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Saturday, May 25, 2024
The Observer

Being Anna

My name is Anna and I’m a student at the University of Notre Dame.

This is a sentence dozens of girls on this campus, including myself, could say truthfully. Dozens more could say something similar — “my name is Hannah,” or “Annie,” or “Annalise,” or “Annika.” It feels like at least once a day I turn around thinking someone said my name or is trying to get my attention, only to find them talking to someone close to me with a similar-sounding name.

Being one of many Anna’s in this Notre Dame bubble has made me think about the messaging most of us receive when we are young. Each person is special. Each one is unique. Each person has their own set of talents and interests that will allow them to contribute something to the world that no one else has or can possibly give. These phrases were often repeated to us as children, with a special emphasis on the fact that YOU, the person receiving the message, are the most singular and special individual of all. 

Despite internalizing these messages as a child, I found myself questioning their true merit when I came to Notre Dame. It is a little hard to admit, but when I got here, I discovered that I truly was one of many. It wasn’t just my name- I shared many qualities with the majority of students here. I love Taylor Swift and “The Office” and chai lattes. I enjoy swimming and good Mexican food and baking. 

And it’s not just my interests that I share with other students. The things I thought I was good at before I got to Notre Dame — reading, writing, critical thinking — are things that many here excel at, and several of these people far surpass me in natural ability and skill. 

Although it is difficult to admit, there is a strength in this conformity. There is an advantage to being “basic.” Accepting that you share interests, skills and even a name with hundreds of others takes some of the pressure those childhood messages put on you in the first place. Even the most talented, intelligent, fascinating person cannot possibly be without similarities to other people. And you don’t have to be completely unique in order to go out in the world and make a valuable contribution. 

The truth is that it takes both individuality and commonality to make positive change. You don’t need to put pressure on yourself to prove your uniqueness. Shared interests, qualities and skills can be a gateway to start working together with other people. And yes, you have the ability to make a real, positive difference in the world, but this ability can be realized through both similarity and singularity. So, to the dozens of Patricks, Jacks, Marys, Elizabeths and Annas on this campus — it’s ok. It’s kind of nice to be one of many. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.