By Shelby Pickerell
Southold High School
Some people advocate tolerance, but that is not enough. “Tolerance” still suggests that there is something inferior or wrongly unique, while in the big picture, individuality must be celebrated. It is acceptance and diversity that must be explained to today’s society, and I’ve made it my ongoing challenge to do so.
As a member of Southold School’s Gay Straight Alliance and Students Against Destructive Decisions, I have broadcasted my feelings about this topic. I believe in a no-‐judgment lifestyle, which is, in a way, the utopian community that we can always strive to create. In Quizbowl competitions, I unleash my inner nerd and witness the creative intellectual expression of my opponents that is seen through their answers rather than their looks. I am proud to be able to connect with many types of people.
The key is to expose children to diversity as early as possible and to continue to emphasize how different is not bad. When people don’t act, look, or even sound the same, it simply means they have a unique manner of expressing themselves. It’s like your own personal language; only you can fully understand it’s meaning, and this may be lost in bad translation. Southold has attempted to expose its students to each other’s quirks. In junior high, we had Mix-‐It-‐Up days when everyone was assigned a lunch table where we played games and asked questions from prompted cards. But the students rejected this idea and reverted to their stereotypical cliques. Occasionally, I still switch up my lunch seating to catch up with old friends or meet new students and underclassmen. Likewise, I want to be the one to extend a friendly hand as I enter my college career.
In Southold, the untrained eye sees only a black and white sea of monotony. True, there is not as much variation as an inner city school may have, but there are many hidden gems walking past that will shine if only we would ask. I would rather see these sparkling gems alive with character than the granite gray faces of the current high school life. The more color there is, the more we can look at and the less bored we will be, even in a school of 450 students. They’re like chameleons, always trying to blend in rather than expressing their true personalities in fear of the reprimands they may receive from their peers. The truth is that others are often jealous of the brave individuality some students can muster; they feel that their balanced and malcontent lifestyle is threatened by an abnormality. The result is bullying, disrespect, and harmful rumors that spread through the unvarying masses.
I attempt to stand out with personality and even clothing. Modest, colorful, stylish, and courageous outfits give off my approachable and confident aura. Then, once a week, I wear my Naval Junior ROTC uniform to proudly display my achievements and commitment to service. Although one would think that anything military crushes individuality, I would have to say that I have tapped into many new dimensions of my personality thanks to this program, as have many of my peers. The mixture of cadets covers all fields of life, and the family atmosphere that results is a better indicator of acceptance and inclusiveness than any other club. The most important lesson I have learned from this program is that those that are true friends stick by you, while those that are not will fall away in fear of any change.
Sadly, there is often a false superiority complex, created by discomfort and lack of understanding, which causes shoulders to turn on the growing Spanish-‐ speaking population in my district. To break the racial borders and learn about the unique culture these students add to Southold, I have tutored and worked with many to overcome their language barriers and build up confidence to join school clubs and teams that they had felt unwelcome in before. Some of my favorite conversations are those that I have with classmates from other countries or regions. There is so much to learn from those that pass us in the hallways.
My mother always tells amazing stories passed on from her international photography friends. So when I made my own international memories starting in tenth grade, I eagerly recited my adventures. My tally is now at 11 countries, my favorite being Sweden after my two month Rotary Short-‐term Exchange program. Since then, my international awareness and interest has bloomed and rekindled trip after trip. From it, I have tentatively charted my future course. After a short time in the Navy, I wish to work as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. State Department (a foreign diplomat focused on the well-‐being of American citizens abroad and intercultural exchanges), while continuing to participate in international community service projects. Languages are my passion, travel is my genre, and culture is my muse. Now, as president of Interact, I spread my acceptance, intrigue, and understanding of the diverse global community to my peers.
My ideal life is one of unparalleled diversity and international inclusiveness. And I hope that my studies can forecast such results. In each club I am currently a member of, there is an emphasis on the importance of individuality and a message of self-‐respect, friendship, and a shared word of kindness. These next four years will form a base to the life I will follow afterwards, and I wish to become utterly blind to the stereotypical “cool” and “normal” and be blinded by the true color of my peers’ unequalled personalities.