Advanced Essay #3: Identity & Belonging at SLA


My larger idea in this paper was to develop ideas about how I felt in my school community. My objective in writing this paper was to come to an understanding of where my place was in SLA and if I truly belonged there. I never thought about my identity in school or anywhere really. So exploring along this topics with 3 specific questions for investigation; I think I found a great conclusion.

Final Paper:

I’ve always felt like a small flower transitioning to blossom but I never felt like I was able to blossom as fast as the other flowers. My experiences at different schools have challenged me to either become creative or more constructive. Starting in a montessori for 1st-3rd then transiting into a private school from 4th-8th, I was open to creativity and then slightly told to part from it. The structure of a more strict environment had a toll on me; I felt restricted. Then my first year of high school came and it was different than what I thought it would be. I was used to seeing faces like mine or little to the spectrum of diversity. Transitioning to a community where all general ethnicities were represented was fairly new to me. However, it wasn’t shocking because I understood that the world wasn’t just white and black. Nevertheless just Asian or Latino. It reminded me of a quote by Ani DiFranco “I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.” Yet, based off what I saw from other kids I instantly began to think that I didn’t belong there. I didn’t feel limited to only associating with kids that looked like me but I noticed that I spent less time with those who didn’t. I didn’t open my boundaries or experience new cultures right away because I was scared that I had change who I was.

When I arrived, I felt like there was only a connection because my brother was an alum. I let my past experiences construct my idea of who I should be and where I belonged. My connection to this community didn’t feel like it was genuine, as if I wasn’t here for myself. I knew it would look good for my college applications and sound nice from word-of-mouth to say, “I’m a student at a Philadelphia magnet school called Science Leadership Academy located downtown.” It sounds so sophisticated from the full lips of a black girl. Another girl looked at from the world as loud, rude or aggressive and labeled. I didn’t want to fit in this stereotype so I finally developed my own reason for coming to SLA: To make the standards of a black teenager from the city less cliche-ridden but instead a head turner. Before achieving this I had to tackle the challenges that came with it. So I began to construct my mind in the likeness that in order to achieve success, I must form an identity that belongs here.

From the beginning of this journey all I could feel was intimidation. Trying to associate with a few kids who I might usually see during passing time that hold the door for me. Even the girl in the bathroom who is putting on the same mascara as me by coincidence. Besides the small conversations that started, I didn’t feel like I spoke “SLA’s language.” As if there was heavy dialect that only some could pull off by being shrewd, sarcastic and nevertheless having a love for satire. Yet, I just couldn’t pronounce it or understand it. All my ears heard were the long formulas that seemed to have been pulled from memories like flash cards. While all I saw was the intense ability to solve quadratic functions under 3 minutes. The speed amazed me and my desire to belong began to grow. I felt like I needed to change myself in order to fit into this community.

My peers had an advanced large vocabulary, such as verisimilitude. Compared to my average choice of realism, granted it did mean the same thing but what I thought mattered was the amount of letters in the word.  My mindset was that if I changed myself I automatically didn’t have to identity as the black girl trying the defy the odds of a stereotype or the one conforming to it. Instead I wouldn’t be in that category at all so I could make myself belong somewhere else. Yet, I didn’t know what belonging should even feel like; just having friends? Being “smarter”?  Solving problems and answering questions quickly? Quoted from the book titled The Great Gatsby, “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” (Chapter 2)  In this community, the only way that I could feel less intimidated but instead inspiring to grow to survive was to relate to my peers.

          Some of my peers I found a connection with also said that they didn’t know if they belonged here. By the time I finally began to understand this all better, I was entering 11th grade. Truthfully, when I was writing this paper. I’ve thought about how different ways to develop the idea of belonging relates to myself. In a result, if we are all so different and the only similarity we have is being different, what is belonging? I don’t think that belonging exists, but nobody really belongs. We all rely on each other to accept one another, and since we make up the community it shouldn’t be conformed to a standard. Yet, I do think identity and self-identity does exist. In addition, it takes courage to not conform to standards so you can really think hard about who you are. I still can’t confidently say that I know who I am; barely what I even like. Plus it takes time to identify yourself.

So I am very comfortable in the idea of not knowing myself yet. Thus, beginning a part of myself in devotion to further question who I am and where I belong.  So far, I know that I could beat the label of a black teenage girl in our society without conforming to an code-switching identity. While also knowing that I belong at SLA with my own ideas, vocabulary list and achievements all fit enough to be attributed. In conclusion, I don’t know much else about myself but I’m willing to learn and experience more to let my true identity blossom.