I don’t want to believe that my life is ever going to “peak,” and I especially don’t want to believe that it “peaked” one year ago today.
I should state upfront, as a disclaimer, that this is a very self-involved post. Talking about an award I received a year ago is a bit pathetic, but since Princeton’s campus newspaper still seems to be talking about it, I’m going to consider it fair game.
Last year, when my parents decided to notify our friends, family, and my high school about my receipt of Princeton’s Pyne Prize, I received an e-mail from an extremely wise former history teacher. He told me not to obsess over whether I could ever ‘out-do’ myself again, and that I shouldn’t worry that some award in college was going to be the pinnacle of my existence. At the time, I wasn’t too worried. I was extremely happy with where I was: after a few years of drifting, I had found a community in which I felt like I could be myself, carved out an activist niche in which I felt like I was making real progress, and even come upon an academic project about which I was truly passionate. What’s more, I had Oxford to get excited about. It seemed like my trajectory could be only upwards.
Of course, there were always detractors. I unfortunately lack the mental fortitude not to read online comments, so I knew that some segment of the campus population though I was a complete fraud, and that I received the award only because I had a Mohawk and the university wanted an ‘alternative-looking’ face to put on the homepage. When I looked at the achievements of my co-recipient, Andy Chen, I couldn’t help but think there was some validity to these claims. Still, though, I felt confident that – even if there was some truth to what they were saying – I had laid the groundwork to prove them wrong. At some point in the future, I would show the world that I was deserving because I can have an impact.
One year on, it’s tough not to think that the ‘haters’ were right. This year’s winner—Conner Diemand-Yaumen, the infinitely likeable Student Government president—has done an astonishing amount to improve Princeton. By contrast, the few projects I worked on—the Animal Welfare Society and freegan.info come to mind—have more-or-less fallen apart. It’s not looking backwards that bothers me, though, but looking forwards. Last week, I got back my first actual grade from Oxford, and it was joltingly mediocre. It was almost a metaphor for how I feel here: average, faceless, and small, an insignificant part of a giant academic machine.
I suppose I could try to replicate what I did at Princeton: shave a Mohawk and try to earn a reputation as a campus crazy-man. Aside from the fact that this would almost certainly not work at a huge university like Oxford, though, I just don’t want to follow that path anymore. I want to earn my stripes, to show that I really can have an impact in tangible ways. I’m getting involved with all sorts of causes here—the Vegetarian Society, Food Justice, Anti-War Action, to name a few—but I’m realizing how few organizational or inter-personal skills I actually have as an activist. It’s a lot easier to project an identity as a ‘change-maker’ than to actually be one.
To end on a higher note, I will just say that last year, this weekend was a ‘peak’ – it was a high point of the phase of my life where people would give me an easy pat on the back and endless positive reinforcement just for being who I am. While I’m not sure when and where they will come, though, I think my real accomplishments are still in front of me.
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