Becoming Myself

March 22, 2010
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I sometimes tell people that, when I’m older, I want to create a school in Africa. I like this older me that I have created, the 20-something fresh-out-of-college idealistic adventurer-activist who goes to a foreign country with only a backpack on her back, well-worn hiking boots on her feet, gorgeous dark hair flowing behind her, and perhaps a handsome male companion. In Africa, I’d give impassioned speeches about all children’s rights to be cared for and have a future, and I’d brainstorm with fellow education activists how to make a school that best fits that purpose. I wouldn’t have to worry about bosses or boredom or how to find friends; I’d be in an ecstasy of freedom and adventure, with everything I needed except air-conditioning.


Under the sun of Africa, I’d look flushed with adventure, eyes bright with energy, arms toned, back straight and ready and resolved, all at once both powerful and beautiful. But here, under the florescent lights of Urbana High, I am pale, short, dull, and quiet. All remnants of the beautiful shiny-haired, full-lipped, strong, determined, outgoing, risk-taker I was in the car on the way to school are brutally stripped away. In school, I am not the petite, dark, and headstrong Hermia of Midsummer Night’s Dream that all the guys swoon after; I am some nameless extra, a space-filler, a mushroom in the landscape of high school.


How can I become the more powerful, admirable me? One thing is, I can’t just keep quiet. I’ve got to keep my energy and resolve, and I’m not an Emily Dickinson that is more passionate with a pen than her mouth; without talking, I wilt. I can’t just wait for people to join me before I can be outspoken; I have to become outspoken and wait for people to come to me, or I’ll go crazy. I’ve got to talk more in class, to heck with what other people think.


Of course, it’s not like there are ample opportunities to speak my mind in class that I am missing out on. I remember last year, when some students were silent for a day to raise awareness for Gay Rights, some kids started talking in class about whether people decide to become gay or if it’s genetic. The Chemistry teacher shut us up right away, but the truth is that these vital conversations are more important in a democratic society than knowledge about atoms. How are we ever going to be informed enough to vote on such important matters as gay marriage when we’ve never even had the chance to talk about them?


But I need to do my bit, and talk about my ideas at every opportunity, at school and out of school. Even when I meet perhaps interested adults, I need to talk to them, not just out of friendliness towards them, but also to nurture my own sanity.


I need to publish some essays that I write, because I know I am a good writer, and no one can see my size when I write, only the power of my words. I must stop using homework as a shield for my fear of failure, fear of the unknown, and fear of myself, and send essays out to newspapers and magazines, and figure out if I want to make a blog or not. I can’t do only what is asked of me, and buy into the high school myth that essays should only be written for the eyes of English teachers.


I must start becoming a leader, now, with my words and my time. I can’t just wait until I’m “old enough”; on my 20th birthday, I won’t magically transform into a leader. I need to hone my skills. Right now, I have time and passion, and neither of those should be wasted. In the role of a leader, I can meet others who aren’t as apathetic as those in my school.


I can only be strong and beautiful if I steer my own future. I can only keep my ideals if I work hard for them. I can only have adventure if I allow myself to take risks. Before I can make a school, I must learn from that beautiful, strong, adventurous activist of my future, and do my best to become her. Before my future-self can teach anyone, she must teach me.





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