You’re not just a student. You’re not only an athlete. You’re not simply a son or daughter to your parents, or even to God. Yes, everyone has a core self, a central person deep down, but the rest, the real evolutionary you, is everything else. It’s the totality of the different aspects that make up you as an ever-changing individual.
As a student veteran I struggled with the acceptance of my own identity much more in the past year than ever before. I would struggle to the point of making myself feel guilty for getting excited about font styles or being proud of a well-written poem. I would sit and wonder, what might my brothers in arms, past and present, think of Alec the poet?
Would they think I was a wimp, or that I had abandoned the oath I made to defend this country from all enemies, foreign and domestic? I used to wonder, if I cannot justify it to myself, how could anyone possibly understand that I left the service with dreams of writing books, and a currently developing enthusiasm for poetry?
So, quite recently, and a bit reluctantly, I decided to express those concerns to someone I trusted with that kind of sensitive information. And what they told me was something that I have never been able to tell myself. They said that being a well-rounded person and tapping into the many sides of your personality is actually quite difficult and something to be proud of.
It was a quality piece of advice. I thought about it for a while and still do often. And I feel that the best way for me to truly embrace this ideology is to tell others to do the same.
Therefore, I encourage you to fully embrace a variety of interests and passions. Don’t limit yourself with labels and a false sense of identity. Just because you’re not the person your freshman self or high school self thought you were going to be, that does not mean you’re doing something wrong. You have no obligation to be the person you were last year or last semester or yesterday.
I feel the best way to facilitate this growth and add depth to your personality is to try and take away something from every experience. Whether it be the military, Greek life, athletics or your faith, if you leave, leave with something of value. If that something is a sense of purpose, good for you. If it’s a bond made stronger through mutual success or suffering, that’s great too. Sometimes it can be hard to realize that you are part of something bigger than yourself. And if at some point you end up on the outside looking in, I hope you will feel different than you did at the start.
In all reality, that is why we are at this school. To feel different than we did when we got here. To have learned things and forgot others. To have made lots of friends and hopefully lost few. To have grown and changed and discovered new things about ourselves.
Before, during and after my time in the military, I have known, wholeheartedly, things about myself that just simply aren’t true anymore. And that is fine, because I have discovered abilities, emotions and interests that I would have never tapped into had I not spent so much time here. And I mean literally here, as a student veteran, in this chair, writing poems.