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Essay Ten

Sarah Barkley

My name is Sarah Barkley and I am currently a senior at Soloman Schechter School af Westchester. I am attending Cornell University in the fall, where I will be studying Human Development in the College of Human Ecology.

Ever since kindergarten my mom would come home from parent-teacher conferences with the same report: “She’s a really strong student, but she’s kind of shy, I wish she would participate more.” Participation has never been my strong suit; speaking up has never come naturally to me. Simple tasks like ordering Chinese food over the phone, or asking the waitress for another napkin are dreaded confrontations that I try to avoid if possible. I am perfectly content with looking a bit harder to find the correct size dress, if it means avoiding asking the sales person for help. I am, by nature, an introvert. It’s not that I’m painfully shy, it’s just that when social situations require me to step out of my comfort zone by initiating conversation or engaging in small talk, I would really rather just stay home and watch Netflix. Some people are comfortable showing off their latest dance routines in the school hallway, or shouting about bodily functions in the cafeteria, but I find this disconcerting.

However, when my introverted nature began to conflict with my drive for success, I knew I had to act. I learned that society rewards extroverted behaviors. I was told that if I wanted to be chosen for the honors history class, I needed to contribute to the class discussions. If I wanted to be picked to staff the writing center, I would need to express my interest. If I thought my grade on a test was unfair, I would have to address the teacher and explain my reasoning. Throughout high school I’ve pushed myself to do each of these things; I got into that honors class, I became a writing center tutor, and I successfully advocated for myself in the classroom. I’ve mastered just enough extroversion skills to allow me to accomplish the things that I really want.

Luckily, I’ve always had plenty of role models in this arena. In contrast to my introverted manner, my own home cultivated loudness and high-energy. In other words, nature made me an introvert, but my family has nurtured the extrovert in me. If you sat at my dinner table, you would probably wonder what a quiet, reserved girl like me is doing in the midst of piercing laughter and chatter at a decibel level above what would be considered “indoor voices.” I’ll admit, I often roll my eyes at my mother’s eagerness to confront strangers, and cringe at my twin sister’s tendency to burst into song, but being part of a family that values boldness and independence has challenged me to discover some of those qualities in myself.

Throughout high school, I learned to embrace those “introverted” qualities, despite society’s negative connotations, while also developing “extroverted” traits that allow me to advocate for others and myself. It is this blend-this ability to appreciate my quieter side while challenging myself to reach out of my comfort zone-that allows me to successfully overcome obstacles in my life. I’ve come a long way since being that shy kindergartener. I’ve recognized the value in both introversion and extroversion, and learned the benefits of speaking up, but I’m not dancing in the hallways just yet.

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