By Sarah Kate Childs '21
Personally, I have struggled a lot with my identity in high school. I wanted to be seen as an athlete but not labeled as a jock. I wanted to be smart but I did not want people to think I was a nerd. I wanted to express my faith as a Christian but was worried about being judged. And in reality, I ended up boxing myself in. I put labels on myself and limited myself before anyone else even had the chance. There was a brief period my junior year when I decided I wanted to attend an Ivy League school.
On the first day of our college counseling meetings, I walked in very confidently. I had been touring schools for a while and felt that I had a solid understanding of what the college process was going to look like moving forward. Ms. Forinash stood at the back of the room while flipping through her introduction slides. She dryly said, “When looking at colleges, we need to consider the climate and weather.” She then told us to get on Naviance and fill out basic questions about the location and climate of the schools we wanted to attend. Everyone went right to work while I sat there puzzled. I had previously failed to consider Ms. Forinash’s obvious statement. I needed to think about how far away I was going to be and if it was going to be hot or cold, but somehow I had not taken the time to think these things through on my own.
"I think we all are guilty of being caught up in perfecting an image of ourselves and trying to portray who we think we should be that we often forget who we are and who we really want to be."
As soon as I left the meeting, I called my mom to inform her that I hated the cold so there was no way I was even going to apply to schools up north anymore. We both laugh at this story now because it was evident that it was going to be freezing at an Ivy League school. But I was so caught up in how prestigious it would look that I forgot I would be miserable almost every time I stepped outside.
I think we all are guilty of being caught up in perfecting an image of ourselves and trying to portray who we think we should be that we often forget who we are and who we really want to be. Randolph is a competitive school. For four years of our lives, we are all trying to make the best college application possible. But we cannot let what appears on this resume define us. Wanting recognition for your work or a talent is completely normal, and I am for sure at fault for striving to get an award. But we have to be sure to draw a line between things like awards and our personal identities. Because your award, GPA, ACT score, volunteer hours - whatever it may be - doesn’t define you. Only you can define yourself. If we try to be the person we want others to think we are, we won’t ever get to be who we really are. How many times have we all been asked what we want to do when we grow up? Countless times, adults ask me things like, "Where do you want to go to college?" and "What do you want to major in?" But I think there is a big question we often forget to ask ourselves and that is, "Who are we?" These big questions about our future that we will continue to be asked a million times cannot be answered until we really discover ourselves. And here is what is so amazing about high school, it is the time to start finding out who we are. There are so many great opportunities here at Randolph to try new things. Join a club, a sport, take that extra course. When we push ourselves out of our comfort zones, we might just uncover a new passion or interest.
"Letting my new passion define where I want to go in the future was a much better choice than picking a college for prestige and pride."
As many of you know, my youngest sister Baylee is adopted. When my family began fostering her when I was in middle school, I had many new experiences with the foster care system. I was appalled when I saw what hardships kids in my community were going through. I remember when we were still just fostering Baylee and had to bring her to visitation with her biological family. I walked into the Department of Human Resources for the first time probably looking like a deer in the headlights. I glanced around, shocked by the number of kids who were my age and having to come visit their parents after school because they were not able to live with them full-time. I couldn’t imagine having to balance those personal battles and also have to go to school every morning. I wanted to find a way to help the kids who didn’t have the same opportunities as me, so I started volunteering at the Huntsville Inner City Learning Center. In high school, I was able to continue my work at Inner City through the Connect with Kids Club here at school. I was also able to research more about the foster care system in my I-Search my junior year and eventually wrote my college essay on all of these things in English class this past fall. Following my heart and plugging myself into the community was a decision I never regretted. It paved the way for me to develop a strong passion for social justice and inspired me to pursue going to law school. Letting my new passion define where I want to go in the future was a much better choice than picking a college for prestige and pride. I am beyond ecstatic to go into college with a career path that I love, and that would have never been possible if I hadn’t had those new experiences and been at a school like Randolph where my interests could flourish. Being able to join clubs, research my passions, and also have so many great teachers that provided the resources and opportunities I needed to extend my learning from the classroom into the greater community has fully prepared me to pursue my dreams at the next level.
I want to leave you all with two challenges. First, push yourself to embrace your identity. Be proud of who you are and what you are passionate about and don’t be afraid to express yourself. And secondly, I want to challenge our community to not box others in. I think we do a decent job here at Randolph refraining from judgments and overall, we are a pretty embracing community. But there is always room for improvement. We can all do a better job of accepting those who have different passions and interests than us and encouraging each other to branch out rather than hold each other back. In Mr. Gee’s AP Literature class the other week, we were discussing Greek Philosophy. Mr. Gee introduced our class to the work of Plato, in particular The Allegory of the Den. It begins with these slaves who are chained inside of a dark cave and can only see the shadows of different objects off of the cave walls. Until, one slave was unchained and taken up to the real world. At first, he is blinded by the light and cannot see around him. But when his eyes adjust, he is able to see the real objects for himself and realize that the distorted shadows he saw before were not real. When he tries to go back down to the cave and tell the other slaves of the truth and what he discovered, they did not believe him and thought he was crazy. When reading the story, it struck me that these ancient concepts are still true today.
All of our experiences bias us and keep us from seeing the truth. It is so easy to think that someone is wrong or just weird when they do not see things the way we do. I know I can be ignorant and often assume I know the truth. It is easy to forget that everyone around me also has their own truths. But what Plato reminded me was that even when my friends’ beliefs are not the same as mine, it doesn’t make them wrong. And the same goes for identities. We all have different passions and interests and if we want to have the strongest community possible, we need to work together each day to refrain from judgements and allow everyone to express themselves.