers.
Most of my life I had revered, respected and admired my father for going to college, being intelligent and worldly, having power and control. In short for being a man.
My mother always seemed too "wishy-washy", easily trodden upon, overly dependent because she had chosen the role of HOUSEWIFE, MOTHER. I rebelled against the tradition, and feared wearing those chains someday. Consequently, I strove to be like my father.
Until this book, I never realized how much more courage it took for a person to live within a stifled role, and find contentment by living through other people. During that night of crying I understood my mother for the first time--I respected her inner strength, compassion, gentleness.
Ever since then, my relationship with my mother has evolved, and we are very close. I will probably never adopt the role in life that she chose to take, but I now respect her for her life, and understand the reasons why she made those choices. Reading of Myra's evolution as a female changed the way I feel towards myself, my feelings and compassion for my mother, and provided me with a much more sensitive view towards the lives of many women in our society today.
Comment:Clearly a well-written, superior essay. Each of the three parts of the topic is covered and well developed, with considerable detail provided. Despite an occasional lapse in the use of the possessive and a few other matters, the paper is strong in mechanics. Sentence structure is sophisticated and effective.
Sample Essay Score: 5
Through the ages of 8-15 I was an avid reader of pleasure books. The majority of the books were mysteries such as Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. Books about animals were avoided because they usually had a very sentimental theme, and I was very emotional when it came to animal suffering.
When I was approximately 10 years old I read a book titled Misty & Chatlenaque. This book was about a young horse that was stranded on an island. It had been on a horse-trading ship when the ship wrecked on the rocks. Misty went through several adventures where wild dogs tried to kill her, horse traders tried to capture her (and beat her in the process), and the sea tried to swallow her.
A little girl who lived on the Island found Misty and tried to protect her from the wild dogs and horse traders. The story was told from the horse's point view, and the agony and terror Misty went through passed on to me. I felt as if it were me who was being chased and beat.
A girl at the age of ten is influenced by the things she sees and reads. Years after reading the book I had the notion that horse ranches were terrible to horses. I also felt that horses were very human in the sense that they could think, feel, understand, and have emotions.
Whenever I passed by a horse who was behind a fence I had to stop and feed it, talk to it, pet it, and feel sorry for it. Every horse had that "Misty" look in its eyes, and I felt it was "crying out to me".
After reading Misty and Chatlenaque, horses became more than just an animal to me. They became something I could relate to and sympathize with. I myself was a lonely child who felt neglected (even though I wasn't) and "penned". While reading the book I felt the horse and I were one. Years later I felt like horses and I had something in common and could relate to each other.
Now, I know horses do not understand what I say to them, but I still stop and talk to them as if they were human. I feel that if I had not read that book eleven years ago I wouldn't feel as attached to horses as I do now. To this day, I refuse to read another horse book or watch a horse movie that looks like it might be "emotional" or "sentimental".
Misty & Chatlenaque is still a very prominent book in my mind, and details of it are remembered frequently. It has had the profound effect of altering my view of horses and will probably remain in my memory for life. The book also had the effect of making me not want to read those kinds of books again. Their emotional impact was too great on me so I only read mysteries and school books. To this day I have my reservations about reading an emotional book, especially if it pertains to animals.
Comment:A very competent paper, nearly free of mechanical errors but lacking the coherent development of the superior essay. It is also occasionally repetitious and a bit unfocused at times. (The correct title of this book is Misty of Chincoteaque.)
Sample Essay Score: 4
In the summer of 1981 I worked for the Army Corps of Engineers on the Warm Springs Dam Project. Much to my objections I was to spend the entire summer living alone, without my wife, since she had obligations to keep in Eureka, California.
The project was located 7 miles southwest of Cloverdale, Ca., in an area which is essentially agricultural. Housing in the area was very scarce and the lodging which could be found was either too expensive or unsuitable. By my own preference, I decided it would be nice to camp out in the woods for the entire duration of the summer.
At first the evenings after work were hot but beautifully peaceful. It didn't take long though until I found my self bored to death looking for something to do besides play solitare. How did the people in the early days of our world stand life without television. I was forced to find some other means of entertainment which just happened to be reading.
The only reading material which was at my camp was a book left there by my wife on her last visit entitled "The Stix Complex." This book to most of the world I'm sure has no great literary value, but to me, it was the greatest entertainment I had ever found. I realized that in the reading of a book, ones own imagination can bring out much more detail in a story than television ever could.
I don't feel that it was the specific book that struck me so much that summer, and it probably could have been any book. I realized that we expect to be entertained by television and movies so much that we forget that we can entertain ourselves to a much higher degree. I still watch television, but I now read much more for enjoyment.
