Purchasing a Personality

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend about our lives outside of Andover. Eventually, we got onto the topic of socioeconomic class. I ended up telling him that I attend Andover on full financial aid, and he gave me a look of total surprise in return. He pointed out that I often wear Tommy Hilfiger pullovers, chinos, Lacoste sweaters and a Guess pea coat, and for that reason, he had assumed that I was well-off.

Sure, my family has had its share of success, but I wouldn’t consider us to be particularly well-off. But, I began to wonder: because I was given full financial aid from the Academy, does that mean I must look and act a certain way? What is a full financial aid student supposed to look like?

The assumption that Andover is for the economic elite is not an accurate representation of the school’s current student body. Enabled by Andover’s generous financial aid program, more and more students from differing socioeconomic backgrounds attend Andover. Still, this economic diversity on campus does not make financial status a non-issue. Instead, this diversity makes the effects of socioeconomic status on personal relationships all the more obvious.

In Marc Sevastopoulo’s article, “Breaking Walls With Words,” published in last week’s issue of The Phillipian, Sevastopoulo talked about how his background as a “white boy” from the Upper East Side of Manhattan gave one person reservations about getting to know him. While we may not openly discuss our financial situations on a regular basis, Sevastopoulo’s experience depicts how economic status affects the way we appear to and relate with others.

At school I belong to the book club, “Outliers,” which is a club for students on full financial-aid. I remember going to a meeting for the first time after I had that conversation with my friend about my clothes. I became self-conscious: I was wearing a Lacoste sweater over a Tommy Hilfiger button down with J. Crew blue chinos and loafers. I suddenly felt myself succumbing to the idea that I needed to look a certain way based off of my financial status. In that moment, I reminded myself that being on full financial-aid does not define me as a person. I am still aware of the image that I put on whenever I step out with those type of clothes on, but I strive to not let my financial status affect my relationships with others.

At Andover, I have friends from both sides of the socioeconomic spectrum.

My friends who come from more financially stable situations will sometimes act as if being well-off is a curse, not a blessing. These friends are well aware of the stereotypes about “rich kids” and their supposed “easy lives,” and in attempts to separate themselves from this, they often speak self-deprecatingly about the more luxurious aspects of their lives.

My less financially stable friends often criticize the wealthy way of life, describing it with words like “pretentious” and “snobby.” When we bring up clothing, however, they talk about me, throwing out comments like “you dress funny,” or even, “you dress like them.” Sometimes, I pretend to not know what they are talking about.

I hear these comments often. After thinking about the way my friends characterized me based on my clothes, I reached the conclusion that the way I look should not be constrained by my socioeconomic status. By allowing our financial status to determine how we act and by judging individuals based solely on their economic status, we form identities that are not genuine. Thus, we prevent ourselves from creating authentic relationships. Our socioeconomic class undoubtedly affects us, but it should not inhibit meaningful interaction with others.

Michael Ohakam is a two-year Lower from Bronx, NY.