Finding An Envelope Full Of Money Essay

Money on the sidewalk, cash inside the walls -- is it yours to keep? Local laws may have something to say about it.

You’ve heard the stories, or perhaps it even happened to you. You remove part of a wall in the basement to do some repairs on the house you bought ten years ago and find a bag of money—several thousand dollars—hidden away. You find an envelope of cash left on a bench at the park, a wallet on the sink in a public restroom, or a $100 bill on the sidewalk when no one is around. The most common questions that arise in these scenarios are: “What should I do?” and “Can I keep it?”

Whether we can keep cash we have found and what we can do with it are ethical as well as legal questions. Even though cash is not marked with the owner's identity—like a check or savings bond—it is a piece of property that originally belonged to someone other than the finder. So technically, cash you find is not automatically yours.

Many communities have local laws or ordinances governing what a person must do if he finds cash and does not know who it belongs to. These laws usually require that a person who finds money, especially larger amounts (for example $100 or more), turn it over to the local police. If no one claims it after a certain period of time, the police can then give it to the finder to keep. Some communities may have different laws and some have none. In the US, traditional ethical guidelines about finding money are quite similar—you should try to find the owner and only keep the money if you made a reasonable effort and couldn’t locate the owner.

What to Do If You Find Money

If you find money, especially a significant amount, you should check your local laws or contact an attorney or the police. If a law requires that you turn over money you have found to the police and you do not do so, you could be charged with larceny or theft. Even though you did not steal the money by taking it directly from its owner, you are holding the money and not trying to return it. Holding or possessing property that you know does not belong to you also constitutes theft or larceny under most state laws.

You also can make your own efforts to identify or locate the owner of money you have found. If you find a $20 bill on the sidewalk, it is common courtesy to ask others walking nearby if they might have dropped the bill. There is always the risk that someone will say they dropped the money just to be able to claim it. In those kinds of situations, you have to use your own judgment about whether the person claiming the money is being truthful.

If the money is in a wallet, you should check for ID. If the wallet contains no ID but does have credit cards, you can call the customer service number on a credit card and the card company can contact the owner. You also should look inside a container of cash for any information it might contain about the owner. With regard to the money found behind the basement wall, you could try to contact the previous owners of the home and ask if they knew anything about any property being stored behind the basement walls.

Especially if you find a large amount of money, it probably is best to contact an attorney who can verify local laws regarding lost and found cash and advise you on how to proceed.

But Mr. Cranberg thumbed his nose at that convention, taking on the tremendous cost of the piles of mail schools send to potential students, and the waste that results from the effort. He figured that he received at least $200 worth of pitches in the past year or so.

“Why, in an era of record-high debt and unemployment, are colleges not reallocating these ludicrous funds to aid their own students instead of extending their arms far and wide to students they have never met?” he asked in the essay.

Antioch College seemed to think that was a perfectly reasonable question and accepted him, though he will attend Oberlin College instead, to which he did not submit the essay.

“It’s a bold move to critique the very institution he was applying to,” said Mr. Bauld, who also teaches English at in . “But here’s somebody who knows he can make it work with intelligence and humor.”

Indeed, Mr. Cranberg’s essay includes asides about applicants’ gullibility and the college that sent him a DHL “priority” envelope, noting inside that he was a priority to the college. “The humor here is not in the jokes,” Mr. Bauld added. “It originates in a critical habit of mind, and the kind of mind that is in this essay is going to play out extremely well in any class that he’s in.”

Admissions professionals often warn people not to think that they can write their way into the freshman class. “The essay is one document that, even in the best of circumstances, is written by an individual telling one story,” said Shawn Abbott, the assistant vice president for undergraduate admissions at . “I don’t believe that any one writing sample should trump what they did over four years.”

Still, he acknowledged that his staff had been taken with the story told by Lyle Li, a 19-year-old resident who applied this year. He wrote about his family’s restaurant and his mother, an immigrant from who once wanted to be a doctor and now works behind a cash register.

“When I visit my friends, I see the names of elite institutions adorning the living room walls,” wrote Mr. Li, a senior at Regis High School in . “I am conscious that these framed diplomas are testaments to the hard work and accomplishments of my friends’ parents and siblings. Nevertheless, the sight of them was an irritating reminder of the disparity between our households. I was not the upper-middle-class kid on Park Avenue. Truth be told, I am just some kid from Brooklyn. Instead of diplomas and accolades, my parents’ room emits a smell from the restaurant uniforms they wear seven days a week, all year round.”

Mr. Abbott said that N.Y.U. received plenty of essays about the immigrant experience. So Mr. Li risked writing one of many stories about long odds and hard work in an unfamiliar, unforgiving place.

But he did not fall into that trap and will be attending N.Y.U. this fall. “His essay brought his family’s circumstance and background into Technicolor,” Mr. Abbott said. “He paints a very vivid picture of what life is really like in his home. I think he’s proud of his accomplishments and work ethic, but there’s also a humility each day when he takes off his preppy blue blazer in front of his mom.”

The essay by Ana Castro, an 18-year-old senior at the Doane Stuart School in Rensselaer, N.Y., is about not quite arriving, in spite of having been born in the United States. And her essay for , which she will attend in the fall, centers on her desire to serve in the . It opens with a joke about her hating clowns and leeches and tells a sad story of a visit to the , where her father refused to let her play with the destitute boy next door. “My heart broke, not because I was now stuck eating plantains by myself in the stinging sun, but because that boy experienced a level of poor I never knew.”

Then she makes a startling statement that stopped both me and Mr. Bauld as we were reading it for the first time. “I have never seen the United States as my country,” Ms. Castro wrote. “I have never felt total patriotism to any country. I do not instantly think of staying here to help ‘my home,’ because I do not consider the United States my home. The Earth is ‘my home.’ ”

To Monica Inzer, Hamilton’s dean of admission and financial aid, bold declarations like this one are a strong sign of authenticity if nothing else. “Lots of essays have been doctored or written by other people,” she said. “You know that a parent didn’t write this. I don’t know how I know, but I do.”

Mr. Bauld knows how he knows. “There’s always an attempt in some of these college admissions factories to smooth out a student’s edges,” he said. “But what I loved about this piece is that there is no attempt to smooth out anything.”

As for Ms. Kumar, the 18-year-old Princeton applicant, her essay wasn’t so much smooth as it was slick, gliding effortlessly from her breakfast table to the manicured campus of Princeton to the “occidental bubble” of her school classroom. There’s a detour onto the city bus and then a quick trip to before coming back to the “towering turrets” of again.

Nevertheless, Princeton rejected her, and when I approached the university to find out if it had anything to do with her essay, it cited its policy of not commenting on any applicants or admissions decisions. I told its spokesman, Martin Mbugua, that other schools had commented on their own applicants once the students gave them permission, but he was unmoved.

Ms. Kumar suggested that her grades might not have been quite high enough, but Mr. Bauld contended that Princeton should have been swayed by her words.

“One of the things that makes this essay is her tone,” he said. “It could have been, ‘Princeton should be poorer,’ but she opens it as an inquiry. What she does is that she listens very carefully to what you have assigned her to do, and as a response to that, she says, ‘Well, let me ask you this!’ ”

Next week, Ms. Kumar will take the stage as Marty in the Science production of and she’ll collect her diploma on June 21. In the fall, she’ll attend , for which she wrote no essays about the university’s level of affluence.

To Mr. Bauld, that’s Princeton’s loss. “She is that person who is always going to give an interesting answer, even to the most boring question,” he said. “That’s my confidence in reading it, and I’d want that person in my class as a teacher.”

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