I grew up with two identities. One boy wore boat shoes, only dressed in Ralph Lauren, forcefully slicked his hair back straight, and played lacrosse. The other boy embraced his natural curls, danced merengue, and felt no shame wearing his liqui liqui. Who was I––a preppy, wannabe white boy who attended affluent private schools all his life, or a Latino boy that played soccer and danced with his family out of pure joy?
I was born and raised in the suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area. However, I attended a private day school in the nation’s wealthiest town, Atherton. Though only 30 minutes apart, they were two separate worlds. The bridge between them was not only a physical division, but a concrete embodiment of the gap between the two versions of myself. On one side of the bridge there was a charismatic Hispanic boy. On the other side, was a completely different person. Afraid of revealing my true self to my privileged friends that lived across the bridge, I would abandon my individuality for five days of the week in hopes of winning acceptance from my peers.
I transferred to Andover after one year at my Atherton Prep School and was shocked to discover that the students here embrace diversity. I arrived at Andover expecting to live in an environment twice as ethnocentric as Atherton. I had heard of Andover’s intentionally diverse community, but I presumed the people of color that attended Andover to be others just like me: wannabe preps with an insatiable hunger for social acceptance from entitled peers. I was surprised to find, however, that at Andover, the other LatinX students felt no shame in their heritage, and my friends from the Bronx let their natural curls flow. The new environment made me feel comfortable being different, and my insecurities with my public image gradually faded as I allowed my true self to shine. My transition to Andover began with a period of intense self observation and reflection and led to my eventual understanding of my own authentic character.
Andover allowed me to recognize that privilege does not define personality, and should not define social acceptance. I do not write this without acknowledging my own extraordinary privilege, for which I am extremely grateful. However, I now realize that when I attended school in Atherton, I felt the need to present myself in a certain light based upon my privilege. Embracing individuality and authenticity, both within yourself and your community more broadly, allows diversity and inclusivity to thrive. Without feeling comfortable embracing your true self, it is impossible to experience true belonging. In essence, diversity, belonging, and inclusion are all interdependent on each other. Rather than trying to hide my true self to fit into a community that frowns upon differences, I’ve learned that communities that value individuality and authenticity over conformity are the only ones that fully see and experience true beauty of diversity. Looking back at my past, my two identities did not hinder my development as a person. Instead, they fostered it, allowing me to reflect on my values and grow into the person I’m meant to be. The old Andrew walked so that the real Andrew could run.