Traverse City Record-Eagle

Generation Why

June 1, 2010

Going from black and white to color

Standing on my tiptoes and still only at chin level, I surveyed my grandmother's doily-adorned dresser surface and peered up at a black-and-white photograph of my mom. Circa 1962, her clothing, skin and hair were a medley of gray hues. Instantly, my mystified 4-year-old mind rationalized that the physical world "must not always have been in color," and years passed before logic objected.

"You take everything so literally!" As far back as I can remember, my mom complained of my shallow, simplistic notions. "With you, it's either black or white. No gray." My secure, sugar-coated childhood in small, tourist town Traverse City was characterized by unlocked doors, summer festivals and a closely knit community. This environment was conducive to innocent, black-or-white thought.

From kindergarten through third grade, my mom was a PTO officer, my parents volunteered at almost every school event, and when other kids said the word "crap," I thought they were using a "swear word." Teachers pulled me out of class for advanced reading projects, I was one of only two girls in my third-grade class whose parents weren't divorced, and compared to most of my peers, I had a "really nice house." I was the only student from my school who tested into the Talented and Gifted Program in fourth grade; this required me to switch schools.

This pivotal change, as well as subsequent life experiences, overshadowed childish innocence with unforeseen complexity. Inferiority substituted invincibility as prodigies who were half as shy and twice as proficient at math surrounded me, and I felt labeled by my suddenly inadequate socioeconomic status. This was verified when I overheard a classmate say that my previous elementary school was the "ghetto school" of the district.

My personal struggles, however, were not the only ones that made me feel vulnerable. The world was vulnerable. On the fifth day of school, the World Trade Center collapsed and I learned about terrorism, the stock market and America's Middle Eastern plight.

Realities continued to emerge in high school. A classmate, who in elementary school was Tweety Bird for Halloween three years in a row, became a teenage mother. Social networks trumped newspapers and attention spans shortened. Lamentations of financial crises and global warming clogged the airwaves. Most importantly, I discovered that I would have to work relentlessly for success when spoon-feeding ceased.

I now realize that, despite her monochromatic baby portrait, my mom's physical world always was colored, and it was my childish mentality that lacked vibrancy. The passing of time has divulged electromagnetic radiation, colored film and digital imagery, and I have grown to discern a broad spectrum of colors and truths. I have made a copy of my mom's baby picture and posted it on my bedroom wall, and when I travel to college, I will bring it with me. It symbolizes my personal discoveries and achievements — colors have seeped into my black-and-white world.

Now, much to my mom's dismay, I see the gray area and embrace its neutrality and ambiguity, for I deduce that a diverse medley of trials and triumphs is what truly colors one's life.

Black-or-white, defend-or-challenge, yes-or-no contrived philosophies never will limit me. My parents' combined annual income and my hometown never will define me. As I enter my senior year, I have decided to study journalism in college, only to intercept scoffs from those to whom I disclose my aspirations.

It took a sugar-coated childhood to inspire my ambitions, and I endured painful reality checks in order to fuel and sustain them. Exposure empowered me to fulfill my potential.

Lydia Belanger is co-editor in chief of the Black & Gold at Traverse City Central Senior High. This was a college application essay.

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