High school is a tricky time for most of us. It is supposed to be the time when we truly begin to get to know ourselves. We choose the things that we like, the things that we don’t and the types of people we want to surround ourselves with.
We were expected to pave the steps of our respective futures while still being treated like children, being told what to do by parents, teachers and mentors alike. During the past four years, it felt as if our identities were crafted and carved into stone. If you’re lucky, you discover exactly who you are. However, often identity is projected onto others.
When you’re young, especially a teenager, it’s easy for others to pigeonhole you and for you to place yourself into a particular archetype. For example, people can label you as either a brain or an athlete. This was my experience. My high school career checks all the essential boxes of a successful student. I held a leadership position in student government, played varsity sports and packed my schedule with Honors and Advanced Placement classes. I used a planner to note what I should be doing every moment of my day from when I woke up to when I went to sleep.
Now, these are all things to be proud of. I like to attribute my admission into Yale to my aforementioned diligence and focus. Moreover, I know I will be surrounded by incredible individuals who possess the same mindset, as well as similar achievements and aspirations. I look forward to being inspired by people who I will grow with over the next four years. However, I’ve noticed that an underlying uneasiness, a dormant anxiety, coexists with my optimism.
Just as I’ve equated my scholarly prowess with my acceptance to an institution like Yale University, I’ve likened my identity to it as well. Over the course of the past four years, whenever asked what I like to do, I’ve always answered with the extracurriculars that I participate in. I relied on my actions to elucidate who I was. As a result, this summer I’ve come to realize I don’t really know myself outside of the books in which I buried my nose and the student government meetings where that I spent countless hours. It’s as if I have a faint outline of who I am but have no idea how to color it in.
If I’ve spent nearly the last half-decade of my life working toward stepping inside of the ivy walls that I’m about to enter, when would I have gotten to know myself? If everyone that I’m bound to meet during my time at Yale had pursued the same things, devoted their time towards the same goal, what sets me apart from any other student with the same passion? What was the defining factor in my application to Yale that set me apart from any other applicant?
Due to the lack of familiarity that I have with myself, why I want what I want and have the goals that I do, it’s been easy for impostor syndrome to settle in. I come from a public school, Newtown High School, in Queens. While it provided me with an incredible education, the institution holds no ties to the Ivy League. Moreover, I am a first-generation college student. In short, college is unchartered territory for me. This only contributes to the feeling of misplacement that subtly exists in the back of my mind.
It’s easy to set yourself apart, to feel as if you know yourself, when you’re around people to whom you feel so dissimilar. My fear of attending Yale is that I will lose what feels like my identity — or worse, I fear discovering that I never knew who I was beyond who I presented myself as. Identity is a composition of our values and beliefs. How do we identify ourselves when we are around individuals who hold comparable ideas?
Overall, I hope Yale will illuminate who I am beneath the surface, rather than cause me to lose sight of what earned me my position here in the first place.
Leila Jackson is a first year in Saybrook College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .