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High school senior's essay offers a valuable tax lesson

Essay Writing
Insightful high school seniors' essays offer valuable lessons about life, finances and, yes, taxes.

As I get closer to retirement, I've begun to think what I'll do with the free time that transition is supposed to provide. One option I've considered is volunteering at tax help sites, like those offered by Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) locations.

That's why as I was thumbing through the paper this morning, the story about college essays caught my eye. Ron Lieber, who writes The New York Times' "Your Money" column that runs each Saturday, this weekend looks at five outstanding college application essays.

One of them is from a teenager whose essay shares the lessons she learned from doing other people's taxes.

I'll let Lieber's own column lead explain:

Quotation-marks-quote"In all my years of studying up on taxes, I’d never read — or knew I wanted to read — an essay about how filling out Form 1040 can teach profound lessons about the enduring power of the human spirit.

But then I came across a piece of writing by Caroline Beit, one of the nearly 300 high school seniors around the world who answered our open call this year with college application essays that touched on money, work and social class.

Her tale of life in the trenches as a volunteer tax-preparer hits all the pleasure points of this particular form. You learn something about her character and how she spends her time that you could not find in a college application any other way. It is uniquely hers, and not just because there aren’t many teenagers writing essays about doing other people’s taxes."

On any other weekend, my Saturday Shout Out would go to Lieber's work. But he's runner up today.

Beit's essay, which is published along with those from four other college-bound young people, gets my weekend recommendation today.

Her observations are worth reading even if you're not a tax geek.

You likely are a taxpayer. And as Beit, a high school senior from Bronxville, New York, who will attend Yale, so eloquently shows us in her writing, every person's life is affected, sometimes greatly, by taxes.

She offers several examples, then sums up the experience with amazing grace and maturity:

"As a volunteer, I have learned the importance of empathizing, listening and communicating complex and technical matters simply. Making my clients feel at ease allows them to understand my explanation of how their money is being taxed. I have also gained insight into how tax policy affects the financial and physical health of the working poor and elderly. While I have not changed the tax system (though someday I plan to), I have changed how my clients interact with it."

I don't know what Beit's future plans are at Yale or after graduation, but I certainly hope she ends up working in the tax and public policy areas.

She's definitely the kind of person the tax world — indeed, the whole world — needs.

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