Comment:Although this essay addresses all three aspects of the topic, development of them is thin. The writer devotes most of the essay to describing his situation and passes rather quickly over the book itself and its effects on him. Still, despite a few mechanical flaws, this is clearly a competent piece of writing.
Sample Essay Score: 3
I was strongly affected by a book I read called Never Cry Wolf. The book discribes a remote animal behavor study, located in a mountainous region of northern Canada. The purpose of the study was to observe the animal behavior of wolfs in there natural environment. The study was conducted by a wildlife biologist, working for the Canadian goverment.
Up until the time I read the book, I had the impression that wolfs where among the meanest creatures on the planet. I may have received this impression from childhood fairy tales that were told to me. After reading the book severl times, my impression of wolfs had changed. I no longer viewed wolfs as mean creatues, but instead viewed them as primarly passive creatures. Their intent was not to harm, but to survive.
Animal behavior became a primary interest of mine after reading the book, Never Cry Wolf. Although, I am not a wildlife major, I have assisted in a wildlife study on wolfs. I would have never gained this experience if I had not read Never Cry wolf. The knowledge I gained from the book has opened my eyes to nature.
Comment:While no parts of the topic are omitted, treatment of them tends to be superficial. The writer provides very little supporting detail. Considerable repetition is present because of the predominantly simple sentences used. (Note, for example, how the three opening sentences can easily be combined into one: I was strongly affected by a book I read called Never Cry Wolf, which describes the behavior of wolves living in their natural environment in the mountains of northern Canada.) Spelling is also weak.
Sample Essay Score: 2
The purpose of this essay is to describe my personal experience; that of a particular book which has greatly affected me. This book is Sweet Thursday by John Stienbeck. This book has greatly affected my over all outlook on life in general. Sweet Thursdaychanged the way I think about myself and others. Also, it has changed the way I feel about my own career.
The main character of the book was Doc. Doc had a very profound outlook on twards life, which I found quite interesting. He gave his career all of his attention yet still felt an emptyness inside. This was because he was without a meaningful relationship with a women. I too feel this emptyness, but because of Sweet Thursday I am able to understand what it is. This understanding gives me hope when career goals are overwelming.
Comment:Although this essay does not ignore the question, it treats it very poorly. The essay is both thin in content and lacking in development. The writer uses repetitious simple sentences rather than more sophisticated sentence structures which would combine and properly subordinate thoughts and eliminate the repetitions.
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My little brother means everything to me
1st place $50
Jonathan Kuperberg, 15, Agoura HS
Everyone has had an event that has changed his or her life. Mine was the birth of my little brother, Matthew. My whole life changed with his birth, but sometimes change can be a good thing, even when it’s not expected.
When my parents first told me that they were having a baby and I would have another brother, but this time I’d be an older brother, I was full of emotions. I was happy and sad at the same time. My whole life was going to change and I wasn’t sure if I was ready. Back then, I did not know what a positive impact this event would have on my life.
When Matthew was born (I picked out his name, by the way) I could not stop smiling. There, in the bed, was this little “creature” my parents called their son. Not until I picked him up did I feel the weight of his life on my shoulders, and the weight of the effect I would have on him. I immediately felt I had more responsibility, and I was ready to do anything for my little brother.
My whole family took care of him, even the cat, and life was somewhat peaceful during those first few weeks. When my mom went out for the first time in months, I fed him a bottle, and although he spit up most of it and only drank a few drops, it was just as satisfying for me as for Matthew. I was there when he rolled over for the first time, and I was there when he took his first steps. I saw his first tooth come in, and I will soon see his first tooth fall out. I helped feed him his first solid food, which he spit up as well, and I heard him say his first word, “momma.” Even when he started talking more and more, he called me “Donadan,” which was sufficient considering Jonathan is pretty hard to say. At least he was making an effort to talk to me.
That was seven years ago, and Matthew and I are closer than ever. My older brother is a senior in high school and getting ready for college, so he does not get to spend much time with us. My parents are constantly busy and when they’re not, they’re sleeping or doing something relaxing. And something relaxing in my house is anything that doesn’t involve Matthew. So that leaves me to spend time with my brother, which, although it is often difficult and tiring, is quite gratifying. He may cheat in checkers, but he is only doing that to win and get respect from his big brother. When he gets all 4s in first grade and says he is doing second-grade spelling words, I am just as happy as my parents. I baby-sit him constantly and we have fun, even though he is pretty much in charge.
