I Miss That Caterpillar Life

  • By Liz Mutter '15
  • emutter15@amherst.edu

Volume XXXV Issue 4, May 10, 2013

HS IDs

It’s strange feeling nostalgic when you’re only 19. At Amherst, I am not a varsity athlete or a “science kid”; in high school, I was defined in part by both of those things. Although my Amherst identity has morphed to include many new labels that I’m proud of and much prefer, it does not include everything that was important to me growing up. Looking at my friends, I don’t seem to be the only one who has lost some of her high school identities. My non-athlete roommate played soccer for thirteen years before coming here; a few friends were once involved in debate or mock trial; several non-AAS members were once active in their high schools’ student governments. Although some students have been particularly good at keeping their labels consistent, many of us are left with ghosts of our former selves—facets which we once whole- heartedly assimilated into our identities but have dropped or let fade away during the transition to Amherst.

Don’t get me wrong: This is one of the best parts of going to college. Starting afresh, turning over a new leaf, finding yourself, emerging from your cocoon as a beautiful butterfly with newly shaped jeweled wings and—well, you get the picture. Point is, you’re probably not crying over letting go of certain reputations, activities, or associations. Maybe going to college was the perfect excuse to finally quit those darn oboe or ballet lessons your parents had pressured you into enduring for the sake of well-roundedness. Yes, college is an opportunity to prune and focus your interests in order to devote your energies to only those activities and areas of academic interest which you deem worth your time. But if you’re like me, it can be hard to let go of those things that don’t make the cut. 

At Troy Athens High School, I was a proud Red Hawk cheerleader all four years. I was a varsity athlete and a vital part of a team. Though I don’t often dwell on those days and there are plenty of reasons I’m glad to have let cheerleading go—headache-inducing center-parted French braids, for one—I truly miss that work-hard-feel-good glow, post-practice locker room chats with the team, and the rush I’d get upon stepping out on the mat to compete. I miss the bus rides, the hair-braiding sleepovers, the team dinners, and the complaining sessions (okay, bitch fits). I miss being a leader, wearing a uniform, and representing my school with pride. And it’s natural and it’s okay to miss these things. If Amherst had a cheer team, there’s no chance in hell I’d join it; yet, every time one of my athlete friends mentions a social experience she shared with her team, I can’t help but be reminded of what’s gone.

The designation of being a “science kid” versus a “humanities kid” as an Amherst first-year is another area in which I’ve experienced a similar sense of loss. My decisions to steer away from lab science courses and receive the consequential humanities label have toyed with my insecurities and made me feel trapped in a category I find inaccurately describes my interests and abilities. At times I feel the need to remind myself that I made the choice to eschew Organic Chemistry not because I am lacking some characteristic of intelligence gifted only to pre-med students, but rather because I harbor stronger interests in different areas at this time. To whom, though, do I feel the need to prove that biology was once my jam and that I used to crush it in calculus? To the judgmental spirit of Lord Jeff who haunts Moodle and AC Data? No, that’s definitely not a thing. In all honesty, losing the label “Liz Mutter: Good at Math and Science” has damaged a part of my ego nurtured by high school academic life such that I feel this need to prove my aptitude. It's not just losing a label, though; it's losing a sense of belonging to a particular community.

Because our identifies are constantly shifting to abandon certain labels and accomodate new ones, our current labels are far less meaningful and indicative of character than we often assume. For all of the students involved in music groups at Amherst, there are many other students who at point in their pre-Amherst lives practiced vocal or instrumental music and thus know what it means to be frustrated by a conductor running the same measure ten times over. For all of the varsity athletes at Amherst,  there are even more students who played sports growing up and know what it means to dread going to practice on most days and yet remain deeply committed to their team. For every “science kid” at Amherst, there is a “humanities kid” who couldn’t have made it here without years on years on years of math and science classes. I know it’s probably not healthy to run around pointing at athletes and chemistry majors screaming “I used to be one of you!”, but it’s important to recognize both that our labels at Amherst cannot possibly encompass the complexity of our identities and that we all have more shared experiences than we recognize. It’s worth mentioning, too, that if what we did in high school isn’t necessarily indicative of what we do now, then what we do now isn’t neces- sarily indicative of what we will end up doing in our adult lives.

For what it’s worth, I’ve come to take pride in my labels at Amherst in part because they highlight areas of my life that are important to me, but also because I now recognize that they do not have to define me. Being something doesn’t stop you from doing something. Now, too, I’ve found a great conversation starter for when the Val-sit conversation peters out between the third and fourth food runs: What did you do in high school that you don’t do here? Ask, and you’ll be amazed by the intriguing and unexpected interests to which your peers were once devoted.