opinion, time capsule

*Edited version of “Be a Stargirl”

Hello,

As I’ve looked back on my blogposts, I’ve realized how much I have grown (will expound upon once school ends). One piece really stuck out to me: “Be a Stargirl.” I know can see the pure (almost obnoxious) naïveté of my freshman years. Now I’ve learned to craft, to mold, to pinch a distinct form for my writing, and not just a swish of a paintbrush. So here goes, a revised version of one of my very first posts here:

Eccentricity, believe it or not, is not just used in conic sections. Neither is it just anti-war student protesters of the 70s, vegan automobile-boycotters in hipster-land, or vagabond artists whom we tend to associate with this term. We may think of these more extreme examples, but non-conformists live all around us and end up fundamentally changing the world.

The twisted brother of eccentricity, conformity hits close to home. For example, in our town, young girls run in hordes in matching, oversized Cotton Island T-shirts. In middle school, baggy athletic shorts are the must-haves for boys. Both male and female high-schoolers wear the same few brands as well—so different in their dress and yet so similar in their willingness to mindlessly jump on the rickety bandwagon.

Another community has a similar issue: the setting of The Giver by Lois Lowry. Jonas, the protagonist, lives in a world without hunger, war, or uncertainty but also devoid of color, love, and music. His life in this dystopian community is merely a shell of himself. Jonas takes special pills to hide romantic feelings, and his thoughts and actions are the same as everyone else’s—nothing distinguishes him from the rest of the citizens. However, this all changes when Jonas is selected (without his input) to be the next “Receiver,” the sole human repository of all past memories, ranging from pleasant to heartbreaking. With these powerful emotions instilled in him, Jonas peels off the veneer of his home, uncovering the ugly truth of his hometown and its complete suppression of the human soul. After realizing the disaster of homogeneity and the eery orthodoxy in his former home, Jonas flees; he jeopardizes survival for a taste of living as a unique individual, and not like a grain of sand in a dust storm.

Although the world we live in will never be as monochromatic as the “sameness” sphere in the novel, the story still inspires me and thousands of others across the world to pick Dr. Pepper in Coke vs. Pepsi, to think outside of the shackled box we live in. The Giver reminds us to enjoy the adventure of free expression that we take for granted.

Non-conformity make real-life global impacts too, not just in some fictional dystopian town. If our history on Earth were a book, the dog-eared pages would be ones written by non-conformists—those who dared to say that our planet wasn’t flat or wasn’t the center of the universe, those who argued that humans could go into outer space, those who refused to let go of their seats to another man just because of his race. Non-conformists have brought exciting innovation and radical transformations of our understanding of our natural surroundings, our society, and, most importantly, ourselves. They remind us to take off any masks we put on and provide a key to unlock our real personalities and passions embedded deep inside of us.

Then again, you don’t have to be anyone extraordinary or seemingly-superhuman to reject the status quo. Right here, everyone can participate in making our high school and community-at-large a welcoming haven for acceptance of everyone. Our community doesn’t have to be just a simple drawing of uniform blue and gold; it can, and should, be a vibrant mosaic of many different colors and shapes and patterns. Our community shouldn’t be a single tuning note; it can develop into a symphony of different sounds and rhythms and textures. It should be a celebration of who each one of us is.

In a famous scene of the movie Dead Poets Society, the English teacher John Keating leads his students to walk outside in the courtyard. Soon, they are walking together, and everyone is clapping to a singular beat. Keating then tells his students that conformity is easy, but going against what your friends are doing is hard. He challenges them to walk at their own pace and to stride in their own beat.

My challenge to you? Dare to be different.

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opinion

Be a Stargirl

There’s a new virus these days.

It spreads like wildfire and is deadlier than Ebola. What could it possibly be? Legionnaires? A mutant flu? The triteness of this introduction?

