Rachel del Valle | Impressions of being young
Duly Noted | Be yourself without resisting change — there’s nothing wrong with being young and impressionable
February 11, 2013, 11:08 pm·
Rachel del Valle
On the first day of class freshman year, I walked into a poetry class. The classroom was smaller than I expected, packed with 10 or so upperclassmen. There was this one guy who was double majoring in English and philosophy. He sat back in his chair, extending his Birkenstocks towards the middle of the circle our desks were arranged in.
The syllabus was sprinkled with obscure titles and authors, we were required to make a Twitter and there was no exam, only a final paper on a topic of my choosing. Everyone made a note of this in his or her Moleskine. This was college.
I walked out of Fisher-Bennett Hall, convinced I’d never come back. Literary types used words like “agency” and “syntax” and read into things too much. I dropped the class and flitted in and out of a few lectures in different departments, trying to find something that would stick.
In the end, reluctantly, I slinked back into another English class. There were no Birkenstocks in sight. Things were off to a better start. And even though it was a 9 a.m. and we read some Freud, I liked it. More than I admitted at the time.
There’s a tendency among young people to define themselves by fuzzy ideas of things they don’t like — in my case, pretentious English majors.
Often it’s more arbitrary than it should be. A childhood dislike of your art teacher might instill in you an I’m-not-really-a-creative-person mantra. A bad first class might prompt you to say, “I’ll never be an English major.” Hypothetically.
It can be tempting to grab for these pithy characterizations. Defining yourself against something — “I don’t like chick flicks” — can be easier than finding something you do like. The only problem is that you often end up living up to those categorizations.
But sometime between then and now, the stupidity of clinging to a first impression hit me — especially a first impression formed by a 17-year-old freshman in college who’d left home two weeks before.
Now, over two years later, I’m thinking about topics for my English thesis.
We put an inordinate value on these initial thoughts because we think they’re visceral, that they reveal something about our true nature — to give them up would be to change and sell out our former selves. When we’re young, we think we have to steel ourselves against being impressionable.
But what’s so bad about being impressionable? I’ll take a bit of naivete if it means I don’t have to feel trapped by the way other people expect me to be.
When I got here, I was excited to change, to meet new people, to learn. Typical, yes, but true. A few months in, I dropped that wide-eyed sense of excitement and felt myself settling into a routine, mentally and literally. Lately I’ve been wondering why.
Growing up is understood as a natural part of adolescent life. But why does it have to slow down once we ease into our undergraduate years? You don’t have to be the person you’re going to be for the rest of your life by the time you’re 20. That’s why you’re 20. Imagine if you liked the same music or had the same hairstyle as you did when you were 15.
It’s easy for us to distance ourselves from our high-school personalities — which we always perceive as juvenile — but it becomes a little harder to critically judge the way we’ve acted for the past year.
You’re allowed to change. The beginning of college is often characterized as a period of self-reinvention. But what no one tells you is that in the middle of those four years, you’ll itch for even more self-exploration.
It may seem like you’re gaining a better sense of self by separating the world into two columns of like and dislike. But really, you’re just limiting yourself to half of everything.
No one is keeping track of your list of off-handed “I’d never” or “I don’t like” statements. Don’t be afraid of ruining someone else’s idea of who you are.
If you base your whole identity on your interests, that just allows other people to do the same. And if you base your interests on the ones you’ve always had, you’re denying yourself the capriciousness only a young person can have.
Rachel del Valle is a College junior from Newark, N.J. Her email address is email@example.com. Follow her @rachelsdelvalle. “Duly Noted” appears every Tuesday.