Today’s Senior Oration is Humans Are Like Onions, by Gianna Blundo ’15. Enjoy!
Humans are like onions: we have layers. Skin color, hair, eyes, height, weight…. each of us has our own unique external beauty. However, we often get lost in the superficial differences between us and fail to see the beauty of all life…of ourself. We are blinded by the variations of appearance and culture. We forget what we have in common: we are human. This element is both empowering and limiting. Our motto Pro Humanitate serves to remind us to unite at Wake Forest to use our common basis of humanity for the collective good. In this way we can work together toward the amelioration of the problems of today and tomorrow. Our humanity is also limiting, because it is what reminds us of our imperfections, our differences, and our boundaries as mistake-prone individuals. We are human. We are different.
When first coming to Wake Forest I struggled to find a community and find that “home-away-from-home” feeling. For many months I felt as though I was just a guest, a stranger to most of my hall, and even to myself. Since I was little I have known my appearance is that of a minority. I am Asian-American but, having been adopted by an Italian-American family, I don’t identify as Asian. I have always identified with the Italian-American culture in which I was raised.
It has come to my attention that no matter what my age, my looks are still an overpowering association. On regular occasion a stranger will ask me, “Where you are from?” I say Wilmington, North Carolina but repeatedly people say, “No, no…I mean where are you from? What country is your family from?”. This question equally confuses me because my parents were born and raised in the Unites States, “Tennessee… Virginia.” I offer. Naturally I ask myself why I feel as though I must lay out my family tree to some stranger with a simple question. Though I was adopted as a baby from another country, that is not who I am. It is only a small part of me. You see, people look at each other too often and see, “Different.” or “Other.”.
At Wake, I have not felt mocked by my peers as I was on the playground when I was younger for my eye and face shape. I did feel however my peers’ tendency to judge others based upon differences. Differences even as rudimentary and elementary as style, height, and brand. I became caught up in the differences between all of us too. In fact, I found myself ensnared in an old trap of negative body image and struggled with my adolescent eating disorder problems once again. I lost sight of what health really means. While re-searching for nonexistent perfection I lost sight of how wonderful difference and uniqueness are. But this is no humdrum story, because Wake Forest allowed me to grow even more so by learning to break free from the chains of surface-level judgments that tried to restrain me.
My escape from superficial delineation had much to do with academics. It was through taking an array of classes with professors who had a passion for their subject that I let go of superficial comparisons and was reminded of perspective. My sophomore year in my Intro to Buddhist Traditions class, Professor Johnston familiarized me with the concept of mindfulness, the power of now, the power of understanding suffering and the transient nature of life. That same year my Health Psychology class with Doctor Katula studied Tuesdays With Morrie, which seemed to magically line up with many notions in my Buddhism class. I was reminded that we all face battles of varying degrees and that transient things such as skin and beauty are just that: transient. We age. We change. I was further re-grounded by the loss of one of the biggest mentors of my life: my Martial Arts Sensei of 13 years. Through seeing life happen around me and taking diverse classes I discovered how much I had zoomed in on my life perspective. Bodily imperfections, racial difference…enough! I was reminded of what a tiny part I am in this large and mysteriously complex universe. I found that there are many people at Wake who see beyond our differences and embrace them in their daily lives. There are those who equally thirst for knowledge and understanding of cultures, even worlds, beyond their own. Our small Wake community let me reach out to professors and connect with those students.
To learn the value of now is something of infinite importance. To try to let go and be in the moment is cathartic. It is a skill to be able to sit with oneself in silence and be in good company. Even though we might feel restless and uncomfortable, there is value in shoving aside pestering thoughts to just …be. Breathe…. sit…and unplug. I have found that having the eyes and curiosity of a child allows our differences and our self-criticism to slip away. Too often humanity fractures itself due to alienation based upon differences in skin, height, culture and weight instead of embracing diversity. I look Asian but was adopted by Italian-Americans. I speak French, but love Indian and Vietnamese food. You cannot tell much from the outside who a person is because it tells not even where they’re from. Each of us has different types of battles, and our own stories that are still being written. If we look at the world not by the spaces that separate us but instead with the curious non-judgmental eyes of a child, then we can learn to accept differences to see the world in a fascinating new light. As Aristotle elegantly reminds us, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”.