Identity: It is what makes us, or more so, what we make of ourselves.
Over time, we may find that we have different interests, believe in different things, and present ourselves in different ways. Sometimes, however, we hold tight to who we are, and regardless of the experiences and time that bypass us, our identity remains unchanged. For seniors at Southern, identity can present itself as an unwavering sense of self or through change that has produced growth and empowerment.
For Bishme Sheppard, who is majoring in exercise science and graduating in May 2019, the past four years have been influential in helping him become the enthusiastic and self-aware man he is and aspires to be. He remembers growing up and “following the tide,” when fitting in and belonging was important to him.
“I was so worried about what other people thought of me,” Sheppard says. “I realized I can’t follow the same pursuit as everybody else because I am different and I love that I’m different.”
The transition from high school to a more accepting and opportunistic college has allowed for a clearer depiction of who Sheppard hopes to be.
“I evaluated myself and I am always re-evaluating myself, because I never want to come off as a negative individual, but I am a person that now speaks up for himself,” says Sheppard. “I always try to speak power to people’s lives, I am going to do whatever it takes for you to see the best version of you.”
He recalls a traumatic event of losing a close friend, and through remembering the love this friend had radiated, Sheppard says he feels a responsibility to uphold such morals of spreading positivity through “how much you should cherish people, help people grow, and make a difference.”
As he remembers the significance of his friend’s positive and loving nature, he says: “The magnitude my friend had on me is so contagious. That’s the most important aspect of life, we have to see the best within ourselves because if we continue to be trapped in a box, we will never experience our true potential.”
Graduating in just a few months, Lizzie Cerino, majoring in interdisciplinary studies with concentrations in professional development and psychology, has also found growth from difficult experiences.
Throughout high school, she remained under the radar, maintaining a more reserved composure.
Still on this journey of self-confidence she says: “Definitely from a personal perspective, I was timid and not very confident. Ever since coming to Southern, especially, I’ve met so many people that have made me know I can expand upon certain qualities — instead of feeling bad about myself, I have become more confident.”
After having left a bad relationship years ago, Cerino chooses to spread the lessons she has learned.
“I’ve gotten such a sense of my value and self-worth which is why I’ve become so passionate about other students reaching that,” she says.
Cerino says she has demonstrated this over the past four years, holding positions within the university, including resident assistant, where she is able to expand on her caring and genuine nature through interacting with other students and faculty members.
“I hope people view me as helpful, kind, and empathetic, an impactful individual, and someone that cares and that they can approach,” Cerino says.
“Something I’m big on is you never know what people can hide behind a smile. I love learning about what others are going through and their own stories.”
For Cerino, her optimistic personality will stay with her far beyond her graduation this May, as she plans to work with students in her career.
Graduating in the fall of 2018, earth science and secondary education major Matt Smith says grounding himself with family and friends has helped him to grow and develop his identity over the past four years.
Smith says: “In high school I was very reserved, and I did have a very hard time communicating and talking to people, a lot of anxiety. But I think coming to college I knew I wanted to change that, I had that mindset for growth and I put myself out there.”
After his parents separated when he was 5, Smith learned to take the good and bad from situations. He says the experiences he gained from such experiences, such as welcoming a baby sister to the world a year ago, have been some of the best moments.
“Watching that small person grow I have learned so much from that. Whenever I talk about her, people always say my eyes glow and it is very life-changing,” says Smith. “It’s amazing to see how blissfully innocent a person can be because they don’t know any of the hardships of the world. It’s comforting to be able to see that.”
As he has developed his professional and academic standards over the years, Smith has also become aware and wants to shed light on the societal standards for men.
One of Smith’s goals is to get society to realize that it is OK for a man, or someone who considers themselves a man, to be an emotional person or be aware of their
“I feel like society has taught men to be very strict or stubborn, very hard-headed and strong,” Smith says, “like you can’t be upset ever. And to me, it’s perfectly OK.”
To Smith, the people he has met and the support he says he feels from family and friends overrides the pressure he sometimes feels to present this tough, rugged image that men are so often perceived to have and are expected to present. Instead, Smith chooses to focus on growing and maintaining these strong connections with himself and others, regardless of what people think.
By Genevieve Jaser