Finding an Identity Is an Important Part of High School
Published: January 15, 2020
Identity. Defined as ‘the distinguishing character or personality of an individual.’ It’s something that shapes our society and gives meaning to our lives. Its presence can influence decision-making, relationships and much more. High school is one of the most important times to discover identity. High schoolers have the chance to try new things, meet new people and discover who they truly are.
“Identity is I guess really a person’s sense of who they are and/or how they present themselves to the people around them,” FHN principal Nathan Hostetler said. “So, I think there’s an aspect of identity that is internal and an aspect that’s external as well.”
Identity is most commonly identified with things like race, gender and sexuality but it doesn’t have to be limited to that. Identity is what makes up a person. It answers the question, who am I?
“Kids grow as kids go through their years in high school. That sense of identity starts out very external, sometimes it’s built around the color of one’s skin or sexual orientation, gender or just the clothes that people wear and over time that sense of belonging becomes much more internal,” Hostetler said. “People really start to have a better sense of who they are [through high school].”
At FHN, the idea of identity has become much more relevant. Events like the cultural festival allow students to connect with their culture. The language signs hanging around school are constants that students see. The variety of clubs and activities give students a chance to try new things and decide whether it’s something they love.
“We do a good job at supporting one another and accepting everybody for who they are,” FHN counselor Stephanie Johnson said.
High school can be such an important time in discovering identity because it’s a time of changes to the body, to the mind and to the soul. It’s a time of trying to be independant and learning the way to life. New things are constantly being introduced in a way where it may have an effect on identity.
“People come in as a freshman and they’re a little bit frightened, they kind of have some sense of who they are, but it’s not nailed down by any stretch of the imagination and they spend the next four years starting to really sort that out and there’s a huge change that happens,” Hostetler said.
According to Hostetler, identity is directly connected with belonging. Belonging can be important in high school because many students need acceptance from their peers.
“Human beings really need to feel like we belong,” Hostetler said. “Part of the reason human beings have been as successful as we have as a species is the fact that we depend on one another.”
In the future, Hostetler hopes to get more student input on ways to make FHN a better place for students to feel comfortable and discover their identity.
“If people feel like things are done with them, then there is a sense of belonging,” Hostetler said. “Even if it’s something that you ultimately are not going to be really pleased about the outcome, if I work with you instead of doing something to you then you’ll at least be able to say ‘I don’t like where this ended but I understand how we got here’ and that makes a big difference. So that is really what the student voice is about. Doing things with kids, not to kids.”
Zinat Ologundudu’s Religion Impacts Her Identity
After a long day of school, junior Zinat Ologundudu kneels down and begins to say a prayer. Alongside her family, Ologundudu was born and raised practicing Islam and has been a devout Muslim her entire life. Her religion has become a major part of her life and her identity, as the faith has become a key aspect in her morals and beliefs.
“My religion is a very positive religion,” Ologundudu said. “You can learn a lot from it and better yourself through it.”
Everyday, Ologundudu finds and takes the time to pray. In Islam, there is one god, Allah, who Muslims worship and pray directly to. It is believed that as one prays, they recieve great spiritual benefit throughout their life.
“I believe that in whatever you do, Allah is always behind you,” Ologundudu said.
Islam is the second most popular religion in the world, making up about 24.4% of the entire world’s population. As of 2017, there are about 3.45 million Muslims in the United States. Many practice the religion alongside others in their community, celebrating spiritual holidays together and sharing their faiths. Ramadan, an important religious holiday, is a month in the Islamic calendar where Muslims worldwide take the time for reflection, prayer and fasting.
“I personally didn’t know she was Muslim until she told me, which I kind of think is really cool because people don’t get to judge her off of that,” senior Salam Abouchleih said. Abouchleih is a friend of Ologundudu and is a practicing Muslim as well.
Alongside their prayers and daily practices, many Muslims also attend services at local mosques. This is another way many Muslims are able to connect with those of the same faith and pray together.
“I saw her at the prayer on Eid al-Fitr, which is a Muslim holiday, and that’s how I knew she was Muslim,” Abouchleih said.
Ologundudu views her religion as a key aspect in her life. Through practicing it, she finds that she is happier and feels more complete. The religion helps Ologundudu maintain a positive outlook on life. While her faith isn’t something everyone who has met her knows about her, it’s a major part of her identity that she still remains proud of.
“When I have a bad day, I pray, and I always feel better at the end of it,” Ologundudu said. “It [religion] impacts how I think and how I see people around me and what I’m doing. It allows me to be confident and be who I am today.”
Credit to Ella Manthey
Khalil Poole is Gender Nonconforming and Uses Makeup as a Form of Self Expression
His alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m. Most students won’t be awake for another two hours. He grabs the makeup bag that holds his favorite products. He takes out his Jeffree Star Blue Blood pallet and his favorite NYX Cosmetics black lipstick. He still needs to pick out an outfit for the day. It will depend on his mood- it always does. Whether he decides to wear knee high black boots or bright pink fur, Khalil Poole will look in the mirror, face to face with not only a stunning eyeshadow job, but the realization that he is able to be himself.
