​Personal Essay: Zachary Sheehan ’20

Writing Prompt: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.​

Christmas has always made me happy. The mountains are glossed by snow as the nearby branches hang low from the weight of the recent blizzard. The smell of fresh Maine pine trees and burning wood fill the crisp air. My family decorates the tree humming along to James Taylor’s Christmas album. But above all else, at the focal point of every Sheehan Christmas, is my favorite Christmas movie, It’s A Wonderful Life.

The movie follows the life of George Bailey, who, after many years of selflessness runs into a financial crisis. As George begins to act out, family and friends ask God to help him through his tough times. In response, God sends an angel named Clarence to sort out the issue. George asks to see a world in which he was never born to which Clarence reluctantly obliges. In this new George-less world, George witnesses a dreary, alternative universe in which all of his family and friends lead miserable lives. Seeing this allows George to see how important his life actually is and he begs God to let him live again. The story is meant to show people what is truly meaningful in life—that, whether they realize it or not, one person’s actions can cause a positive ripple effect in the lives of so many.

To say this movie is my personal Bible is an understatement. It’s A Wonderful Life has been the centerpiece of many dinner conversations and family gatherings. I try to bring it up as often as possible because it gives me an appreciation for the lives of those around me. Each person’s life touches so many, and when that person isn’t around, there’s an awful hole that can’t be filled.

Certainly there are other influences in my life, but none have quite affected my definition of what it means to live well. I have the choice to be an integral part of everyone’s life. The movie particularly made me curious about people’s passions and caused me to do a lot of self-reflection. I couldn’t remember the last time I asked the people closest to me what it was that made them happiest; I couldn’t tell you their favorite things, or much about their personal lives. These were some of the most important people in my life and I couldn’t even understand why they were the way they were. There’s a difference between knowing someone on the surface and truly knowing who they are. It’s A Wonderful Life encouraged me to delve into the lives of those around me.

There’s a line from another great movie, Patch Adams, that says: “Our job is to improve the quality of life, not just delay death.” The message resonates well with what It’s A Wonderful Life did for me. It’s easy to get caught up in our personal lives and not worry about the surrounding world. But what’s easy is not always what’s best. My biggest fear is to have the opposite effect that George Bailey had—If I were to not be a part of the world, that nobody’s life would be different. So I’ve dedicated my life to making sure that every day I seek to improve the quality of life of those around me.

Every person I’ve met, every relationship I’ve had, every hello I’ve said, my actions stem from the lessons I’ve learned in It’s A Wonderful Life. I now realize that I can have a serious impact on the lives of those around me. I’m more curious, I’m more engaging, I’m more positive in my relationships with other people all because of a two hour and fifteen minute Christmas movie. Every year, as the snow begins to fall, as the temperature drops, as I set up my family’s nativity scene, I can’t help but feel excitement knowing that it’s time to watch It’s A Wonderful Life again, the movie that changed my life.