It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that my little brother idolizes me. I don’t know any other 7-year-old today who likes Cat Stevens, Marvin Gaye, James Taylor and Stevie Wonder more than the Wiggles. He knows all the words to dozens of Ray Charles songs, and he even has his own blues-y voice. But more than just my music rubs off on Matthew. When I got an electric piano for Hanukkah, so did he. I haven’t had the time to schedule lessons, but Matthew is learning to play every week. Of course we still play our “Heart and Soul” duet whenever we can. Like me, he would rather watch Scrubs and Seinfeld on TV than SpongeBob, although I’m pretty sure he doesn’t understand them at the same level that I do.
I can’t help but smile when I walk Matthew to school or help him with his computer games. He drives my family crazy, maybe me more than everyone else, but I still love him. I teach him things every day and he teaches me things too, most of them about myself. I’ve grown as a person since my brother was born, not just in age, but in responsibility and morality. He comes before everything else in my life and rightly so. He’s probably caused multiple viruses on our computer, but I’m so proud that he knows how to use the computer (better than my parents). Every site I visit on the Internet he bookmarks in his folder.
Although Matthew can still relate to kids his age, he is probably more mature than most of them just for having spent so much time with me. Although I am in intense classes and busy in my sophomore year, I sometimes feel like a little kid again as I unleash my inner child when I’m with Matthew. Everything we do rubs off on each other. I didn’t really want a brother at first, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I will never have a mother
2nd place $30
Natalie Reed, 13, Wilson MS (Glendale)
A lot of things have changed and affected my life. The most life-changing experience was the death of my mother.
When I was young, around 5 years old, my sister Alisha died. Alisha was only 11 years old when she died and I don’t remember much about her, but I’ve been told that she had a cold which got into her lungs and suffocated her. Right now, Alisha would probably be starting college. My mom was so depressed about Alisha’s death that she committed suicide. I don’t remember a lot about my mom, just the way she looked, how she stood in front of the mirror putting on makeup, the Rice-A-Roni dinners and the smell of bacon and coffee in the morning. I remember once, while we were in line to get food from El Pollo Loco, she was eating M&M’s and her tooth fell out. She just looked at it for a second and stuck the tooth back in her mouth! I thought she was crazy! It was so funny, but gross at the same time.
Some people tell me that when you commit suicide, you go to hell. I don’t know if I don’t believe it, or just don’t want to believe it. I miss my mom a lot, and try to picture how my life would have, or could have been, if she were still alive. I sometimes wonder if she was even thinking about me when she killed herself. Did she not care? Did she think that it would be best for me? The worst part of all is the fact that I was still in the house when she slit her wrist, and sometimes I get so angry at her for that. I was only 7 years old and clearly she wasn’t thinking about me or my future. When I get married, she won’t be there for my wedding. My kids will never have a grandmother from my side of the family. I will never have a mom to go shopping for bras with, and I will never have a normal life. I will always be haunted by the memory of what she did.
Whenever someone describes slitting their wrist or anything about veins and arteries or anything that has to do with the details of it all, I get squirmy and chills go down my spine, and sometimes there is a tingle in my wrist. It irritates me until I calm down or forget about it, and I fear that the feeling will never go away. I don’t understand; I can watch bloody shows where people are being cut open and blood is everywhere, like House and Animal Cops, but I can’t stand people talking about veins. It gets spooky, and I wish that she would have thought twice before she did anything. My life will never be the same, and I will never have a mother.
My father’s death still hurts
3rd place $20
Michelle Stevenson, 16, John R. Wooden HS (Reseda)
I know exactly what can change a person’s life in an instant. What, you may ask?
When I was 12 years old, my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. At this age I wasn’t very aware of what cancer was or what it could do to a person. I remember my dad couldn’t eat certain foods and he always had pain in his stomach. I remember my father would always help me with my schoolwork and was my best friend. He taught me everything, from how to use a computer to how to fish. He was the best blessing God gave me. No one could ask for a better father. He always went out with my sisters and me to go salsa dancing. As a family we would have the best times in the world. When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, my two sisters and I formed a salsa group called Triple Threat. That year we performed in the fourth annual Salsa Congress. Unfortunately, during the month of April my father failed his chemotherapy and was admitted to the hospital.
I remember going to the hospital every day after school. He was so weak. On May 17, 2003, God decided to take my father to heaven. I was too young to understand what had happened. Of course I was devastated, crying every day. My mother forced me to go to school the next day. She said my father had always wanted me to do well in school.
At that age it didn’t hit me as much as it does today. I miss him so much. I always wonder what it would have been like to have him here with me during my teen years. There’s not one day when I don’t think about him. I still cry at times. It’s so hard to lose a person that close. I was the most tomboyish of my three sisters, so that’s most of the reason I was closest to my father. Nothing can take away that pain.
