What really matters at the end of senior year? A top student inventories his activities list

Photo of Eric by Anne Scearce

Student council. Check. 

Varsity soccer. Check. 

National Honors Society. Check.

Link crew. Honor guard. Church Finance Elder. Check. Check. Huh? 

It’s true. Eric, a hard-working, high-achieving, heavily committed senior, served as All Student Body Vice President, earned 2nd team all-metro as a soccer player, and helped his church strategize their budget as part of their finance committee.  

It goes without saying that Eric had a very busy high school career, and with multiple acceptances at impressive institutions like Santa Clara University, Pepperdine, University of San Diego, and Loyola Marymount, he offers some surprising advice to future graduates. 

“If I were to do it again I probably would have focused on one or two activities and spent more time just reading,” he says, “colleges want to see your passions. If you can effectively express these in the essay, that is equally if not more valuable than a top test score.” And if you were to read his common application essay, it appears Eric-the-rising senior anticipated Eric-the-graduating senior’s advice. 

With a lifetime fascination with money, business, and investment, Eric seized the admissions essay to revisit a childhood season where he devoted himself to his Penny Pinecone Corporation.

His essay opens, “When I was five years old, I knew how to make money grow on trees.” Eric’s business plan was simple: Convince the neighbors the acidic pine cones were killing their lawn, then offer to collect the evergreens’ unwanted offspring for one penny each.

Eric’s topic would simply be a cute story if it hadn’t taught him (and the neighbor kids) real lessons about finance and life. 

  1. Haters can become admirers: Everyone will laugh at you until they see you cruising down the street in your new red bike, purchased from your earnings. 
  2. Copy Cats come with the territory: Greta’s Gardening and Liam’s Lawncare wasted no time in competing for the landscaping jobs in the neighborhood. 
  3. Fads work both ways: Businesses end when five year olds gain years but lose time, when soccer and playdates compete for attention. 

*Pro tip: It hurts less if your parents have a garage to store your gloves and wagon.

When it came down to making his college selection, Eric put his recaptured wisdom to work. As he compared university annual scholarships ranging from 6,000 to 18,000 to 23,000, he not only totaled dollars but measured how each school addressed his passions. 

Next year, Eric plans to attend Santa Clara because, as Eric explains, the university features a the Leavey School of Business, with a strong finance program, and has business relationships in the Silicon Valley, which all help him land an internship. Eric also values that SCU Jesuit school, a place where Eric knows he’ll receive a holistic education.

Driven students like Eric often are misunderstood as overly fixated on achievement. But for Eric, he’s really been aiming for something quite different.

When he thinks back on writing his admission essay, he notes the process pushed him to find his inspiration, something Eric says is tough to capture in a classroom.

Not only that but his essay came with a bonus: an excuse to reconnect with a few old buddies. “I ended up talking to my neighborhood friends about the Penny Pinecone Corporation,” says Eric, “And we all had a good laugh.”

Victoria Payne is a writing coach, story consultant, copywriter, and founder of Boxcar Writing Labs. She writes about the heroic little choices individuals and businesses make every day that make the world a better place. A former English professor, Victoria believes stories are the common language we speak to each other. 

How Telling Stories about Real Customers can Transform Your Business

How do you get a new customer to trust you? 

How can you demonstrate to prospective clients what it’s like to work with you? 

How can you reveal your company’s values to people you’ve never met? 

The answer isn’t your mission statement. 

Stories Build Trust

To show a new customer that you really get them, that you understand their pain, their problems, their obstacles, you need to add this one simple thing in your marketing: 

You need to tell stories about real customers.

Making the Customer the Hero

In Building a StoryBrand, Donald Miller writes about the importance of making your customer the hero of the story when it comes to your marketing. Telling storiesabout your clients takes this a step farther where you can spotlight a real person (just like them)…

  • Who has a problem (as well as conflict about how the problem makes them feel) 
  • Who encounters a solution (your business) 
  • Who achieved results (their success)

The Ratio of Awesome Matters

In your customer success stories, make sure your awesomeness never overshadows theirs by focusing on how it felt for them throughout the journey and by focusing on their happy results. Story hint: the more you foreshadow their feelings about the problem before you introduce your business the more convincing you’ll make the narrative. 

A Good Story Sticks

Stories are sticky. A good customer story will reveal your company’s vision and allow you to win the hearts and minds of your future customers.

What Can You Do with a Customer Story?

Download my free guide and learn how to implement customer stories in your marketing: 3 Ways to Turn Your Business into a Story Magnet.


Victoria knows how hard it is to create a compelling message. But she also knows the power of getting your story right. As a story strategist and copywriter, she helps clients take their business to the next level by making their customer the hero of the story.

What is a StoryBrand Guide?

You may have heard of the bestselling book Building a Story Brand, but what is a StoryBrand guide? I made this video to answer that very question.