Image courtesy of Flickr user NatShots photography, licensed under CC BY 2.0.
By the time this post is published, I will be in the middle of the long, bagpipe-filled process of graduating from college. I am not particularly excited about the ceremony. I checked out from school a month ago, and even at the best of times I was never particularly connected to Emory College. And, of course, it’s been a difficult semester.
However, attending my younger sister’s graduation from Oxford College (my other alma mater) over the weekend reminded me that two years ago, I went into graduating with a very different frame of mind. I was excited to celebrate my time at Oxford. In the pictures taken during my graduation, I look happy (and slightly sunburnt from spending some day of the previous week drinking mint juleps on a beach).
Going back to Oxford reminded me of why. Walking around after their own long, bag-pipe-filled ceremony, I was greeted by professors and staff members and lookers-on who remembered me, and asked about what I was doing with myself. They were pleased to see me, and they remembered me well. Perhaps most startlingly, the way that they remembered me lined up with the way that I remembered me (with, of course, the polite gloss that someone else will give when describing someone to their face).
When I was at Oxford, I knew who I was. I don’t, now. For a long, long time, my primary identity has been Emily Chapman, Good Student. As I’ve mentioned before, I dont have hobbies. My friends–since many of them are pulled from my same scholarship program–are other people whose identities have mostly been built around being Good Students.
Over the last year, I quit being able to honestly identify myself that way. Schoolwork was unexciting to me, I didn’t finish my honors thesis, I wasn’t named for any of the school awards that I used to be good at winning. At the same time, I got hired at a job I like, and am good at, and where I am still massively insecure about projecting some version of myself that is still defined as being a Good Student.
I have never been defined first by being cool (or fun, or kind, or interesting), because I wind up being defined by being smart, and I am worried that that is going to carry forward forever.
(And, of course, I’m worried that this sounds incredibly conceited.)
Going back to Oxford made me realize how much I miss having that solid sense of self. Of course, reestablishing that is what one’s early 20s are for. And I’m sure that in six months I will be in such a better place to think about this. But for right now, I’m mostly ready to be done.