Everyone has heard about how the Andover community is extraordinary. The list of reasons include ‘Youth from Every Quarter’, a plethora of academic courses, a variety of community engagement opportunities, or trips to different places around the world. Andover takes particular pride in its students, because we come from varying backgrounds and will go on to choose varying courses and extracurricular programs. Despite the praise for our individuality, however, there are times when conformity seems to be more important. Students try to fit the mold of an “Andover student” and in the process, we give up some of our own uniqueness.
The similarities among Andover students are easy to find when I look at my peers. I think the most obvious perhaps are in outward attire and belongings. We sport Herschel backpacks. We wear Vineyard Vines shirts and Patagonia sweaters. If we glance at our shoes, many people have on L.L. Bean moccasins and Timberland boots. As for sports, the ones seen as preppy, such as squash and lacrosse, are more popular. Other visible similarities include devoting time to multiple commitments. I know peers who practice an instrument and take music lessons, who frequently participate in classroom discussions and orate with ease, who are charismatic and friendly leaders in social groups and extracurricular clubs. I too have found myself juggling academics, music lessons, and extracurriculars. Most Andover students seem to be doing the same.
One of the most prominent motivators to students to conform is peer pressure. We look around and see people wearing specific brands of clothing, thriving academically, excelling musically, etc. Insecurity of our own difference builds up. If we don’t wear Vineyard Vines or have Timberland boots, if we don’t want to always speak up in classroom discussions in a loud, assertive voice, and if we don’t want to participate in a sport that attracts many of our peers, we feel out of place and so the easiest answer is to follow the trend. We change our wardrobe, figure out how to speak with a self-assured, loud voice, join that sport with the rest of our peers.
By doing so, we hide our own styles and interests, pretending to be someone we aren’t necessarily. We forego genuity in character and force ourselves to live in self-doubt, to consistently check if we are sticking out from our peers on the outside. Gradually, the process of checking our outward expression wears down our confidence in who we are naturally. We learn to conform to what we see at large in the people around us and to bury our own differences. We learn to lose our individuality.
Our personal habits and interests, be it in fashion or speech or choice in activities, should be a source of pride for all of us. The tendencies that make us insecure are the exact same reasons to cherish a student. We should not look at one another and check off a mental list of what sorts of brands we wear or what kind of personality we have to see if we fit the smart, preppy image of an Andover student. We must respect distinctiveness by accepting our peers and ourselves as we are and seek to evolve each other’s character, not our external self-expression.
Remember that we were admitted to Andover because of the different talents and personalities we possessed. We came to develop and grow those talents and our community is rich and animated because of the different ideas and skills we bring. We do not need to be conventional and seek to reflect others around us. There is not and should not be a specific mold for Andover students. Only with a diversity of talents, interests, style, and other aspects of character, can all of us continue to learn and cultivate our talents. Evolving our individuality and sharing it with our community, is how to truly flourish here at Andover.
Zoe Yin is a two-year Lower from Andover, Mass.