When it comes time to pack up and ship off to college something strange happens– that is besides the many strangities that come along with wearing shoes in the shower, co-habitating with eighteen year old boys deciding their own diet and sleeping schedules for the first time, and sharing a 10 by 10 foot cube with someone who simultaneously is a complete stranger and your anticipated future bridesmaid. Freshman year adjustments aside, there is a schism far more important than the simple transition from bedroom to dorm room. It’s created between our home-selves and our college-selves. Perhaps the phenomenon is unique to me, but throughout my six semesters I haven’t been able shake the thought of my home-self and my Duke-self as existing in two almost completely different and separate worlds. If the difference in geographic location, living style, work load, extra-curriculars, friend group, and social life weren’t enough, I went so far as to alter my name, my very identity, in these two spheres as well. While ‘Ray’ was never a ploy to “reinvent myself” or “get a fresh start,” as so many suburban moms and guidance counselors loved to highlight about the benefits of college, it has certainly further engraved the dividing line of mine that lies somewhere out there between Durham and Philadelphia.
In Durham, I’m Ray, and the label fits. In my social groups I’m bright and bubbly, ‘positive’ often among the first words used to describe me. Even my style mirrors the nickname; my dorm room closet home to rainbow plastered t-shirts and desk filled with glittery folders that are “so Ray,” as my friends might say.
Everywhere else I’m Rachel. That’s what my passport, my resume, even my DukeHub will tell you if you search deep enough. In this world all of me is heightened, all of those parts that go unnoticed at Duke being the very qualities that define me. A high school classmate is much more likely to describe me as organized or smart than cheerful; my type-A tendencies much more obvious than when in a sea of over-achievers and over-analyzers.
I don’t mean to argue that either one of these is the more real or true form of myself, rather I understand both as making sense in the two worlds in which they exist…separately. But as graduation gradually becomes an event requiring hotels to be booked and traveling logistics to be organized, rather than some far off imagined day, I’ve realized that there is a definite deadline where these two parallel lives merge, and I’m forced to wonder which one will come out on the other end. Will Ray soon be just a nostalgic college persona my kids will laugh about as they try to envision me glowing with youth, red solo cup in hand? Or, to my grandmother’s dismay (“Rachel is a beautiful name that your parents gave you and Ray is just…so…ugly”), will it follow me into my professional life, the three sunny letters following every introductory handshake and cordial email sign off? In the real world, a world that doesn’t wait on hold while you press pause in early May and resume untouched as the leaves once again begin to change, which version of me will be?