Relative Nerdism

scenes0073.jpgOne of the biggest challenges I found when I began college was that, for the first time, I was going to have to make new friends. It was hard to decide which type of friends I was going to associate myself with. Having come from a small, rural community, I grew up attending a school where everyone knew each other. We shared more similarities than differences, and though we didn’t form one cohesive clique, we understood each other enough to at least appreciate one another.

Then I came to Syracuse. While to most it’s no metropolis, I felt as though I had just moved to Manhattan — residence halls with 20 floors, multiple dining halls, and an undergraduate population more than four times the size of my town. I was in a bit over my head. I had too many options to know what to do with. I could be in the dance club, the school newspaper, the a cappella choir — I could do anything I wanted.

I got to create my own identity.

So I went about carving my niche in a way I never would have expected. I got very involved in the honors community. While I had been one of the token honors students in high school, it was never the part of my identity that I would use to define myself. In high school I was an athlete — the captain of my volleyball and cheerleading squads. At Syracuse I would soon rise to be the head of the student honors community.

And after accepting this as my fate, I also accepted my nerddom. After all, I am a giant dork, something I have come to enjoy about myself. I spend too much time at the library, stay up late at night talking about feminism and human rights, and take great pleasure in hyphenating compound modifiers. I found my niche in the honors program, finding the place on campus where I fit in the best.

Me and the Honors Faculty… BFFWhen I’m in the confines of 304 Bowne Hall, I feel as though nothing can hurt me. I walk into the Honors Suite where literally the entire staff actually knows my name, offers me food, and greets me with a smile and a hug. But when I’m in other circles, I sometimes feel as though I am on the margin, searching desperately for the center.

I’m too nerdy for some of my friends. They’ll playfully joke about my overwhelming love of Jane Austen, the fact that I write books in my spare time, or even the fact that I thoroughly enjoy blogging. I’m the token smart girl in some settings. I get it at my sorority, I got it in my residence hall when I was an RA, and I even get it at work. I’m just a bit too dorky for the people who aren’t within my honors family.

Then this weekend I went to Denver, a city I have fallen in love with over the last three days. I’m here for the National Collegiate Honors Council’s national conference. I’m not going to beat around the nerdy bush — I’m here representing Syracuse University, and made a presentation to honors councils from other universities across the country.

I noticed when talking to some of the people I’ve met here — great people — that when I get surrounded by too many honors students, I start to feel as though I’m just not smart enough to be involved in the group. These students represent massive universities, have triple majors in scientific fields, write theses about literature I haven’t even heard of, and discover genetic abnormalities in microscopic organisms. What am I doing for my honors thesis? I’m writing a memoir. It’s less than earth shattering.

I don’t understand how I can be too nerdy for some people and not nerdy enough for others. But at the same time, it makes perfect sense. We live in a world of polarity, where dichotomies reign supreme. You are either the super-genius or the village idiot. It shows up in this sense, as well as others.Goofing Off in Denver

Life isn’t about dichotomies, though. Life is a continuous spectrum. Nerdiness, race, gender, sexual orientation, intelligence, beauty ⎯ all the ways people define themselves, can be seen, and should be seen, as a fluid stream, varying in intensity from one end to the other, not a rigid and constricted duality.

If we were able to turn this world into a place where we accepted all qualities of life to be part of a spectrum, there would be less identity crises, less Keeping Up With The Joneses, and less college freshmen freaking out about trying to fall into a “perfect-fit” college situation. No one is the same all the time, we live in a world with no absolutes, so why are we fooling ourselves?

Yea, I’m a nerd. I’ll admit it, but that’s not my full-time job, and when I’m in Denver I’m a bit of a slacker. Accept it.

(photos provided by SU Photo & Imaging Center and Colin Fanning)

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