The other day my mother and I were talking. She, a widow at 42 years old, said she would try hiding her feelings and grieving from me because she didn’t want to show me her pain. She said she would cry every day after dropping me off at school. She would try her hardest not to cry in front of me and it showed me how strong she is. Then when we were talking it hit me … I don’t have a father. After three and a half years, that just hit me. I will never have my dad to walk me down the aisle. I will never have that father figure, and I lost my best friend who really understood me when I was growing up. It hurts me so.
Although I may not have all those things, I try every day to realize how beautiful life is. Ever since his death, my family has gotten closer. We realize that we have each other, and that’s what matters most. We have learned that family comes first before anything. In that way it helped. I have also been really independent. I work, I do well in school, I pay for my own phone bill and soon will be able to afford my own car, and I dance. I also try every day to appreciate that I have a beautiful family and a loving boyfriend. So in my opinion a death, no matter who it is, can change lives. My father was my hero. I thank God every day that he was in my life.
Escaping my father’s abuse
Cyndhl Imaysay, Paramount HS
We do not get a chance to choose our family, we just end up with whomever God has chosen for us. When I was young, everything seemed to be OK. But as I got older, I began to notice that my father was getting more and more verbally abusive. Not just to my brother and me, but to my mom as well.
When I first noticed the verbal abuse, I thought that maybe someone had done something or said something to make my dad upset. My dad would yell at us and call us names, and then he would calm down and act as if nothing had happened. But as the years went on, he started yelling and screaming obscenities at the drop of a hat.
We were very careful about what we said and did around him, afraid that we might tip him off. I felt as if I was always stepping on eggshells. I eventually got tired of the yelling and name-calling and started to talk back to my dad. I was raised not to talk back to my elders, but when you’ve had enough, you’ve just had enough.
One afternoon I was watching the Oprah Winfrey Show and they were doing an episode on domestic violence. I paid close attention to what they were talking about. Ninety percent of what they said described how my dad was acting. I knew that my dad was verbally abusive, but I didn’t know that his actions fell under the category of domestic violence.
I used to be a very fun-loving child. I had a lot of friends and made new friends quickly. My friends would hang out at my house and I would hang out at their houses. As soon as my dad started to act the way he did, I was embarrassed to invite any of my friends over because I was afraid that he would yell for no reason. I was a normal child, but as the abuse went on I noticed that my attitude started to change and I was always fatigued and hungry. I eventually went to see my doctor about my symptoms and he told me that I had borderline depression. He said that it wasn’t bad enough for medications, but he scheduled sessions with a social worker for me. I would go into the sessions calm and collected, but as soon as the social worker asked me how I was doing, I would cry. I had so much pent-up anger toward my father that I couldn’t say anything. All I could do was cry.
My mom, brother and I left my dad back in June. We are now living with my grandmother and my two older siblings. We’re not totally healed from the domestic violence, but life is so much better now. Everything seems to be getting back to normal. I keep telling myself to live one day at a time and not focus on what has already changed, but for the changes yet to come.
Starving to be perfect
Yajaira Hernandez, Wilson MS
It wasn’t even worth it, the delicious food I missed out on. Pasta, meat, pizza and even ice cream. All because I wanted to be perfect.
I saw models on TV who had perfect bodies. Some models looked as skinny as a stick and healthy. I wanted to be like them, with the perfect waist and body.
So I started to starve myself. I wasn’t fat, but not perfect. I ate a little at breakfast (sometimes not at all), rarely at lunch and a little at dinner. I drank water and orange juice all the time.
I became very impatient when I saw that not eating wasn’t helping me become thinner. So I went to the bathroom and threw up. I was desperate. Every time I finished eating, my stomach ached. I felt it full so I emptied it in the bathroom.
By sixth grade I weighed 70 pounds. I was pretty skinny, but not satisfied. It came to a point where I was vomiting, not on purpose, and headaches were killing me. My stomach hurt and I could barely move myself around.
My friends were worried about me. They were worried I would end up in a hospital. They forced me to eat many times. I ignored them and told them to leave me alone. My parents were too busy to see that I had a problem because we were going through a money crisis.
But there was one person who noticed my eating disorder. My babysitter took me to the doctor one time. I was there to get shots but she took the time to talk to the doctor. The doctor was concerned about my weight. She showed me pictures of girls who suffered from anorexia and bulimia. It was gross seeing how skinny they looked. She explained that this can cause stomach cancer and even lead to death. Because of throwing up, there’ll come a point when the body will not want any food. The body does not get all the nutrients it needs and slows down; eventually, it stops working. Some of the pictures showed girls in bed with a tube stuck to them. The girls in the photos were so thin; you could see all their rib bones and backbones. She said you soon get thin hair and are always cold.
