“Hurry! The identity boat is still sinking! Crumple up and throw away two more aspects of your identity.”

What was this awful activity? My original 8 slips of self-written descriptors were already insufficient. I had tolerated throwing away three. But two more? How could I possibly survive on three things?

Perhaps I was a bit too into the game. But throwing away those two crumpled slips of paper stung with real self-betrayal. I suppose the three that I kept were fundamental, but without the clashing everything-else, they felt like nothing.

Coming into college, I was told by my friends, the media, my teachers, and even my mentor that this was my chance to change everything—a Willy Wonka golden ticket to a heaven of emptiness. All those ideals that I had of who I wanted to be perceived as, rather than who I actually was, could now be implemented. Throw out the parts of your identity you don’t like and rewrite yourself, they said. Rewrite, and rewrite again.

I considered it deeply, even more deeply than the classes I wanted to take. Because starting over at Harvard doesn’t just mean re­advertising yourself, it means re­naming your individuality. We were all, in one way or another, the best from where we came from. Valedictorians, class presidents, multi­-club leaders, research geniuses, aspiring philanthropists. Most importantly, we were all “Harvard” and praised for that unnecessarily consuming identity. We were told (probably too often and for the wrong reasons) that we were special. We were distinguished. We were somebody.


So now all of us Harvards have gathered, and the quest to be once again recognized as the best has begun. It’s a quest that I didn’t ask to take on and one that I never wanted to be given. But in the midst of strangers, every move is a first impression, so why not press on.

By the end of two weeks I was weary. How many hands had I shaken? Why do we even shake hands? Initiative. Take more initiative. Why do I do that again?

I tried to paint myself as being friendlier than I wanted to be, funnier than the jokes I don’t know, and more constantly interesting than unpredictable me. There was no confusion. I was too tired for that, and I knew what I was doing. First impressions had to be made and I would make them well. But at the end of two weeks I was left with no energy, a list of contacts that didn’t respond, and a suite that was constantly empty. I realized that I had flitted around so eagerly with my identity that I had lost my personality.

In trying to be an affable fragment of the world, I forgot to engage in it with my entire self. I was walking away from conversations with a more vivid picture of myself than the person to whom I had been speaking. I was trying to establish my worthiness through the number of people I could impress into being my friend. And I was alienating the people I actually wanted to befriend by depriving them of the unthinking attention they deserved. Consumed with myself, I forgot to notice who they were.

There was no drama in the revelation. I simply let go. I had to. I let go and allowed myself to be unapologetically sarcastic, caring, needy, and sincere. I wasn’t accepted by everyone, but here I am now, with groups of close friends that I couldn’t have imagined having when I first set out on this journey. Meeting them was a joy and not a painful obligation. And I felt myself come to life.

Because those slips of identity that I wrote down can’t be throw away. If the identity boat is sinking because they are too powerful, I will go down with them. They’re too important to abandon, and far too important to be purposefully rewritten. Because even though this incredible blank slate will allow me to finally ditch outdated expectations, there is a fine line between that and creating an unauthentic fantasy. So to my friends, teachers, and mentors: don’t worry. I will rewrite myself exactly, in all my wonderful inconsistency.

Elizabeth Y. Sun ’19, a Crimson editorial comper, lives in Canaday Hall.


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