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.
Isaiah Telewoda, A&S ’14
Growing up, all I ever wanted was $100 million and a hot wife. Bear with me. From the time I was a young child and I gave up on my dreams of becoming the black Power Ranger, all I wanted when I grew up was untold riches and a wife to see me through it all. One hundred million dollars: the number itself came organically, I could even ‘justify’ it to adults when they pressed me for clarification on these wild aspirations.
“One million was too little, and a billion meant I was old.”
To me, nothing was wrong with this. These weren’t my only wants, of course. I wanted a family, I wanted an engaging career, but I aspired to earn $100 million and marry a gorgeous woman. And I knew I would. Admittedly, it was just shallow and superficial, and I make no excuse for it. The superficiality of it all is undeniable. Money and girls are the only things I thought I wanted in this world.
Now, I was never a truly superficial person, but my aspirations were. Back home in Hillsborough, New Jersey, the epicenter of Northeastern suburbia, is where these aspirations first took breath. It’s important to understand that I was at the crossroads of a lot of cultures, and never felt truly at home in any of them. In Hillsborough I felt like the (literal) black sheep. I always had friends, always had fun, and I even chose to divert from any racial issues, always. But in my situation, they were unavoidable. Overt bigotry describes only a sprinkling of instances, but what really caused discomfort was growing up with the racial assumptions and enforced stereotypes that I was hit with daily from my own friends.
“You don’t even talk black, you don’t even act black.”
They meant no harm by these, they probably never even realized what I thought about what they were saying and how it affected my identity. These same people still remain my good friends to this day, but at the time their “advice” made me uneasy about who I was and where I was going. So I bought into it all: I wore the baggy clothes, I talked in Ebonics, and I based all my aspirations on rap music and what it defined as success for me. I grew out of most of that through high school, but the aspirations never left me.
I came to Boston College because I saw it as a stepping-stone to the superficial dream life that I still strived for deep down. I would spend much of my first few weeks on the Heights planning get rich quick schemes and scheming on how to catapult myself into success here and beyond. To my surprise, however, that’s not what I got from BC. This school didn’t just give me a platform to make it to the next step—it made me rethink my materialistic goals.
Winter break sophomore year I went on a service trip with the now defunct Boston College Campus Culture Council to the Gulf Coast where we helped rebuild houses in the still damage stricken areas of New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina. Between those hours of sanding (and re-sanding) walls, we would all get together and reflect on the privilege and opportunity we have been awarded here at Boston College. A lot of people aren’t as fortunate enough to be places like this which is why these talks really resonated with me. They made me reflect on all that my family went through and sacrificed for me to be at a great place like Boston College.
So when I got back to Hillsborough, I wanted to know more. I had always known whispers of the story but it wasn’t until the reflections in New Orleans that I began to question just how much my family has gone through.
You see, before Hillsborough, NJ my Mom and Dad had built an amazing life together in their native Liberia, West Africa. With two children, my big brother and sister, my family was one of the wealthiest in the country. That all came crashing down when a violent civil war broke out, forcing my family to seek refuge stateside. With all their property left behind and destroyed, all their academic degrees invalid, my father came to America with $10,000 in his socks, and they had to rebuild their lives from the ground up. In addition to all these hardships my mother was now pregnant with a beautiful baby boy, me.
Learning all this from my parents and the harrowing details of it all inspired me for more. Not more money and women, but for something more meaningful. These talks showed me that there was more to want in life, but I didn’t know what.
The summer after my junior year, I was lucky enough to be selected to work as an Orientation Leader for the incoming class of 2017. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to get out of the experience, but I knew it was going to be something different. That summer was the best experience I’ve had during my time here at BC and the best summer of my life. Besides the amazing people I got to work with, that summer inspired me for higher aspirations. In a talk given by the always memorable Father Himes, he challenges the incoming freshmen to question three things when reflecting on their aspirations: is this something that makes you happy, is this something that taps fully into your talents and gifts, and lastly, is this role a genuine service to the people around you and society at large?
That summer, I found something in my job that fulfilled all those qualities, and I was paid far less than $100 million. I enjoyed interacting with people and having genuine conversations every day. I was good at leading group discussion and facilitating vulnerable dialogue. I felt like I was truly helping the people around me by giving advice and fostering relationships. I realized that I was using my gifts and talents to help others, and not only that I was really enjoying it.
I’m a biology major graduating in a week and I still don’t know what I’ll be doing next year. I doubt I’ll find Father Himes’ three points in my first job, but chasing my aspirations I now know what I’m good at and what makes me happy. Once I find a way to use my talents and gifts to be a man for others and help my community I’ll have reached my true aspirations (and maybe, just maybe earn $100 million on the way).