Sometimes, the people in the corners shine brighter than the ones in the center of the room. They just need to wait for the day that somebody else will notice their light. At least, that’s what the people in the corners like to believe.
I lived in the corners all throughout high school. I was only ever seen when somebody needed answers to homework or a punching bag to lay out a few words mean enough to bruise the soul: the resident geek who was popular for not being popular. I was definitely looking forward to the end of high school, and had put all my hope into a college where everyone finally took off their blinders. We’d just be young adults willing to see each other’s light.
Getting in to the University of Notre Dame was an open-mouthed, “They actually let me in?!” kind of experience. We’re talking about one of the top schools in the Midwest. On top of my acceptance, I got into an intensive, month-long scholars summer program that would give me and the other “Balfours,” a few advantages during the school year. I was on the road to becoming a very cool freshman.
Fast forward a few months and I’m on ND soil once more. This is the land of football, the Fighting Irish and an amazing network of people. I already knew my way around campus and even a few people to start off my social conquest. I wanted to be the “It girl.” I forgot one thing: Life doesn’t always like to give us what we want.
I’m from the suburbs of Chicago and my high school was predominantly black. There was also a significant Hispanic population, but the minority was white. It never once slipped my mind that I’d be the minority at ND; I’m one of very few black faces to see in a crowd that runs deep with white people. Not to mention, my socioeconomic background isn’t up to par with some of my peers. Still, I wasn’t planning to let these factors deter me in completing my social goals. Notre Dame preaches community and acceptance; I knew they’d welcome me in with open arms.
So far, they have. Almost every time I meet the eyes of other people, they smile. It was weird to me because I use my smiles sparingly, but I was gaining confidence from all of the friendly signals. Then, of course, reality hit me hard. I went into my first class of about 100 and I suddenly remembered, “Oh yeahh, I’m shy. No wonder the corner is my best friend.”
During my first week, I quickly realized that I was the only black face in most of my classes. There was no prejudice or malice, but I felt out of place, anyway. Whenever people looked at me, I thought, “They must already think that I’m not good enough.” Even when they smiled, I thought it was because some higher up secretly informed the Caucasian students that they had to be nice to the African Americans. Call it paranoia.
I barely spoke in any of my classes. I didn’t try to make friends like everybody kept telling us to; I wasn’t trying to “build community the Notre Dame way.” I was retreating to my dusty, little corner and my light was quickly fading. Though, I have managed to creep out of the shadows a few times.
I’ve handled a few good opening sentences with strangers before my vast vocabulary mysteriously goes MIA. I’ve even gone to three parties where talking isn’t necessary and girls just dance, try to be sexy, and wait for a guy to grab them from behind so they could converse with movement. Thank God, I know how to dance. Still, I’ve already grown tired with that scene. I thought guys weren’t dancing with me because I was black and unattractive. The corner called me back.
I’ve barely survived my first week of college. People have been kind and cool, and I want to enjoy it all, but someone is holding me back—me. My goals are big, but I don’t need to be crowned “Miss Notre Dame.” I already know that I need to focus on my academics and health, but for once in my life, I’d like to have some friends, too.
I’m scared, but I’m tired of this fear. There are days when I think, “Today is the day I’ll escape this corner forever,” but later I end up going to sleep in it. I want to be wanted and valued, but mostly just happy. Obviously, I don’t know how. I can only try to abandon expectations and “be myself,” whoever that is.
I’m thinking that college may be the place where I’m supposed to figure that out. It’s up to me to be more than what I’ve made of myself. One day, they’ll see my light, and I’ll see theirs. I will say farewell to this tired, little corner.