|Year of Entry: 1999
||Age at Entry: 14
||Hometown: Bowling Green, Kentucky
Finding the Fit
At 14, I had never considered myself exceptionally anything. I had long since perfected a natural disposition towards blending seamlessly into the world around me. If no one could see me, no one could hurt me. Nothing ventured, nothing gained- sure, but, more importantly, nothing lost. My ultimate goal was just to survive. Get through this so that I can get through the next thing.
I think the most common thing you will ever hear a PEG say when reflecting upon their pre-college experiences is “I just didn’t fit in.” And it’s true — I didn’t. I bent myself into so many funny and uncomfortable positions trying to wheedle my way in to the many boxes the society had put out for me. The things that don’t bend always end up breaking, and I almost did. That’s when I discovered the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted (PEG) at Mary Baldwin College.
I was raised in Kentucky in a town far more rural in mindset than in pasture. In retrospect, I am one of those happy few people who had a normal childhood, the details. I did find myself with the somewhat unfortunate combination of being a teenager, really smart, and really gay. In Kentucky, a trifecta of that variety brings out the bullies like crazy. So, I kept to myself and got by.
A Bold Choice
I first learned of PEG from a friend of mine who I met at Girl Scout Camp. She was heading off for her freshman year in less than a month. She suggested I check it out, so I did. My casual interest gave way very quickly to my fears of failing and (much worse perhaps) succeeding. How could I, a girl who had essentially been living her life as furniture, make a choice so bold? I stashed the application away — mere fodder for an occasional fancy.
In the end, it was the bullying that did it. Looking back, it is interesting that one of the bravest choices I ever made was born entirely from a reactionary response to fear. Perhaps all brave choices are. I was threatened, and I needed to run. I needed to run to any place that would take me. I remember shaking, visibly and actually shaking, at the mailbox at the end of our long driveway as I opened my acceptance letter from PEG. I don’t remember joy or apprehension in that moment — I remember the relief.
Relief, of course, was rapidly replaced by gut wrenching panic the moment I stepped on to campus. What if someone found me out? I wasn’t exceptionally gifted! I wasn’t gifted at all! Even now as an adult, when I relate my college experience and people immediately respond with “so you’re a genius?” I respond with “I just reason well and have a great memory” even though I do technically have a genius level IQ. Whatever got me onto campus and whatever made me put one foot in front of the other for the first few weeks, I quickly learned a few crucial facts:
- My voice, even at its quietest, hold all the power I need it to if I trust it.
- Nothing about who I am fundamentally as a human being needs to be apologized for, warned against, or dismissed as unworthy.
- I am good enough, and only I get to decide who I am.
- I don’t have to bend myself to fit into the world. I can bend the world to fit around me.
I learned these things in classrooms, from my peers, from professors, and sitting atop Cannon Hill. I had been thrust from an environment of anonymity to a place where, by nature of my age, I couldn’t help but stand out. The first few steps, perhaps even the first year of steps, were tentative of course, but before too long I was off running.
I made lifelong friends, and I discovered the things I believed. I learned to stand by myself and to stand by those I loved. Before PEG, I wasn’t sure I even loved anything. I’m not positive I even knew how. There were struggles in PEG and at Baldwin, of course. I let a woman systematically take away my voice for two years, I faltered in my resolve and made choices best described as lamentable, I treated people unfairly, and I let myself down. On each occasion, however, I grew. And I learned. After all, no matter what coursework I might be capable of and no matter what varieties of protestations I would have proffered at the notion, I was still a kid.
By the end of my freshman year, I became involved with the theatre department and stage managed my first show. Twelve years later, I type this essay at my desk in a professional, nationally acclaimed theatre for young audiences, and I just finished stage managing my 50th show.
I often joke that I learned how to be a human being at Mary Baldwin, but it’s true. I am not at all sure what would have become of me had I not put pen to paper, then closed my eyes as I posted off my application. Sometimes the option is leap or fall. And I chose to leap. PEG wasn’t just the right choice for me. PEG was the only choice for me. PEG didn’t just change my life; PEG was the birthplace of my life. There’s a reason my friends and I call Staunton “The Homestead.”
And today, I’d be happy to list off several things about me which are exceptional. I am exceptionally passionate, exceptionally responsible, exceptionally caring, and exceptionally eager to grow and change. Who knows- if you catch me on a good day, I might just throw exceptionally gifted in there, too.