It’s a word we really don’t talk about, probably because not everyone sees it as a problem:

conformity 

[kuh n-fawr-mi-tee] 
noun
1. action in accord with prevailing social standards, attitudes, practices, etc.
(another cliché here ._.) 
Conformity plagues the halls of high schools everywhere around the world. For example, I attend Highland Park High School. You can count the number of people who aren’t white or rich with your fingers. Due to the homogeneity, we’ve adopted an unofficial dress code starting before we know what a store even is. From elementary school, oversized Cotton Island T-shirts are a must. The number of apparel from Vineyard Vines or Southern Marsh, those GIANT fountain drink styrofoam cups from JD’s Chippery or Eatzi’s, and epilepsy- or mirth-inducing baggy shorts worn by MIS toddlers outnumber the fancy cars and oversized mansions and Spanish-speaking nannies– wealth and “the HP identity” strut across this catwalk of a city. It seems like everyone has been molded into two model citizens–the male and female versions so distinct in their mannerisms and dress and yet so identical in their willingness to suppress their individuality. Walking through the zombie-land hallways of HPHS, Old High Park High, I see nothing but sameness, a sea of whales and ducks and camo, a sea of Seaside and Destin and 30A. Facebook accounts are littered with photo albums all named “freshman year,” “sophomore year,” “$KA” with the same content–Seaside vacations, meet-ups at dance class, happy group of friends in the same few restaurants the entire female citizenry frequents; lacrosse championships, lacrosse in general, football games, football in general, fishing, hunting, big game next to a grinning father-and-son duo. Ah, what else could there be?
An observer may think that only the outside appearances are the same in this second Stepford, but once he talks to one of the students, the chipped gold leaf reveals even more gold. (Although the value of a typical HP pupil is far less than that of gold!) Topics for conversation never change unless the mass changes. Who’s dating who, which athletes got ineligible, who tweeted something hilarious makes up the majority of all conversations in my high school. What is valued is a mentality to be cool (aka drink and do drugs–what the Chinese would call 任性), to enter the decades-old machine line of afternoon football practice, and to acquiesce in a routine siblings and parents have worn out. (Note: I know this blog is list- and cliché-heavy; are you as tired as I am?)

However, that is not to say that some aren’t embracing themselves–their “inner awesomeness.” I see people everyday who don’t conform to these standards, who wear what they want, speak what they want, and do what they want. This silver lining is a community made of those who embrace eschewing the norm and instead rejoice in their own quirks. One day, I hope our high school and community at large can do so as well– a bastion of creativity and of expression of the inner soul, a village of profundity and acceptance. I envision HP as a mosaic of many colors, not just of blue and gold.

High school is a time to discover of who you really are. That takes some courage, some toes into new water. Most importantly, it takes some elbow grease. Failure and some embarrassment add to a man’s experiences, experiences that one person holds exclusively. Without these experiences, man is left with nothing but a corpse.

One of my favorite books is Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. The titular character is a wacky high-schooler attending a school that celebrates conformity. Stargirl is one who doesn’t follow the crowd; she dances in the rain and plays a ukulele every day during lunchtime while singing “Happy Birthday” to kids she has never met. Although some might say Stargirl would never be a real person, she continues to inspire me (and thousands of other teenagers) to pick Dr. Pepper in the Coke vs. Pepsi debate, to think outside of the shackled box we live in– she is a vanguard for those who are willing to take the adventure of free expression of the unique self with its ups and downs.

As a final note, there is no recipe for you to follow; just add in as much of what you like into the big melting pot of life.

(Wow, I even ended on a cliché!)

UPDATE: Ellen DeGeneres won the Choice Comedian award in 2015 Teen Choice Awards. In her acceptance speech, she also emphasized the importance of not hiding who you really are in order to “fit in:”

“I wanna say also it feels good to be chosen but there was a time in my life that I was not chosen. I was the opposite of chosen because I was different, and I think I wanna make sure that everyone knows that what makes you different right now, makes you stand out later in life. So you should be proud of being different, proud of who you are.

The most important thing I wanna say is just really embrace who you are because being unique is very, very important and fitting in is not all that matters. It’s being unique and being who you are.”

creds to BuzzFeed. Those 10:30 trips are really worth it!