Surpassing the Shrouds of Judgment | Teen Ink

Surpassing the Shrouds of Judgment

May 17, 2009
By Thomas Newbern BRONZE, Valdosta, Georgia
Thomas Newbern BRONZE, Valdosta, Georgia
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

For everyone else, the experience seemed an overwhelming opportunity. Armed with knowledge, hundreds of Georgia’s brightest students traveled to my home town, for the Governor’s Honors Program, expecting nothing less than an environment forged by the sheer will to learn.
Although the prospect of gaining a better understanding of chemistry was alluring, I was less than thrilled to integrate into what I anticipated to be the largest gathering of nerds to assemble since the release of the Harry Potter series. My worst fears were realized as I met my roommate, an action-hero loving Atlanta suburbanite, with whom I would be spending the next six weeks. Needless to say, my first week was spent in shock as I began probing the individuality and total disregard of “normal” Southern traits—the love of hunting, fishing, and the outdoors in general—of the north Georgia students. These were my darkest weeks at G.H.P., shrouded with judgment of those unlike myself.

Blind to the daily opportunities to learn about varying cultures, I rejected most invitations to assimilate into the social groups that were quickly amassing. However, my entire perception of the experience began to change as I became friends with a fellow chemistry major, Katherine. As our tenure at Valdosta State University reached nearly twenty-five days, Katherine asked to meet at West Lawn to discuss some personal problems, and later to attend one of the final choir performances; little did I know, this would be the beginning of a new outlook on life.

I left Langdale Hall that day at five o’clock, intent on being early to our meeting and reaching the rotunda concert before the crowd. Walking through the dank hallways, noting the obscenity of the current state of our boys’ hall, I thought little of Katherine’s request to meet. I reached the green patch that had become the dearest of places for Governors Honors students and quickly spotted the brown curly mass of Katherine’s hair. I was proud to have Katherine as a friend; most Valdosta students would consider her a band geek, so naturally, to be friends with her at that point in my life was a big step. As we sat on the wet grass, Katherine made clear what she planned to speak about, what most closed-minded South Georgians would consider out of the ordinary to say the least: homosexuality and mixed race relationships.

Unbeknownst to me, Katherine was associated with both of these “obscenities.” We began to speak of our family backgrounds, which had always been a dark topic for me as I thought that the experiences of my past were highly undesirable; we connected on a new level, both having broken families and parents with life threatening diseases. Unfortunately, though, her mother’s disease proved fatal when Katherine was only nine years old. As Katherine continued, teary eyed, she spoke of the experiences of her homosexual brother and of her own relationship with an African American. Growing more sympathetic with her every word, I noticed something different in her persona than I would have expected; Katherine did not seem to use the latter facts as a crutch, and only referred to them as small portions of her life. Katherine’s family was now having financial problems, and she only needed a friend to express her feelings to. As we walked away, I realized the hypocrisy of my own life, judging others only because of their differences, blind to my own individuality up to that point. I can honestly say that Katherine’s story changed my life for the better, as I grew from her words into my own person.

We arrived at the rotunda later than expected, and to our dismay the concert was already packed. Making our way up the stairs, another chemistry major called to us, pointing at two empty spaces right above the performers. As I sat down, I looked around at the newfound beauty in my life—diversity. Seated around me were the great minds of tomorrow, who would succeed regardless of what others judged them to be. Had I been at the same program only weeks earlier, I would have denied my own shortcomings only to judge others’. Throughout Governor’s Honors, I met eight “out and proud” homosexuals, an international science fair champion, the daughter of a transsexual, and, of course, countless students with perfect scores on both the SAT and ACT; however, as I soon realized, these were only minor parts of an exterior shell surrounding each student. I, too, had metamorphosed into what other southern students would call a “nerd.” By the end of our adventure, I was crying along with the others, facing the departure of my dream world where everything was accepted. Only after I left did I realize that my dream world could become reality through continued open mindedness. G.H.P. instilled the confidence and stability needed to excel in a college environment—one kindled by the insatiable desire to learn.

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