If you haven’t already, I’d highly recommend reading Quentin Richardson’s “Letter to My Younger Self” on Player’s Tribune. My story is much less interesting.
Dear 14 Year Old Dorian,
You’re going to get a letter in the mail about Bellarmine. You’re going to be screaming to yourself, “You just got in!” You’d been so afraid that you wouldn’t be as good as your brother, who got into every high school he applied to. You’ll feel amazing!
But it’s not going to last. You’re gonna go to high school on the very first day, and it’s just not going to feel right. You’re going to walk around campus, afraid to go to different places. The people are just going to be… different.
For once, everybody there is not going to be like you. Nobody is going to be atheist like you – you’ll hear kids tell you, “How can you not believe in anything?!” You’ll be forced to go to mass, and feel so out of place as the people around you read from the Bible and lower their heads. Your classes are going to make you write daily prayers, when you don’t even know what a prayer really is.
Nobody’s going to be Chinese, either. People are going to say your food smells bad. People won’t want to talk to you.
And it’s all going to sting, deep down inside.
You’ll learn to be ashamed of who you are. You’ll tell people that you’re agnostic. You’ll beg your parents to let you buy cafeteria food, because that’s how you’ll try and fit in. You’re going to make fun of your own race, of who you are.
You’re going to learn how meaningless this is in college. You’ll read a book about Japanese internment during World War II, about a young Japanese girl in Berkeley and how she, too, was ashamed of who she was. You need to learn how to not do this to yourself. Your race, your beliefs – they are fundamentally part of who you are, and they’ll never go away, however much you try and bury it.
Speaking of which, you’re going to apply to college in 4 years. You’re going to be so confident in yourself. “I’m going to MIT, because my brother goes there!” You’re going to look at your resume, and you’re going to be so proud of it.
You’re going to write about fishing, tomato gardening, all of your favorite things that you love doing, and you’re not going to get into the places you wanted to go. It’s not going to make sense.
You’re going to get rejection, after rejection.
Except Berkeley. But you’re going to be ashamed. You failed your parents, after 17 years of them driving you to school and making sure you focus on your studies. You’re going to have to go to that college that all the other local Asian kids go to when they can’t get in anywhere else. You’re not as good as your brother, who won so many speech and debate tournaments and wrote better essays than you. You’re going to try and wait list Carnegie Mellon, because you want to go to any school besides Berkeley.
After the inevitable rejection comes, you’re going to tell yourself, “I guess I’m going to Berkeley.”
But this is going to be a blessing in disguise. For once in your life, you’re going to be able to sidestep the shadow of your brother. You’re going to forge your own path. No more hand-me-downs, no more “Your brother did this, you should too!”
You’re going to go to college, and meet new people. You’ll meet your new roommate, who you’ll think is the coolest person in the world. You’ll learn your best friend is gay. You’ll become friends with all your floor mates. You’ll meet someone very special to you. You’re going to build a community. You’re going to get a new apartment with all your new friends. You’re going to learn how to cook – that’ll be fun, I promise. You’re even going to learn how to argue with people and be sassy!
I know this is pretty futile, but please, don’t miss out on other things! Go to class! You’ll think you’re too smart for lecture, which definitely isn’t true. Go join a club! You’ll say they’re a total waste of time, which definitely isn’t true. You’re going to regret not doing these things later.
You’re going to struggle to get out of your comfort zone. You’re going to love doing the same old things, over and over again. You’re not going to feel like meeting new people, because you’re going to be satisfied with what you have.
Dorian, you’re going to need to go outside. Try teaching! Try a club! Make friends with the people in your classes! Go to concerts for artists you never listen to!
I’m saying these things because something bad is going to happen to you (I’m not going to tell you what, because that’d ruin the experience). But these things are going to help, because you’re going to be making yourself memories that make you happy.
Dorian, you’re going to need to learn that things come and go. People enter and leave your life. Opportunities flit in and out.
But there will always be you.
You’re going to change, of course: you’ll learn to enjoy new things. You’re going to fall in love with school, so much that you want to get a doctorate! You’re going to learn how to drive! You’ll get new fishing spots!
But what’s never going to change, is who you are. It will always be your backbone. So be proud of it.