Sometimes I forget who I was before I got here. Maybe it’s because I feel like my life before this campus didn’t matter. When people find out I’m a Stanford student, their faces light up with joy. They are excited that I attend a prestigious institution. I appreciate their excitement, but they seem to have created an image of me in their minds — an image that I wish I could live up to.
In these moments, the only thing that matters about me is that I’m a Stanford student. I join their imagined view of my life, playing the part because it’s what I’m good at. I pretend like I haven’t struggled during my time here.
Outwardly, I’m smiling and telling them about my major (History), honors thesis and the student organizations I’m a part of.
Inwardly, I’m screaming and thinking about everything I won’t allow myself to tell them: It’s only recently that I’ve started feeling like I’m good enough to be here. Despite the amount of people I talk to, I still feel alone. I don’t have anything figured out, and I’m scared.
Being here has not made me perfect, but it’s not Stanford’s fault.
Now I need to decide where next to go. Who am I without Stanford? The difference between college senior me and high school me is that the former knows that I can’t depend on a location to make me feel whole. I need to have a sense of who I am despite my environment. But how do I do this? I don’t know, but I’ll start by remembering my previous environment.
I’m from Queens, New York. Jamaica, Queens. It’s not the New York you see in the movies, but it’s the New York that I know. The one that lives in my heart. When people ask me about where I’m from, I don’t really know what to say. How can I summarize my home in just a few words?
My mind searches for worthy destinations — Flushing Meadows Park (where the U.S. Open is held every year). What else?
I remember going to my favorite Nigerian restaurant that has the best meat pies, eating beef patties from the many Jamaican restaurants in the area. I remember going to the nearby park and learning how to ride a bike. Relaxing on the swings on cool spring days.
What doesn’t come to mind is my childhood home. The small home that always felt so big. The home that I knew for 18 years. The home that stayed the same but changed so much.
My life in Queens was quiet and cozy. I loved it, but sometimes I dreamed of more. Dreamed about going to places that seemed impossible to go to.
But then the impossible became possible. I got into Stanford. Everything was falling into place. I would be perfect.
But I’m still the same me that I was before I got here. The only difference is that now I have a prestigious institution attached to my name and this has given me access to opportunities that I could have only dreamed of before. I am grateful, but I am still imperfect.
How do I make sense of this? When you project so much hope on a place to make your life better, you sometimes start to expect unreasonable things. I can’t depend on a place to make me feel whole.
No matter where I am, no matter where I go, I need to remember who I am. I am always learning. Sometimes I change during the process, but who I am at my core remains the same. A girl who is determined. A girl who is hopeful. A girl who sees the best in everyone and everything.
I’m still the same me from before I got here.