Advanced Essay #3: You Are Who You Remember


I wrote this essay to explore the way our memory affects our identity, a relationship that is almost obvious but rarely discussed. My essay does a good job of implementing quotes from outside sources, but could have better flow and deeper analysis.

Advanced Essay

History is a man-made record of the universe. It is a way for people to remember and carry on the knowledge of those before them and things they discover in their own life times. As a species, we have the extraordinary ability to not only learn through our own experiences, but also to learn from the lives of others. History however, is often told in the very general sense. It is a broad overview of past events, where only the ideas and overarching themes of an event or a time period are taken note of. It is often about “what happened?” rather than “who were affected?” Very rarely are the specifications and fine details of the lives of those who lived in a time period well documented. Personal accounts and diaries are by far the best resources we have to understand a person’s life. Just as historical documentation is a way of recording things that happened, a person’s memory is also a way of remembrance—only on a more personal level.

Our memory is our personal record. This record makes us who we are, and is the sole basis of our concept of identity. Susan Krauss Whitbourne writes in an article that “You are able to have a sense of identity because you know that you are the same person you were yesterday and will undoubtedly be the same person tomorrow” (Whitbourne). Our memory is the foundation of our identity as our experiences, or the ones we remember, shape who we are as people. People learn from past mistakes and adjust accordingly for future occurrences. People also learn to empathize with certain groups based on previous experiences with them or of them. Memory, however, is also volatile and ever changing, meaning one’s identity isn’t always the same. Whitbourne states that “the content of your self-defining memories may vary according to your age and current life concerns.” According to psychologist Jefferson Singer, older adults tend to come up with more general memories and feel more positively about their self-defining memories, even if the memories were of events that were negative in nature. Whitbourne explains that “older adults have found ways to make sense out of their life stories. They convert memories of troubling events into stories of redemption in which they make peace with their past struggles.” When people reflect on their memories, sometimes it is hard for there to be consistency in the recollection of events. Our attitudes toward certain events may change over time, as it gives people the chance to accept them.

Memory isn’t permanent either. As such, our identities are not permanent and can change. In an article written by Alan Lightman for the New York Times, he writes about a trip back to his childhood home after the passing of his second parent. Upon arrival, he comments that, “The house isn’t here. There’s a hole in space where the house used to be...Something is terribly wrong. I feel as if I’m not in my body any longer. My body is a distant, cold moon” (Lightman). In that moment, Lightman was in a state of confusion and disbelief. He feels disconnected from reality, as if he were no longer in his own shoes. He states that “Some careless god has cut the ribbon of my life...The piece that was the past has slipped away into black eternity, or perhaps into nothingness. Until this moment, I was sure that the past was still present...” (Lightman). This home, the place of his childhood, the “meals of fried chicken and mashed potatoes,” the “cops and robber games with my brothers,” and the “evenings watching TV” all seemed to have vanished out of thin air. These memories that he held on to, years after living on his own, this essential piece of his identity, felt like it never existed, just like the house that once stood there.

In an article written by Liz Frontino, a student from Bryn Mawr College, she defines memory as “the ability of humans to recall and conjure long-ago specific events from our lives” (Frontino). According to her, things like Amnesia and Alzheimer’s give perspective on memory’s importance, as the loss of memory is linked to the loss of identity. She claims that “Those suffering from amnesia are at a loss of identity, having no memories to draw back on” (Frontino) The disease only affects long term memory, but the effect of this is that “Those suffering from Alzheimer’s have to be told about their interests, hobbies, and favorite people. They are not aware of who they are as individuals because they do not have the memories of their life to draw back on” (Frontino). The loss of memory is directly associated with the loss of self and identity, and belonging.

Memory is the very framework of a person’s identity. It is a record of our experiences, our beliefs, and the story of how we became we who are today. It is our memory that tells us how to respond in different situations and how to behave around people. While it is volatile and everchanging, the loss of memory can very destructive to our sense of self. Without memory, we would not know who we are.

Works Cited

Lightman, Alan. “Opinion | The Ghost House of My Childhood.” The New York Times, The New 
York Times, 22 Aug. 2015,

Whitbourne, Susan Krauss. “What Your Most Vivid Memories Say About You.” Psychology
Today, Sussex Publishers, 20 Nov. 2012,
“Who am I? An Examination of Memory and Identity.” Who am I? An Examination of Memory 
and Identity | Serendip Studio,