It was the end of May, 2015. The yearbook staff had just finished passing out yearbooks, and there I was, sitting cross-legged on the gymnasium floor, holding my book in one hand and a green pen in the other. Friends, acquaintances, and even seniors I didn't know very well came by and we signed each other's yearbooks. I was in this position for about half an hour before a girl in my class approached me. She had sat behind me in Physical Science, in the back in English, and across the room in math. I was jealous of her long hair and her black shoes, and she was standing above me holding out her yearbook asking me to sign it. I took it and handed her mine before writing a typical "You're so nice, I hope you have a nice summer. See you next year" blah blah blah kind of thing, and handing the book back to her. She handed me mine and when she had walked a respectable distance away I read what she had written. I've forgotten the majority of it but I will never remember the ending: "You're so genuine. Don't ever change." Now, the "don't ever change" was a phrase written countless times in multiple Freshmen yearbooks, but the "you're so genuine" part really stuck with me.
Now normally I wouldn't think so much about something a girl I hardly knew wrote in my yearbook, but the idea of being "genuine" had always been in the back of my mind. I had never thought of myself as genuine. If anything, that year especially, I thought of myself as someone hiding behind a mask. So, I made the conscious decision to be genuine. I didn't care if the girl had only written what she wrote so it would look as though she had put some thought in, or if she had truly been genuine (ha, sorry. I had to.). I decided that when I returned to school for my Sophomore year, I was going to be the most myself I had ever been.
It was the end of May, 2016. My Sophomore year was coming to a close, and I was sitting in the choir room. Class had sort of been canceled that day, but not enough so that we were allowed to actually leave the room. I was sitting at the back behind a few chairs, earnestly reading the last third of "Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban" while many other students signed each other's yearbooks. Eventually, I looked up and saw that one of my friends who I had been anxious to have sign my yearbook was free from signing others, so I stood up and walked over to her. I handed her my book and when I received it back I read something along the lines of: "I love the way words fall out of your mouth and never make sense." I didn't think much of it until about a month later when I was taking a break from packing and read it again. "Words fall out of my mouth and never make sense?" I thought to myself. Suddenly I was faced with the thought of maybe my being genuine was being received as awkwardness and weirdness (it is highly possible that this is where my love of Luna Lovegood comes from).
I began to think back on my interactions with other people throughout my time at that high school. The times when I made people laugh, were they laughing with me? or at me? The times when I thought I was being genuine by not staying silent, were they well received or was I looked at as being the odd one out? When people told me I made them "feel smart", did they mean I built them up or did they mean they felt smart in comparison to me? I wasn't sure I liked the idea of being genuine anymore if it made me appear less than.
It was the middle of December, 2016. I was sitting at a banquet table next to a girl I didn't know very well. On my first day, she had been nice enough to go beyond the "Hi, what's your name? Are you finding your way around okay?" and had gone on to a real conversation, but other than that I hadn't spoken to her that much. The table was round, and anyone who isn't skilled in dining arts knows that when there is a round table, it can be tough to navigate which plate belongs to who. At one point I said something like "Wait, is this plate mine? Or is it this one? I'm really not good at this!" and laughed at my own expense when the girl next to me said "I love how unapologetically awkward you can be!", and I braced myself. Had I made another mistake? Had my half hearted crack at being genuine once again been translated as simple weirdness? I followed up with "Because then you feel less awkward?", and hoped I wouldn't meet a comment along the lines of "Yeah because in comparison to you I feel graceful, intelligent, and all around amazing." Instead, the girl laughed softly and said, "No, because then we can be awkward together and I feel less alone."
It was then that I realized what had been missing all along. To me, being genuine means being honest with what you are feeling and why. It means being unapologetic for who you are, and being humble in the face of others. This girl had showed me that my being genuine wasn't always looked at as being less than; sometimes it was looked at as an open hand to mutual acceptance. It wasn't that being genuine made me look stupid or like I didn't think things through, I just happened to encounter some people who didn't understand who I was, and they weren't necessarily ready to see me be okay with who I am.
It's not that I'm perfect at being genuine- I think that would actually defeat the purpose entirely- but I am beginning to realize that I don't need to think I'm less than in order to think I'm being honest with who I am. I still don't understand everything there is to understand, however. I am, as they say, on a quest. A quest to be genuine.