SALT LAKE CITY, Utah—Every morning for six years, I waited for the first bell to ring in the Commons, an expansive room filled with lunch tables. Thirty minutes to an hour was spent studying every detail adorning the room, every piece of art, every banner. My favorite was a poster that wrote “Welcome” in different languages; it was a sign of my school’s multicultural environment. It made us unique, apparently, so I was proud.
One year after I graduated from my high school, I returned to the Commons during a visit. The thirty minutes ticked by slowly. The image I had known for six years—of unity and the mingling of different cultures, ethnicities, and communities—looked uncanny, unfamiliar almost.
Another year later, I do not even enter the Commons. Instead, I hurry through the hallways, frantically searching for friendly, recognizable faces. I have a partner-in-crime in my quest to greet underclassmen friends and past teachers, but even she notes the isolating changes in our once beloved second home. Two years away is enough to destroy six years of familiarity.
We run into an older graduate. As one of the first Latinos to graduate from my high school with an International Baccalaureate diploma, he talks about the education gap, particularly within our high school where ESL and IB students share the hallways. He’s trying to bring change, he says. His words leave an imprint. My friend and I muse over them, our conversation moving from education to race to queer rights to feminism.
It’s strange. For two years, I forgot about the activist blogs I once worshiped. Immersing myself in my more scientific studies, I stopped spending hours considering the issues in our society. Here, in my high school, was where my social passions all began, and here was where it returned.
The new thoughts have a different taste, however. The world was black-and-white for me on those mornings when I sat in the Commons. Everything was either right or wrong, diverse or homogeneous, good or bad. Proud of my school’s multicultural character, I never considered the complexity of the situation, of the fact that the diversity was one of ethnicity and educational rigor. I was blind.
Absence makes the eyes grow sharper. As I stroll through the building, I see the environment before more clearly. I’m still proud, but the pride has manifested in a recognition of its flaws and a desire for change. Two years away is enough to build new perspectives.
Ha D.H. Le '17, a Crimson arts writer, is a biomedical engineering concentrator in Dunster House.