Perhaps, as Mizzi Gomes hopes in her Oct. 9 column, “Unmapped territory,” Princeton is the place to find oneself. Perhaps not. I can honestly say that, at just about two-and-a-half years in, I don’t really know myself. Not in the way that we all hope to know ourselves. I don’t know who to tell you I am if you were to simply ask. In fact, I might know myself even less than I thought I did when I came to this place.
Let’s strip ourselves down to bare bones. You are not a name, no matter how uncommon it is or how many people cannot pronounce it on the first try. Trust me. I know. You are not your class year, and you are not your major. No, too many people share those simple characteristics. Those are not you. I think we can all agree on that.
How about your activities? Not the things you truly consider yourself to be passionate about, but the ones you do for plain and simple fun. Maybe this is a step in the right direction, but it seems unintuitive as an answer. If someone asked me, point blank, “Who are you?” and I answered with a list of things I do or don’t do around here, what music I listen to, what I’m reading, I think it would be the wrong answer.
Are you your beliefs? For now, maybe. But so many of those are passing, transient. Many of my beliefs have changed since freshman year. And the bulk of that change is not specifically from being here at Princeton; it is not because I’m in college and that’s what college does. It’s because I’m human and I’m young. I read something, and my beliefs change, if only just a little. I have a conversation, and they change. The professor says one thing in 50 minutes that suddenly grabs my ear, and they change.
But I must have core beliefs, ones with which I strongly identify myself, right? Yes, maybe I do have some of those. Still, some of those are the ones that have changed since my freshman year. So if you ask me who I am and I tell you my beliefs, I can’t guarantee you it will mean anything a year from now.
Are you your experiences? Yes, I would say I am my experiences. But I couldn’t sit here and enumerate to you each of my experiences, real or imaginary, from the past 20 years. No, I want something more tangible, more explicit, to tell you who I am.
Are you the people with whom you associate yourself? No, that could hardly work. That’s who they are. Are you what other people think of you? I think each and every one of us would be repulsed at the very thought of it.
Are you your passions? Not even just passions — are you all the big and little things that truly resonate within you? Yes, I would suppose this is a large part of who I am. At least, it’s supposed to be, isn’t it? Most of us define ourselves by what our “thing” is. And I could tell you some of them, some of the bigger ones, if that were all you wanted to know. But then you would ask me, “Well, why that? Why are you passionate about that? What makes you passionate about that?” And I would have to simply shrug my shoulders and tell you, “Because I am.” I am not really interested in anything because of the values or philosophy it embraces, because of its impact on the world or on future generations or on anyone other than me. There is no lofty principle behind what makes me tick. And I certainly don’t feel like I chose what interests me; I don’t think anyone does. Can we know ourselves if, in some respect, we have been hardwired this way?
And if you asked me about the little things in life that resonate within me ... well, those details are so intimate and so personal that most of the time I won’t even admit them to my own self. So no, that is not who I am; that is not who I can tell you I am.
Maybe Princeton is the place to find out who you are. I certainly know about myself. I know what I like, what I don’t like. I know what generally interests me. I know what really interests me. But if you were to sit me down and ask me, “Who are you?” I wouldn’t be able to give you an answer that would really even satisfy me. I’m not too worried about it though.
Kinnari Shah is a chemical and biological engineering major from Washington, N.J. She can be reached at email@example.com.