What I heard time and time again as I headed into my first year of college was that it would be a chance for me to reinvent myself—to become who I want to become. Of course, this sort of blank slate is a rare and wonderful experience for many. It is not the age-old “new kid” phenomenon wherein the “new kid” is forced to carve out a niche in an already ossified community. Freshman year of college is different. We are all new and besides the inevitability of appearance-based first judgements, we are all free to reinvent or reestablish our personalities as we see fit. Whether the face you choose to present to the public is old or new, genuine or contrived, no one will know besides you and maybe the one random kid at your college who went to the same high school as you.
No matter how liberating reinvention may be, it is also an arduous process. I personally wanted to get as far away from my roots as possible. I noted the perks of such an approach, but I didn’t realize the challenges that it would pose. It was not that I was ashamed of my old personality. On the contrary, I feel like the face that I present to my peers at Colorado College is similar to the one I presented to my peers back home. Yet, for some reason, all I wanted was that blank canvas.
I grew up on the East Coast, so I left the East Coast in order to start fresh. I grew up in a city that piles itself vertically, rather than spreading outward, so now I live in a city that does the exact opposite. I went to an all-girls prep school, so there was no way I was going to go to a women’s college. The cherry on top was that I was the only student from my graduating high school class to come to Colorado College. I had set myself up for the ultimate reinvention. Then I arrived here, and I realized that maybe reinvention was not everything that I had hoped and dreamed it would be. Maybe I liked the version of myself that existed in my senior year of high school.
My 38 high school classmates and I knew each other astonishingly well, even uncomfortably well, at the end of our high school years. We had solidified our identities throughout the years, through the respective college decisions, the choices in friends, the sports awards, the academic memorabilia, and the accolades of our peers and teachers. Whether these identities were proven through gilded certificates or fleeting praise, my classmates and I knew each other and most of all, we knew ourselves.
Then we were forced to leave our old selves behind. A compliment or a title cannot be boxed and shipped with an extra-long twin mattress pad and a textbook. Even those honorary trophies and books serve no purpose for us at college, so they remain to line our parents’ dusty shelves at home. Our old identities do not mean anything to our new peers, and even our former peers begin to forget who we were and what we did until, one by one, our old personas crumble away in our wake. Reinvention of the negative is empowering, but what about the traits that we enjoyed in ourselves? A clean slate is a clean slate. You can pick and choose what you want to keep from your old persona, but you will still have to rebuild from scratch what you want to keep.
When I came to Colorado College, I had the chance to leave behind many incidences and phases of my life that needed to be left behind. To those who have met me in the past year, the girl with braces and rubber bands in her teeth does not exist. The girl who cried at “failed” B+ essays does not exist. The girl who lost a friend of 13 years over a prom date does not exist. Well, now I’ve exposed myself—but that’s beyond the point.
On the other end of the spectrum, the girl who reached out to new friends mere days before graduation does not exist. The girl who performed a truly terrible interpretive dance at the talent show and made her classmates laugh does not exist. The girl who apologized, profoundly and profusely, does not exist.
Freshman year is a whirlwind because we have a chance to selectively rebuild ourselves from our pasts. I am sure that many of my class of 2020 peers can relate to the feeling of having to stitch together and wear a personality for the first weeks, months, and even year of college. It is exhausting. But, slowly, I started to build my persona here, not through recounted anecdotes and memories of the past but through who I am. With time, my acquaintances here have come to know me, and then it is no longer a personality that I present to others for their recognition but a personality that others recognize without unnatural effort on my part. At the end of my freshman year, I am no longer the sole curator of my personality: the people here know me now, and, in this way, they are responsible for upholding my personality too. Recently, I haven’t been feeling so exhausted. Instead, I feel quite content.