Josh Akman: A collegiate identity crisis

In the months leading up to my freshman year at GW, I experienced something of an identity crisis. The crisis, though, wasn’t with my identity – it was with the identity that I was encouraged to create. I was an 18-year-old diehard sports fan who enjoyed sarcasm, politics, Will Ferrell movies and Mexican food. The problem was, everyone around me was convincing me that this just wasn’t good enough.

One of the most exciting aspects of college life, I was told (and told and told and told), was the opportunity to create a new identity. With a new environment, new school, and new people, I could be anyone I wanted to be. From the admissions counselors at GW to the guidance counselors at my high school to the freshmen returning home after their first collegiate year, I was regaled with exciting tales of new experiences. The nerdy valedictorian joined a fraternity? The awkward girl started an improv comedy troupe? I was thrilled for both the nerdy valedictorian and the awkward girl, as it seemed like they were making the most of their college experiences. But I was secretly nervous. What identity was I going to create?

As with any new problem, I researched. I wanted my identity to be cool, so I figured where better to turn than to movies? My first choice was Vin Diesel’s character Dominic from “The Fast and the Furious.” He’s big, he’s strong, he drives fast cars and he gets the girl. Perfect. I decided my new identity was Vin Diesel from “The Fast and the Furious.” Then I looked in the mirror. Staring back at me was a 140-pound Jewish kid from New Jersey.

It was time to broaden the scope of my identity search and look at older movies. The next choice seemed to be a perfect fit – John Travolta’s character from “Grease.” Danny Zucko was skinny (check), sarcastic (check), wore too much hair gel (unfortunately, huge check), and got the beautiful Australian exchange student. Jackpot! However, after two lonely nights outside of Thurston, I realized I might be wrong about this identity, too. Why, I asked myself, was the most exciting part of college creating my new identity? This wasn’t exciting at all – it was hard!

At seemingly every other important milestone, the advice is consistently “be yourself.” Throughout any important childhood event – from my Bar Mitzvah, to my high school basketball tryout, even to my first date – I was consistently encouraged to “be myself.” Every time, the advice worked perfectly (except for my first date.) Why, now, at the most significant milestone of my young life, was I being told to create a new identity? Can you imagine that advice working at any other milestone? “Good luck at your job interview, and don’t worry about bringing your resume. Just be whoever you want to be!” Not so much. Sadly, at such a critical time in my life, I received the worst advice possible. People made me excited for college by telling me that the most exciting part of it was creating the “new me.”

Now, three years later, I know the truth. The counselors, teachers and returning freshmen were all right – college is unbelievably exciting. College is exciting because you learn to live on your own. College is exciting because you get to pick what you study. College is exciting because it’s filled with thousands of smart, interesting and dynamic people. But the most exciting part of college, without a doubt, is the opportunity to be yourself. Embarking on my senior year, I love everything about where I am. I’m thrilled with where I live, I’m happy with what I study and I couldn’t ask for better friends. I got to where I am now through one easy way – I was myself.

The writer, a senior majoring in criminal justice, is a Hatchet columnist.

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