On identity, or why I am obsessed with my college.

March 16th, 2011, 7pm

It is graduation season again, and my Facebook News Feed is flooded with photos of beaming faces in black gowns. I am overcome by a wave of nostalgia. Suddenly, I am craving raw oysters, New England clam chowder, and beef pho. A few things I came to love so much in my three years at Wellesley.

I miss the green grass slope next to Lake Waban. Wasik’s Cheese Shop, its amazing Piave Vecchio, and the samples they would always give me. The Starbucks which was always crowded with sweatshirted girls right before paper deadlines. I even miss the awful Peter Pan bus I’d take every weekend to go into Boston for some real food — beef pho extra-large at Le’s, white sauce clam linguine at the Daily Catch, cupcakes at Sweet.

It is amazing how vividly memories of places, food, things jump into my mind as I think of my college years. There are moments when I miss my closest friends as much as if they were my own siblings. There are moments when Wellesley feels like family, with all the alums being my cool and crazy cousins, the professors my bizarre mix of aunts and uncles.

Frankly, I am bewildered that I would feel this way. Any one of my classmates could attest to the fact that I had absolutely zero school spirit (I mean, our “mascot” is the color “Blue”… how lame can you get??) and spent most of my three years complaining about my college. Of all people to be fervently Wellesley, I’m probably the last anyone would have had in mind.

Why, now, halfway across the world, am I so proud to be an alum? Why do I reflexively explain everything from my feminist tirades to my casual discussion of female menstrual cycles to my impatience as a result of being a “Wellesley woman”? What is it about this label that I am so attached to?

It is not Hillary Clinton (much as I admire her) or Madeleine Albright (and her pins.) It might be Stockholm’s Syndrome from having suffered through that awful New England weather, but I don’t think that’s quite it. Lately, I am starting to suspect that I am so drawn to labeling myself with my college because it is so hard to label myself with anything else.

I’m, by any standards, a pretty half-assed Singaporean. I am about as Shanghainese as a foreigner who’s lived there a couple years. Definitely not Japanese, and I certainly don’t feel very American (regardless of what other people like to think.) I love Hong Kong, but I can’t even speak Cantonese. What am I? Where do I belong to? How do I sum myself up into one word when people ask me, “Where are you from?”

Where I went to college is the one thing I can wholly own. I went there. I lived there. I called it home. I braved the snow storms. I survived countless Finals. I met and bonded with the most amazing people there. There is nothing half-assed about that and no one can deny me my claim to being a “Wellesley woman.”

I have to list my favorite Singaporean foods and name my primary school to gain even a shred of Singaporean cred. Even then, I am an outsider. I owe no explanation for calling myself Wellesley. No one would challenge me. Owning an identity so completely that there is no need for association — that is a privilege not everyone realizes they have.

What is so important about identity? Why is it that I am so much more at ease when I feel like I belong somewhere? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll grow out of this, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll someday learn to be comfortable with another identity as well.

For now, forgive me for saying, “Well, I went to Wellesley,” for the umpteenth time.

Shu, Jan, Sanna, Mona and 2 others said thanks.

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Yiling Ding

Think too much. Write too little.

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