Authentic Eagles: Riley Davis On Being Average

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our struggles in the constant quest to appear perfect. Embracing our truths can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials and tribulations of being one’s authentic self at BC.

Riley Davis, A&S ’14

As a senior in high school, I found myself writing what appeared to be a “defense of average” for my college essay. I’ll spare the details of its content, because then I’ll have to start writing a “defense of the extremely lame, cringe-worthy metaphor” (please see me for more info if interested), but for me it was the best way to explain who I was. Unlike so many others at my high school, I wasn’t a 3-season athlete, hadn’t spent a summer volunteering across the world, and wasn’t a member of several clubs (I’m pretty sure Spanish honors society only counts as one). In a crowd of what I thought to be over-achieving peers, I felt absurdly average.

This left me with very little to write about. My resume was beyond pitiful and, at the time, I hadn’t been west of Kentucky. At the risk of embarrassment, I have to say this process was met with an inordinate amount of tears. The pressure to write about what set me apart gave life to the struggle that is my average existence.

Looking back, I realized that I had been dealing with my fear of averageness for a long time. I spent a good chunk of elementary school crying my way through a cursive booklet that was cruelly and ironically titled Handwriting Without Tears, because my 3rd grade dexterity couldn’t match the computer-manufactured text. I wanted to be perfect, I wanted to excel, and I wanted my achievements to set me apart from my other chicken-scratch producing classmates. Thanks to the tear-stained pages of bleeding ink, that was clearly not going to happen.

As we all know, middle school is irrelevant, but high school was much of the same. I was determined to find my niche, to discover what it was that I was really good at. But I was at a loss. I was smart and moderately athletically gifted, but I was competing with a class of 800 other students. It was inevitable that there was another student out there that was smarter, more creative, and more driven than I was who had accomplished more at the age of 16 than most people do by their 30s.

When I arrived at Boston College, I was determined to finally get involved. The Student Involvement Fair was filled with tables of opportunities, so it seemed reasonably impossible that I would leave empty handed. However, though I entertained the idea of attending some club meetings for a few weeks, nothing seemed to stick. Although the Italian Club continues to pique my interest with colorful emails regarding pasta dinners, I never found anything that fit. Thankfully, over the next couple of years, BC distracted me with its rigorous academics, allowing me to forget how little I was doing outside of class. It seemed crazy to me that other students could go to class, do their work and still have time for practice or meetings unrelated to school. Truthfully, I was happy to have a little spare time on my hands.

But even now as a senior in college, I still get wrapped up in this idea that I haven’t set myself apart as being specifically gifted, talented, or passionate about anything in particular. In one of my classes during syllabus week, we each had to stand up and share something unique about ourselves, and I found myself drawing a blank. The girl before me proudly stated that she had high hopes of becoming an oncologist, and I promptly stood up and said, “I hate birds.” Needless to say I made an abundance of friends that day and the teacher was mesmerized by my pluck, but I was still concerned that this was the only thing I could come up with.

This in-class incident ended up having a surprisingly serious impact. I was beginning to think about the possibility of applying for jobs and I was working on identifying and defining my unique strengths and skills. Because “hatred of birds” was unlikely to get me hired, I was right back where I was senior year of high school. From the beginning of high school to the end of college, we feel the looming pressure of the resume. What can I do, what can I participate in, what can I achieve that will help me stand out and improve my resume?

Somewhere along the way, though, I decided that it was ok to be average. Without the busyness of running around from meeting to meeting, or practicing sports with my various squadrons, I’ve had time to figure out who I am as a person and what I really enjoy. Without being attached to a specific label regarding what group, sport, or interest I participate in, I’ve had the chance to just be me. I would never take back the two hours I spent on YouTube attempting to learn how to moonwalk. I cherish the days that I woke up watching Lost and went to bed the same way. And the moments I remember are the ones where I was laughing so hard with my friends and family that I was not only in physical pain, but was crying inconsolably. To me, these are the moments that have shaped me.

Being “average” has given me the opportunity to discover who I am as a person and as a friend, and to explore a full-range of interests, even if those interests are Parks and Recreation and The Shins. And that’s what I realized. My resume and my accomplishments don’t define me. I’m a crossword fanatic and an avid Jeopardy watcher, I like to draw my own comics and sing and do impressions that are much better than people say they are. I’m a part-time moonwalker, and a full-time friend. And although these qualities might not look great on a resume, they have value.