Daytime – Nicole Burgon from East Lyme
Our hometown is not diverse.
We have heard time and time again how East Lyme is made up predominantly of white people of the same high socioeconomic status. Little girl, feeling different made me retreat into a shell. I was crying everyday because I had to go to school, and I never spoke in class until I was asked a question that I couldn’t nod or shake my head. Wide-eyed classmates asked me if I was adopted because I didn’t have the same skin color as my Peruvian mom, and PTA’s parents wondered why my dad was always the one to come at school while my mother was working. I didn’t take pictures of family Christmas cards on Cape Cod, but neither did I follow Peruvian traditions. I stuck in the delicate balance of ambiguity and couldn’t put myself in a clear box, while others seemed to effortlessly.
Or so I thought.
For now, I’ve just been writing stories, gaining the confidence to eventually share mine.
As I got older, however, I realized that everyone was in some way struggling with their identities. My seemingly uniform community obscured the various stories I found in East Lyme public schools. Because of the teachers and other adults who believed in me and saw me as more than a quiet kid, I began to use my voice and conduct deeper conversations with the seemingly perfect people I once had. compared. Sharing our stories has brought us together in our community quilt. These classmates became my closest friends listening to them talk about divorced and manipulative parents, memories of a father’s alcohol abuse, parents who left, or families who did not accept their children for it. that they were. These stories broke my heart, but also shattered my image of my city as a place where everyone was perfect. Learning this helped me slowly let go of my fears and believe that we each had a role to play and a story to share, and that it didn’t have to be perfect.
With this renewed courage, I went out to my community and saw beautiful things. Through clubs like Best Buddies, I have witnessed the impact of friendship, inclusion and the bravery of being different. Thanks to the French Honor Society, I overcame my fear of not being “Spanish enough” – realizing that people are complex and don’t have to sacrifice parts of themselves to appease the mold. Through community service at Key Club and Leo’s Club, I realized the importance of making connections and helping out. Small actions can make all the difference. Through other work such as Encountering Differences, I have met civil rights activists I would never have had otherwise and listened to their powerful messages from our past morphing into the present. I have seen how crucial the desire of students to understand and to help is in our society. Expanding my worldview through my own small community allowed me to see diversity in a place where I previously felt limited by uniformity. I would never have been able to learn these lessons if I had given in to my fears and stepped back, never listening to what my community and my school had to offer and what I had to offer in return.
So here I am, sharing my story in front of my whole school, when – little girl – I couldn’t even speak, and when I did, I invented something that felt more normal and perfect. The truth is, there is no normality and there is no perfection, as we saw last year. I know many of us face the future with the fear of being behind the pack. Maybe we fear we haven’t figured out our lives and everyone else does. Or maybe we have a sense of who we are and what we want, but we’re worried it’s not good enough. But if I have learned anything, the comparison is the thief of joy. Success is not determined by whether you will earn more money than the person sitting next to you. I, too, once believed that superficial standards were what mattered, but what matters is if you allow yourself the freedom to stand up, use your voice, pursue your passions, and then use your freedom to free others. You too have a role to play and your story matters. Say it. In a way, one day say it.
We haven’t all had the same experience in East Lyme, especially after a global pandemic. But I hope that whatever happens, you realize that this is just the beginning of our story. I have seen over the years how we have tried to improve our community and the world, and it inspires me to believe that we will bring our true passion to lead, learn and love into any community we are a part of. We will enrage the cynics, break down borders and barriers, do magic and move mountains. I can’t wait to see it all unfold.