This year, I attended the SJU undergraduate commencement ceremony for the first time. My partner was graduating, so of course I was there to pridefully acknowledge that more personally touching occasion. But, as I tend to, I found myself falling into the role of an observer. The fascinated social scientist, reveling in her detachment from the unfolding scene, clinging to the outsider’s island of perfect non-bias. Congratulating herself on her complete impartiality.
Only after I had made my final calculations, stacked up my data, and sorted my Excel sheet (…kidding…) did I realize the absurdity of my imagined experiment. After all, I am a student here, too!
I took the opportunity to start believing there was something wrong with me. Would a “normal” person have viewed the scene differently? Should I have been anxious and excited, visualizing my own descent from the graduation stage next May? Should I have tried to hear my own name echo in the intonations of our faculty as they put on their best “announcer” voices?
Next May, I will certainly be proud of my accomplishments. I will be nervous, excited, and relieved, honestly! However, while I observed that those particular feelings were assuredly present at the ceremony, the overwhelming atmosphere was one of community and togetherness.
My disconnect came, not only from my tendency to people-watch, but more so from a lack of relatability with that particular vibe.
After noticing this, I again began to doubt myself – am I abnormal for thinking this way? Have I totally missed out on the SJU experience because I don’t quite feel like a “Hawk?” Should I quickly sign up for Apex, become an RA, a Hawk Host, and a Red Shirt, so that I can feel like one of the in-crowd my senior year? So I can join those proudly shouting: “THE HAWK WILL NEVER DIE” ?
I quickly reversed my thinking. When have I ever wanted to conform? (For those of you who don’t know me….the answer is pretty much never).
However, my quick reverse in thought landed me, not in a daisy-bed of comfort and confidence in my individuality, but in a thorny land of cynicism, a maze of prickling roses that grew around my steely castle. Well, I thought to myself, a hawk is a beautiful bird, but a **Hawk** is a fantasy. These people are just good at acting, role-playing. Flapping nonstop while others observe, but quitting once the game is over….
My castle and my sharp-edged maze soon crumbled. Who am I kidding? As much as I might not fit in to what it means to be a typical St. Joe’s student, I know honesty when I see it. The community of Hawks is real, however much I might not feel a part of it. I pretend to be tough-skinned, but anyone who gets close knows that I cry with joy at the first sign of a beautiful sky, sunset, ocean, mountain, whatever. The purity of the SJU community can give me the same reaction, at times.
So, am I back where I started? An outsider? Alone? Wishing I could fly amongst these fascinating birds of prey?
No, for two reasons. One, I am not the only one who feels this way. We all have our moments; we all feel like we don’t belong.
Two, even if I truly don’t belong: what’s the problem with that? The only problem with feeling this way is when it causes you to think in black-and-white terms: “I’m doing college wrong,” or “I’ve wasted my time here!” Instead, say: “I’m staying true to myself.” Sometimes, it can be a good thing to be watching from the outside. Not only are you staying true to yourself, but you’re also protected from getting too caught up in a mob mentality. The outsiders are the watchmen, keeping guard for when things go too far. We see what others might not.
Maybe that’s too dramatic. But, still, the end result from these ponderings was this: acceptance. Instead of fighting, I can simply accept that I might just be a different bird. Either way, my wings will develop.