Poole is gender nonconforming and also uses makeup and clothing as a way to express himself. Gender nonconforming means that someone identifies as the sex they were born as, but doesn’t follow the typical gender norms.
“I’m a dude, but I don’t follow the typical stereotypes of a dude,” Poole said. “I would always see dresses and say, ‘How would that look on me?’ Or I would see long hair and wonder what I would look like with long hair.”
Poole started his fascination with makeup a few years ago. Ever since he was younger, Poole would find himself wandering from the little boys section to the little girls section in stores. He was always interested in playing with Barbies rather than “roughing it up outdoors with the other boys.” Now that Poole is older, he is able to express himself the way he always wanted to.
“When I started embracing it, I bought my first wig,” Poole said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is what it feels like to have long hair.’ It was a progression. The first week I tried makeup, I wasn’t very good. The first time I wore heels it was very difficult.”
While FHN strives to be an accepting place every day, society isn’t always accepting of the LGBT community. Poole ignores the negativity, knowing that some people just don’t understand the differences in others.
“People are going to have something to say no matter what you do,” Poole said. “Don’t let those comments wear you down. I laugh at them.”
Positivity is something that keeps Poole inspired. He is surrounded by friends who love his makeup looks and style.
“My number one supporters are my friends,” Poole said. “They tell me that gender norms are dumb. What’s in between your legs doesn’t deter how you dress, how you act, how you talk or whatever.”
Poole wants to keep advocating for the LGBT community by breaking the gender norms, but he also wants to express his advocacy in a different way. Other than makeup, Poole expresses his creativity through illustration. He enjoys spending his free time writing and illustrating comics where his characters are a part of the LGBT community. His characters can be transgender, bisexual or gender nonconforming, something you don’t find in every comic book.
“I just feel like if we [members of the LGBT community] have more visibility people would accept it more,” Poole said. “I do want to sort of advocate for the LGBT community because a lot of people don’t really do it, especially when we have so much negativity going on. For example, transgender people got banned from the military. I feel like a lot of people turn a blind eye to it and brush it off.”
When Poole is able to dress the way he wants and do his makeup, he feels comfortable in his own skin. He is able to embrace his true self and feel the most like himself.
“It’s a way I can feel comfortable,” Poole said. “Don’t care about what other people say. If people give you compliments, take those compliments. Just be happy with yourself.”
Cailyn Hodges Finds Confidence Through Dance
Identity is how we express who we are. Identity is what makes all of us different and unique. For sophomore Cailyn Hodges, her identity is found in dance. Dancing for most of her life has shaped her into the person she is today.
“[Dance] has made me a better person and has taught me a lot of life lessons from the different people I meet,” Hodges said.
Hodges began dancing when she was two years old, and it has remained a prominent part of her life since then, amounting to fourteen years of dance.
“Dance has really made me more mature and has given me a lot more confidence,” says Hodges.
Hodges dances at Dance Connection Performing Arts Center, where she spends most of her time. The practices take up a considerable portion of her schedule, as she dances four times a week, with practice times ranging anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours. With all this time in the studio, Hodges has built strong friendships with her fellow dancers, and some of her closest friends are at the dance studio. Yet Hodges tries to balance these friendships, as well as her time, between school and dance.
“It makes my schedule a little bit harder, but I can usually manage my time pretty well when it comes to practices and my busy school schedule,” Hodges said.
Still, she makes time for dance, because it matters to her. Dance affects her in many aspects of her life, changing her schedule, but more importantly, her identity. She finds it to be a way of expressing herself.
“It’s one of my creative outlets,” Hodges said. “I can be myself when I do it.”
Dancing has improved several facets of Hodges’ life. It has shaped who she is and how she approaches everyday situations. Hodges will continue to dance and it will continue to change her life every day.
“It has definitely made me more mature as a person,” Hodges said. “It has given me a lot of skills that I need to use in my life.”
Riya Contractor’s Culture Affects Her Identity
Since she can remember, junior Riya Contractor has been a part of the rich culture of Hinduism. It was a part of her parents’ lives growing up, and now she celebrates it as a part of her identity.
“I feel like it really helps define who I am,” Contractor said. “It just makes me really unique from other people, because not a lot of people are the same religion as me, so it is hard to relate to others, but it’s cool to be able to tell people and show people about my religion, because it is a really beautiful culture, and I love being who I am.”
Contractor describes Hinduism as an incredibly rich culture. While Hinduism is a religion- the third largest religion in the world- it is also an ethnic part of peoples’ lives, mainly practiced in India and Southeast Asia. Some staples of it are gold, jewelry and the festive holidays celebrated in place of traditionally American holidays. Diwali, a Hindu holiday, took place in November, celebrating how good triumphed over evil. Contractor and her family celebrated Diwali by decorating their house with lights.
