This is an unedited copy of a college essay I wrote during my senior year of high school. It was originally written in the fall of 2008.
For me to claim that individualism is frowned upon in my high school is probably an overstatement, but the disapproval of deviation from social norms manifests itself in many aspects of high school social life. The last couple of months have been a journey in self-discovery, and while social pressures were never more unyielding than in my final years of high school, I have hopefully managed to figure out who I am and why I am here.
I come from an affluent suburb north of Chicago where prestige in academics, arts, athletics, and wealth drive the community. The constant pursuit of wealth and success does have benefits. I have been provided a wonderful education, have had many opportunities in arts and athletics, and have had the ability to pursue independent hobbies and interests. But over the years, I have also noticed a darker side to my community's affluence: loss of life meaning and personal identity. The prevalence of materialism and affluence has lead to a lifestyle where people seek wealth rater than wisdom, achievements without growth, and live, work, and spend without really knowing why.
Earlier this year, my high school hosted a literary festival where notable Chicago-area writers spoke or ran seminars. When my friends and I walked into a workshop by LeAlan Jones, the co-author of Our America who grew up in housing projects on the south side of Chicago, we had no idea that he would challenge our most foundational beliefs about self-identity, society, and humanity. He began his lecture by passionately characterizing his identity as being defined by struggle. He then turned the question around to the audience, asking us, mostly well-to-do white kids, how we all individually defined ourselves. No one could answer. I am not ashamed to admit that I struggled with the question myself, but what really struck me was the phenomenon of 60 high school seniors being silenced by such a fundamental question.
After further reflection, I realized that the difficulty we experienced in articulating how we defined ourselves was more than a startled response to an unexpected question; it was a manifestation of a deeper, widespread social problem that is evident in many aspects of society in our modern world. Furthermore, I believe that the loss of meaning, purpose, and identity in peoples' lives is the underlying cause of many local, national, and global issues today.
In effect, this realization has changed the way I approach daily life. I try to be in touch with humanity and understand myself and others at a fundamental level. I respect people who seek truth, embrace life, are easy going, and philosophical. And I admire those who are confident, expressive, and have a strong sense of self-identity.
As for my own life purpose, I haven't really figured it out yet. As the days go on, I may score well on a test, win a Jiu-jitsu tournament, or get accepted into prestigious universities. And while these fortunate events will raise other peoples' opinions of me, I will never hold the presumption that a favorable social status yields happiness or self-fulfillment. I must treasure my journeys more than the destinations, my labor more than the fruits, my education more than the grades, because at the end of the day, nothing can bring me peace but myself.