I started to cry because I didn’t want to end up that way. I wanted to live a long and healthy life. After that day, I changed the way I acted. I was a new girl. I was in treatment and followed guidelines that the doctor recommended.
Today I look like a normal teenager. I’m a happy girl who blends in with the other girls. I’m still not fully recovered but I visit my doctor regularly. I still wish I had that perfect body that a model has. However, I am glad I changed my decision.
Getting a job taught me responsibility
Linda Perez, Paramount HS
Like most teenagers, I got a part-time job to earn some extra cash, but ended up learning a valuable lesson instead. I started working at a retail department store four months ago. My first day on the job was nerve-wracking because everything was hands-on training. After what felt like an incredibly long day of work, I realized that I had only worked for four hours at $6.75 an hour! I continued going to work feeling cheated for all the back-breaking work I was assigned to complete for minimum wage.
Working in retail has changed my life for the better. It has made me realize that I can’t do that for the rest of my life. I refuse to. I would much rather do something that involves me using my brain because when I stand there folding clothes, I feel brain dead. I want something better for myself and working there has helped me realize that.
Since I’ve started working, my grades have improved dramatically. Last semester, I am proud to say I earned a 4.0 GPA. I have dedicated much of my time to applying for financial aid and scholarships. Knowing that I don’t want to end up folding sweaters has motivated me to focus more on the future. Before, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know if I was even going to college. My horrible job was a real eye-opener for me. I want something better for myself.
A car crash taught to value life
Author’s name withheld
About a year and a half ago I got into a car crash that was horrible. That moment changed my view about life entirely.
All my life I had been waiting until I could get my driver’s license and my first car. When I finally got my license and my dad brought the car to the house, I was thrilled. From that day on, the most important thing in my life was that car. Every day I would get home and see what else I could do to make it better. My car was my pride and joy and when I had fixed it up into “perfect” condition, I finally began to drive it. Every time I got into my car I felt invincible, as if nothing could stop me. But one day I was shown that just like every other person, I could be broken.
One night after finishing up my errands, I was in the car with my friends. I felt unstoppable while driving. But soon enough I was shown that I wasn’t. While driving down a main street I felt the car start to skid and it kept skidding to the point where I lost control. At this point time wasn’t moving slow enough and when I realized what was happening, the only thing I could do was swerve the car so the impact would be on my side, and so I did.
After the crash I don’t remember much, but I do remember the pain I was in, not only physical but also the thought that the lives of others were in my hands for a few seconds and I may have dropped them. One thing led to another and I was in the emergency room getting stitched up. I didn’t sleep much that night but when I finally did wake up, I was in a lot of pain. But I also began to see things in a different light.
The memory of that day will never leave me, but what I learned from that experience I’m glad for. Not only did I learn that I need to have a lot more appreciation for things, I also learned that material things should never be the most important things in your life. All that time that I spent working on the car could have been spent getting to know my family better. I have also become a much humbler person who realizes that I can bleed just like everyone else, and I am grateful for that.
Sometimes you need to go through rough moments to come out with the best. Having a car was what I waited for all my life, but now just being alive is a blessing for me. Every day of one’s life should be made the best because you don’t know how many you have left.
Letter to an inanimate object
When one of our teen staff writers told us that she heard someone reading a letter to an inanimate object on National Public Radio, we thought that would make a great essay question. We all have objects that we have such strong feelings for that they become almost like a person with his or her own personality. Here is your chance to tell them how you feel. Write a letter to an inanimate object to tell it what it means to you. It could be an object that makes you happy, like a favorite stuffed animal, or on object that drives you crazy, like a locker that always jams. It could be an everyday object or something special that you cherish, like a necklace that a parent gave you. Share how it has affected your life in a positive or negative way.
Write an essay to L.A. Youth and tell us about it.
Essays should be a page or more. Include your name, school, age and telephone number with your essay. The staff of L.A. Youth will read the entries and pick three winners. Your name will be withheld if you request it. The first-place winner will receive $50. The second-place winner will get $30 and the third-place winner will receive $20. Winning essays will be printed in our May-June issue and put on our Web site at layouth.com.
MAIL YOUR ESSAYS TO:
5967 W. 3rd St. Ste. 301
Los Angeles CA 90036
DEADLINE IS FRIDAY, April 20, 2007