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The College Essay of Extraordinary Finn Fox (RIP)

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Read Time: 4 minutes

Today we present a college essay, which comes to us from the parents of Finn Fox (on left, in photo). We were alerted to Finn and his very free-range spirit by Mike Lanza, the founder of Playborhood, the movement to make neighborhoods into places for play. Mike’s son Marco was Finn’s good friend.

We can think of no better embodiment of the Let Grow ethos than Finn, as you will see. His parents, John and Erica, write:

Our son Finn was friendly, adventurous, adaptable. Born in Vermont, he lived in four states and attended six different schools by the time he was 18.

He spent his middle school years in California, where he became even more adventurous. He was always with a pack of boys and we let him roam. We loved that he roamed.

As a senior at Boulder High School in Colorado, Finn was a connector who bridged groups of friends, introducing them to new people, activities, ideas and big goals. 

Here is Finn’s college application essay. We’re sharing it in the hopes it encourages more parents to nurture and activate their children’s sense of exploration and independence. Tragically and still unfathomably, our beloved Finn was diagnosed with brain cancer in January 2023 and died in September, before he could begin his college adventure. If so moved, please consider a donation to fund critical childhood cancer research so more kids can get a little lost, figure it out, and enjoy a lifetime of exploration. — J. & E.

Finn Fox Personal Statement/College Essay

It’s just around this corner, I swear,” says Marco for the tenth time. We are eleven years old, riding scooters through Chinatown in San Francisco, looking for the China Banks, a famous skateboarding spot. We wind our way through narrow streets with market stalls that smell like fish and fresh blood. Around the next corner, still no luck. More fish, more blood. We are thirty miles from home, alone. And now we are lost. No adults to protect us. No one to ask for help because no one speaks English. And for now, no cell service. 

Some people think we have bad parents, but we have loving, caring parents. They just happen to believe that real world challenges are good for building problem-solving skills. At eleven, my friend Marco and I are free to roam. The rules are simple: 1. Stay together 2. Be back by dinner. So we head to the city alone to explore every chance we get. It takes an hour to get there by train. When we get hungry, we scrounge for small change and live off of Cheetos and Sprite. We get lost often, but we never panic. We know we can figure it out. 

I am grateful for the freedom and responsibility my parents gave me then, because I have a deep sense of confidence now. When I face a difficult test or exam, I trust that I can figure it out. Those free-roam days gave me the courage to sign up for the toughest AP and Honors classes and know that I can be successful. They also gave me the courage to try new things. I started lacrosse in ninth grade and now I am a Varsity Player and a Co-Captain. Without those early experiences, I may never have applied or received a spot in the competitive Rotary Youth Leadership Conference, or interviewed to become an electric-bike mechanic, knowing little about electric bikes. 

I see the unknown as an adventure, something to go toward, not something to fear. The unknown to me as a kid was Chinatown in a city 30 miles from home. Now the unknown is the future. I can’t predict what comes next, but I trust that no matter what happens, it will be okay. 

In the future, I’ll finally have the chance to help people using my knowledge and skills. For example, an old man came into the bike shop with a broken derailleur. He had a stroke recently, so he struggled to communicate. All he could do was point and gesture with his hands. While I worked on his bike, he stood next to me, watching in delight. Eventually I fixed his derailleur and sent him on his way. The satisfaction from helping this old man was worth more than the money I was being paid. We don’t know how to solve some of the biggest problems in the world today, but if we’re willing to be flexible, get lost a little, and accept failure as part of the process, we can create innovative solutions to complex problems. All we need is a mindset of exploration.

At eleven years old, Marco and I are devoted to exploring. That’s how we end up lost in the heart of Chinatown. All we see are steep rolling hills and trolleys. Then a trolley, stopped to let off passengers, starts rolling again. When it moves, we see the path to the iconic China Banks. We spend all day skating them. We board the train home covered in sweat, full of joy and adrenaline. We wake up the next day and do it all again. — F.F.

Finn Fox And Marco 2
Finn Fox (right) and his friend Marco Lanza.

Finn’s essay would have been perfect for our Think for Yourself Essay Contest. High School seniors in the U.S. can share their own stories of independence for a chance at $8,000 in scholarships from Let Grow. Enter here before April 30th.


  1. AAlayne Sulkin says:

    Every parent should read and reflect on Finn’s words, his praise of his parents, and the best character building gift he was given.

  2. JJuan Baez says:

    Inspiring indeed. I can empathize because that is exactly how I grew up in Puerto Rico. We could ride our bikes for hours to go to the beach, take a public bus and go to the mall, jump into rivers, and hike mountains, find little jobs to make money without our parents knowing (washing cars, mowing lawns, doing favors for our elderly neighbors when they couldn’t go to the market and they would give us the change…) We would survive by asking for water homes and stores, and by picking up fruits, or getting food from the “stranges” we did favors to. I would ride my bike alone for miles to go and rent video games or movies, etc. As a father now (well for 15 years) I try to instill the same attitude to my daughter, and so she jumps on her scooter and rides alone to the store, park, or just around. To be honest I sometimes get a little anxious whe she takes more time that she normally would, but I don’t show that to her. I inquire about her adventures tell her my own. I can see that she gets inspired by those stories, however I don’t push it. If she wants to go alone somewhere she can go but I dont make her. She is naturally not an outdoors person, if it was for her she’d spend the day playing games, guitar, or just home, so whenever she’s in the mood for going alone somewhere we let her (and we celebrate it). It is a double win because we can spend time alone while she’s out. Letting children get out of the house without parent supervision doesn’t just benefit them, but parents as well. His is a very inspiring story that I will share with my daughter. Thanks for sharing!

  3. TTina Feigal says:

    Just phenomenal – and what a perfect way to assure that Finn’s spirit lives on through his message! My deepest condolences to his parents for his leaving the Earth. And my highest praise to you for the way you raised him to experience life to the fullest! I’m a parent coach and trainer of parent coaches who helps others let their children take risks and reduce anxiety by increasing self-efficacy. I will take Finn’s message forward!

  4. CCaroline says:

    John and Erica, what a gift you gave Finn. I can only hope that my son feels that way towards us when he’s a bit older. This story is an inspiration, for many, I am sure. What a LOSS; this young, amazing soul. May he live on in all of the kids that have the freedom to explore the world. And may he be an inspiration for parents of those that are not allowed to explore.

  5. BBruce Holtgren says:

    Wow, just wow. This is 98 kinds of pure wonderful. Such a brilliant and perceptive essay that hits all the right notes on this important issue. Major props not just to Finn, but to his parents for understanding the crucial importance of childhood independence! This is a cruel and tragic loss indeed. I’ve made a donation in Finn’s honor to the cancer research foundation, and I encourage everyone else to do the same. Just click on the link provided in the article.

  6. CCynthia Bader says:

    His words convey joy, gratitude for his parents and his friend, and appreciation for life itself. What a beautiful legacy. Hats off to his Finn’s parents. May he rest in peace and may they see his legacy touch many lives.

  7. CCrystal Kupper says:

    A beautiful essay by a beautiful boy.