In high school, I was inconspicuous. Attending a small school in Denver, Colo., it was easy to involuntarily accept the social image projected onto you. I was lumped with the so-called smart kids — my grades were untouchable, assigned readings were second nature and I always knew the answer to the math exercises. I also never went out past 10 p.m., definitely never drank and I never seemed to be as much fun as everyone else. People saw me as serious, rigid and uptight. These labels followed me and seemed to multiply as I got older, which resulted in a lot of harbored anxiety. In a graduating class of 180 filled with everyone you’ve known since you were 13, it feels impossible to step outside of yourself — to reinvent who you want to be. The process feels too big and too daunting. Why would you change who you are when everyone will still see you as who you’ve always been?
In a university as large as NYU, however, the possibilities feel endless. With a student body of this size, it is impossible to know everyone in your class, major or school. You rarely see the same person on your way to class twice. The anonymity is freeing in that you can be who you are on any given day. You can wear, listen to, watch whatever you want without a million eyes watching you, waiting to turn your early high school boyband phase into your entire musical identity. In high school, you’re back in the same small building every day with the same group of people. You’re all on top of each other, watching each other’s every move. When you make a mistake here, you can fade into the city’s busy streets and try again tomorrow in front of an entirely new crowd. Even in my classes, the sheer number of students at this university makes seeing the same 15 people every day for a semester negligible in the long run.
Coming to NYU has allowed me to let go of every label that’s been placed on me for the past 18 years. Because no one here knew anything about me and who I was before, I’ve been able to truly be myself. I’ve also been able to let go of past self-declared labels. Up until my senior year of high school, I was overweight and defined myself as the big girl in the class. I was constantly worried about what people would think if I had ice cream after dinner or a snack in between lunch and dinner. In school plays, I never thought I could dance, sing or act like the other girls. I was always caught up in my head, worried that others were thinking about my weight. No one here knows I was ever the fat girl — that image of me is nonexistent here, so I’m able to let go of the insecurities I had surrounding the size of my body.
I don’t put myself down for the music I once listened to because who didn’t go through a One Direction phase? Who cares that 5 Seconds of Summer was my favorite band? I don’t feel lame for doing my homework or the assigned reading anymore because if you’re not here to learn, what are you doing? I never knew I could stay up so late, walk around a city by myself or push off an essay so close to the due date because I told myself I was too anxious and paranoid to function without a suffocating amount of control.
I have already been to more parties in the first month of college than I’d been to in all four years of high school combined. I’ve had lunch for more than an hour, gone shopping for three and put off starting an essay until after 8 p.m. even though it’s due at midnight, all on a Tuesday — and all without telling myself the world’s going to fall apart because of my anxiety. The clothes I wear, the music I listen to and the things that I care about have never been so authentic. Here, I feel the freedom to explore, to discover what I like, and to express that proudly as I did with my favorite toys in kindergarten. While others claim to get lost in the many faces of NYU, I have found my way among them. I have found that through the thousands of students, you are able to slip through the cracks, find moments of public invisibility and discover who you are and who you want to become completely free of peer influence.
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Email Aleksandra Goldberg at [email protected]