As I was anxiously waiting to walk across the stage at my high school graduation, I got the privilege to listen to my best friend’s valedictorian speech. Megan talked about “The Importance of the Individual” and it got me thinking.
Throughout our high school careers, Megan and I had many conversations about individuality. Society has ripped every ounce of uniqueness within a person and has shoved them into a category. When we started to chit-chat about how tired we are of certain “categories” getting all the credit of our individuality, we realized that this judgment has taken place our entire lives.
I first noticed categorization when I was a little nugget in elementary school. I can’t remember many categories, but I do remember being in one. I was always seen as one of the “populars.” This category really didn’t bother me at the time because I didn’t know any better and thought it was good to be popular. And it is. But the connotation of the word is not. I started hearing kids be categorized as “the less fortunate” and “more fortunate.” And those few words have brain washed small children into thinking that those categories can’t mix. Kids started judging each other by the clothes they wore instead of their personality.
Middle school was a whole different story. This was the time when kids started to grow and find their place in this world. Our middle school required a strict dress code and categorization was one of the main reasons for it. But that still didn’t help. Even though every kid in the school wore khaki pants, collard shirts, and closed toed shoes, we still judged each other from outward appearances. My category through this era was “preppy.” Again, this positive word has overtaken a negative connotation just because of the way it’s said. Maybe there’s another meaning, but when the word prep comes to mind I think about the girls in the “Click” books who not only have name brand things, but flaunt it around with a snooty attitude. If you knew me during this time, you know that I didn’t fit that criteria. Kids would also poke fun at the “nerds” and trash talk the “jocks.” Point being, no one really got to know the people outside of their “category” including me.
High school. Sweet high school. No I’m actually being serious this wasn’t even the worst one. The thing I loved most about my graduating class is that (for the most part) we all got along. We saw past the different beliefs, views, and opinions and became closer throughout the years. The first few years of high school I got to be me. Whoever I wanted that to be. I got to start fresh. Make new friends. Let people really get to know me. For a while the categorizing stopped until my very last year. My senior year. I truly began to “find myself.” I found hobbies that I enjoyed, and made close bonds with new people. I started to become the person that I wanted to become, but of course I couldn’t just slide through my last year of high school without getting thrown into another category.
I found a style I liked, and stuck with it. I usually wore loose-fitting, flowy clothing. I almost always had a braid or a wild headband in my hair everyday. I started to explore God’s green earth more. I fell in love with nature. I found out that I loved making adventure videos. I listened to a different type of music than most people. The banjo became my new favorite instrument. I began to go on more road trips with my friends. And take a ton of pictures. Now that I’ve explained my whole senior year in a few sentences, what category have you already placed me in? If you didn’t think of one then kudos to you! If you did, don’t worry you’re not the only one. Trust me I’ve heard them all: hippie, gypsy, nature girl, flower child, free spirit, etc. Those words are cool and all but that’s just what they are. Words. Words do not define humans. Categories do not define humans. Yea I love nature, but that doesn’t mean that I partake in drugs and lack morals and values because ultimately that’s what these words portray. There’s a lot more to me than my outward appearance and what I allow people to see on social media, but my “category” ends up getting the credit for who I am than my actually personality does. Hippies: 1 Kelsey: 0.
The reason Megan and I had these conversations was because she has just as much appreciation for nature as I do. In fact, she’s been exploring nature at a way younger age than I ever did. But why doesn’t she get thrown into that category? We came to the conclusion that she just doesn’t “look” the part. How silly to say that, but it’s true. Like I said earlier, Megan was valedictorian of our class. That would make her a nerd right? Wrong. Megan never received the nerd label and that’s because she doesn’t fit the stereotype of a nerd. The funky glasses, uneven hair, calculator in hand, suspender wearing person. People were even shocked that she was number 1 in our class because they saw her as a “dumb blonde.” So Megan gets placed into the “sporty” category because she has larger muscles than most men our age. That’s a HUGE shocker that that’s the category she’s placed in right? Wrong. She only gets placed in that category because of her physical appearance. There’s so much more to Megan that most people overlook just because they stick her into a category and leave her there. So why do we do it? Why do we constantly jump into categorizing people without getting to know their heart first? Most importantly, why do we put our own selves into certain categories? It’s okay to enjoy different things. It’s okay to talk to people who don’t have the same hobbies as you. It’s okay to give an actual human the credit for being who they are rather than giving the category all the credit. And it’s okay to have INDIVIDUALITY because after all, we are INDIVIDUALS.
My reasoning for this post is to allow you to reflect on how many categories you throw someone into a day. I do it just as much as the next person. It’s what we’ve been trained to do. Instead of making assumptions about people, get to know their heart and soul first. It might surprise you.