“Her culture affects her positively by helping her connect to her family and friends that have similar cultures,” her friend, junior Iris Lee, said. “It also helps her outlook on life by guiding her with its morals. It’s also just really cool.”
Despite the rich culture Contractor sees it as now, there was a time when being involved in it was a struggle for her.
“When I was younger, I used to be a little ashamed of being [a part of] my culture because I never really fit in, but then especially in this area, there’s not many Indian people, or even Muslim people, so I did feel a little ashamed,” Contractor said.
Part of the shame came from how different her religion is compared to what many consider “normal”. In an environment full of people with beliefs unlike what Contractor believes, it sometimes felt like she was alone.
“It really differs from what people consider normal, because most of my friends are just Catholic or Christian, so I have felt like an outsider,” Contractor said.
Her friends, such as Lee, have seen how it affected her life and her struggle to balance her identity in the past.
“I’ve seen her struggle before,” Lee said. “It’s very hard to balance your root culture self and your everyday society self. Since she lives in America and is surrounded by more American culture than Indian culture, it takes a while to be able to balance both cultures at the same time.”
However, she was not down for long, and in the past few years, she has become firmer in her identity within her culture. And instead of the shame that can come with being different, she now sees it as a source of strength and confidence.
“I’ve learned, as I’ve grown up, to embrace who I really am, because it sets me apart from everyone,” Contractor said. “It gives me that cultural identity that belongs to me.”
Along with welcoming her culturalidentity on a personal level, Contractor has been encouraged in this identity by her surroundings. Instead of being alone in her beliefs, she is being surrounded more and more by people who she can connect with through their similarities and shared experiences.
“I get to see people who look like me, who have the same religion as me,” Contractor said. “It helps me relate to them and make new connections.”
Contractor attributes some of this to changes in the FHN community, which strives to support tolerance, diversity and individual identity. The changes in the school and its climate have bled into her life and have made her more comfortable in who she is.
“[My freshman year] I felt like a total outsider,” Contractor said. “But sophomore year and this year, I feel so much more involved, and I feel like there are so many more clubs and activities that help promote diversity and inclusion for everyone. I feel like Dr. Hostetler has really helped with that, as well.”
She continues to celebrate her vibrant Hindu culture and she stays proud of who she is, and who her culture has made her to be.
“I want people to know it’s different. It’s not what you’d really expect from a normal person,” Contractor said. “It really means a lot to who I am, and it’s just shaped me to be the person I’ve become.”
Wonder Reed Stays Connected To Her Tanzanian Heritage
Going back and forth from sleeping in nets that hung from the ceiling in Africa to sleeping in a bed in America, freshman Wonder Reed was born in Makose, Tanzania and speaks both English and Swahili. Wonder has been speaking Swahili since she could talk, but once she started going to an American school she started speaking English. Wonder and her mom came to America with her mother when she was around five years old.
“I speak English more since I go to an English school and I’m a little rusty on Swahili,” Wonder said. “I have gotten used to the fact that I speak English at school and Swahili at home.”
Every village in Africa has its own specific tribal language. Swahili is the universal language for communication between the villages. Wonder grew up in a small village called Makose in the city of Lushoto. Wonder and her mom, Upendo Reed, try to visit their village whenever they are able to. Reed’s mother Upendo was named after love; the word Upendo means love in Swahili.
“I have been through a lot,” Upendo said. “But I am very glad that all happened because it has made me wiser and understanding.”
According to Wonder, the heritage has shaped her identity due to how giving, understanding and accepting she has become.
“It’s [Tanzania] such a happy place, everyone is so happy,” Wonder said. “People in America are more judgemental and strict. America and Tanzania are so different.”
The cultures between the two countries have some differences according to Wonder. In Tanzania they use their hands to eat while in America utensils are used with certain things.
“In my village, everyday is like a party,” Wonder said. “We are always celebrating and it’s just so much fun. In America it’s more pressure like getting good grades, while in Tanzania it’s just please do well.”
They eat African-based dishes at home. Her mother makes lots of chicken and rice along with goat meat and beef.
“I love chipsi mayai,” Wonder said. “You take fries and egg and mix them and then you put ketchup over it and it’s so good.”
In their village they believe in spirits and witches. Her family believes that her great grandma was a witch. People in her village would see witches for fortune telling and future predictions.
“There is just superstitious things like you can’t whistle at night or else you will get murdered and stuff like that,” Wonder said.
Tanzania is, in some ways, a safer place than America according to Wonder. There is crime everywhere, but between the two countries it’s a little different. The danger in Tanzania is more revolved around the wildlife while in America the danger is more of violence.
“It’s such a nice place but it can be really dangerous, but not as dangerous as you think,” Wonder said. “There’s wildlife and that can be dangerous but it’s so nice. They won’t attack you unless you attack them.”
Upendo and Wonder, mother and daughter, have been shaped by their heritage. Wonder looks up to her mother and inherits her qualities from her.
“My heritage has influenced my identity because it has made me understanding and empathetic to others,” Wonder said.