For the longest time, I felt like a prisoner inside my own mind. My thoughts of how I wanted to live just did not seem to be as important as those of everyone around me. I was shy, confused and constantly contradicting myself. In order to morph into the ideal young adult, I felt that it was more of a priority for me to fit in, but getting so caught up in pleasing everyone else made me want to scream, then run away and hide. It was not until I broke the rules that I realized that who I am is who I choose to be. My identity, my decisions, and how I live my own life must be shaped by me.
Although it has helped me grow into the person that I am proud to be today, for most of my life I have been quite sheltered. South Amityville, New York, on Long Island’s southern shore, is a town of predominantly white people of Western European descent who all have one goal: to make their children seem successful. Everyone lives out the timeline the same way. For all the freedom of choice that is celebrated, there really is not much wiggle room not only this town, but also most of society. Although none of these regulations are written down anywhere, everyone knows they exist. One goes to the private elementary/middle school in the nearby area; one joins the local beach club in the summer to compete on the swim team; one takes sailing lessons; one attends one of the few Roman Catholic high schools on Long Island; then one applies and gets admitted to a $40,000-a-year, four-year college that is anywhere from a two hour car ride to a five hour plane ride away.
In my case, I was bound for New England where I thought I was entering a brave new world where I would break free from my Long Island roots and make the cliché of “finding myself” a reality. I knew the main thing lacking in my education was an experience of diversity in regard to race, ethnicity, culture, homeland, economic status, outlook and values. En route to
If Cave made an effort to gain diversity, it did not work so well. I knew a student there from
Getting accepted into Hofstra University was my escape plan. During my winter break 2014-2015, I was not in a great place, and I needed a change. Originally, I thought the simple adjustment of living at home would be the major life-altering, happiness-lifting factor, but after a few weeks into the spring semester I saw there was much more to it. Simply put, Hofstra’s “almost urban” environ close to
When I walked into Writing 001, the only person I recognized was Amy Sassoon from the new student orientation; she is a Long Islander and transfer student from a big SUNY school. After talking with her, I realized her story was similar to mine, which was refreshing. I sat next to her which started my first real peer friendship at college and with a most remarkable person who was about to have her own big breakthrough. Nevertheless, I was no fan of writing. To me it has always been a chore, not something I enjoyed, let alone something I thought I was remotely good at. Over the years so many of my papers had been done the night before and submitted without revision. However, like my fears, my writing style was about to change. Professor Gordon walked in and asked us to set our desks in a circle. I had never done that in a class before, and it created such an open community feeling in the room. We each introduced ourselves and wrote the name we wanted to be called on a sheet of paper draped over the desk. Everyone got to see each other’s faces and share discussion. I noted the many Asian, African, Caribbean, South American, Middle Eastern and European heritages. It was inspiring to hear from the two students who had joined the Army, the Cornell transfer who only weeks before had been on death’s door, the Brazilian who mastered English in three month’s time. I had never been among so much difference in skin complexion, background and point of view. Instead of feeling conformist, inadequate or bored, it was refreshing to feel like a minority for once!
Moreover, the “text” for the first third of the semester was each other, and our first assignment was to interview a fellow student and demonstrate in our essay why he or she was an asset to us. I interviewed Jiahe Wang (see “The Three Tools Universities Forgot to Give Us,”
Our next assignment was to experience a service that Hofstra provides students and persuade the class to value the service. Because of my interest in psychology, I chose the “shrink.” At first I was quite nervous to interview a complete stranger. I thought it might get weird or awkward, but it was the total opposite. He was so clear and well grounded (even just over the phone) and his information so useful. My biggest take-away was that I wrote very personal things about an anxiety disorder I deal with everyday. I knew it could be embarrassing, but actually, now when I look back on it, it seemed more like strength and a continuation of becoming more comfortable in my own skin. Around this time, Amy and I got nicknames. For her elegant writing style as well as her engaged demeanor in class she became Grace, and for my soul-searching grit and candor I became Courage.
We broke into groups to edit each other’s essays; we read them aloud and took feedback; we shared our final drafts via email. I also made use of the
Writing this third essay caused me to see that courage, not cowardice, motivated my leap out of Cave. Staying some place that was so familiar and deadening was the real problem. Breaking out of the restraints of Cave has been my own personal education, and the fulfillment I now felt in myself was well worth the apprehension. Moreover, this false version of me pleasing others and not paying attention to my inner voice had worn me down, and the class revealed to me that my real self has an empathetic heart, a mind that is highly organized and a wild tongue that won’t be tamed. I learned how to learn and I finally caught on that what other people think about me is really not my problem.
One day, I hope to become a teacher. I love kids, and I know education is my true passion.
Lawrence Kohlberg’s “Stages of Moral Development” examines the ways people progress and mature ethically. In stages 3 and 4, people are conventional. Their “behavior is what pleases or helps others and is approved by them.” That had been me for too long! Now I am at 4.5, a transitional phase faced by college-aged students “who come to see conventional morality as socially constructed, thus, relative and arbitrary.” The young adult realizes that some of the norms she used to believe were as absolute as the Ten Commandments are not actually that vital, and she starts to grow into her own person. That is what happened to me. First came the neediness which begat the conformity; next came the crisis which begat the clarity.
If high school students going through the college admissions process ever ask me for advice, I would tell them to avoid going some place that they’re familiar with, to strike out and explore something new, and most important, do what they feel in their heart will make them happiest. At the end of the day, college is four years of our lives. Yes, to some it may be the “best years of your life,” but to others, it is just four years. When I look back on my college experience, I just want to know that I was the happiest I could be at that time, and that is what I am now doing. Who would have thought my search for self-discovery would be only twenty minutes away from my