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Mama, I’m grown

| Tuesday, August 18, 2020

My acceptance letter to Notre Dame equated to an all-access pass to the club of adulthood. While I still felt and acted like a 12 year old, that “Welcome Home” email was the permission I needed to surpass the constraints of adolescence and indulge in the authority of a grown woman. I coasted through my last semester of high school because I had obviously surpassed life’s stage of juvenescence, and turning 18 legally inflated this naïve belief. I was an independent adult who knew exactly how to navigate the adult world. Though all of my belongings belonged to my parents and I still needed their permission to leave their house with their car, I was an independent adult who knew how to navigate the adult world. No one could tell me otherwise.

And then I came to college. 

I made several “grown up” changes within my first semester of college that only scratched the surface of adulthood. I was forced to discipline myself into making the deliberate effort to attend classes, because skipping wasn’t considered truancy anymore. I learned how to live in a smothered shoe box called a dorm room with another person and how to resolve the conflict that comes with it. I learned to manage my own money and time, filling my schedule with extracurriculars that would put me ahead of my peers, but never actually sparked any of my interests. I became committed to separating myself from my classmates who had the same drive, dedication and academic caliber as I do. These aspects of adulthood weren’t too difficult to adjust to; I was only intimidated to schedule dentist appointments and communicate with my doctor my ailments during my appointment instead of my mother doing so for me. 

The more emotionally taxing, time consuming and life defining characteristics of adulthood occupy much more of our attention and patience, but at such a high caliber academic institution like Notre Dame, we are almost expected to possess both the superficial and internal qualities before traveling to campus. As an adult, we are expected to recognize our personal iniquities and be dedicated to reversing them instead of ignoring them or expecting them to change on their own. We are expected to stand firm in our own belief systems instead of regurgitating the adopted opinions of our guardians who shielded us from the truth for our “protection.” We are expected to create and see through our own life changing decisions backed by our own research and reason instead of mindlessly following the rubric to success created to guide our entire lives without our input. We are expected to communicate with, listen to and understand other people because our lives suddenly involve advocating for the common good of other people. We are expected to be prepared to experience trauma, because we are set for a lifetime of positive and negative experiences that are defined by how we handle them. Since many of us haven’t had much experience with heartache or emotional discomfort regardless of the circumstances, we are recklessly thrown into this painful, unknown territory. 

For those of us part of marginalized groups who haven’t experienced unacceptable mistreatment, we must recognize that our beings do not simply attract verbal maltreatment or political opinion differences with our friends, but can cost us our prosperity and livelihood. As a black woman, adulthood isn’t simply about growing into wide hips or accepting my large nose. It isn’t just hearing my peer’s racist remarks and canceling them for it. It is acknowledging how the systematic issues within this country define my ability to earn a worthy salary, expect exceptional medical care or survive at the hands of those who don’t believe I am worthy of basic human rights. 

Though it seems we must procure these experiences before attending college, this two to five year period of young adulthood is the time to build these skills to become functioning, action-based members of society. We must understand that everyone is confronting completely different positions in their lives at any given moment, which is based on the variety of experiences they have had. College is not a place for us to prove that we have it all together. Instead, it is a place for us to cultivate the tools we have to get ourselves together. “College life” isn’t meant to be sunshine and rainbows all the time; it is failing in things besides classes, learning from these mistakes and growing from them. College provides the last cushion of boundary testing before we are chucked into the real adult world with real adult consequences. 

As high-schoolers and even first year college students, we only envisioned the surface perks of what adulthood would provide us — freedom from our parents, autonomy over ourselves, quirky apartments, legally participating in 18+ activities and a sense of individuality. But the core of adulthood is taking complete responsibility for ourselves in every aspect of our lives. Adulthood is holding ourselves accountable for everything that we do, say, and experience; it is learning who we are, what we stand for and what we’re going to do about it. Understandably, this can be much scarier than buying a house or asking for another ketchup packet at the drive-through, but truthfully, we don’t have to do it alone, and we don’t need to feel rushed in accomplishing it. 

Sydni Brooks is junior at Notre Dame majoring in English with a supplemental major in Pre-health and a minor in Africana Studies. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, she has made Flaherty Hall her campus home. She aspires to be a gynecologist to serve women from all backgrounds in the medical field. Sydni can be reached at [email protected] or @sydnimaree22 on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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